Updated: Dec 2, 2020
With 20+ years of marketing and sponsorship experience, Mark has become a powerhouse in the sponsorship industry.
In 2015, Mark founded the Allionce Group, and hasn't looked back. The Allionce Group is a marketing agency dedicated to helping brand marketers reach and engage with the families that visit U.S. Zoos and Aquariums. With 195 million annual visits to more than 200 accredited zoos and aquariums throughout the U.S., this market provides an untapped landscape for brands to connect with millennial parents and their children at venues boasting more total visits than all four major sports leagues combined!
Before forming the Allionce Group, Mark spent time in multiple different sectors of the sports industry. From being a collegiate basketball coach to working with one of the most recognized soccer clubs in the world, Mark has gained a vast knowledge of all things sport sponsorships.
1. It seems that you have a very extensive basketball background as a coach, so how did you end up falling into your first role as an Account Executive at Greater Media?
Good question. After playing college basketball and then coaching for 7 years I was a bit unsure of what my next steps were going to be. After considering commercial real estate, I found radio to be a really interesting and creative opportunity. In the end, this experience in media was invaluable to the work that we’re doing now.
2. With you having a strong background in the sports industry, how did you come to the decision to switch to zoos and aquariums?
You know I saw first hand how cluttered and mature the sports market really was during my previous positions in the sports industry. What’s important to note is that before my role at AS Roma, I was a partner at a college marketing agency where we connected brands with college students across the country. As I was considering my transition plan out of pro soccer, that college experience really influenced a question at hand that piqued my curiosity. As a new dad, I thought to myself “where do brands go in the USA to reach families?” My so-called “ah-ha” moment was when I learned that zoos and aquariums at the time represented 180,000,000 annual visits and to this date, that number has increased to 195,000,000 annual visits. This works out to be more than all four of the major sports leagues combined. Additionally, this number also works out to be more than twice as much as all music festivals and acts that are put on here in the USA. This blew me away and after doing even more research, I found that there was no one really serving the zoo and aquarium markets or offering any type of efficiency on behalf of brands.
3. What does being recognized by Adweek as one of the Top-100 Fasted Growing Marketing Agencies mean to the Allionce Group?
This recognition validates our unique value proposition to offer brands the most effective way to reach parents with young kids 2-12 years old. It’s also a testament to the companies and brands who have proven to be bold enough to invest in a new market in a fresh environment.
4. When it comes to some of the brands you have worked with at Allionce Group, can you elaborate on your Teddy Grahams and Swedish Fish partnerships you created?
Teddy Grahams “Discover with Teddy”
The “Discover With Teddy” campaign focused on brand positioning and aligning all marketing assets in the brand’s spirit.
Allionce ran the campaign featuring relevant sponsorships and events to engage with guests, as well as on-site sampling designed to add to the guest experience. We installed brightly colored tents, handed out product samples, and created games and scavenger hunts to inspire playful curiosity in children. Branding opportunities within the program were customized to maximize exposure at each location. At the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, Teddy Grahams’ signage was seamlessly integrated into the zoo’s bear exhibits and featured educational tips and fun facts about the bears. At the Saint Louis Zoo, Teddy sponsored their Summer Concert Series and activated with both a scavenger hunt and with a fun cornhole Teddy Toss. At the Cleveland Zoo, Teddy was the presenting sponsor of their Nature Discovery Ridge playground area and at the Oakland Zoo, the presenting sponsor of Volunteer Week.
In addition to sparking interest in the Teddy Grahams product, one of our goals was to integrate education about animals, especially bears, into our marketing campaign. This included an interactive “How Much Do You Know About Bears” quiz promoted through the zoo’s digital channels, giving participants a chance to win free tickets or membership.
Swedish Fish “Chomped”
With over 195 million annual visits to zoos and aquariums throughout the U.S., these venues provided a direct pipeline for Swedish Fish to engage directly with millennial parents and their kids. The primary objectives of the program were to drive sales, create attractive messaging, deepen an emotional connection, and increase visibility. Timing our program activation with Discovery Channel’s Shark Week notably boosted participation among consumers. Allionce Group sourced, fabricated, and executed 3D graphics popular for photos, produced movie nights, and hosted a sold-out VIP event.
5. With COVID-19 it seems that zoos were one of the first places to open to the public. How has that impacted brands you represent and their branding at Zoos?
Zoos have been the first to recover and are naturally well-positioned as venues with hundreds of acres, outdoor open-air venues, and complying with all CDC guidelines and safety protocols. We’ve also seen pent up demand drive increased attendance as there are very few places currently to take the family, so zoos offer a great place to enjoy time with the family.
6. For students looking to break into the industry, what would your top 3 pieces of advice be?
i) Always network and find mentors to help guide you along the path. In this same spirit have a relentless commitment to always be learning, not only at beginning of your career but all the way through
ii) Be the best at what you do currently and opportunities will find you
iii) I think finding your passion is a bit overstated. As you find your place and develop skills these can often be applied to many industries and places.