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Sports Revolution’s Chris Ingram on Sports Marketing, Media and Entrepreneurship

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Chris Ingram is Founder of IngramEnterprise LLP and Chairman of Sports Revolution, a company that works with the biggest spenders in sports sponsorship and media to maximize the revenue return on sports rights. The Makegood recently spoke with Chris about sports marketing, his role as Chairman of Sports Revolution, and how he became the Godfather of the modern media agency.

The Makegood: Chris, you are regarded as the inventor of the modern media agency, having started 2 media agencies in the 1970’s – The Media Department (TMD) and Chris Ingram Associates (CIA). CIA was sold to WPP in 2001 and is now MEC. How did it all happen?

Yes, ‘the inventor of the modern media agency’ is how I’m described in Adland circles and then it morphed into ‘The Godfather of Media’. Boy, I puffed my not-so-big chest out at this description! Sadly, it has morphed yet again, to ‘Grandfather of Media’. That’s probably more accurate.

Back to the question: ‘How did it all happen?’ Here’s the short version – when I went into advertising, first as an errand boy, media was seen as a clerical function because in the UK, you bought what was available rather than planned what you wanted – why? Because supply was limited: newspapers and magazines brutally controlled by the unions; one commercial TV channel and no commercial radio (and of course, no cable, no satellites, no computers and no mobiles etc).

So media departments were located next to the boiler room; slightly above the accounts department and the gods were the account directors and second, the creative departments.

I got my hands on very confidential industry research that showed that media department’s share of agency salaries was less than 10%. Bearing in mind that media costs accounted for 85-93% of clients’ spend this seemed to me outrageous. Pumped up with righting the wrongs – and being worryingly self-righteous, I went on a mini-crusade.  In the USA media specialists had already started but none of them were founded by media men and several were crooks, so the big agency battalions squelched them pretty well. But in the UK there were plenty of good media pros who were poised to leap.

Ridiculously reactionary Adland (Is it a lot better now?) tried to kill us off because our main threat was to the cosy 15% fixed agency commission arrangement.

Ultimately, we won the battle and these agreements were declared a restrictive practice by the Government’s Office of Fair Trading.

In the UK more than anywhere else, the establishment of professional media agencies made the entry price of new agencies incredibly low – we took the financial risk for them. So we automatically won the media planning and buy for everything they won. A great accelerator for us.

However, the real quantum leap came from technological developments and Government deregulation. The accelerating speed of change created huge choice meaning that planning and analysis became even more important than buying. And of course, now the scope for creativity in the new, boundary-less world of media is stunning.

The Makegood: Two and a half years ago you bought the controlling interest in Sports Revolution, a sports marketing agency that at the time was in the red. What value did you see in the company at that time and in which qualities set it apart most now?

I only became Chairman of Sports Revolution to protect my investment. I and my son, via our then investment vehicle Genesis Investments, had put quite a large sum into the company largely on the basis that, given its 5 year deals with 16 of the English Premier League Soccer Clubs, it couldn’t fail to find a way of making really good money in that period – even though it started in old-fashioned O.O.H media. Silly us! The company lost money for 8 years, burnt through the backers’ money and was up for sale unsuccessfully, for 18 months.

It was only when I was on the inside I realised that the senior managers were at war but conversely, there was lots of opportunity beyond poster and panels in stadia concourses and ‘restrooms’. All I did was sort out the politics (dramatically) and increasingly and rapidly empower the remaining team. Oh yes – and I kept pumping money in! After 3 years we had changed beyond recognition and we have a sports consultancy division; a division acquisition and selling media right in stadia (supported with an Asian Sales Network) a team installing the hardware – and managing. It’s a complicated structure to the lay-man but it is absolutely unique and enables us to compete where others can’t.

The Makegood: What is the extent of your role as Chairman of Sports Revolution today?

Well, my role was Executive Chairman initially and that is very much what it was. I certainly still have a big say in the strategic decisions but we have grown so quickly in the last 3 years (3-fold in T/O terms but much more in terms of complexity) that I would slow down the company if I tried to be in any way operationally involved. It’s taken me a while to appreciate that! The fact is that, since we sold CIA/Tempus. I have a broad range of interests – a small soccer club; a big art collection; a range of investments; a family trust; a desire to support and lobby for small SME businesses; a charitable trust.

But in truth, as the company evolves into a technology company – the less I can help operationally, I don’t think I understand it enough. These days I advise on the broad issues of building and running a fast-growing company – plus some networking and introductions. To me, that makes me a classic non-exec Chairman.

These days I’m a business builder and a brand builder, I’m not a media man.

The Makegood: What will we see coming next?

The real game changer for the business (or certainly it’s valuation) is our move to wifi stadia and harness the tribal passion for football (soccer). It is the ultimate social network with an established legendary hub that need zero promotion (this is not an exaggeration).

It took us a while to get this but we are now full on. We have been taken a lot of risks to finance this ourselves, and the team (not me) have shown enormous energy and agility to make this happen. No more details at this stage but this arm of our business will now be seen as a technology play (whereas the rest of our business emphatically isn’t), with all the ramifications that brings.

The Makegood: Thanks, Chris.

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