In episode 22, we talk ‘sports marketing’ with Nathan Homer. It’s a fascinating conversation about how sports marketing is evolving and how rights holders can work with brands to enable both parties to achieve their ambitions.
Nathan Homer is currently Chief Commercial & Marketing Officer at European Golf Tour. He has a wealth of experience of working with global brands and has a track record of creating compelling world class marketing programmes for different brands and audiences, across varied demographics.
THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, WE CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.
TX: 01.9.17 – Ep 22. Nathan Homer – sport as a vehicle to realising brand ambitions
HOST: TAMMY PARLOUR
TP: Welcome to a question of performance. I’m Tammy Parlor and in this series I’ll be talking with leading figures from sport and business about improves, limits and drives performance. Join me as I explore the sports industry from every angle…. hearing a range of views on what it means to be successful, how to cope with failure and what people have learnt along the way.
Today I’m talking sports marketing with Nathan Homer. It’s a fascinating conversation about how sports marketing is evolving and how rights holders can work with brands to enable both parties to achieve their ambitions. Nathan’s had some hefty jobs over the past decade, he’s worked for P&G as their global sports marketing and Olympics director, was the head of global sponsorships and partnerships at Barclays and is now chief commercial and marketing officer at European Golf Tour. I first asked him, was his career by design or did he fall into sports marketing?
N: No, I definitely feel into it actually. I mean, I even fell into marketing and commercial, I mean, I used to be a PE teacher.
N: So, I went to Carnegie, you know, one of the great old PE colleges in Loughborough and St Luke’s and the like, did a four year B.Ed teaching school for three months every year, loved teaching and really through just someone I worked on a side project with, on something in sport, because that was really my life, playing, coaching, teaching, they suggested I should at least apply to P&G who I’d never even heard of. I literally didn’t even know who they were. I was persuaded to go for the interview, really with nothing to lose because I love teaching and even my dad said, look, why don’t you go and see what you think of it, if you like it for a couple of years, you’ll have had a great experience and you can come back to a career that you love. So, I went for two years and 20 years later I still have a commercial life.
T: And not hankering after the schools anymore, the PE teaching?
N: I do actually. It’s funny, I’ve lived in some great places round the world and with Procter and Gamble in particular, and had some amazing views out of the window and experiences, but there’s never a blue sky, crisp winter day I don’t look outside and think, it would be quite nice to be out in the field teaching rugby or football or whatever it was. So, I do still hanker a lot and particularly P&G, the culture there is extremely developmental so it’s a promote from within company, so if people start at the graduate level and nowhere else, so the company has to develop its people. By accident I happened to join a great business that was also a fantastic development organisation which fitted me very well, because I could put a lot of the teaching and coaching skills to use, even in a commercial business.
T: Are there any projects that stand out for you over the years, that you really look back on and think…?
N: Yes there are actually, it’s funny, I always get asked because I’ve worked obviously on the Olympics, I ran Gillette for a while, which obviously had some fantastic campaigns, and then obviously at Barclays. And the one I always say I’m proudest of business wise, was the launch of Fairy dishwasher tablets.
T: Why is that?
N: I know, and it’s funny when I put it back into a sports context, it was because we’d lost three times before, so we tried to launch them three times over 20 years, failed every time and, you know, literally fallen out of the market, so winning the fourth time and then getting them into the market and they’ve got about 30% share now of the market, that ability of turning what had been failure into a success and learning from the failure of the past to succeed, kind of, the fourth time when I happened to be leading the project, is the thing I’m proudest of.
T: And what turned that, what enabled that success?
N: Well, the key piece was actually going back and finding, you know, the people that had worked on it before and digging out the documentation and literally saying, you know, what didn’t work, and almost saying, until we can get rid of these barriers and these elements of failure, we won’t succeed, and I think too often people do the same thing and are surprised when they get the same result. And I think the same as when you coach someone in sport, you know, if you keep doing the same, you’re not going to improve or you’re not going to counter something you’ve got a weakness in, and it was just a classic case of that saying, well, let’s actually look at all the weaknesses versus the strengths and quite often you just look at your strengths and think, oh we’ll be fine.
T: Yes, yes. Over the past decade I’d imagine there’s been quite a lot of changes as far as how brands relate to sport, what sort of changes have you experienced over the past decade?
N: I think, and this is, of course, not true of all brands, but I think a lot of brands have become a lot more professional in the way they engage with sport. So I think often in the past you had brands doing a huge amount of, you know, market research and data based analysis of their marketing spend in traditional media and sponsorship was almost seen as this fluffy art that people just put money into and it, kind of, fits with our audience, and I think what we’re seeing today and what’s happened over the last decade is, you know, sponsorship is very much in most companies now, is a core part of the marketing department, all fits under the same auspices and is just another spend choice, and I think one of the reasons sponsorships both succeeded and failed in the past decade, if you look at different people, are organisations have done a great job in being able to demonstrate they’re a brilliant media vehicle and communication channel, have succeeded and ones that have just not had that rigour or robustness and have, I always say, are still selling it on, you know, you can put your badge on and have a bit of hospitality are largely failing. And I think it’s that most marketing departments are now looking at sports marketing with exactly the same professional rigour they look at the rest of their marketing and it sounds odd that that didn’t happen in the past, but it generally didn’t.
T: You’ve come from the brand side and now you’re in the sports side, are you seeing things differently?
N: A bit, I mean, I spent ten years at P&G running commercial businesses and then I’ve probably spent ten years where I’ve been into big businesses but running their sports, but, still primarily, spending 90% of my time in the business. I’ve now obviously crossed over to a rights holder and I’ve worked with an awful lot before and I’m not surprised at what I find here, which is the same as I think an awful lot of rights holders, which is a hugely committed passionate group of people who care deeply about their sport, possibly with a slight gap in genuine professional business experience, and I think you see a lot of rights holders are trying to bridge that gap where you essentially keep the passionate expertise in the sport, and in our case golf, but you want to merge it with some real professional commercial experience as well. If you think of, I would say, the giants of the sports rights world, the NFL, the NBA, the Premier League, they made that decision 20, 30, 40 years ago and have operated as professional businesses who happen to have a product that was sport and I think most other rights holders are playing catch up a little bit in that regard. So, that’s probably the most obvious observation, we were amazing at our product, but not necessarily the commercial professional business around it in every way and most professional businesses are actually remarkable professional businesses and often the product isn’t that strong. That’s an interesting balance that we need to get right, the golf product has to stay absolutely world class like it is, but we need to add around it to get the maximum benefit we can out of it for our members.
T: As you know, I’m heavily involved in women’s sport and women’s sport is an area that is really starting to come to its (unclear 0:08:20), it’s getting much more attention in the media and so forth. If I’m a sport, how do I go about attracting sponsorship, how do I go about getting brands interested in what I have to offer?
N: I think the fundamental is to understand the business you’re talking to because at the end of the day it’s a sale, and if you can’t convince the person that what you want them to buy is worthwhile, they won’t buy it. I think a lot of conversations in the past, obviously I’ve had hundreds of people come and sell to me at P&G or Barclays and the sell was very often, this is who we are, this is what we do, this is what we have, would you like to buy it, and certainly here where we flip that fully on the head to be about, we understand your business, we understand what we think your objectives are likely to be, this is how we think we could help you achieve your objectives through what we do, and that has to be a two way conversation because you can best guess how a category works or a business works, you can obviously find a lot of that stuff out, but we certainly start with, here’s who we are, so giving people an overview of how we think as a company, but then immediately we say, tell us about you, and then we come back to them with something that really is about to achieve what you’re trying to do from a brand and business perspective, this is how we think we can help you and bringing alive what like most marketers keep in a marketing term, we should be using exactly the same terminology as any other marketing would. So when I get asked what’s the difference between sports marketing and marketing quite a lot and I say, well, from the fundamentals, nothing because it’s about who’s your audience, what do you want to tell them, how are you going to tell them most effectively, what’s the right channel? The biggest difference we have is people that are passionate about our product and I’ve sold plenty of products people are not really that passionate about. Fairy Liquid would be a good one because people tend to smile when you say Fairy Liquid because they like the brand and the advertising, but it’s a brand that people warm to, but it’s still basically a washing up liquid. We do something that people love coming to, drives passion, evokes emotion and you don’t want to lose that, you know, that difference that our product is something people generally have real passion for is our biggest USP, but you’ve then got to wrap it in, we know who your audience is, you can use this product to engage with them around the masses that matters for your business and drive the outcome that you want.
T: So is it first about getting to that emotional stage of hooking people on an emotional level?
N: Yes, I mean, I’d say the people in the business want to, I firmly believe, want you to see you understand their business and you’re thinking in a way that you’re purely using your product and in our case golf, in its many, you know, whether that’s a social media we can do or hospitality or whatever it might be, to help them achieve their business objectives. When you think about what does that mean for that end target consumer, whether it’s a B to B target or a B to C target, the fact that, you know, that passion about our sport, that has got to be in that programme because that’s what we should bring that they can’t do on their own. So I always say that the thing we can help bring is an emotion and a passion that they just cannot create on their own with their product, because it’s take your product and wrap it in ours and then you should have a really powerful message.
T: Has the growth of digital and social media affected how you approach things at all?
N: Yes. I mean, I think in a couple of different ways. I mean, one is in the old days it was a limited inventory and limited what you could do and it was, do you want your Board on a course, do you want some hospitality and a few brands didn’t take the content, sort of, and rights they had and create their own advertising around it, whereas today we can do a huge amount more for brands. So, fundamentally, actually the package people tend to (unclear 0:12:31) as a core partner is largely digitally based and we can intersect into their marking and do the segmentation of their audiences extremely effectively as well as they can. So we produce content here that we produce for what you’d call, young aspiring golfers and we produce content that’s for much more traditional club golfers and you can easily overlay and map those audience segmentations onto someone like BMW segmentation, and if you take them as an example, we made two pieces of video content for them at the championship at Wentworth this year, one of whom was aimed at a much more traditional 40+ family environment, one was aimed at 25 sort of group, just to use ages as incredibly simplistic segmentation and, you know, the two videos when we watch them feel very different, but they both feature the brand well, feature the messaging they wanted to get across and perform very well online and we can see from the date, we know who those consumers and that audience is and they map perfectly onto two of the audience style which BMW have for the slightly older, more established, more disposable income earner, and guess what, we’re featuring a big estate type car and the other one where it was aimed at what they, kind of, call aspiring BMW owners of course we’re featuring the smaller, cheaper models that you naturally get into at that age. So it gives us the flexibility to serve a lot more of their audience than the old mediums channels.
T: What can go wrong when working with a brand?
N: The biggest thing is you don’t have clarity from both sides on what you’re trying to achieve. So, too often I’ve seen people in sponsorships where they say, why are you doing the sponsorship, and they can’t really tell you beyond, our customers like it. Why did you do this, well, we know our customers like golf or like football or like whatever it may be, so, I think at the start, having very clear objectives of what you’re trying to achieve jointly, what the measurements of those are or the KPIs, whatever you want to call them, and then doing regular touch ins and assessments, I think if your partnerships are a sense check of are you delivering the contractual rights, I’m not sure either side is looking at it quite right, it should be, what are we trying to achieve and actually if you do that either by delivering some slightly different rights or by delivering loads more of one and none of the other because you’ve seen what works, that’s fine and, you know, actually at the end of the year you should be able to look at each other and say, have we achieved what you wanted to get out of it this year and do we have, ideally, a hard way of measuring that. That’s probably another change, I think that the idea of having hard measuring and metrics of either business or brand objectives of sponsorship, sometimes is still bit of an alien concept and I find it particularly amusing that I sometimes sit and seem to be challenging people that run a business on, what would you like the metric to be, how are you going to measure it. I’m supposed to be the sports golf guy, I should just take the money and not be too pushy on that, but it still shows that in some places there is what I’d call a soft… sponsorship is seen as a soft investment and art rather than just another marketing choice, which it should be.
T: As you know, this podcast is about performance, it’s about how different people view success. I’d like to ask you your views on success, and I suppose in two ways, one in your job, but also you personally, what’s success. So first, as far as your job in sports marketing, commercial marketing officer at European Golf, what’s success for you, how do you know you’ve done a good job?
N: I’d probably separate success in my professional job here quite simply, I think the first one for me, and I don’t know if this is because of my background, it’s definitely a bit because of P&G’s culture, without any doubt was my first big job outside teaching, it’s about the people at the end of the day, I finish a year and get the sense that everyone in my team is happy and enjoys what they’re doing, is clear on what we’re all trying to do. My general sense will be, I’ll have a pretty happy team where we’re achieving and we’re doing well and if we look out and can see everyone just doesn’t look particularly keen to be here, is shuffling in and out, you don’t hear much talk, you don’t see much banter. So that, having people that are inspired, aligned, excited, happy, you can just tell they’re pleased to be here even when they leave to something which someone inevitably will and is regretful they’re going, even though they know they’re doing the right thing professionally. So I always start with the people and that’s the piece that’s for me is pretty critical. The second side here, as I said, I think like a lot of sports rights holders want genuinely to be a more professional company and business around the sport, and that’s quite easy to measure in, have we added some of the structures and processes that aren’t here that need to be, revenue wise from a commercial point of view, are we selling more tickets, more hospitality, have we attracted new partners, and actually do you see those relationships going really well. So again, you know, you could probably quite easily in the short term attract some new partners in, but if actually then you don’t see them run and manage them, it being a really good two way relationship, it would be quite a hollow kind of victory. So, certainly for me, it’s the people side and the business side sit relatively well hand in hand because I’ve rarely seen the business side come if the people side isn’t right and that’s probably a pretty fundamental belief I have, how you get things done. So that’s probably professionally, that would be that side. Personally, you know, I’ve got a four and a two year old, so things have probably changed a bit in the last couple of years as they inevitably do, and I’m a big…you know, success, that’s an odd one to have maybe, but success for me is about having a good work/life balance. I’ve got to enjoy my work and I have a passion for it, but it needs to be flexible enough to allow me to enjoy the parts of life that aren’t work related, if that’s with friends or particularly now with family. Part of my career choice to leave P&G was because it was too international with too much travelling, which some people find hard to believe and the job is a fantastic job, but I was spending far too much time on the road for what I wanted to do going forward, and you just want to have that satisfaction of being clear on what you’ve come to do somewhere and being able to track and measure against it and see, are getting where we need to get.
T: Any predictions for the future, both for yourself and for the industry as a whole?
N: The one prediction which is absolutely 100% certain is that that professionalism of sports marketing is just another form of marketing, it will continue and get even stronger. I mean, it’s come a huge amount in ten years, I think that in ten years it will all be just assessed as one part of the marketing mix and will be extremely data led, ROI led and you’ll need really hard discipline and data to be able to prove your case. I think again that shift of having hard data is inescapable, but you need to invest to have it and you need to understand what sort to have and what to do with it.
T: Yes, I suppose that would be the question, what data do you value?
N: Yes. We value engagement more than anything, so to be able to understand who we are reaching, ie in both numbers and much more demographically about who are these people, what are they like, what do they follow, the fact that we’re digital you constantly know more about them and to what you know they like, what they like to see, what they click on, what they do, you know, we need that much deeper insight into that, who they are, what they’re doing. You need the numbers behind that and give people, well that’s great reach and then as we do things like social and our content, we’re looking again, it’s how many people are watching it and how long they’re watching it, are they genuinely intrigued and interested, if we send it out to media organisations, do they play it on their TV shows. So, there’s lots of ways we can just track hard reach of who it’s to, what we’re getting to them and how are people responding to it that you just couldn’t do in the past. Again, I think a lot of sports organisations know this is important, but they don’t necessarily know how to do it when it can be meet and drink from our most large business organisations, and that’s attention because most large organisations are expecting it off you, don’t necessarily always remember that you’re an extremely small organisation without any of that scale. So we try and use them again because they’re a great partner. BMW have got every right to ask us the same questions they’re asking of their other media channels, but the scale and resource we have to potentially be able to answer them versus some of their other channels and choices are dramatically reduced and I think that will be a tension and a challenge for sports organisations.
T: I’ve just got some quick fire questions to ask you, which I’m asking everybody. What do you eat for breakfast?
N: Normally cereal actually, Muesli and Shreddies and Rice Krispies all in a bowl together.
T: All mixed up?
N: Occasionally with blueberries and Coco Pops at the weekend now and again.
T: Favourite piece of sports kit?
N: What, that I actually wear and use?
T: Or a bit of memorabilia.
N: Yes. I’ve been lucky, I’ve picked up a few good bits of memorabilia over the years and probably the most special one I’ve got is one of the Paralympians that we supported at P&G gave me his Team GP jersey that he wore when he won one of his medals to thank us for everything we did for his family, which I ended up with. So, that’s probably, knowing what we’d done and why he gave it to us, made it pretty special.
T: Sporting hero?
N: When I grew up my sporting hero was Stuart Pearce, which is kind of funny because I am not a football fan at all.
T: So why?
N: It was just because of the type of person that he was and that, you know, an utterly inspirational leader who gave 110/120% every time he played and he was an interesting example of, you know, I grew up as very much a rugby, cricket, hockey player, but I would literally watch football if he was playing for Nottingham Forest or England, and actually be genuinely interested when he got the ball, which probably gave me an early insight into how strong someone’s character and appeal could be through sport. So it probably was him when I was a kid, for sure.
T: Most useless piece of advice you’ve been given, or given to somebody else?
N: Probably, well, without any doubt I’ve definitely heard a few people over the years say, don’t worry about how you do it, just get it done and I genuinely think it’s as important how you do things, particularly in the way you impact people, as what you get done. So that one, as long as you get a result don’t worry about the damage along the way, probably the one I hear or hear variations of occasionally, but I definitely am not a subscriber to.
T: Greatest passion outside of sport?
N: Well, it’s the two boys without any doubt, I would say, and Mrs H. So it definitely would be those, and it is a cliché, but seeing them as a two and four year old do different things and be developing at an incredible rate, it’s genuinely, having been a teacher and having that buzz from seeing kids do stuff that they didn’t think they could do, seeing it with your own kids is just a totally different experience, so it’s probably those, or skiing when I’m not with them.
T: How long before they start skiing?
N: Yes, I know. Actually I did get to do one of my biggest passions with one of them at the weekend, which was wild swimming, I’ve always loved swimming in seas, lakes, rivers, wherever to my wife’s great disdain when we’re on holidays and I just stop the car, I’ve got to go swimming in there, and she’s like, oh God. So, I took the two year old in a lake at the weekend for the first time with all his stuff on.
T: He enjoyed it?
N: It was interesting, I took the four and the two year old in, the four year old got in and out in 20 seconds and the two year old would have stayed in all day, which is maybe an interesting insight into them.
T: Yes. And last question. Best performance enhancer?
N: Interesting time to ask, given the weekend’s sport, but…your ears.
T: Tell me more?
N: I think you can, I genuinely do think and it’s definitely true as you become more senior, if you can remember to listen more than you speak, you probably perform better and know more.
T: Well, thank you very much Nathan, I really appreciate you talking to me today.
N: A pleasure, thanks.
T: Thanks for listening, you can follow the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and also don’t forget to subscribe online to aquestionofperformance.com.
Leave a Reply