160over90 prides itself on being the most culturally connected agency on the planet, sitting at the heart of the Endeavor network, which also includes entertainment giant WME and sports, fashion, and events leader IMG. But when the entire world went remote, relying on screens and devices to stay informed, entertained, and well… sane, how did an agency working in industries driven by in-person experiences find new ways to captivate audiences?
As an agency that prides itself on work that gets a reaction (it’s even the reason for their cool name — look it up), staying connected wasn’t the challenge; it was continuing to inspire action in an overcrowded digital space. We sat down with Matt Brazill, the agency’s Business Development Operations Manager based in Philadelphia, to hear how they’re playing by their own rules and using their cultural access to keep them ahead of the game.
Tell us about your professional background and what drew you to business development on the agency side.
“I always knew I wanted to work on the agency side,” Matt explained. “All throughout high school and college, I worked in retail and was always drawn to consumer psychology and how brands were positioning themselves to their consumers. I graduated from Franklin & Marshall College with a degree in Business and Public Policy with the hopes of working in the sports and retail world.”
But why sports? Well, having a dad who was a referee for high school and college basketball for over 30 years, SportsCenter was always on the TV growing up. His family’s close relationship with sports as locals to the Philadelphia area also facilitated his devoted fandom for the Eagles — and eventually, his introduction to 160over90. “The work behind the brand was so strong and compelling, and I wanted in on the agency behind it.”
An internship in commercial rights and collegiate athletics also helped Matt feel right at home, since along with pro sports, CPG and healthcare, the other realm of the agency’s Philadelphia office is higher education. So when they had a role in prospecting open up, it was basically meant to be.
“My original role came at such a critical time for the agency’s history in terms of growth, and I knew I wanted to be a strategic and integral part of that. It’s been great to see the company evolve over the last six years into the powerhouse it is now, working with so many influential brands all over the world.
“And as the current Operations Manager, I still get to be involved in the presentation and proposal development, but now also have my hand in strategic planning and growing our current client engagements. I also get to work closely with other offices in the 160over90 network and assist our Philly management team with forecasting.”
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges for creative agencies today — and as a result of pandemic/remote work?
“With everyone on screens 24/7, the world is more connected than ever before, so while it may be easier to reach our consumers, it’s also never been harder to engage with them. Breaking through this clutter really comes down to authentic storytelling — making sure your message truly resonates with your audience through whatever medium they’re consuming content. So the question is how can we position ourselves to be an innovator in those spaces, instead of playing catchup with everyone else?
“For teams, working from home was a challenge simply because we hadn’t done it before. At 160over90, we have such a great culture, which made those in-person meetings so valuable — some of our best creative ideas used to come out of whiteboard sessions at 8 pm at night. So the challenge was how can we replicate this same productivity and continue to create great work for our clients while working remotely?
“Being in Biz Dev, it’s important to celebrate each win. Some of these opportunities can take years to cultivate, and so we always make sure to recognize the hard work that each individual puts into it. In the past, that might have been going to a local bar for a drink, but now, we created virtual happy hours and lunches. We’ve also prioritized smaller breakout sessions and daily check-ins every morning to get a sense of how everyone is doing and what we can do to help one another. We’re focused on a culture that’s all about the collective over the individual, so we can all achieve our goals together — not just within our teams, but across all departments.
“And this collective mentality starts from day one at 160over90. Our team does such a good job at training new employees on every step of the sales process — from intro calls and proposals for new prospects to being part of strategy sessions with creative teams that make it come to life. This allows each team member to not only choose their own adventure of what they want to focus on but also understand everyone’s important contribution in the lifecycle of a project.”
As a global agency working across diverse cultures and multiple time zones, how have you embraced these challenges and made your processes more efficient?
While challenges have been the only constant over the past year, there have also been ways in which processes and behaviors improved for the better. “It’s funny, someone made a comment the other day that no one is late to meetings anymore — which is true! You can quickly drop files into chats and communicate in quicker, more casual ways. It’s been great to see how we can adapt in the face of challenges and ensure the quality of work never suffers.
“Being a global agency, we have offices not only across the US, but also in Europe, Asia, and Australia, so coming back to this idea of culture being about the collective and not the individual, helps us not let different time zones affect the work. In Philly, we act as a resource for a lot of our other offices across the world, sharing new content and technology to make all of our processes more effective. It’s been really cool to see this culture come to life helping everyone achieve their goals — even if you’ve never met them — because it’s all about helping the agency grow.
“For example, we have this tool that helps us share branded case studies and presentations, so I’ve been leading its rollout globally. It was so great to see everyone not only jump in eager to use it but seek ways to improve it and work with our digital team to make it even better. This pandemic has really shown us that you have to be willing to innovate and grow, or you’re going to be left behind.”
How has the higher education, sports, and media industries adapted to the challenges of the past year? What are some of the biggest client successes you’ve witnessed?
With in-person events out of the question, these industries faced major obstacles in conducting business “as usual,” but the limitations only made innovation even more exciting. “For higher education, we were right in admissions acceptance season when the pandemic hit, so we had to figure out new ways to approach the usual recruitment campaigns and mega-fundraising initiatives. Imagine trying to sell 17-year-old kids on a school they may never step foot on before accepting. We made a really quick pivot to digital with virtual experience-like tours and interviews, as well as digital giving campaigns to help them raise money at a time where they’re facing budget cuts and need to rely on these funds more than ever.”
“On the consumer sports side, we did a campaign launch for Under Armour focused on the importance of mental strength; how the mind and body have to be working in sync for the elite athlete to be at their peak. It was a true omni-channel rollout which was so impactful considering how important mental health is right now — not just for athletes, but all individuals balancing their work and personal lives in a remote world.”
What trends in marketing and digital do you believe will thrive throughout 2021 and shape the future of the industry?
“I think the digital event space has been one of the most pivotal areas during the pandemic, and I’m excited to see how this innovation and growth progresses. There has been so much headway in just 10-12 months, from giving fans in their living rooms the feeling that they’re sitting courtside at an NBA game to allowing people to virtually attend Fashion Week in New York. With venues not reaching full capacity anytime soon, it will be our responsibility to figure out how to continue to push the envelope and be the leaders in this space, challenging ourselves to reach consumers in new ways and create branding that’s adaptive to these new experiences.”
What new tools and technology have or will have a powerful impact on the way agencies work?
In the world of business development, travel was an inevitable part of the job; hopping on airplanes almost every week to visit sites and make client pitches. So when everything was grounded, technology kept teams moving. “In an industry like ours that focuses on in-person interaction and creative output, we had to come up with new ways to transform our pitch decks and our follow-ups through different platforms, which made these discussions as seamless as in-person.
“We were also challenged with ways of thinking. One of our biggest strengths as an agency is our video work, and while we realize there’s no real replication for that process, we had to believe we could continue to produce content at a high-level for our clients in a different way.
“It will be interesting to see how technology helps us continue to pitch and win new business and create great work. While we would always prefer to be in-person, the new tools and technology that allow us to collaborate and communicate virtually will continue to be valuable to the new ways of working.”
How can both agencies and businesses prepare for the future of marketing and achieve cultural brand relevance in a crowded digital space?
“It comes down to the balance and connection of not only cultural relevance but also cultural resonance. That means not only getting your audience’s attention, but also the ways in which you’re driving action and inspiring change. This is where being part of Endeavor (the world’s largest entertainment, sports, and media company) really comes into play, giving us a unique cultural insight and access that no one else has. It allows us to not simply be aware of what’s cool now, but be ready for what’s coming next. It’s exciting to see this transition to the ‘future first,’ and making sure we’re ready for the next cultural shift.
“And being socially conscious is more important than ever. Not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk. People want to see that there’s real action behind the things you say. I think the best campaigns are the evergreen campaigns that can bend and reposition themselves to multiple audiences seamlessly to maintain the same brand essence through different channels. We need to continue to make sure our messaging is authentic and focuses on the things people really care about.”