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  Robert Birge '99

Alumni Profile: Robert Birge '99

Robert Birge '99 seeks 'icons' in CMO role at IMG

By Adrienne Murrill

Appointed chief marketing officer at IMG, Robert Birge '99 has stepped into a new role for himself and for the storied 47-year-old sports, entertainment and media firm.

In 2007 Birge assumed responsibility for global brand management, advertising and strategic marketing initiatives for all the company's business units. "We're one of the largest independent producers of sports and entertainment programming, and we're the largest global distributor of media programming," Birge says. "Entertainment media is a major growth focus for us, particularly with the new appointment of Chris Albrecht, former head of HBO, as head of IMG's media business unit."

Birge says he was chosen for the role because of his experience in marketing strategy and creative development across industries and subjects. Prior to IMG, the Kellogg graduate worked with big-name brands as managing director of the New York office of global advertising firm TBWA\Chiat\Day, where he oversaw daily operations, including client service, recruitment and new business development. He also worked in marketing consulting as part of The Boston Consulting Group's consumer marketing and e-commerce practice and at Marketing Corporation of America.

Through all of these roles, Birge says the essentials of marketing — segmentation, understanding consumers and their relationship with sports and entertainment properties and brands, and measuring the impact of marketing efforts — remained central.

"My role at IMG is so broad and covers such a diverse set of properties that all of the different things I did really helped ground me in the fundamentals, including my Kellogg experience," he says. "Every bit of the marketing curriculum I experienced was extremely beneficial, from things that were cutting edge to the basics of marketing."

The biggest differences in this position for Birge are working for a legend like Ted Forstmann (IMG chairman and CEO). The job also is significantly broader than his previous roles. For example, IMG's second-biggest business is events: "We own, manage or represent over 350 events around the world." One-fifth of its global business is talent representation, which includes more than 1,000 athletes, models and celebrities.

To navigate these vast areas, Birge's team has developed the trademarked IMG ICON Engineering, a process and set of proprietary tools for crafting and harnessing "culture-defining" icons.

"Icons define the culture we live in," says Birge. "People are devoted to events, brands, people, places, television programs, films, fictional characters, art and ideas."

What IMG does is tap that consumer devotion to cultural icons, both in crafting events, media programs and talent brands and in helping leading marketers harness these iconic properties, Birge explains.

"In a world where as many as 33 million households are employing technology to skip commercials and where media fragmentation makes it increasingly difficult to reach your target audience, selling your brand through an iconic property that a consumer is seeking out can be a very powerful marketing approach," Birge says.

At a time when marketers are navigating the use of traditional and non-traditional media, Birge says these alternatives help consumers understand and relate to brands.

"People have a myriad of choices of what they can consume," he says. "The more choices you put in front of people — while at the same time squeezing their time — they need shortcuts to help them navigate those choices. Brands play a great role in that."

As traditional marketing platforms continue to see "erosion," companies like IMG are getting creative in their strategies. Emerging platforms across broadband and mobile have been a key playing field for IMG's sports and entertainment brands.

"We're dealing with changing media consumption and changing media platforms, but in spite of all this, the marketing fundamentals still stand. The power of a brand is even more important than it was before."

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