Selling Youth Sports



I’m headed out west today to Columbia, MO (yes, coming all the way from Columbia, MD – it’s like a tale of two cities, but totally different).  We’re going out to present a proposal to help the city assess their opportunities in the area of youth sports.  Youth sports tourism continues to grow in the US, and the importance of youth sports within communities has become more and more important. 

When I was a kid, it seemed we primarily played sports just to get us out of the house in some kind of organized manner, and our parents would show up to cheer us on when they could.  It’s a whole different world out there now – parents encourage their kids to focus on sports as a way to get a college scholarship and often put them into year-round training programs to excel.  They drive for hours and fly all over the country to participate in advanced training and tournaments – any way to get ahead.  I’m not saying it’s good or bad, it’s just different. 

On a municipal level, the opportunities for youth sports are significant as well.  Locally, it’s a great way to enhance a community.  Here in Columbia, MD, we have a great local soccer complex with grass and artificial turf fields that are used year-round.  Any weekend day is like a carnival with kids coming in and out throughout the day, not to mention tournament weekends when they have to bus you over from the park across the street.  It’s one of the factors that helps Money Magazine consistently judge the town one of the best places to live.  And, from a tourism perspective, these venues can generate serious revenue.  A team of 12 or 13 kids, with their families of course, coming into town for a weekend means hotel rooms, restaurants, tourism, etc.  It’s important to be able to compete facility-wise, as that tends to drive the decision-making process for the event organizers.  Of course, facilities cost money to build and maintain, so making sure your town is well positioned to get your piece of the pie is tremendously important.

We recently completed a study on youth sports for the City of Fort Wayne, IN.  It’s a very different type of marketing than we conduct for a corporate client, and frankly, it feels good.  Helping a city make these types of decisions and create value for residents is a different outcome than trying to sell products, memberships or services.  It feels like I’m able to use my skill set to help a municipality improve by providing opportunities for their citizens.  That’s why I’m so excited about the opportunity to do it again for another city. And hope we get more chances in the future as well – each situation and jurisdiction presents unique challenges, but the focus always seems to be on creating a stronger community.

So, Columbia, MO – here I come.  Bring on the BBQ.


Staying Classy in San Diego



Sorry – I couldn’t resist.

Had the wonderful opportunity to escape from the snow and cold of Baltimore for a few days to visit a new agency partner out in sunny and warm San Diego.  I love trips like this – lots of business going on, but also a chance to explore a town and see new things.  Given the time difference, I also found myself awake at 4 in the morning, meaning extra chances to do things like grab breakfast and walk around town.

Here are three basic things I try to do everytime I travel for work:

1.  Eat something local.  In San Diego, it’s the Fish Tacos.  Great Fish Tacos, people told me.  So I tried some for myself.  My favorites were here, but I also tried them here and here as well.  Always try and find something that the city is known for, that you can’t get anyplace else.

2.  See something local.  I’ll admit, I was working too hard and dropped the ball a bit on this trip.  Still, I managed to have a drink at the renovated and historic U.S. Grant hotel and wander around the Gaslamp Quarter each morning (imagine the French Quarter, but a little less congested).  Next time, I’ll make some time to see the sights.

3.  Spend as little time in my hotel as possible.  Have a few minutes to kill?  Go take a walk.  In fact, I’m writing this post in a local breakfast place.  I mean, there’s nothing wrong with the hotel I’m in, but visiting a new city means getting out and seeing the city, right?  And you can only see so much from your hotel room window.

It’s been a nice visit, but it’s always good to head home (well, when it’s not 3 degrees and snowing, I suppose).  My next trip takes me to Columbia, MO (where I’ve never been), and I’m looking forward to finding something memorable out there – suggestions are welcome.

Marketing Yourself



I’ve been spending a lot of time developing new business relationships recently.  And it occurs to me as I do so, how much time we all spend marketing ourselves.  Selling your skill set to others is not unlike selling a product, actually.  The marketing process is very much the same, and thinking about it that way really helps keep the process moving.  I find that it comes down to three simple steps:

Step 1:  Understanding your target audience

Who am I talking to?  What are their needs?  How can what I’m selling help them solve a problem?  No matter if it’s you or a product – you have to have something your consumer wants.  For myself, as a marketing generalist, sometimes I find that there are so many skill sets I can draw on, that it’s hard for a potential client to understand where I might fit.  Listening to what they tell me and then identifying specific areas of opportunity are critical to helping find that common ground and making the sale.

Step 2:  Developing a unique selling proposition (USP)

Marketing 101:  What makes your product unique from all the others out there?  Find that point of differentiation, and then deliver on it.   We each have our own USP as well.  For instance, while there are other strategic marketers out there, no one combines my exact set of skills (including having built and run my own companies) and executes them in the same way that I do.  My personality is unique as well.  I’ve been lucky in my career to work with many clients who truly enjoyed working with me – and that’s something that I try to parlay into new relationships as well.  A big reason why I like to meet prospects for lunch or coffee is getting that personality out on the table and seeing if it’s a good fit on both sides.  We spend a lot of time working with our clients – it’s always helpful when we like one another.

Step 3:  Choosing the right mix of tactics to achieve your objectives

Think about what it takes to sell a product.  Brand awareness, presenting your USP, making the sale, retaining a customer. And the range of tactics involved – direct mail, email, social media, outdoor advertising, television, print, event marketing, etc.  There are a lot of choices you can make, and often choosing the right mix is the difference between success and failure.  I find marketing myself is no different – I choose to use telemarketing, social media and email marketing to generate leads.  Then, I use in-person appearances to identify a need and determine if there’s mutual interest (not terribly different from event marketing, really).  Once a sale is made, I shift into retention mode – exceeding expectations in order to generate future sales.  Finding that right mix is going to vary for every product (and for each of us), but it’s critical to being successful.

So, while I don’t like to think of myself as a mere “commodity”, the marketing mentality does tend to be very much the same. And just like not every product is right for every consumer, neither is what I’m selling.  The hope is that identifying a few good customers generates the right ongoing relationships to keep the operation humming.  And that’s true no matter what product or service you happen to be marketing.

Starting Something New



As some of you know, I’ve recently turned JK Squared into a full-time operation.  And when I say “full-time”, I really mean it.  It’s been more than 10 years since I launched my first business.  I was young, naive and confident, always confident, that the next project would just come rolling in no matter what I did.  This time it’s different.  I have the experience that says things only happen when you make them happen. No time for afternoon naps (sigh), when there’s a coffee, call or meeting to be had.

So, with that in mind, what’s it been like the first three weeks of the JK Squared era?  Busy.  Consistently hectic.  Life constantly in motion.  All great things.  I’m lucky enough to have launched with three paying clients, and, naturally, they all are immediately busy.  Developing a new campaign strategy, while also editing a 24-page newsletter, and finding time for business development efforts is hard.  But that’s one of the things I truly love about it all.  Having to learn where and how to balance my time.  And remembering that you NEVER know where a great opportunity may occur.

A friend of mine called me last Friday night, asking me to join his agency for a meeting that Monday.  Naturally, I was a bit skeptical, given the last-minute invitation.  But the meeting went great, and it could present a nice strategic marketing opportunity.  Later in the week, a marketing challenge presented by one of my agency clients led to reconnecting with an experiential marketing team I’ve wanted to work with, which could lead to a chance to build something really cool on the streets of San Diego.  You just never know, so take every meeting and return every call, and see where they all take you.

All of which explains why my blogging hasn’t been as frequent as I’d have liked.  In fact, have to cut this one short because I’m having coffee with a former client of mine from years ago.  Hey, you never know, right? 

How Strategic is Your Marketing Plan


In the past five years, like many of you, my business has changed dramatically. As a marketing and advertising professional, the introduction of social and mobile media has produced a brand new paradigm for brand management, retail marketing, and customer communication. So much in fact that it has thrown the entire agency model into chaos.

No longer can advertising agencies count on a 15% media commission for revenue, or rely on some clever television ads to drive the business goals of a client. We have had to become more responsive, more creative and more diverse in what we do.

Plus, now outside marketing consultants find ourselves competing with internal resources when it comes to things like plotting Facebook strategies, deciding when to rely on Pinterest over Twitter or implementing QR codes on a mobile platform.

An organization needs to make a lot of marketing decisions these days.  And, it’s not always clear where and how to start.  This is what makes the development of a strategic marketing plan so important for any organization.

Developing a Strategic Marketing Plan

A strategic marketing plan is a document that helps make sure your organization’s marketing efforts are tied directly into achieving your business goals and objectives.

It is equally important no matter whether your organization is a consumer-facing business, a business-to-business or business-to-government supplier, or a non-profit.

Your strategic marketing plan should be developed collaboratively based on input from both internal and external stakeholders, and presented in an easy-to-follow format (think PowerPoint, not Word) to your entire organization.

A well-executed plan should define your business goals and relate them to marketing objectives that lead to an achievable number of strategies with tactics that your organization has the resources (both in terms of time and personnel) to implement.

It is a measurable plan, with built-in metrics to help judge success, and should establish reasonable milestones for evaluation. In short, it is the marketing rules by which the organization will operate.

Strategic Marketing for a Digital World

In today’s fast-paced and constantly changing world of marketing, a strategic marketing plan is more important than ever. Particularly when it comes to social, digital and mobile media. One of the wonderful aspects of social media is the ability it presents for any organization or individual to respond to market conditions in real-time.

One of my favorite examples of this comes from last years Super Bowl blackout, when Oreo sent out a tweet that read “You can still dunk in the dark,” complete with a picture of an Oreo cookie and milk against a blacked-out background that mirrored the effect inside the Superdome at the time.

While this message and the creative were dictated by the situation at hand, the organization laid the groundwork for this type of response much earlier when they decided strategically how they were going to use social media to help impact their business goals.

And, if you recall, they also ran a TV spot during the game, taking advantage of the immense audience available. This type of synergistic marketing can only come through a well-executed strategic marketing plan.

So, as an organization, sit back and ask yourselves the following questions before starting your strategic marketing plan:

  • How do we make marketing decisions currently?
  • Do our marketing strategies always sync up with our business goals?
  • Are we aligned with the right individuals (internally or externally) to think strategically about how we approach marketing?

If you don’t know the answers to any of those questions (or the answer is “no”), it may be time to get onboard the development of a strategic marketing plan. You’ll be glad you did.


Note:  Originally Posted in the Wood Street JournalGreat web design and digital marketing firm that you should totally check out if you haven’t already.

New Year’s Goals and Objectives


Happy New Year, everyone.

I always tell my clients that before starting any marketing campaign, you need to define your goals and your objectives.  So, in that spirit, I wanted to share with you, my loyal readers, some of my own professional goals and objectives for 2014.  This is especially relevant for me, in that I’m launching a new business in 2014 (website coming soon – stay tuned!), which comes with it’s own primary financially-driven goals and objectives (find clients, make money, pay mortgage, etc.).  But, I also want goals and objectives that will motivate me every day beyond just financial success, and give me something that I can look back on in December and feel proud about having achieved.

So, three goals and objectives for JK Squared in the new year ahead:

1.  Help three new clients solve their marketing challenges.  As I set out in launching a new strategic marketing consultancy, I expect I’ll be working with a lot of clients and partners that I’ve been lucky enough to have met or worked beside in one of my past agency lives.  But, this year I also want to develop at least three new relationships that go beyond a single project, helping these new partners enact meaningful change to their marketing operation – whether that’s helping to build a marketing department, finding a new stream of customers, developing an ongoing social media strategy, or establishing a trusted creative partnership.  This year, I hope to do a little bit of a lot of things, including developing broadcast creative, writing marketing strategies, developing social media campaigns, helping companies re-brand themselves, conducting market research – all for a broader range of clients than I’ve had the opportunity to pursue the past several years.

2.  Upgrade my office space.  This is not my first time starting a business.  And, I’ve learned that there are always sacrifices to be made when you do so.  I’ve had to give up things like administrative support, IT help, software subscriptions, etc. in the past.  It’s all part of the exciting journey of building something from scratch.  This time, my biggest sacrifice has been in my office situation – I’ve gone from a very nice dedicated space in a highly-trafficked retail area . . . to something a bit different.  (Although it’s definitely an upgrade over my first office at my first company, which was a converted craft table in an unfinished basement.)  So, one of my goals for 2014 is to generate enough revenue to justify dedicated office space that fits the tone of my new venture.  (Not an easy task in the suburban wasteland that is Columbia, MD – thanks Julia.)

3.  Identify four opportunities for speaking engagements.  I truly enjoy giving presentations.  It doesn’t matter the audience – two prospects across a table, or 400 people in a ballroom – standing in front of a group and sharing my thoughts on a topic is something I love to do.  And not just speaking either, but I also love deciding what to speak about and building a presentation with impact.  It’s something that I think I do well, and not nearly enough.  So in 2014, I’m going to actively find at least four opportunities to get in front of a group and speak.

Those are my 2014 goals and objectives.  What are yours?  Rather than make new year’s resolutions for 2014 that we’re all unlikely to keep (Weight Watchers, I’m talking to you!), I encourage each of you to come up with your own measurable goals and objectives.  And, I wish you the best of luck in achieving them.