MELT was featured today in TheList’s “Agency Spotlight” column in their DailyVista publication. TheList is a prominent marketing trade industry publication that reaches thousands of marketers across the country, providing real-time and relevant information to the advertising and marketing community. “MELT is proud to be featured in this prestigious publication,” said MELT CEO Vince Thompson. “It’s an honor to be mentioned with the great agencies, our great clients, and showcasing our great work together,” said Thompson.

AGENCY SPOTLIGHT: MELT CEO, COO discuss experiential, event, sports marketing

Agency continues growth in collegiate, pro sports, events, high school space

Jul 15 2013
Daisy Venners

Fully integrated sports marketing agency MELT has grown with the changing times to develop methods that have redefined experiential marketing.

The Atlanta-based firm prides itself on outstanding innovation and execution for all of its clients by specializing in the four R’s: forming the right relationships, relevancy, ROI and reach.

With a focus on experiential marketing and activation of college sports, MELT has shown its ability through outstanding events for clients like Coca-Cola, NCAA, and ESPN.

DailyVista caught up with agency partners Michelle Grech and Vince Thompson, who BizBash recently named to its 50 most innovative event professionals list, to learn more about the evolving firm and their work.

Thompson and Grech also provided further details MELT’s expansion into the growing high school sports space.

Can you highlight MELT’s overall expertise and the services it provides? What expertise and capabilities is the agency particularly known for?

Vince: Melt has been in business since 2000 and we’ve been very fortunate to be in a great region of the country that is driving the Sunbelt striving line of the economy. We believe that there is a tremendous amount of talent in both the creative services area and experiential area, with obviously Turner and the film industry exploding but also in collegiate and professional sports.

About three years ago, we made a strategic decision to go all in against college sports. We felt like Atlanta was going to be a hot bed for the Southeast, where SEC and ACC sports are really big. Obviously, ESPN has a great say in the growth of both of those brands.

MELT CEO Vince ThompsonWe have worked with both conferences and a lot of their partners, corporate sponsors and the media networks, as well. We still do some general service but the majority of our business is focused around corporations who are either making an investment in college athletics or thinking about making an investment in it.

It’s a great time to be in the space. There is unlimited potential and then you layer in the technology, the investment that the media companies are making, and that there are so many entry points into the sponsorship and activation of college athletics, unlike the sort of constraints that you have investing in professional sport sponsorships.

We have been fortunate that we have been based in Atlanta and have been able to work with Coca-Cola since 2001. We work with them mainly in the activation of their collegiate sponsorships. We just completed working on our 11th Final Four for the company from an activation perspective. With it coming out of Atlanta and being the 75th anniversary, I think it was definitely MELTs finest performance and also the Coca Cola Company’s finest performance as it relates to really activating their sports investments.

They’ve had a great year. They have other great agencies that represent them in the sports space: Ignition has done a fabulous job with their Olympic work, Momentum does a fabulous job with their NASCAR work and CPC Intersect does a fabulous job with their Dasani work. We have been honored to work with a lot of their college activation, our 11th Final Four and then we will be out there with them this fall in the activation of ESPN College GameDay, which we are really excited about because that is the crown jewel of sports sponsorships activations.

Why are college sports activations so important for brands?

MELT COO Michelle GrechMichelle: College sports more than any other sports property have fans for life. You are born into their family’s loyalty, they go to college and then they are loyal alumni. You can hit consumers at any point and they never lose their love of their team. You don’t have that same level of loyalty on the professional level that you do in the collegiate level, so it’s a huge opportunity for corporations to associate their brands with college sports and get that transfer equity.

Also, you are going to support the brands that support your college team, and you want to engage with them and create those memories. As a student you’re a powered consumer; you are building your brand love. That’s when you decide what brands you’re going to buy and your parents have influenced you, but you are now informed and engaged. It’s a great opportunity from a company’s perspective, so that’s why we hang our hat there.

What are some of Melt’s biggest accomplishments from the past year, in addition to the Final Four?

Vince: The Final Four was really special but we’ve also had very good success in the new business space this year.

We have started working with First Data, the largest credit card processer in the country, which is based out of Atlanta. We have continued to grow relationships with Kia, with their Southeast division based out of here.

We have also been working with a college All-Star game in Mobile, Ala., called the Senior Bowl. We are very proud of that; we will have an announcement forthcoming soon with a new title sponsor for them.

We just finished activation with Atlanta Food and Wine. We feel that the culinary space and the tailgating space is going to be very wide open as people make their Saturday game day decisions. I’m very proud of the successful work we did for the ACC in the fall of 2012 with the “Where Leaders Are Born” campaign.

What are the agency’s growth goals for 2013 and beyond?

Vince: We are moving very aggressively into the original content production side. We just finished a national television show on behalf of CBS and Greg Gumbel, who is one of the voices of the Final Four. We are bringing in some very high level producers to take advantage of the growth of original production based in Atlanta.

There is going to be great demand for original content by advertisers as these proprietary networks open up.The SEC just announced a channel that will be distributed by ESPN. We feel like MELT will have a really positive role in providing content and programming for the channel, as well as attracting a lot of advertisers who want to take advantage of southern culture.

We are also moving aggressively into the high school space with PlayOn! Sports, which is with CEO David Rudolph, one of my first clients. We believe that there’s going to be a lot of growth in the high school space as he continues to scale those relationships. We have a vision that there can one day be large scale youth celebrations and championship events on the scale of the Super Bowl, college football playoff and Final Four for both girls and boys.

The next frontier that we want to try to pursue is properties – bowl games, a lot of colleges and universities, pro golf tournaments, music festivals – anywhere we can help work strategically to enhance that fan or consumer experience and engagement.

What makes MELT stand apart from its competitors?

Vince: We have a great track record of execution. We execute several hundred events per year. We feel like execution is a sweet spot because there are a lot great ideas out there, but they are only good with great execution.

Secondly, we continue to break a lot of ground in the innovation of the event and activation side. For instance, in 2010, we were the first company to ever stream a live concert on Facebook, which we did with Daughtry and Darius Rucker around the Final Four in Indianapolis.

Also, we like to say that we will globalize local events, and the Hangout Festival is a perfect example of that. It is one of the most successful music festivals in the country, but when it was somewhat new they were having a hard time standing out in the national sponsorship arena. Our strategy was to get it in front of as many eyeballs as possible.We knew this is one of the best music festivals in the country but people are just beginning to find out about it, so how do we scale those eyeballs from that festival site and take it to the masses? Then, how do we help quantify those mass eyeballs in value to the sponsorship community?

We worked closely with festival founder Shaul Zislin to help him scale. This year, it led to a series of three day streaming on MTV, VH1, and CMT, which is really allowing him to globalize that Hangout brand year round. It also gives him a higher return on his sponsor investments because he’s bringing more eyeballs in, which sets him up to build that brand long term and sell more tickets to consumers and do more events.

It was viewed as a local festival prior to us putting that national and international footprint on it. MELT had a production team of 22 cameras and we were in for three days filming every one of the acts. We edited down those 35 acts to a two-hour primetime special on Palladia and out of that we also did another one-hour special with the Flaming Lips covering “The Dark Side of The Moon.”

How does MELT approach activation versus other agencies?

Michelle: When we activate and build things, we are really thinking in a fully integrated way. We understand what a brand or property stands for and how to align it and drive revenue for everybody involved. We always say we will take one dollar and turn it into four. We know how to drive the value of the investment because at the end of the day if you don’t sell more product or you don’t build your property you’re not getting enough out of what you’re doing. You have to be able to refuel the pump.

F or example, with the Final Four, we did several things:

We worked on the NCAA and we produced their salute, which is their awards night, or tribute to the Final Four teams and the coaches. We produced everything from the video content to all of the branding and integration of that experience.

From there, we had a concert at the Tabernacle with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, which was part of a concert series we created with Coke Zero and Turner Broadcasting. We created Coke Zero’s music strategy around collegiate sports, so that was a way of extending it.

Then in the host city there was a Saturday concert called “Coke Zero Countdown,” so when Vince was talking about the entertainment strategy we created for the Final Four, it’s all about giving something back to the fans in the host city and those coming to visit, as well as creating a fusion between sport and entertainment.

We did Bracket Town, which is the official fan fest of Final Four, and it’s sponsored by Coke Zero. We did all the Coke Zero integration and activation there. So, we had different basketball players for meet and greets; we did a Powerade 3-on-3 tournament; we had Coke Zero sampling; and we had all sorts of interactive events within that. We branded it, staffed it and developed the whole thing. We did retail promotions for Coke Zero, which included some of their key customers like Kroger.

As Vince mentioned, we did the TV show for CBS. We also worked with Greg Gumbel to bring him into local Kroger stores and drive value there. We had him do radio spots and some extensions off the TV show, so there’s a ton of different things where you take one piece of what you’re doing and keep hammering it home. The message continues to help reinforce value and translate their national ad campaign to sports fans of Final Four basketball.

Are there common business challenges that MELT is often asked to help its clients overcome?

Vince: Every client is taxed with trying to create the greatest ROI for their sponsor dollar.I think they’re taxed with figuring out how to integrate their retail partners because you really want to drive a consumer into the in-store and online environments to purchase.

Also, how do you maximize that dollar from a corporate hospitality perspective because our clients have a higher expectation of how they want to entertain their partners within a property?

Then, most importantly, how do you pay that off for a consumer? So, how do you integrate a Coke Zero relationship with ESPN College GameDay, and then how do you pay that off all the way down at the consumer level.

The other challenge is that technology is exploding and changing so fast. Corporations don’t move as fast as those technologies, so our job is to keep them enlightened on where those opportunities are and where those audiences are congregating. We want to maximize that. That’s one of our greatest opportunities.

Michelle: A piece of that to add on is relevance. How are you relevant and different to the consumer? How are you relevant against that sport and to that sports fan? Certain brands just don’t align or they just put the same commercial out in a sporting event versus actually talking to that consumer against their experience and being relevant in that moment. You have to create a one-to-one relationship using relevant technology.

Can you share more of the technological challenges that you’re helping clients with?

Vince: One challenge that we are working with clients and properties on is the sophistication of high-definition TVs and the consumption of the second screen. A lot of fans are electing to stay home and not make an investment in a sports ticket. They’ll use that same dollar to buy a 60 or 80 inch television where they can consume 15 or 20 sporting events in a day, opposed to committing to one long event. How do we make that fan experience and engagement more valuable? How do we entice and intrigue that fan to come back, opposed to staying home and consuming the event on an 80-inch television, which I can buy for the same value as four tickets to a professional game.

We see it as a great challenge and a great opportunity. We need to create more value for the ticket, like better quality service and exclusive events at the stadium. So, we see tremendous amounts of opportunity in what we do – event experiential and activation. We see that property sponsors and corporations are willing to make that investment pay it off because they want to keep fans engaged and get greater ROI.

What industry and consumer trends is MELT most excited about and working to leverage more?

Vince: We are focusing a lot of our thought in the entire evolution of the second screen. A lot of consumers of all ages are beginning to get their information from a smartphone or a tablet. The demographics of the 8-year-old, the 13-year-old, the 16-year-old – we call them digital natives – are really important. It is second nature to them to consume their information on a different platform. With the evolving technology, we feel like there’s going to be tremendous growth. That’s why we’re excited about both the college space and the high school space. We see unlimited growth for a lot of advertisers and a lot of clients that are making investments in these spaces, demographics, properties and sponsorships.

What types of clients does MELT prefer to work with? Are there particular spaces that you’re looking at?

Vince: We typically like to target other corporations who are making sponsor investments. We see an emerging growth opportunity in Mud and Color runs. It’s an attractive space because it’s a broader participation; you don’t have to be a world class marathon runner to run a Tough Mudder.

We feel like the creation of owned and operated events is great, such as our involvement with the Hangout Fest. We want to get involved with innovators like Mr. Zislin, innovators at the Senior Bowl and innovators at the PGA Tour.

We’re doing a number of things with the PGA Championship. The tour is a perfect example of what we’re trying to leverage. They are trying to tap the affinity of college alumni and they are also trying to introduce a culinary angle. We feel like food trucks are very ripe for growth too.

Another space that we feel is very popular now is Minor League Baseball. It’s affordable for the family, so we’re beginning to work with some clients in that category and space.

We also work with Coca-Cola with their Troops for Fitness program. The Coca Cola Company has always been a strong supporter of the USO, and obviously the USO does a lot of great things for the military and military families. We wanted to team up with the USO because a lot of returning military personnel are in some of the best physical shape and condition in the world.

We did the test program last November in Chicago and it continues to flourish. If you look at the marriage of the Coca-Cola Company with the USO, you see their desire to help the troops and help translate troops’ knowledge into healthy active lifestyle. We think that’s got a lot of great potential down the road, as well. The main this is the giving back, obviously our troops and their families make a lot of great sacrifices.

The Ritz Carlton Residence Building
3630 Peachtree Rd NE
Suite 960
Atlanta, GA 30326
(404) 812.1957

Vince Thompson
President & CEO
(404) 812-1957

Michelle Grech
Chief Operating Officer
(404) 812-1957

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