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Endurance Sportswire Executive Interview Series – SMACK! Media’s Elisette Carlson

November 20, 2019

Elisette Carlson grew up traveling the world helping her dad produce, promote and manage player relations for global soccer tournaments including the World Cup events. At Princeton University, she was as a NCAA First Team All-American and All-Ivy League in Women’s Rowing. So it’s no surprise that upon graduating college she landed at the Reebok World Headquarters in MA. An endurance athlete, Elisette has run the Boston Marathon and completed numerous IRONMAN events. And when she is not contributing articles to Forbes and Entrepreneur, she serves as a board member of  SDSI and runs SMACK! Media, a boutique branding, marketing, digital agency focused on authentic brands in sports, fitness, wellness and nutrition.

Q. For those who aren’t already familiar with SMACK! Media, tell us a little bit about your offerings and some of the clients you work with.

A. We are a full-service branding, marketing, digital and Public Relation(ship)s ® agency. We have had the honor of working with some of the most respected brands and people from sports to nutrition to lifestyle. Past and current clients that are most well known in the endurance space specifically include Zoot Sports, Clif Bar, Life Time, TriggerPoint, Marc Pro, Betty Designs and the St. Anthony’s Triathlon.

Q. Your agency started off primarily in PR, what brought about the shift to a full service agency?

A. The public relations industry is not what it used to be. When I headed up marketing at Zoot Sports, we landed the brand on 22 magazine covers in two years and that was good PR! Today, magazine covers are wonderful, but the landscape of PR has shifted, as has the speed of communication. Whereas most people used to make purchasing decisions based on what journalists had to say, they now make them based on what trusted influencers or friends say. And these conversations take place across multiple media channels including podcasts, blogs and social media. There is more noise and competition for voice than ever before.

The primary goal of communication is about “persuading” and building trust amongst customers, prospect customers and communities which is a core function of SMACK! Media.  Although I was most focused on PR when I started, we quickly expanded to help brands grow and launch tapping into my expertise as marketing director at Reebok and Zoot Sports. When I first launched SMACK! Media, we had the opportunity to execute a full range of services for TriggerPoint over a number of years and product launches. From content creation to events to directing their social media, we quickly became known for our ability to develop and execute both online and offline marketing strategies and campaigns. We also found a great niche in helping put new companies on the map.

Q. Have you seen a change in what your clients in the sports and fitness industries want from a marketing perspective versus five years ago?

A. The biggest change we have seen is the need for stronger more authentic content. While it’s easy to write copy and produce visually appealing assets, it’s a lot harder to generate strategic content that will be appreciated and shared. We understand that it’s crucial to fully understand and get behind the products and people you work with.

Q. What is your secret to creating such strong relationships in the media?

A. Really, it’s not a secret. Having grown up traveling around the world and learning from my father who is all about eye contact and face to face interactions, I enjoy working with and knowing individuals for who they are as a whole – from their career to their personal life. I love connecting people when I see a fit for them – regardless of whether or not it is client related. When it comes to media, the best advice I can offer is to not just go to them when you need something or want to pitch an idea. Rather, also be a resource for them, and even a friend. I’ve gotten to know several of the top journalists and content producers in person at media events, over a “Sweatwork,” or a meal when I’m in their city.  Face to face relationships are most important, and when that is not doable, I like to be as helpful as I can. When working with media, my team and I make sure we deliver clean content, meet their deadlines and express gratitude. I contributed to Forbes.com about this awhile back.

Q. What are the biggest challenges you see today for companies trying to gain consumer mind share.

A. Today, so many companies approach us wanting to do what everyone else is doing. They say, “We need social media, we need a giveaway, we need eNewsletters,” without first asking themselves WHY and what the key goals and KPIs are for their marketing strategy. Companies need to truly stand out and be different. It’s important for companies to differentiate themselves and create loyalty for their customers.

Q. Social media is flooded with so many sponsored posts today that it is hard to know what is authentic. How do you work with your clients to stand out and differentiate themselves on social media platforms?

A. Everyone is an influencer these days, right? 😉 We are fortunate to have developed strong connections with influential people and companies on social media so we are able to focus more on quality (over quantity) campaigns with people we see as ideal fits for a particular brand. It’s almost like playing match-maker on social media, in that we know it will be mutually beneficial for both brand and person promoting the product. For example, we are emphatic when we know someone is injured and offer to send them therapy or recovery products. Or if we know someone is looking to improve their health, we ask them if they’re up for the challenge of trying a new probiotic or nutrition product. In other words, the conversation never begins with “what are your rates?” Nor is it approached from a “will you post about this product” angle, simply because they have a lot of followers. We look for engagement and influencers that best match up to a product. For example, sending FitVine wine to a celebrity yoga instructor, Heidi Kristoffer, and mother of 3 young kids, who posted that life is about “balance” and having delicious low sugar wine that doesn’t hold you back the morning after, is part of her routine.

Q. Can you share with us one of your recent campaigns and how you helped the client?

A. The Colorado Classic this past year was an unbelievable event to be affiliated with, in particular, as a female athlete and women-owned business. We achieved 594 media mentions for them (not impressions but true pieces), reached an audience of almost five million and secured placements for them such as Forbes.com, mic.com, the REI blog and Outside Magazine, alongside repeated placements in both cycling outlets such as Bicycling.com and Velo News, and local media outlets such as the Denver Post and local television news. We were most proud to be affiliated with a movement that was a success in advancing global women’s cycling and even bigger, a movement for all women in sports. We blushed when Billie Jean King tweeted about it.

Q. What is in store for SMACK! Media in the next few years?

A. I feel fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be selective about who we work with. It has to fire us up and fit our brand. My team and I are continually exploring new ideas across the board as expand our network and attend events, but for the most part, the three priorities are 1) To continue to work with people and brands in health and wellness that we are passionate about, 2) To keep inspiring and helping people live healthier and happier lives and 3) To help our clients win, because we like to win as much as they do. We like to say that we give companies a SMACK! – the five fingers across the rear to think different, accelerate and drive results.