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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 17, 2017 3 years ago

Brand builder

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A small budget doesn't mean you have to skimp on creativity. It helps to develop a flawless understanding of your core audience.
by: Traci McMillan Correspondent

Dennis Adamovich has built an impressive career in marketing by understanding his audience.

He has also risen quickly at several companies. He credits his career success to his early days — while going to school at the University of South Florida he had an internship with ad agency McCann Erickson, where he distributed mail companywide.

His mom said, “You have the unique opportunity that no one else in the business has. You are meeting every person every day and have the ability to learn every aspect of that business. All you have to do is ask if you can sit down with them for 15 minutes.” Adamovich took full advantage of that and was asked to move to Atlanta to work on the Coca-Cola account for the company.

Within six months, Coca-Cola asked if it could hire him internally. He moved up quickly through the company, from managing entertainment for several years, then to sports properties before being tapped to take his findings worldwide. He was recruited to manage the worldwide Walt Disney Co. account for Coca-Cola. He made his way up to managing Coca-Cola marketing for all brands, a post that covered $150 million in brand funds and 300 annual programs.

Following Coca-Cola, he joined Turner Broadcasting System Inc. Adamovich launched Cartoon Network's Adult Swim and is the executive who turned TBS into the “very funny” channel. He also helped build a lifestyle around Turner Classic Movies to attract more young people to the channel.

Adamovich is now tackling a new challenge — leading a nonprofit. He was named CEO of the College Football Hall of Fame and Chick-fil-A Fan Experience in April.

Adamovich, 53, spoke with the Business Observer following a recent USF Muma College of Business “Conversation with a CEO” event in Tampa. Here's an edited transcript of the interview:

What do you see as your biggest challenge today?


Making sure that everybody knows that we exist today in Atlanta. We moved to Atlanta in 2012, but technically it opened in August 2014. It moved for the purpose of getting a broader audience to college football. Our biggest challenge is just trying to get people to come and experience us.

What's your favorite new experience at the College Football Hall of Fame?

We just added a really cool experience. AT&T, in conjunction with Samsung, has done a virtual reality stadium, so you put on Oculus Rift goggles and you are dropped into your football team — so you are basically standing on the football field as your team is rushing past you — and you can see that in a 360-degree motion. It's fabulous. It's all around being on the field, being part of the action, immersed into football like never before.

What advice do you have to share on marketing on a budget?
I think the best marketing ideas are the ones that are more entrepreneurial and scrappy in nature, because you're forced to think differently to get to that place. So I know people always try and translate great marketing to big budgets, and that's not necessary. I think the ones that do it with less money are the more creative ideas.

What is a favorite campaign you've worked on?
At the College Football Hall of Fame we did a program called a Homecoming. It's where we do a reunion of classes for Hall of Famers. Having all of that class together telling their stories and letting fans listen in is pretty fascinating. I love storytelling. Organically, Hall of Famers have stories. They're great players, they're great individuals, they've become great leaders. All of that is attributable to football.

Have you ever made any business moves you've regretted?

In Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, we were launching the third season of “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” and a movie at the same time. My marketing team came up with a guerrilla marketing program across 10 cities. There were these signs of two digitally based characters of the show that we were putting up in strategic locations across Boston. We had two overzealous guys that were hired through a marketing agency out of New York that were mounting signs, and they decided to put one on a viaduct bridge.
Someone in the city mistakenly viewed this as a bomb threat, and it shut down the city. Even though it was out of our control, I wish it never happened because it caused quite a bit of harm unnecessarily.

What's your best business lesson?

Don't question yourself and don't worry so much about your title or money. If you do a great job, the title will come and the money follows. I think the younger generation gets so caught up on the title, instead of just doing a great job at what the job is. If you do a great job and you try to exceed expectations, more will come your way organically.

Give an example of the importance of knowing your audience.

We were looking at the analytics for Cartoon Network and we (find) a third of our audience is young males, 18 to 24. We kept looking at it, thinking that can't be right. Sure enough, we had young males that were flocking to our network that we were not monetizing.
Here's the challenge — I'm dealing with the FCC and the FCC says, “You're a kids channel.” I'm under very strict guidelines and rules. We now have to go back to the FCC and say we're going to be an adult network, too. We convinced them and created Adult Swim. Expectations were minimal — we thought if we could get $5 million for the company, that would be a good couple years. It went to $15 million in the first year, doubled to $30 (million) the next year and we went to $50 million. It took over the kid's business because it was a sought after audience that nobody could really truly target and we had it.

What was a time where your intuition was off?

There were times that I thought I was spot on and there was no traction. Knowing when to get out and not trying to keep pushing it is really important. The Sprite brand is one example — I connected snowboarding to Sprite because of the lifestyle. We created what we called Sprite huts, we put refreshments in the huts to give snowboarders and skiers a place to hang out, chill out. I cut deals with a lot of mountains. Guess what the Sprite huts turned into? I created the best smoke houses ever. They lasted one season, and we had to pull the cord on those.

You are a big fan of data — how are you using it now?

I sit in the biggest data-filled place in my career right now. When you come to the College Football Hall of Fame, you get an All Access Pass. It's a lanyard that you wear at an event with an RFID chip inside. The pass that you're holding is incredibly valuable because you're going to go through a customized 2.5-hour experience. (We ask for) your football team, your ZIP code and your email address.

In exchange for this information, we're creating a digital locker for you — everything you do today is dropped in your locker. It's free and you can share it around. What did I just do? I got your name. I got your email address. I got your ZIP code. I got your school team. I can now retarget you as many times as I want to.

How much of decision-making is based on data vs. intuition?

Because of the business I'm in, it's all data driven within the four walls. The intuition marketing side of me is trying to create programming that attracts people to get them in the door. Our biggest problem is that people believe that we're a museum — which we are. But we're an experience. You can go on ESPN's Game Day desk at any school. It's that customized, but it is a hard thing to communicate to the public. Our awareness levels are there, but our capture rates are not where I need them in the Southeast. Ninety-five percent of people who come in say, 'That was much more than I expected it to be,' so it's getting them in the door.

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