Ear to the Ground is marking Valentine’s Day 2019 in characteristic style – with the publication of ‘Don’t get dumped,’ the latest piece of thought leadership from its Fan Intelligence series.
The report, which focusses on opportunities to engage with international fans around the Rugby World Cup (get it?) draws on data from Ear to the Ground’s proprietary Fan Intelligence platform – a network of 6,000 influencers that sits at the heart of the agency’s offer.
Sport Industry Group sat down with Managing Director, Rich Adelsberg (pictured above, right), and Director of Fan Intelligence, Owen Laverty, (pictured above, left) a former Sport Industry NextGen Leader, to find out more…
For the uninitiated, enlighten us on the concept of your Fan Intelligence model?
Rich Adelsberg: The ambition was to create this tech platform within sports marketing that helps deliver us work quicker, but also provides better creative for clients.
Changing up the old agency model is something we’d wanted to do for a long time. The business was really functioning like that for around a year before the official announcement was made last year regarding the leadership team.
Owen Laverty: It (Fan Intelligence model) was built out of the insight and research that our team had collated in the past. We started to see the power and knowledge from within fanbases and understood the need from our clients to get that intel a lot quicker.
We could see there were influential fans, tastemakers, academics and experts that exist within fanbases, who really reflect what is happening at that time.
We wanted brands to be able to tap into that, gaining those deep insights that are impactful, which can fundamentally make the creative better.
Over time, we built up this Fan Intelligence network of over 6,000. Through that platform, it allows us to collaborate with our clients live on any brief to pull out insights and road test creative.
How is it working in practice?
RA: It’s really kicked in over the past 12 months. The Fan Intelligence model has essentially taken us from one-off work with a mixture of great clients, to retained work with some of the biggest rightsholders and brands in the world.
It’s transitioned from solving a problem short-term, to helping us with a long-term strategy to play a more meaningful role with clients.
OL: The platform started to change the relationships we had with our clients, as we were solving bigger challenges. Every brief that now comes into the business, we’ll run it thorough the model. It’s become the front-end to how we respond to briefs.
As the briefs arrive, we look to those that are best suited. If we get tasked with a challenge in a new specific area, we can search our Fan Intelligence model and see who can help us.
Another benefit with this Fan Intelligence approach is that we are picking up and understanding the latest trends ahead of time.
What’s been the clients’ response?
RA: Clients really like that they’ve essentially tapped into a 6,000 strong workforce around the world. These are people who would never ordinarily work for a brand or a rightsholder, yet are brought into that creative and can drop their insight.
Working with clients using that platform, brands like Beats, Nike and PlayStation are now working with us on a long-term basis.
Having a brand like Beats that buys into our Fan Intelligence and us as a business has been fantastic. To be able to retain a long-term relationship with a brand that dissects sport and music as they do, perfectly matches our proposition as a business.
Over the last six months we’ve also refined the model to really pinpoint for rightsholders as well as big brands. We are now close to launching with a big rightsholder in the football world.
You’re one of the few leading UK sports agencies based outside London. To what extent do you consciously market yourselves on your Manchester roots – and is it a help or a hindrance?
RA: It’s (Manchester) our home as a business and it’s home to sport, music and culture like no other city in the country. You could say it’s the capital of sport and music, especially in the North West.
We are unconventional as a business, as there are not many sports agencies that were born out of the music industry. It’s where our business evolved from and allowed us to approach sport and our clients very differently. We’ve been able to help those sporting clients crossover into music, lifestyle and culture.
As a starting point for the business and a way of us viewing the world, it’s very important. However, all our clients are in London or international and we do also have a base in London and do a lot of work in Rio at our office there.
OL: With our Fan Intelligence network of 6,000, it has allowed us to punch out to hit international clients. That’s why (being Manchester-based) has never been a limiting factor, because so much of our work is run through this model.
What ambitions to you have – and what challenges do you foresee – over the year ahead?
RA: 2019 is geared up to be Ear to the Ground’s biggest ever year. We’ve had some fantastic standout moments over the past 15 years, but the past two consistently great years have built up to this moment.
Almost every major sporting event in the calendar, we’ve either got a client that sponsors that event or we are working with the rightsholder. Whether that’s UEFA on Champions League, through to the Cricket World Cup and brands within the Rugby World Cup and Women’s World Cup in football.
Being so involved in the two huge World Cups means it’s a huge year for us given the targets we’ve set. The focus for us as a business is about delivering and doing a world class job for those clients. Generally, every client we work with has growth opportunities.
In terms of challenges, we’ve reached the point where clients are coming to us when they want to do something totally different to what they’d normally do to target traditional audiences.
The 2020 European Championships is a great example, with the challenge of telling that story of a tournament that is radically different, featuring 12 cities in 12 countries. We’ll be working with them on not just how to reach the traditional football fan, but using music and culture to hit a totally new audience and tell the story of Euro 2020.
We’ve also made a conscious shift within the business to stand for something that really matters and to work with clients that have an opinion and don’t just do vanilla marketing.
It’s a pretty divisive world out there. If you don’t stand for something, you can get left behind. That’s why we try and help clients understand why we want to do something slightly more ambitious than just a marketing campaign.