When I ran marketing for Sports Radio WEEI in Boston, we spent an ample amount of time sending interns out to different sports venues prior to games to blanket the area with WEEI paraphernalia – all to engage with sports fans, our core target demographic. The reason we were so successful in reaching our targeted listener was that we knew what they liked and where they played. By the way, it wasn’t brain surgery. Our listeners were sports fans, and guess what? They happened to spend time at sporting events. What made us effective was that we were relentless; every game, every venue – we were always present.
We did a little deal for vehicles with a local Ford dealership, Rodman Ford (hi Don), and wrapped the vehicles with our logos. So, pretty easy stuff. We had some brand presence and gave away some items with Sports Radio WEEI logo on them. We gave away a ton of “coozies” because, of course, sports fans drank beer, and we were there to help keep the beers cold and their hands warm. It was very basic grass-roots marketing; it was low-budget (which was key since we barely had a budget) and it was an effective way to remind folks that we were the place to turn to for sports information and entertainment.
We were constantly looking for ways to get new, low-cost items that people wanted and would keep. At the time, Roger Clemens was pitching for the Red Sox; fans in the bleachers would paint “K’s” on cardboard and hang them up every time Roger struck out a batter. We decided that would be the perfect item, only we would have them professionally designed and printed with our logo on the “K-cards”. Given the high volume at which we printed these cards, the cost was minimal (I can’t remember the exact cost now, as it was almost 20 years ago, but it was absolutely the least expensive item we gave away). The “K-cards” caught on big, and fans were flashing them for every strike out, so at times we would also get some TV exposure.
Well, in the 1996 season, the Patriots had a nice little run and ended up hosting the AFC Championship Game at Foxboro Stadium. One of our on-air hosts, Eddie Andelman, came up with a code word that he urged everyone to say when they called the station, indicating that they thought the Patriots were going to the Super Bowl. He didn’t want folks to just outright say they were going to the Super Bowl, because sports fans are superstitious and he didn’t want there to be any chance of a jinx. The Super Bowl was in New Orleans that year, so the code word was “Jambalaya” – and man, did it catch on. Folks began printing up signs, putting the word up on their business marquees, and walking around shouting, “JAMBALAYA.” It was incredible.
The station jumped all over it, and as a marketing tool, it became the focal point for everything we were doing. It was a fun and contagious campaign. We even converted the “K-cards” to “Jambalaya cards.” Then came game day; I sent out Will McDonough (our main intern), who had recruited some friends and literally blanketed the parking lots with WEEI Jambalaya Cards (I believe we handed out something crazy, like 25,000 cards).
At the same time, the Patriots organization had done a deal with Bank of Boston to hand out blue pom-poms with the bank’s logo on the handle. Of course, we were not in the business of coordinating our efforts with the teams, and our efforts didn’t sit so well with the team’s executives. They were so ticked off, that over the loud speakers, they were announcing, “WEEI Jambalaya Cards will not be allowed in the stadium.” I got a call from Will, who explained what was happening, and that folks were hiding the cards under their jackets to sneak them into the stadium.
The next day, I was in the office, quite satisfied with the results and our efforts, and I received a call from Dan Kraft, who ran marketing for the Patriots, and whose family owned the team. The part that made this awkward for me was that a couple of months prior to this event, Dan had indicated to me that he liked what I did for the station, and would be interested in chatting with me after the season to see if I would fit with the team. Let’s just say that on this particular day, he wasn’t too pleased with me, and he let me know it. After he finished, having more guts than brains, and not apologizing for the outcome, I said to him, “Dan, I don’t work for you, I work for WEEI, and if you were my boss, you would have been thrilled with what we did.” So much for Dan hiring me now. But, Dan’s answer was interesting; even though he was ticked off, I believe he knew we were trying to do the right things for WEEI. Dan said to me, “That’s right, you don’t work for me…YET,” and hung up the phone.
I began working for the Patriots six months later.
Even though I may have jeopardized my opportunity to work with the Patriots, I did what was right for my brand, my employer, and the responsibilities of my job. My obligation was to WEEI, not any other company; that’s all I knew and the only way I approached it. Some may say that I was foolish and just got lucky. I believe that if you are true to yourself and what you are charged to do, all the rest will fall into place.
The funny part of the entire episode was that each year, NFL Films produced a team video that they sold prior to the next season. Dan and I were watching it together at an event my first year with the team, and wouldn’t you know, right in the middle of the video, there is a fan flashing a WEEI Jambalaya Card. I can’t lie; I still smile at the thought of it.