Blake Lawrence is co-founder and CEO of opendorse, an online platform that connects companies with athletes. I had an opportunity recently to talk to him about the company, and how he got his start in the industry.
How did you get into the industry?
I’ve been around sports my entire life. I joined the Nebraska football team in 2007, as a scholarship linebacker, earning a starting position in 2008 and 2009. My football career was cut short in 2009 due to recurring concussions, forcing me to explore another passion of mine: marketing. In 2010, after a stint at a marketing agency in NYC, I co-founded Hurrdat, a social media agency, in Lincoln, Nebraska. My co-founder, Adi Kunalic, was a teammate at Nebraska who had a stint in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers.
In the early months, we worked solely with businesses and brands, but quickly expanded to working with professional athletes. In 2011, we realized it was natural for us to pair our brand and athlete clients to form digital endorsement campaigns. As we moved deeper into the athlete endorsement industry, we began to realize the frustrations facing marketers and agents alike. The processes used to research, pitch, and activate an athlete endorsement were archaic, and didn’t fit the fast-paced world of social media marketing. We set out to change the athlete endorsement process, replacing archaic models with software, allowing deals to get done in minutes, not months.
We tested our software with about 100 athletes and 100 brands, tweaking the platform to solve the problems plaguing the industry. After proving the business model, we formed opendorse as a separate entity in late 2012. In April 2013, we launched the opendorse marketplace, allowing marketers to easily build digital endorsement campaigns with the best endorser for their brand.
Less than a month after our launch we were contacted by the NFLPA, and began the process of partnering to bring our software to their 2,000 players and hundreds of brand partners.
Digital endorsements allow marketers to instantly engage millions of passionate sports fans, BUT no easy way exists for marketers to find the best endorsers for their brand. opendorse uses social media data to tell marketers who should be endorsing their brand in real-time.
Over 40,000 athletes create more than 10 million daily social media posts. Viral campaigns have replaced traditional campaigns, with sports fans 55% more likely to purchase a product if an athlete mentions it through social media.
How do you recruit athletes to the site, do you work with agents?
We recruit athletes to opendorse by working with their agents and marketing reps. Furthermore, by partnering with players associations like the NFLPA, we are able to quickly access and on-board athletes to our platform.
How well has the platform been received by agents?
opendorse has been well-received by agents, as we help ease the headaches social media has brought talent agencies. Our software helps agents understand the cash-value of their clients’ social media presence, and helps bring additional revenue opportunities. When an athlete receives an offer from an opendorse brand user, agents are able to review and approve the deal from a simple online interface. A contract is auto-generated for each deal, saving time on paperwork, and we handle the payment process from beginning to end. Athletes approve each deal from their phone, providing their digital signature. Deals are delivered automatically at the date and time requested by the brand, so agents don’t have to worry about reminding athletes to fulfill their endorsement agreements.
Walk us through how a brand can connect with an athlete through your site.
With opendorse, brands are able to filter a marketplace of available athletes, finding athletes based on their level of influence, reach, engagement, or geographic impact. Once an athlete is selected, the brand is able to review in-depth analysis on the athlete’s social media presence, including the estimated return-on-investment on each endorsement deal. If it’s the right match for the brand, they add the athlete to their ’shopping cart’, similar to buying an item on Amazon. After providing the specific content, date, and time of the digital endorsement, we send the pitch directly to the athlete’s agent for review and approval. With agent and athlete approval, opendorse sends payment from the brand to the athlete, delivers the endorsement automatically, and gathers the results of the endorsement in real-time.
It’s the easiest endorsement process a brand could ever experience.
Do you have plans for expansion to other areas, eg. artists and celebrities?
The most common question we get at opendorse: “when will you be expanding to other industries?”. While opendorse has a natural fit in other industries, we are dedicated to improving the athlete endorsement industry first and foremost. After we’ve helped the athlete endorsement industry better understand and activate digital influence, we’ll look to expand into additional verticals.