Last week, Leverage Agency announced the hiring of Leonard Armato. Leverage, a full-service sports, entertainment and media marketing company founded by Ben Sturner, has appointed Armato as Chairman & Managing Director of the company. The addition of Armato establishes a west coast (California) office for Leverage and brings the company one of the brightest minds in sports business. The following is a short interview that I recently conducted with Armato. I have a feeling that the word “remarkable” will be used around the Leverage offices quite a bit in the near future.
Darren Heitner: What will be your day-to-day responsibilities as Chairman & Managing Director of Leverage?
Leonard Armato: My job is to ensure that Leverage continues to evolve as a world class sales and marketing organization. We are committed to add value to brands – in a universe where cutting through the clutter is increasingly difficult. Although Leverage began as a pure sales organization, the company now offers all the core competencies required to accelerate growth in brands. Those core competencies include: strategy; brand positioning; sales; marketing; public relations; social media; branded content and distribution. We refer to this evolution as positioning Leverage as a brand accelerator.
Darren Heitner: What were some of your best experiences as CMO and President of Sketchers Fitness Group?
Leonard Armato: 1) Using Joe Montana to convince men that wearing Shape-Ups will get you “back in the game.” Our business went from a dead stop to about 1/3 of the Shape-Ups business nearly overnight. 2) Working with Kim Kardashian on Skechers’ Super Bowl spot to introduce Shape-Ups into pop culture and through Kim’s “social” influence generate nearly 2 billion “earned” media impressions outside the ad itself. 3) Launching Skechers’ running business through: A) Our relationship with Meb Keflezighi – the #1 marathoner in the USA; and B) A memorable Super Bowl campaign this year involving a spunky French bulldog named Mr. Quiggly who outran a pack of greyhounds wearing Skechers GoRun shoes.
Darren Heitner: How vital are relationships in the sports and entertainment marketing business?
Leonard Armato: Relationships are critical in the sports and entertainment business. The world is moving so fast that you often have to rely on the expertise of others. That’s where relationships come in because relationships are built on trust – and when you are dealing with uncharted waters and their jobs are on the line, people feel more comfortable putting their fate in the hands of those that they trust.
Darren Heitner: Do you have any ideas regarding how you would like to effectuate social media growth for Leverage and its clients?
Leonard Armato: Leverage needs to do remarkable things and be connected with companies that are doing remarkable things. Social media simply amplifies the remarkable and Leverage is committed to implementing all the latest “social media” technologies to effectuate that amplification. But everyone needs to keep in mind that “remarkable” is the key. People need to spend more time focusing on the idea first and the medium second.
Darren Heitner: Explain the process of going from Sketchers to Leverage. What interested you in making the switch?
Leonard Armato: I thrive on challenges and love to be innovative. At Skechers I was brought on board to elevate their creative and to launch the performance division of the company. I have accomplished those goals. At Leverage, we have an opportunity to effectuate the rapid increase in value among brands with high growth potential and become the industry leader in doing that.
Darren Heitner: Do you ever miss representing athletes such as Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal with their off-court deals?
Leonard Armato: Representing clients like Shaq, and Oscar de la Hoya was inspiring because we were able to break new ground in sport marketing by converting their fame to “brand” equity. The “Shaq” and “Golden Boy” brands were exciting convergences of sports, entertainment and marketing. At Leverage we have an even more robust capability to build brands by identifying high growth opportunities and using our system to rapidly escalate value.
Darren Heitner: How do the skills you developed representing athletes translate to now representing brands?
Leonard Armato: I evolved from an athletes agent to a brand marketer and as such created an approach to brand building known as “Marketing Coalition Systems” (MCS). The theory behind MCS is to develop a brand “positioning” and then identify “like minded” companies that are interested in aligning themselves with your brand, thus creating a halo effect or borrowed equity for the members of the coalition. The benefit to you is that you are able to aggregate the marketing weight of other companies to the benefit of your brand, basically using other peoples money to build your brand. These same principles apple to any opportunity that we are evaluating today at Leverage.
Darren Heitner: What advice would you give to those interested in the sports business, specifically focusing on marketing opportunities?
Leonard Armato: My advice is make sure that you are passionate about whatever you do and align yourself with the best – the best minds, the best clients, etc. You are defined by the company that you keep and the scope of opportunities that you are working on.