Here at Trak, we love our users. Trak Stars is a series that highlights some of our users and champions in various roles to learn more about them, how they got into sports, and gain some industry insights. Trak offers resources to optimize day-to-day partnership management and provides support along the way.
For this Trak Stars feature, we sat down with Brooke Manning who is Manager of Partnership Activation with the Denver Broncos. Brooke began using Trak during her time with the Memphis Grizzlies prior to bringing Trak onboard to the Denver Broncos. Brooke’s experience spans player management and sponsorship activation across pro golf, basketball, and football. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation:
Hilary Goldberg (HG): What inspired you to pursue a career in sports, and what have been some of the highlights?
Brooke Manning (BM): My mom worked for the University of Nebraska football team when I was growing up, so I basically lived at Memorial Stadium and saw how much she loved her profession. I also played four sports in high school. There was never a moment that I did not have sports in my life so when it came time to decide what I wanted to do, I knew that it had to involve sports in some way.
I have kind of been all over in the sports world – I started in player services for the LPGA. I knew nothing about golf, but learned quickly as I found myself on the road for 14 days traveling to tournaments my second week on the job. While on the road, I realized how much I enjoyed working with the sponsors at these tournaments and decided to work my way over to the marketing side where I could work with sponsors every day.
I love what I do, and there is never a dull moment in the sports industry. Getting to create once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable experiences for both the fans and our partners in different situations has been amazing. One of my favorite events I had the opportunity to manage was the Evian Championship Junior’s Cup. I had the chance to build a junior golf team to represent USA in an international tournament in France, and we won! Go Team USA!
HG: Tell me a little bit about your current role, some of the challenges that you faced in 2020, and some of the successes that you also saw.
BM: I am currently with the Denver Broncos on the partnership activation team. We work closely with our marketing partners to help execute their different assets included in their portfolios. Our goal is to find ways to amplify our partners brand within our Denver Broncos community - it could be a social media campaign, an in-person event, in-game activation, signage, a cruise to Mexico, it can be anything. Each day, week, month, season is different, and there are always new challenges to face – but that’s what makes it fun.
2020 was an interesting year for everyone, especially in the sports world. We had games without fans, we halted all of our events. One of the biggest challenges for us was taking a step back and figuring out how to deliver value to our partners with so many restrictions in place. But one thing I really liked about it was, you had the chance to really get creative. It was fun to take a step back and think of new creative ideas and take the challenge head-on with our partners to figure out what could be most impactful for them in such a weird window.
We're not very good at hitting the pause button in the sports industry, we love being busy. It was a good exercise for us to be able to accomplish because we don't always have the time to step back and really reevaluate everything we're doing. In 2020, we literally didn't have anything else to do, so we took advantage of the situation that we were in to explore how we could make the season impactful for all of our partners.
HG: What innovations or evolutions do you foresee shaping the future of sports and partnerships?
BM: We started trending this way prior to COVID, but after COVID it is very apparent that digital is the new realm and finding ways to actively engage with our fans through digital activations. How can we get innovative with a fully integrated digital marketing campaign that not only goes out to the general fanbase, but really targets the type of customers that you're looking to reach? Within the last three years, we have gotten more sophisticated with that. One of our partners MadWire, has been a huge help in this process. It's been fun to work together with them and some of our other partners to figure out, what is your target market? Who are you trying to talk to?
MadWire worked with one of our other partners, Ford, to find fans that were in the buying cycle for a new vehicle. Over the past few years, looking from 2018 to 2020, the click rate has gone up approximately 800%, which shows us that we are talking to the right people.
It's great to see partners working together – truly a win-win for all. We love working with our partners, so why wouldn't they love working together?
HG: How have partners’ needs changed over the last five years? COVID aside, what sort of things were your partners asking for that were different than what you'd been hearing previously?
BM: Wanting more than a logo slap. Five years ago there was a lot of simple signage, which there is a time and place for, but partners are starting to realize that signage can only go so far. We are looking more strategically at what we can pair with signage to help bring partners’ brands to the forefront, into the fans' everyday lives versus just a logo in the background.
HG: What industry trends or practices do you think are underrated right now?
BM: Similar to the MadWire and Ford example, I think strategically targeting fans is really underrated. Getting sophisticated enough to identify your audience rather than casting an open net to all of the fans. Focus-in and try to get as detailed as possible with who you are trying to reach, why you are trying to reach them, and find the message that actually speaks to those people. We have seen it work wonders for our partners willing to try this in the last couple years.
Also, continuing to come up with new experiences for fans, especially in this virtual world. COVID has changed us and our fans, there are people that might not ever want to step foot back in a stadium. How can we reach these fans, and come up with cool experiences for people that might not ever step foot in our building? Being able to come up with unforgettable and once-in-a-lifetime experiences for our fans will always be something we focus on. I don't know the perfect solution, but it will be fun to play around and figure it out.
HG: What is something you know now that you wish you knew when you started in sports?
BM: The positive impact that you can have. It’s rewarding to play a part in the success of our partners, and make an impact by helping them amplify their brand to our fanbase. I never imagined that I would be able to support multiple companies across various industries, but it is fun to identify their objectives, what they want to get out of our partnership, and strategize the best possible way to make it happen.
Also, sports isn't always glamorous. Yes there are some fun perks, but if you want to a normal nine-to-five, you're never going to get that in sports.
HG: What advice would you give to those who are looking to break into sports?
BM: Don't give up. It is a tough industry to get into. Making as many connections around the industry as you can is really important. One of the things I did when before I broke into the sports industry was reach out to as many people on LinkedIn as I could. That drive and determination is what is going to help you make it in the sports industry. People really respect you proving that on the front end. I wouldn't be where I am today without people helping me along the way so I try to pay it forward and help others as much as I can. My dad always used to say, ‘It's not who you know, but it's who knows you.’ It is who knows you and who remembers you. It is an important thing to remember. How do you make a big enough impact so that when an opportunity comes up, you're the first person that comes to mind?
HG: What individuals, organizations, icons, do you look up to or follow for inspiration in the sports world, outside of the sports world?
BM: I've had a really close mentor my whole life, David Wright, who was basically a part of our family growing up. He played soccer at Indiana and worked for the MLS and played a part in turning them into the league that they are here in the United States. He then jumped over to Minor League Baseball.
Minor League Baseball is an organization that I think highly of. They get so creative with their promotions. They throw ideas against the wall to see what works and then emphasize those that do. It has been fun to see the marketing promotions he was able to accomplish with Minor League Baseball.
One thing he had told me, which is another piece of advice I would give to someone that is trying to break into sports, is don't be afraid to move to where the job is.
Outside of the sports world, I've grown a lot of respect for Burger King. They go outside of the box with their promotions and push the line, and it's been working for them. Their CMO spoke at a conference I attended pre-COVID, and I was mesmerized with his thought process and creative ideas. I think they're a brand that's really pushing the limit right now. And it's working.
HG: Brooke, you introduced Trak to the partnership marketing and activation team during your time with the Memphis Grizzlies. How did you get started with Trak?
BM: When I was at the Grizzles, we didn’t really have any sophisticated way of tracking our partnerships. We were all in our own bubble of “this is what works for me and this is what works for my partners.” We were able to accomplish our goals and get everything executed, but now we know there are better ways out there to stay organized.
It was probably 4 or 5 years ago when Trak, way back when it was Sponsorship Buddy, approached my colleague Mya Donald about their services and how it could be useful for us. They let us trial it to see if it could be impactful for our group. We were on the ground floor with Trak/Sponsorship Buddy when it was first starting out which was great. It was fun to play a part in growing the system and giving feedback on what worked, what didn’t work, what could be beneficial to add, what meets our partner’s needs.
HG: How did you then introduce Trak to the Denver Broncos when you shifted over from the Grizzlies?
BM: When I started at the Broncos, we were using a platform similar to Google Sheets where we can access it, our partners can access it, we can make edits, they can make edits. It was really simple to use and a good way to keep everyone on the same page.
But there were definitely some things that were missing. I realized there was an opportunity to do a better service for our partners and give them better insight into all of our assets while making it more efficient for everyone, to have everything in one place.
I brought it up to my boss and she was open to learning about it. We set up some calls to walk through it and were really able to show our leadership team the benefits of what Trak can do, especially going into a COVID-19 impacted season. We started this partnership with Trak in May . There was a lot that made sense for our team to trial to determine if it could be beneficial for us and our partners. I appreciate our leadership team being so supportive and trusting of what Trak was able to bring to the table.
HG: How has Trak impacted the way that you do business during both your time with the Grizzlies and now with the Broncos?
BM: For lack of a better term, I would call Trak our “activation bible”. We try to include as much information as we can from execution notes to results to “this is what we talked about on this day” to “here’s the link to this activation or social media campaign”. Every detail of every partnership is input into Trak. It’s a new process for all of us so we are still learning the best ways to utilize as we work to keep everything as real time as possible. As I mentioned earlier, starting in a COVID-19 season, Trak was a huge help to be able to track the large amount of changes we had throughout the year.
It’s no secret to anyone that our world was turned upside down in 2020 and our partnerships were too. There were a lot of assets that we simply could not execute because of the world we were living in. No one could predict that at the time. Having Trak as a place of reference and something we can show partners, “Here is what you had in your contract, here is what we are swapping to, here are some make goods and added value that we’ll put in place” so at the end of the day, they are aware of the value we are continuing to bring them.
HG: Do you have some successes that you’ve seen from using Trak?
BM: A huge success from this first year is partner buy-in. It’s always a difficult conversation to bring up…“hey here’s another platform you need to log into to track our partnership.” It’s hard to get people to agree to create another account when they’re already overwhelmed with logins in this digital world we live in. Yet we’ve gotten great feedback from our partners saying that this is a great way to keep us all organized and on the same page. The response to our rollout has been so positive with our partners.
Also, it’s been great to keep everyone on the same page. We are able to reference notes from past conversations and activations. We’ve had times where a partner will reach out asking, “what was the link to this promotion” and then 5 minutes later, “We found it in Trak!” It’s been great for our team too, helping us truly be more efficient from the partner management side of things. Our partners are able to be proactive and access everything they need, giving us more time to be creative and ideate.
HG: Can you share more about your time using Trak with the Grizzlies and how it helped set the tone for the industry at that time?
BM: The league [NBA] asked us to submit our Activation of the Year. After using Trak, we submitted how much more organized and efficient we were that season compared to previous seasons. It really resonated with the other teams. To be on the forefront of using this type of platform was great. Here at the Broncos, we’re a high-maintenance client which is no surprise to the Trak team, you can ask any of them. We ask a lot of them, question different pieces of the program, and push them to make changes beneficial to us and other teams. Every time, they’re so great in helping us find solutions, even if it’s a short-term fix to assist us in the interim. They always get on it right away. It’s been so helpful to have them be supportive of us while we in turn support them.
HG: With the benefits for partners and for organizations you’ve worked with, it’s great to see how versatile the tool it can be and how beneficial it can be across the board.
BM: When we first used it at the Grizzlies, it was brand new and pretty bare-bones. It was a great concept and that’s what we bought into. It was revolutionary at the time, 5-years ago, to have a platform to track every sing thing we were doing in each separate partnership. There are CRM companies that can track what we are doing on an asset level, but those are so much different than actually activating. Being able to track the minute details of each campaign was completely new for that time, but we’re still on the forefront of what this concept can do. There are a lot of teams still trying to figure out how to stay organized in our crazy world of sports sponsorship. I am always willing to talk to them and tell them all the great things that Trak has done for us. Feel free to reach out if anyone is interested in learning more or if you want to hear the team side of things. Trak has been a huge success for us.