Monday, April 30, 2007

Little Johnny

For those that don't know me, I am a freak about customer service. That being said, I am still not thrilled with the level of customer service we provide at Vanderbilt events. I think it is very good, however my expectations are closer to Disney than to a college football game.

Enter Johnny.

While incredibly cheesy, and closely resembling some sort of powerpoint chain email my Mom might send, the message should come through loud and clear.

Make a difference. Impact one of your customers in a special, unexpected way.

While we certainly are not quite the caliber of Johnny, we have a pretty good program called Deputy Dores where we provide "random acts of kindness" to our patrons. These 'random' acts are hardly random at all, only random in that they appear to be random to the fan who receives one of them. The experiences can range from a free golf cart ride from the parking lot, complimentary concessions for an entire family, a seat upgrade from the rafters of basketball to the 3rd row (but we do not make a big scene about it like some people's Best Seats in the House), or handing out free Kid Commodore hats and face tattoos.

We estimate that our 40 Deputy Dores "touch" or provide Magic Moments (yea, stolen from Disney) to about 500 fans per game or 3,000 people over the course of a 6 game football season. Obviously there is some possible overlap, but if 3,000 people tell 10 fiends about their "Magic Moment" we have imprinted a positive image of a Vanderbilt game on 30,000 potential VU fans. That is the kind of viral marketing we could be proud of.

We have not cured cancer or anything, but these types of programs are far underutilized when creating a solid marketing plan. So go put the 'ole phrase (it takes $7 more to attract a new customer as to retain a current one) to practical use. Yea, I said it, take your AD BUDGET to fund your Magic Moment program.

Take care.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Press is Pressing

I live in Nashville, Tennessee home of the Tennessee Titans. The Titans used to be the Houston Texans.

Why the brief history lesson? The focal point of this post is on John McClain, a sports columnist for the Houston Chronicle who is one of my favorite guests on our local radio talk show on WKDF The Zone.

McClain, even though I love his NFL insights, seems to be pressing a bit about access the media should receive from major sports organizations. In a conversation last week discussing the NFL and how some of their injury reports are very vague or purposefully "questionable", McClain made the point that NFL GMs owe it to the fans who pay for their tickets, buy their sponsorships, fill up their suites, and buy their merchandise to communicate with them ... (and here is the line in question) by utilizing the media.

McClain's point was pretty much on the money. Teams do owe it tot he fans to communicate info in a timely, accurate manner. However, I disagree that a power the likes of the NFL "needs" the media to communicate. The NFL knows that many fans get their news straight from the team's website more and more these days. McClain surely knows that too as it has been widely reported that mass media entities, such as a newspaper, are struggling to catch up to a world that appears to have passed them by.

But let's look a little closer. Who is right? The team will obviously skew its coverage towards the positive when the chance presents itself. But the media provides an unbiased look into the issue, thus letting the reader decide.

Right? Maybe, but maybe not. Every fan base has their conspiracy theories about columnists' intentions to undermine an organization. So, albeit that a team site might provide a very "homer" tone to its information, many fans actually want to hear that.

So where are we? Not sure. But I firmly believe there is room for both entities to coexist. But, it will be a work in progress.

Take care.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Great Expectations

No, this is not a post about the 1998 movie that starred Gwyneth Paltrow, but rather an important management lesson I am learning.

As I grow and evolve as a manager and leader, I am learning various successful (and too many unsuccessful) techniques. However, one I recently implemented with what appears to be a bit of success is that setting clear expectations are paramount.

I have sometimes taken for forget that those I lead have not had the same experiences, successes, failures, motivating events, or diverse happenings that shape who I am and who I aspire to be. For those reasons, it would be impossible for those I lead to just "know" what I define as successful.

So, I gotta tell 'em. Sounds pretty straightforward huh?

Well, my recent example was with an employee who has some real talent for entertaining a crowd and putting together a good show. However, this person just wasn't "getting it" as some people like to say. So, about two months ago, as a staff, we collaborated and established some very tangible, pass/fail, expectations.

Guess what? It worked. Not only did this person excel at the limited list of expectations, but the level of excitement and confidence is soaring through the roof.

It is ironic. What my 2 year old daughter can do pretty well, I sometimes have trouble with - communication.

Take care.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Maker's Mark's Word of Mouth Program

While planning our annual trip to Keeneland for the Bluegrass Stakes horse race, I was talking to a friend who used to live in Lexington for some advice. She informed me of a great little party on the Friday night put on by Maker's Mark, but it is "Invite Only". After visions of all the clips and photos from Millionaire's ow at the Derby, I immediately discounted what sounded like a great party - Thoroughbreds and Redheads.

Then the kicker - she said all you have to do is register at for their free Ambassadors program. Voila.

After logging on, registering myself as an Ambassador for Maker's Mark, researching the party a little bit, it hit me - this is brilliant buzz marketing. To take it a step further, I called the other couple who are making the trip with me about the program and more importantly the party.

Here's the highlights of the Ambassadors Program:
  • Free by simply filling out an online form
  • Access to a password protected website containing historical info, upcoming events, my barrel update, and tools
  • As an Ambassador I get my name (along with 17 others) as an owner of a whiskey barrel. Plus, I can purchase whiskey from my barrel in just 7 short years.
  • Exclusive access to free events like the after party of the Makers Mark Mile (the Friday horse race before the Bluegrass Stakes)
  • Tools - these are brilliant, availability to request (free) invitation cards to invite others to join the club
  • Free, unannounced gifts. Actually they do not promote this as it is intended to be a surprise. Apparently, at Christmas, and my barrel's birthday I will get gifts in the mail. Good gifts like a set of bourbon glasses with stirrers.

I know you are thinking, why in the world is Eric talking so glowingly about whiskey, is he an alcoholic? No, I don't even like whiskey. (first alcohol I ever got drunk on, now I cringe at the smell) But I am intrigued at this level of marketing.

They are obviously holding out the special parties as a carrot to get people talking, to get people to sign up, to begin the relationship with Maker's Mark. That is what got me. Once hooked, they have a very extensive program by which I should become more engaged in our new relationship.

Maker's Mark is capitalizing on everyone's desire to be an "insider".

My question is, how can we do that with Vanderbilt Athletics? I mean, I have absolutely no interest in drinking Maker's Mark, but I feel connected, almost obligated to purchase a bottle or two to have in my house when we entertain those that do like whiskey. Perhaps we can accomplish the same sort of connection with the hundreds of thousands of transplants to Nashville as it relates to VU? I mean, they are "true Michigan State fans" or "the biggest Nebraska fan", but perhaps by creating a program by which a connection can be made we can begin the acceptance of Vanderbilt as their "2nd" favorite team - or "my new home team".

Maybe the carrot could be an exclusive tailgate party in Vandyville. Or a pregame exclusive credential granting field level access before kickoff. Maybe exclusive gear.

The issue I am running in my head is how to generate revenue. Or how to enable them to spread the word. Or how to spread the word while keeping it exclusive.

Thoughts? Email me.

Take care.