Now that all 32 NFL training camps are underway, and the preseason has officially kicked off with the Hall of Fame Game, it is no secret that players league wide have gotten the hook up from their agencies in the form of training camp “care packages.”
Atlanta-based Element Sports Group is one of the many agencies looking to make training camp life easier on their NFL clients. We were fortunate enough to get an inside look at the almost $45,000 worth of products from over 30 different brands making up their client care packages this year, thanks to a conversation with Marketing Coordinator Matt Zobel and Vice President, Media & Marketing Kim DeCarolis. Check out our conversation below:
What goes into selecting the items for the care packages?
MZ: So obviously it is a really intricate process that we do non-stop and year-round really. A lot of teamwork and selectiveness goes into these care packages. We try to hit a wide range of categories. We’re trying to hit every single category and then some more categories we’ve never worked with before as well as non-traditional items you’ve never seen. We want specific categories and products that resonate with our clients. We want to incorporate products that we know they like and that they’ve said they like before. We also dive into social media and analytics to see what companies follow our clients and what products they have to offer. This helps keep our process as organic as possible.
KD: Yeah, absolutely. We’re always planning, we’re always thinking and keeping our clients in mind knowing that we’re going to do this every single year. So, throughout the year, whoever we’re talking to from a marketing perspective or maybe whoever we ran into at a game or a conference, that is always on our mind with ways we can work with different brands. But, at the end of the day it comes down to, is this something that we know our clients would like? Is this a brand that our clients have mentioned to us before? We’re talking to our clients day in and day out, so it is really easy to get a feel for what the guys want and what kind of products they use every single day, so that is our main focus. To really make sure that is something they like and that they want to have.
How are brands selected/what is the process of pitching a brand to be involved?
MZ: It is really interesting and really fun. To go off of what we were saying before, we focus on what the clients like and what they need and things that they’ve said before that they actually like. Obviously, we go for really high-quality products – we try to get the best products that we can.
KD: In terms of selecting, again, it really comes back to the clients, knowing them inside and out, knowing what they like, what they use and what they want. Even knowing what they might use at home as opposed to when they’re out at the locker room. Knowing them is really where we’re able to select the products. The process of pitching is the same as the process of any company for any sort of marketing campaign. Having that conversation, letting them know what we’re wanting to do and that this is an opportunity to work with NFL athletes across the country and to get inside of locker rooms and usually that is pretty enticing for a lot of brands.
MZ: To go off of what Kim said too, one specific and consistent approach we have each year for these packages is working with a number of “staple” brands. We try and work with a few companies we deal with every year. These are the really good quality products that a lot of the clients love. So, we like working with a few of the same companies and a few of the nicer brands, but we also connect with and work with companies and brands that we haven’t worked with yet.
How many packages did you send out this year?
KD: I think we were around 35, maybe a little bit over.
Given the rise of social media, and how these packages are covered thanks to sports media figures, how do you find ways to remain unique and competitive?
MZ: I think our main goal and focus is staying innovative. We’re trying to one up our package each year. Obviously, we listen to everything our clients say. We’re trying to get products that resonate with them; products that they like.
KD: I think our approach in and of itself is what is unique and competitive. We’re not out here cold calling 10,000 brands and whoever says “yes” we’re going to throw in the package. The goal is to really know what our clients want, and what they’re going to be excited to be getting in these packages. So, I think that allows us to remain competitive because I think every single client that opens this up is going to say, “this is fantastic, this is awesome,” because it’s organic to them. So, that right there helps us combat any sort of mundane thoughts towards training camp every single year. It allows us to really stand out since these are guys that are excited about what they’re getting.
MZ: It’s a unique way also to create a relationship with the clients and brands too. To go off what Kim said, we’re not just cold calling and casting a huge net hoping people say yes. It is a good way to introduce a company or brand to a client and vice versa. Trying to get the relationship going off well this way. Especially with our team too, it is a company-wide teamwork effort and process, and everyone brings something different and new to the table. Everyone has new ideas. We want to stay innovative the entire time.
Are any of the companies in this year’s packages looking to endorse your clients? How do you leverage that relationship into future endorsement possibilities?
MZ: Yeah, definitely. Well, a lot of the companies we work with for the care packages, we use this kind of as a gateway intro. Starting off with an organic relationship before diving into the endorsement deal part. It is actually really good process too, because when we start off this way they can kind of see what our clients are about, and they can see what we’re about.
KD: There are some brands in our package this year that we have already done endorsement deals with in the past; companies have already worked with our players in that sense. We’ve created that relationship, so they’re sort of repeat products in a way. So, we like to continue to work with them whether it’s in the care package or an endorsement deal. As far as the new ones, as Matt said, it’s really about creating those organic relationships and looking at which brands really stick out to the players. Maybe one guy might really like a certain product and a different player is going to love a separate product, so it allows us to have a really true conversation with those brands to say, “hey, he tried this out, he loved your product and would love to work with you.” It allows us to really create a holistic story of the athlete using the product, and I think those are really the best marketing endorsements that you can put together… Ones that are real, and there’s a true desire to be connected to the product.
MZ: There’s nothing better than calling a brand and telling them that a player or players really, really loved their product because it’s in their package. A lot of the clients will call and text us about certain products, and like Kim was saying, it’s like a gateway intro for companies we haven’t done deals with yet, and obviously there are deals that happen every year because of this positive introduction.
What feedback have your clients gotten from the packages?
KD: We’ve been sending them out for a while now, and it’s been pretty consistent on our end. Every year they get bigger and better, and the guys love it. There’s really no other way to say it. Imagine you’re away from home for a few weeks at a time just grinding outside at practice. You get a package like that and you’re going to be pumped.
MZ: Yeah, it’s almost like freshman year of college and you get to the dorm room and it’s going to be a long summer. Mom sends you a care package with candy or homemade cookies, whatever it is and it brightens up your day. So, the clients always love them. The second these packages get there, the guys are always texting and calling us saying their teammates are trying to steal their stuff because they have good stuff in their box. They obviously like to share in the locker room and things like that. But the clients let us know every year that they love them. That’s why we have to keep making them better and better each year.
Now that training camp packages have gone out, when does your team begin planning for next year?
MZ: Yesterday’s a perfect answer. It’s a year-round thing. It’s not something that ever really stops. Especially with Kim and I on the marketing side, marketing never ends. It’s a year-round process of planning and incorporating things into the package as well as working with different companies and working with the marketing and endorsement side of an agency.
KD: Like Matt said, it’s year-round. We’re always thinking about what brands might make sense for this, what products might be really exciting for an athlete. For us it’s a way to show some love and to also have some more key touch points with the guys. We do this for training camp, and for packages around the Draft, where we like to put them together. For example, last year the Draft was in Dallas, so we sent our rookies care packages with Dallas-based goods. Just ways for us to continue to show them that we’re hearing what they’re saying. We’re connecting with the brands that they like and we’re part of their life. It’s going on day in and day out from our end.
MZ: We’re always staying in touch with brands. It’s our job to be ahead of the curve. It’s a never-ending process; one that will go on forever.
Wrapping up with a fun question. What is one product from this year’s box that you guys would want to have?
KD: Not counting all the candy and food, I’d say the thing I was most excited for is that we had the opportunity to put in some really awesome Mophies. I know for me, and pretty much everybody in this day and age, you’re always on your phone and it will likely die when you are out and about at the most inconvenient point in time. So, for me, I’d have to say a charger that I can take with me everywhere.
MZ: I’ve gotta go with the MVMT watches. I think their watches are awesome. We’ve worked with them for a really long time and they’re a really great partner of ours. The guys love their watches, and I want as many as I can get!