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Event Marketing Strategy with Wasserman's Zack Sugarman

by Chris Carver
on December 13, 2016

When the biggest brands, athletes and teams in the world want to revamp their digital marketing and media, one of the organizations on their short-list is Wasserman Media Group. They’re literally working on everything from the bid for the 2024 LA Olympics, to NASCAR to the Bay to Breakers. Oh and they just so happen to be one of the largest sports agencies in the world. Old Jerry McGuire would have been screwed if these guys were around back then. Of course I wanted a peak behind the curtain and sit down with one of their wizards pulling the strings.

Enter: Zack Sugarman
Wasserman’s resident digital badass aka. VP of Marketing and Digital Media.

Event Marketing Strategy with Wasserman Media Group Zack Sugarman

When I started this little interview series, one of the first guys I thought of was Zack. The reason... we all need to get better at digital media and marketing. And just like all of my other interviews, I wanted to have one of the best in the world share some of his thoughts on how we can improve our event marketing.

So huge props to Zack and the Wasserman crew for allowing us to pick his brain. Because that's an expensive brain :)

Get ready to take some notes. Enjoy.

Event Marketing Strategy with Wasserman Media Group Zack Sugarman
Just another day on the job for Zack and his buddies.

You ready Zack.
Let’s do it.

Where did you grow up?
Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California.

Oh jeez, what a terrible place to grow up.
Hah. I know.

What was fifteen-year-old Zack like?
Fifteen-year-old Zack as a pretty stereotypical North County beach enthusiast, surfer, avid soccer player, competitive, and in high school. Fifteen-year-old Zack was still a nerd, like I am today, and was ready to be able to drive. Soccer and the beach took up everything else.

And now, if your friends were a little tipsy, how would they describe you?
The Zack now is usually the one that is rallying the troops and making the decisions of what we're all going to go do or not do. He is horribly loud and obnoxious when watching sports, and that's why he doesn't like to watch them in a bar.

Zack Sugarman - Photo Booth.jpg Event Marketing Strategy with Wasserman Media Group Zack Sugarman
Like any good event marketing strategist Zack (Yellow Helmet) knows how to multi-task: Holding the baby, glass of wine & posing for the shot. 

So what does the VP of Social and Digital at Wasserman do?
My focus is on the property side. The services there is really to help generate revenue for any sort of team or rights holder. Whether that's revenue from sponsorship sales, whether that's revenue from ticketing and merchandise, or revenue from selling your data, what have you. Social and digital is a huge facet of that.

In general, from a digital and social standpoint, we develop full-blown strategy, content calendar and creation, and large-scale marketing campaigns, plus front end and back end build for our clients. These strategies can be user generated, overall content based or sweepstakes and promotional in nature.

Vodafone 4G - Event Marketing
Photo Cred: WMG from 30th Anniversary of Vodafone's first UK Call. #30yearsofvodafone had over 63 Million Impressions

How many event & sponsor athlete properties are you typically working on at any given time?
As a company, we've probably done over fifty different projects this year to date with either a team, league, or property that is heavily involved in digital.

If I was a major event or organization and I came to you to help me devise a social media strategy with the ultimate goal of selling tickets and elevating my brand, what are the first three questions you'd ask me?
Who's your audience? Are there different audiences within that? Is there one? 
What, in your mind personally, is an overall differentiator for your event or property? 
What first-hand data do you have?

Give me all the first-party data you have. Then I'd do the audience, the segments, the value prop, and then data.

And, If I added a fourth, I would ask how are you staffed and what type of resources you have. A lot of people want to do a lot right away with social, and then they go, "Oh, I got an intern that kind of runs it all."

Event Marketing Campaign-Infographics

There’s no better way of building your brand than taking a look at your in-house data. Take the time to dissect data into manageable chunks to determine your differentiating factors. Your data tells a story about your brand. Read it. Absorb it.

How important is having a well-organized content calendar for managing the social process and the digital presence?
I think it's very important, but I view it more as a foundation. The social content calendar is going to be for more planned initiatives. You also have to be timely and take advantage of pop culture, cultural trends and things that are happening that are relevant to your audience. Make sure you have people ready to come up with content, come up with copy, and be able to add to the content calendar in a way that's additive and increases engagement.

[Here's an example of one of their latest campaigns leveraging Pro Soccer Player Sydney Leroux's Gold Medal Success with the launch of LG's latest tone technology]

Event Marketing Strategy with Wasserman Media Group Zack Sugarman

One pet peeve of mine: Brands that keep pushing their product or service that are in no way tied to what people are watching or talking about can come across distasteful and disconnected. Especially in times of tragedy. So be careful with scheduling everything in advance.

What three or four areas do you think most events in an organization fail at when it comes to social?
FIRST is Value: I like to say a lot that market awareness does not mean market astuteness. They just don't really know specifically what value their events hold and how to do it. They don't necessarily have the right skill sets internally, either.

SECOND are Resources and budget: It takes time, staff, resources and budget, and probably some other tools to help do social right. There's so many different platforms and choices for people to consume. It's a completely fragmented media landscape. Top-down commitment from an investment level is critical and buy-in can be a struggle, outside of having the right skill set.

THIRD is Trying to master it all: People try to be good at everything and try to do too much, so they become overextended. I usually tell a lot of clients it's all about the right content on the right platform with the right message at the right time, and that doesn't mean you're on every single platform with the same piece of content. In fact, that's a bad strategy.

Event Marketing Strategy with Wasserman Media Group Zack Sugarman

When you're thinking about hiring for your team, are you hiring platform experts or someone with a broad set of skills?
I'm definitely not hiring platform experts. We're not there. We don't do large-scale community management. By nature, we're more consultants and strategists.

FIRST: I look for someone who really gets numbers in a way that can look at a bunch of data and pull out what's interesting and give you actionable insight. They look at the performance and are able to synthesize it and explain it in a really succinct manner to inform a strategy suggestion of what to do next.

SECOND: I look for is an understanding a strategic mind of social efforts and how it needs to be part of the overall business objectives and fall somewhere into the value chain of this property or brand and moving that along.

THIRD: is being able to verbalize the things that you want to do, that make sense and why.

Team Wass.jpg
Event Marketing Strategy with Wasserman Media Group Zack Sugarman
So if you were heading up social & event marketing for a large event and you have three full-time people, how would you think about structuring your team? 
If I've got a three-person team:

FIRST: I'm going to have a strategist and storyteller. That's the supervisor.

SECOND: is going to be the community manager. That's the person that's capturing content, writing copy and physically posting.

THIRD: is going to be an analyst who looks at numbers in real time and forms strategy, but is also going to be handling my paid amplification.

What organizations do you think are just killing it when it comes to social?
It depends on channels. National Geographic on Instagram is the best storytelling I've ever seen. Awesome imagery, but then great stories in the copy.

Screenshot 2016-12-11 12.56.58.png

Then, the show At Midnight on Comedy Central. Chris Hardwick hosts it from The Nerdist. The segment's called #HashtagWars. The whole show is basically comedians in a jeopardy format who make fun of things happening on social media.

They did it in a way that was part of a segment, but it's really what I think got the show more followers, because it taps right into exactly what Twitter's for, while watching and talking back and forth. I just really love what they've done around it.

Screenshot 2016-12-11 13.01.15.png
How would you simply define the differences between the major platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat? 
FACEBOOK: The way I normally talk about it, Facebook's more from an authority perspective. It is going to be longer, stickier and closer to what I'm thinking of putting on my website. 

TWITTER: Is more news and real time. I love reading Twitter. I rarely tweet. It is more of my curated news source and then my second screen companion if I'm watching live NFL coverage, or a show like At Midnight. That's what it's for. There are a lot more readers than actual engagers on Twitter.

INSTAGRAM: Is obviously a very visual platform, so it's all aesthetics. It's very aspirational, beautiful photos and videos. Less copy and let the imagery do the talking. I think it needs to stay that way. That's where the platform excels.

SNAPCHAT: Is very, very ephemeral. Behind the scenes, amazing access and vantage points. Snapchat is more raw, more doodles. Sixty-seven percent of all users are under thirty-five years old. If you want to go after a younger audience, you need to go on Snapchat, not on Facebook.

YOUTUBE: Is a search platform. I think it's the third most traffic site in the world still. Everyone goes there to search, so it's terrific for search engine optimization, search engine marketing and every video you make on another platform. 

From a platform perspective, who do you think wins the battle of live in the long-run?
I think it's too early in this. Honestly, it's probably going to be something that doesn't exist right now. I think all of them are taking different approaches. Facebook has the largest reach globally, but they definitely are losing the younger, younger audiences. Snapchat's getting those. I think the verdict's still out. My bet is it'll be some platform that doesn't exist right now that we haven't heard about.

Screenshot 2016-12-12 15.14.20.png

What platform do you think has the highest upside for events and organizations over the next five years? Is there one that you're really excited about diving into more?
I think Snapchat has become a lot more viable and is not going away anytime soon. They've really done a lot: Geofencing, Lenses and Stories. I think it's really interesting what you can do there. Their metrics, ad opportunities and an API still needs to come a long way. But I'm curious how all of this will play out. 

If you couldn't have the assistance of an agency, what three things would you make sure you did really, really well?
FIRST: It's really internally thinking through what we want to accomplish and then look at how these platforms fit into that. Then deciding where you're going to put in the focus and effort.

Next you've got to educate yourself. There are a lot of great blogs out there. There are a lot of newsletters that have some good tips on how to do things. It's good to read and to help you understand the roles of those different platforms.

THIRD: there are a lot of really affordable, if not free tools for publishing and analytics that you should utilize. Something like Buffer, for example. I think their paid versions are ten dollars a month, and you get to schedule, look at analytics and reporting. It just makes you feel so much better about what you're doing.

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What do you read or look at to stay up to speed on things?
#sports is one that I definitely look. It's all things in sports, so very relevant. Similarly, SportTechie is another one I read. Otherwise, I'm more on eMarketer, ReCode, Digiday, even Mashable, to an extent.

What's the best piece of advice you've received and from whom?
You can't control what you can't control. Definitely one that's always stuck with me. For example, going back to a team client, they can't control on-court performance. On the operational side, if you're in corporate sales or you're in marketing, you can't control how the team's going to do. You just can't, so we can't worry about it.

If you were to give the State of the Union Address to the media and marketing world, what would be your top three points?
FIRST: Can we all agree on doing a better job on some standard CPMs, CPVs and CPCs that we can use? Because they definitely range in who you're talking to, by platform, etc. I know that's not going to happen, but I'm always thinking of how can we do that.

SECOND, we need more common nomenclature and definitions of how we're talking about metrics. Right now, YouTube counts a video view after thirty seconds, Facebook's after three, Snapchat's instantaneous. That's a problem. I think it would be great to standardize a couple of those which would ease some difficulties in reporting.

THIRD: Experiment more. Have fun. I still think, on the whole, there is too much of a conservative approach, because they're worried that a social media accident is going to happen. Experiment more with new content offerings. If I were a brand and I don't know what to live stream but I just saw this announcement, who knows. Come up with something fun.

Parting Wisdom?
Don't be afraid to say, "What the fuck?" What the fuck gives you freedom. That's a mantra of mine. How about that?

That's amazing brother, thank you.

Big Sugarman and Little Sugarman. Photo Cred: Mom

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Electric Run: Latane "Big Bird" Meade, Co-Founder  (READ)
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