Nashville Marketing Firm Launches National Play with BarbecueMarch 23, 2012
Nashville marketing firm launches national play with barbecue
Date: Friday, March 23, 2012
Brian Reisinger, Staff Reporter - Nashville Business Journal
If you’re a mammoth food company, there are plenty of ways to get your juicy products out there: national advertising, strategic shelf space, social media campaigns.
Regardless, Mike McCloud says he’ll do you one better.
“There’s nothing like putting a piece of food in someone’s mouth to make them a believer,” he said.
The president and CEO of MMA Creative said he’s hatched a grassroots strategy to do just that, over and over again. The result has been explosive — once sleepy, scattered food competitions are now tied to giant brands like Sam’s Club — and MMA is raking in the money and restructuring to handle the demand.
MMA’s ride is an example of how challenging conventional wisdom can dramatically reshape marketing efforts, experts say, both within the industry and for companies looking to promote their products and services.
Along the way, MMA has seen massive growth. The small marketing house expects 2012 revenue to hit $6 million, with annual growth between 30 and 50 percent since 2009. It’s also launched Trybe Targeting, a subsidiary specifically dealing with food enthusiasts and other “tribes” McCloud said are redefining marketing.
MMA is preparing what it considers the main dish: In November, the firm will partner with “Man v. Food” host Adam Richman and Caesars Entertainment Corp.for a Las Vegas “Super Bowl of food.” Barbecue masters, chicken wing pros and experts from other food competition fields will compete for ultimate glory.
BBQ shot heard ’round the world
It all started with the Kansas City Barbeque Society.
McCloud went all in when he told the group — the country’s largest sanctioning and judging body of barbecue contests — that MMA would only charge on a percentage of growth it generated, as opposed to billable hours. Carolyn Wells, the society’s executive director and co-founder, said the effort resulted in annual membership growth between 12 and 15 percent as its events became part of a nationally branded barbecue circuit.
“We were bumbling along very well on our own,” she said. “However, it was time to take that next step.”
Once the barbecue group ramped up, MMA had a selling point in another direction: It could offer food brands a devoted audience they could reach for cheap at events all over the country. Companies of all kinds joined the fray, and then MMA hit the jackpot in national discount retailer Sam’s Club.
As McCloud put it, MMA had fired the “barbecue shot heard ’round the world.”
Now, MMA is working with other “food sports,” with deals involving food giants Kraft Foods Inc., Tyson Foods Inc.and others.
The formula is to tap fervent food enthusiast groups, then show large national brands how to get an in through sponsorships, tastings and appearances. MMA’s revenue streams are three-fold: growing the food groups, consulting with the brands and running events at a profit.
Mark Ratchford, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, said the food enthusiast groups seem akin to the fervent NASCARfans that remade national marketing. MMA has figured out how to talk to a passionate, captive audience with a grassroots strategy, a distinction in an age of not only massive ad campaigns but social media and other online chatter, he said.
“I would call that mass customization,” he said. “It’s targeting at a finer and finer level.”
Brian Reisinger covers government, banking/finance, civic affairs, professional services and nonprofits.
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