Winners in the marketing field are: Ted Moon, director of interactive and innovative media, Sprint Nextel Corp.; Mary Bermel, director, global interactive, Hewlett-Packard Co.; and Gillian Smith, senior director, media and interactive, Burger King Corp.
Director of Interactive and Innovative Media, Sprint Nextel Corp.
History buff Ted Moon, director of interactive and innovative media at Sprint Nextel, learned how to take on the bigger, better-funded telecom competition from a study of the Gettysburg battlefield. His personal hero, Gen. John Buford, held off Confederate soldiers by finding and defending the high ground before the enemy even understood the terrain.
"We are in a fierce fight with our competition, and we are outspent," says Moon. You don't go toe-to-toe with 800-pound gorillas, but instead "outmaneuver them and get ahead." The 39-year-old veteran of online marketing and his team have already demonstrated their mastery of online media and marketing, cutting lead and acquisition costs in half in recent years.
To help secure the next high ground, Moon guided Sprint Nextel onto TiVo this year, offering exclusive footage from Sony Pictures' summer blockbuster "Talladega Nights." The brand bought a TiVo Showcase, a long-form video format that promoted the film, Sprint Nextel, and the relationship between the two. Sprint brand products appeared in the film. In a world moving from marketer-driven push to user-controlled pull media, Moon says: "We have to have the content--a reason why people seek us out."
The Sprint Nextel partnership with the NFL follows the same principle. The Sprint brand seems to be everywhere pro football is this year, from TV to cell phones. This year, Moon extended the sponsorship, using it to target gamers by devising in-game integration with Electronic Arts Sports' popular "Madden NFL '07" video game.
According to Sara Devine, a former colleague of Moon's who now works for Revolution Media, Moon learned his media planning field tactics from Nextel's long-standing NASCAR partnership. "Ted has this idea that you buy to own," says Devine, adding: "And what [Sprint Nextel] buys is smart." The idea is to find promising, new, and high-impact properties and bolt the Sprint Nextel brand to all consumer touchpoints.
Take last year's AOL reality show "The Biz," for example. While other marketers meekly dipped their toes into basic pre-roll video buys, Moon and his team integrated Sprint phones into the show, and contestants actually used the phones during the run of the Web series. "We need to take some calculated risks," Moon says.
And Moon knows how to marshal the troops among Sprint Nextel's sports and entertainment marketing groups to pull off digital integration challenges. He is well known for poking holes in silos. "He rallies the multiple groups internally at Sprint," says Ed McLoughlin, partner, group planning director, Mindshare Interactive, the telecom's agency for several integrated efforts. "His best skill is getting people as enthusiastic about this stuff as he is."
Moon also aims to take brands beyond mere slogans. New platforms are not just places to plant familiar messages, but ways of showing rather than telling. A successful program with The Food Network sent viewers a short code that enabled them to receive such text-message content as recipes, ingredient lists, and alerts via their cell phones. According to Moon, the program generated a good number of consumer trials of Sprint's mobile messaging and content packages. It also demonstrated how wireless technology can help facilitate everyday chores.
"Demonstrating relevance" is the Moon mantra. He leverages emerging platforms as places where families get their shopping lists when and where they need them, or as an opportunity for Will Ferrell's Ricky Bobby character or the cast of "The Biz" to access Sprint's mobile data within a story line. "We got eyeballs, but they were quality impressions; they were seeing our phones at work," he says. "It's critical to partner with content [properties] to show what our phones can do."
Moon's mission and passion is discovering how new media platforms can work to advance Sprint Nextel's strategic goals. He says the next great battlefield is user-generated content, viral content distribution, and branded entertainment content that enables consumers to remix, redistribute, and even reimagine brands. In a user-controlled mediaverse, the most relevant marketer is the one that "enables people to generate content," Moon observes. Brands don't just use platforms, he concludes. "We provide the platform."
Director, Global Interactive, Hewlett-Packard Co.
Although Mary Bermel is consistently hailed by her peers as a leader in interactive marketing, to hear her tell it, she's as much a follower as a leader.
"I listen, I rely a lot on an informal network of mentors that I've built up, I read as much as I can...newsletters, blogs, and when I can, I participate in panels," Bermel says when asked how she stays up-to-date with the fast-changing technology she needs to know to do her job, including rich media, broadband video, gaming, wireless applications, social networking, and search engine marketing.
As director of global interactive for Hewlett-Packard, Bermel has led the company to devote an increasing portion of its marketing budget to online media and marketing--and not simply because the company is excited about this channel, but because Bermel's leadership inspires trust that HP's money is well spent there.
"She has a deep understanding of the technological changes taking place," says Gary Elliott, HP's vice president of brand marketing. "She is an expert in her subject matter and is quick to spot opportunity and advantage in the marketplace." And at least as key, Elliott adds: "She has an engaging style."
Bermel began her career in sales at IBM and quickly moved into marketing. "I fell into this," she says modestly, and although she's selling herself short, there's no question that she ended up in the right place at the right time. Recruited by Time Digital as product group manager, she was in that job for only a few months when the director of marketing communications went on maternity leave and decided not to come back.
"It was trial by fire," Bermel recalls. Faced with a new field and a load of responsibilities, she had the savvy to know that she would only be as good as the advice she got. "I knew very little, so I made sure I went to the VP of advertising, ran all the plans by that person, and asked for their support and guidance."
So it's no surprise that among the attributes Bermel lists as essential in her line of work is "an appetite for learning." Among others: "A willingness to be outside your comfort zone, a desire to experiment, a thirst for metrics, and a willingness to take some level of risk."
Among her most recent initiatives for HP, she led a digital campaign in conjunction with Dreamworks in support of its animated film "Over the Hedge." The immersive online campaign included a gaming experience that encouraged visitors to communicate with each other online. It may not have been a full-on social network, but Bermel estimates that the program was talked about on 10,000 sites. Her group also manages relationships with leading Internet players such as Yahoo, the Walt Disney Internet Group, MSN, eBay, and AOL.
For even the most cutting-edge marketing and media companies, effective consumer engagement online has been a matter of trial and error. Working on the digital frontlines, Bermel has seen her share of both.
"I think you learn as much from your failures as your successes," she says. "One seminal moment was when I was an interactive ad manager at Compaq and we launched our very first online ad in 1999. We had an ad created by our agency that led to a landing page that was built in frames. When the campaign launched, the page didn't work very well. We thought we'd tested everything--all the operating systems, browsers--but it was much more complex than we thought."
A year later, when Compaq merged with HP, Bermel and her team were ready to make the most of what they'd learned. "We launched a campaign that connected customers with what HP does in conjunction with partners to provide solutions," Bermel recalls. "The campaign was really connecting with audiences in a way that was ahead of its time."
The key takeaway from Bermel's experiences in online marketing: "What the industry has learned the hard way in many cases is the low tolerance of the audience for intrusive advertising. What has become a key mantra is to think about putting the customer first," she says, adding: "It's about listening, understanding, and being respectful of what people want to receive. You need to create some exchange of value between what you are promoting and what they receive." HP's marketing efforts, Bermel notes, work on a "one-to-some basis rather than one-to-many. We're much more targeted now."
Senior Director, Media and Interactive, Burger King Corp.
Gillian Smith is the first to point out that she didn't major in marketing, doesn't have an M.B.A., and is not the first person on her block to acquire the newest, hottest technology.
In fact, the way she describes landing her current job, senior director of media and interactive at Burger King, is so modest it almost sounds like a "You want fries with that?" moment: When she was promoted to senior director of interactive in 2004, the media director was retiring, so in a sense she was "upsold" a second job.
It was a smart move for Burger King, especially at a time when media and interactive didn't yet coexist like meat patties and cheese between the two sides of a bun. By all accounts, Smith has inspired her staff and agency partners to push their creative limits, and in doing so she's managed to score an impressive list of accomplishments.
Among the firsts Burger King has racked up under Smith's lead: The fast-feeder was the first advertiser to sponsor downloadable TV shows on a social networking site, partnering with Fox to distribute episodes of shows like "24" on MySpace; it was one of the first brands to participate in Verizon's test of mobile banner ads on WAP-enabled sites, making it possible for consumers on the go to easily find the nearest Whopper; and it partnered with video site Heavy to offer the first ad-supported, user-generated content available for download to a video iPod. The tie-in with Heavy featured the crazy King masks BK.com sold for Halloween last October.
"My approach has always been one that's nontraditional, in the sense of always questioning things," Smith says, an observation her colleagues echo.
Tia Lang, manager of marketing and interactive for Burger King, says her boss inspires the people around her to ask those questions as well. "Gillian really challenges the internal team here, as well as our partners, to think creatively about all the possibilities in the digital arena," Lang observes. "She's very good at saying, 'What else can we do?'"
That passion for discovering new things may be inspired by the time Smith spent living in Germany, or perhaps curiosity is what led her abroad in the first place. She earned her B.A. in politics and German from Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., then landed a Fulbright scholarship that took her to Germany, where she began her marketing career as a brand manager for Coca-Cola.
After moving back to the U.S., she worked for the Sunbeam Corp., launching the Web site for the Oster brand, then joined Burger King in 2000 as a product marketing manager. She also worked as an advertising manager for Burger King before landing her current title.
Nick Centofante, media director for VML, Burger King's online agency of record, says that one of Smith's strengths lies in encouraging her agency partners to work together and come up with ideas no one else has tried. "Burger King gets the most out of all of their marketing dollars, I believe, because of Gillian," Centofante observes. "She understands that you want your brand to be associated with technology that's cool and innovative--that's not going to be looking back but looking ahead."
Indeed, Smith says one of the things that excites her about her job is keeping pace with new technology and working for a company whose tag line, "Have it your way," meshes well with a world in which consumers really are calling the shots.
"Two years ago, if someone told me, 'Hey, wouldn't it be great if you could find a Burger King with your mobile phone?' I would have said, 'Yeah, but you can't do it,'" Smith notes. "Well, you can now."