Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Driven to success

A coat drive. Simple huh?

Most people think so. I did. We have done many cause related "drives" related to an athletic event.

None have worked. Sure, we get some, but not enough to make a difference.

So when we were approached about coordinating a coat drive around one of our football players, I was a bit skeptical of the outcome. I thought success would be defined as possibly getting a story in the local paper.

Boy was I wrong.

We collected coats at two basketball games last week, and while I do not have the exact total yet, I am sure we far exceeded our goal of 500 coats.

So now I am wondering why this worked.

Here are my thoughts.
  1. First and foremost we had a chairman, Cassen Jackson-Garrison, who had quite a story himself and could identify with the beneficiaries of these coats. Click here for his story.
  2. We also had a very specific recipient, the counties near Nashville that are on a plateau which creates about a 10 degree difference in weather, not to mention the area is very rural and poor.
  3. The chairman was an identifiable player on our football team. I do not think it would have worked had it been a women's soccer player.

All in all, the drive was a success and we look forward to more like it.

Take care.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

All eyes on you ...

Have you ever heard of some small towns with a small police staff who just park empty police cars on the side of the road to hopefully deter speeding?

When a cop pulls beside you at a stop light, don't you make sure your seat belt is on?

Or if you are a politician don't you speak a bit differently when the media is around?

Me too. So does everyone else.

Well, what if there were so many people watching you that you could not away with anything. Nothing. Not even a sly joke about your friend's bad haircut without it getting back to him.

Well that is what I see as the biggest benefit of the internet, or as some are calling it web 2.0.

Everyone is a blogger. Or knows someone who is. You are a reader, which makes me write. Now, I am not trying to break news, but many use blogging as a hobby and fulfilling their childhood ambition of being a sports writer.

And it is only getting worse, or better depending on how you look at it. The way I see it, if someone is watching my move 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, I might not tell that little white lie.

By having thousands of people see you everyday, with the ability to distribute info on you to millions, a simple mistake could prove very costly.

What if there were networks of people to tip off the police about drunk drivers. Might save someone's life?

What if there were a network of citizens who reported anonymously about corrupt police officers?

Or what if people started blogging about paid players in college athlete recruiting? Could you imagine if every dollar paid to a prospect was reported? I guess everyone would be on probation if the rumors are true. The NCAA basketball tournament may only have a field of four!

You may still be wondering why Tupac is on this blog? One of his biggest hits was "All eyes on you".

Maybe he was on to something.

Take care.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Carpe customer

Interesting day.

I had to run a few errands which included finally mailing my sister's Christmas present. (yea, not my strong suit) So I dropped by the local UPS store to mail the package.

As I enter I am greeted with a warm "hello" and "how may I help you." The young gun behind the counter then helped me to complete the slip detailing where my package was to be sent.

"Fill in this, that, that, and your phone number, but no email. You don't have to fill in your email."

So I thought that was a little odd. Then another customer came along and he went through the same drill of overly communicating the unnecessary box labeled Email.

After observing this guy a little while (I was there way too long) I came to the following conclusion. He was attempting to avoid having to explain their email policy, or hear a customer complain about privacy. I am guessing he had a bad experience before with a customer and thinks the best way to handle the situation is to just come right out and say we don't need your email thus avoiding conflict and eliminating any chance of collecting ANY email.

OK, then I go across the street to pay a bill at Fifth Third Bank - not my bank, they just have our mortgage. While there, I got a very friendly hello when I walked in, another hello when I got to the counter, then the unthinkable happened.

A seemingly young (same age as the UPS guy) woman looked at my check I was paying with and said "will there be anything else Mr. Nichols"? (which I love when people use my name, don't we all) But that is not it. She noticed my check was from Union Planters/Regions/AmSouth and immediately went into a sales pitch. Telling me all about their savings rate, yada yada yada.

The point is that Mrs. 5/3 was trained to utilize every encounter to turn a customer into an opportunity. However, Mr. UPS almost insisted not putting down my email address when this could clearly be utilized for future marketing or just plain old customer service.

The real shame is that I am sure UPS counts on collecting email addresses, otherwise why would they print it on the form? But due to a poorly trained guy, future revenue may have been lost.

As for Mrs. 5/3, I was looking to change banks anyway, maybe they have room for my $2.15.

Take care.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

In review ...

You ever heard the phrase "you can't see the forest for the trees?" I think this happens more often than not in the world of athletics, particularly in marketing.

A commonly troublesome relationship is one with a marketing department and an outsourced multimedia rightsholder. Ours is ISP. Now, let me say, ISP is as good as they get and very profitable for VU. However, their job is to push the envelope and one of mine is to protect the integrity of the game.

Recently we had a huge blowup over the apparent lack of respect their department was showing ours. They pretty much appeared to put on a show as though they cared about what we wanted, but yet did exactly what we asked them not to do. Taken in isolation the incident shouldn't have been a big deal. But since there is the unspoken assumption that we are getting screwed, these things seem to pile up.

Long story short, we all had a come-to-Jesus and things are great again. The one thing that came out of the meeting was the number of suggestions from us that they did do.

Looking at the long list of things that would be categorized as "good partner", I really feel naive for getting so upset. But as I try to do as often as possible, I look for what I can learn.

The learning lesson for me is that fellow employees cannot be counted on as knowing all of your successes. And in the face of ignorance, people will assume the worst.

Therefore I will try to provide an annual/semi-annual report for marketing that shows our successes over the past couple of years. It is not meant to be a brag session, but rather to make sure fellow colleagues are not clouded by a few isolated poor incidents.

In short, continue to remind clients, fans, and colleagues what the forest looks like.

Take care.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Best of the best

I have started a new routine where several of us from work without direct gameday duties for basketball will grab a few brews between work and the game on weekdays. It is quite a fun time and I feel it goes miles to being a good leader ... knowing your people on a different level.

Anyway, we were discussing how a former marketing employee of mine was promoted to Director of CHAMPS Lifeskills. This was a very good promotion for her and fit well within here interests.

The question being discussed was where does she go from there?

Will she be in CHAMPS for the rest of her career?

Hell no I say.

I will pass along some good advice I got from my old AD, Todd Turner when I was having similar thoughts. He said, "Big E",(that is what he called me, funny because I am 5'5") all you need to worry about is how to be the absolute best at what you are doing now.

Of course I thought, yea, that is what will help Vanderbilt and Todd Turner, but what does that do for me?

How naive. Low and behold, I have been promoted three times with all three being in different departments completely. From facilities, to event operations, to web manager, to marketing. In addition, at Vanderbilt right now our very talented Game Operations/Facilities guy is leaving us to work in development.

The point is, no matter what you do, be the best. Or at least strive to be the best, and the fruits of your labor will reveal themselves in time.

Success in this business is hinged on passion and innovation.

Take care.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Preds Dead?

In an article yesterday, I got some good news ... selfishly.

It appears the slow adoption of the Predators as a Nashville team is catching up to them. To summarize the article, lagging attendance, especially for an NHL league leader, could cost Nashville it's pro hockey franchise. Not only is the issue the direct revenue associated with paid attendance, but it is also the complicated formula based on home attendance that pays out league revenue sharing. Without the revenue sharing, the Preds would be dead.

Why would this make me happy? Because I think they have significantly cut into Vanderbilt's revenue both in ticket revenue and corporate sponsorships. Without question, the Predators leaving would be profitable for the Commodores.

Let me just go on record, I admire the Predators' marketing staff. I think they do a really good job of creating awareness, interest, and excitement once someone takes in a game.

But why is it not working? Many point to Tampa Bay, or Raleigh as southern towns that support hockey very well. Is it because they do not have NFL sucking the life out of them the entire year?

The talk radio crowd has been discussing this religiously and have been harping on what do do. The focus is on the business community not supporting the Preds through ticket sales. I think their corporate sponsorship levels are satisfactory, but the large blocks of tickets that are bought by local businesses in other markets are just not happening.

As I sit back, as I usually do in situations like this, I am thinking to myself what would I do? Right now, I do not know. I think something very radical has to be considered that is directly targeted at the Nashville business community.

By radical, I do not mean in the sales process, but radical in the product. What else could a hockey team do to encourage Nashville businesses to consider blocks of tickets to support their business efforts?

Business only Happy Hour prior to the game? Maybe like a Chamber event exclusive to ticketholders bought in a business' name? Or perhaps take some of the trends in club seating to all tickets in the lower bowl such as waiter service, wireless ordering of concessions, or exclusive entrance?

Just a little brainstorming. In my opinion, the issue lies in the product. Not the game presentation or the team performance, but rather creating more value for the business to meet their goals.

Take care.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Revelling in rivalries

So last night, I had one of those "this is why I am in this business" nights.

A little background ... Vanderbilt's signature sport is men's basketball. We play in a strange gym called Memorial Gym whose distinctive characteristic is the fact that the benches are under the hoops. I digress ... we have had a number of last minute victories that have earned Memorial Gym to elicit "Memorial Magic". However, our team this year has not been very good. Losses to Furman and App State can do that to you.

Enter Tennessee. Enter cross-town rivalry. Enter a head coach in Bruce Pearl, whom I greatly respect from a purely PR perspective, but who is greatly hated by our fan base. Tennessee is ranked. I made the prediction we would lose by 20+.

Tat was before I factored in the Memorial Magic moments. See below.

As we sat around the office today, talking about the game, the older folks started reflecting on what Vandy used to be ... the hottest thing in Nashville. That was before pro sports came in and sucked the life out of our program.

However, short of the Music City Miracle in a season where the Titans went to the Super Bowl, I would argue there was more emotion and enthusiasm in that gym last night than any pro team could care to generate. (at least in the south. I have the theory that north of the mason dixon line the lens of sports fandom flips thus making pro sports have the same attributes as college sports in the south)

My point is that there is still something very pure about good college sporting entertainment. Most people want it. Most people enjoy it. Most people talk about it. But, in our relatively young pro sports town, until we are winning all the media wants to cover is pro sports.

They are still the cool, new kid in school ... maybe like Sunshine on Remember the Titans. But, I still feel I can penetrate the culture, and remind this community what sort of entertainment value there is in collegiate athletics.

Until the roller coaster begins the next flip, "We're number 1".

Take care.

Monday, January 08, 2007


Advertising, or awareness as I like to call it, has many misconceptions. Many consumers, or staff, or fans in our case like to debate which medium to utilize. Some like TV, some like radio, some like direct mail, some just love outdoor. You get the picture.

When we have retreats with the staff like what we will be having next week, these questions routinely come up. Therefore I thought I would share my strategy when it comes to placing media or conducting an email or direct mail campaign.

Relevance is very relevant.

I am a big fan of direct mail, email, and database marketing in its full extent. Why, because I hate wasting money on people who are unlikely to be interested in what I am selling.

When I use the line above, many people say something like "why do you use so much direct mail? I usually call that junk mail."

My distinction is that junk mail is junk when it is not relevant. I just checked the mail and got a lot of junk mail. However, had there been a piece with a Cardinals logo, or a photo of the new Busch Stadium I would have opened it and gave it at least brief attention. And in today's hectic world, brief is sometimes all you have.

The same strategy applies in mass media. I like to pour as much of our TV budget when I think the most likely VU fans might be tuning in ... our televised football games or other SEC games.

Ratings are good, but relevance is great!

Take care.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


As I get ready for our first marketing staff meeting of the year tomorrow, I am excited to try out one of the exercises I have used on a few different people. It will be very interesting to do this with my staff, as they are all within 3 years of age and all male.

We will be exploring our brand.

What is our brand. In "The Elusive Fan, Reinventing Sports in a Crowded Marketplace", a brand is defined as a distinguishable characteristic.

What is Vanderbilt athletics' distinguishable characteristic? I have asked about 9 people differing in age, race, and gender and more importantly fandom. At the end of the exercise we examine what our current brand is and what it should be. These answers will guide our planning for next year.

My current trouble is whether a brand should differ regarding the program and the entertainment value. Hmm.

The overwhelming answer to what our brand IS, and pretty close to what it SHOULD BE centered around the following: classic, true student athlete, underdog, intelligent, etc

I am trying not to let my own beliefs interfere with this study. But, this is the fun part of the job. Shaping people's opinions. Transforming perceptions.

Take care.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

$4 Million per, right on target

Yea, I was taken by surprise at the open wallet Alabama apparently has regarding the hiring of Nick Saban.

However, I disagree that he is not worth it. Let me explain.

After doing a little quick research, I found the compensation to be right in line with what a similar business would pay a similar position.

First, college athletics is a business, right now at least. Therefore we must look at the revenue it generates and evaluate compensation relative to what is earned. In thinking about a comparable company, I looked to the NFL. Unfortunately, schools like Alabama are closer to resembling the NFL than their "true" counterpart, like say, Vanderbilt! My choice, Green Bay Packers of the NFL.

I chose the Packers based only on the ability to get info since they are a public company. Plus, the Packers are very parallel to Alabama, as it relates to nationwide fandom.

Packers head Coach Mike McCarthy earns a total compensation of around $5M per year. The Packers total revenue is around $200M per year, but $80M of that comes from the powerful NFL national TV contracts. Therefore, comparing apples to apples, let's use the $120M revenue budget

The Tide's revenue "should be" around $90 - $100M per year. If you take the same percentage from the Packers example (about 4-5%) then Saban's compensation is right in line.

This was a very rudimentary research project, but I think it does illustrate that the Saban deal is not as undeserved as some people are saying.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What now?

If you are Boise State head coach Chris Peterson (right) how do you capitalize on their recent success after beating Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl?

If they are thinking about this now, it is probably too late. At Vanderbilt, while not complete, we give regular attention to what we would do if we caught "lightening in the bottle".

Since this is my blog, let me take a quick stab at it.

  1. Identify talking points - no matter what you do or say or who you say it to, there needs to be a consistent message. I would go with the Cinderella theme and re-emphasize the brand they clearly have for attracting overachievers who were passed over from the "big" schools.
  2. Pitch big - They probably only have about a week to remain hot (until the National Championship game), therefore I would identify the 10 biggest opportunities for marketing the program and University. My top ten would be something like this: Oprah, Cold Pizza, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Costas Now, Outside the Lines, Fox Pregame before the UF/OSU game, NPR (radio), Jim Rome (radio).
  3. Reconnect with BSU fans - Host a reception at one of their facilities to allow Boise to celebrate with them and spread the love; perhaps before a basketball game.

Remember, chance favors the prepared mind.

Take care.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Baby Bummer …

One of the things that just slapped me in the face when my wife and I had our little girl was how it would affect our work.

I totally underestimated how much time, energy, and sick days Grace would cost me. (That sounds bad; I would not trade my daughter for the world) I am a natural workaholic. Like I said in my last post, I love to work, love to learn, and love to inspire.

After Grace was born, I learned that they sometimes get sick. Yea, no lie. Of course, my wife will stay home right? Not necessarily. She is a working woman, so she has the same issues as I do.

What do we do? Split days.

Right now I am at home, with Grace (daughter), because I had an important meeting to attend in the morning. And my wife had work to do all day, but she shifted it to the afternoon.

This wasn’t exactly how I saw the New Year getting started, but as a father, a husband, and sometimes a decent friend, I am pulled many directions. But I love it. I love it all.

One of my friends said it best. When I was complaining one time, I used the analogy that my bucket was overflowing. He, very plainly said, “then you need a bigger bucket”. Truer words have never been said. And now, my bucket is much bigger than when Grace was born. However, the thought crosses my mind that in order to continue to move up in this business, time will become even tighter.

Here’s to looking for the bottomless bucket!

Take care.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The most wonderful time ...

... of the year.

Yes, I love this time of year. I can let my creative juices fly. I am creative. My staff is somewhat creative. And the department is much more open to LISTENING to some wacky ideas.

But, I will miss sitting in my PJs all day watching football. Yes, I think I am prepping myself well for retirement!

If you are content with your successes, you need to get another job. This business is never "figured out", and it continues to evolve. Maybe by you reading this blog, you already know this.
I look forward to what our staff will be able to accomplish this year! This is what makes it fun.

Take care.