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How to

Marketing tips from former New England Patriots CMO.



By Jenny Jedeikin

From a working-class neighborhood in East Boston, to helping create one of the most celebrated sport franchises in the history of the NFL, self-made marketing wiz Lou Imbriano earned his three Super Bowl rings from the New England Patriots without ever scoring a touchdown or throwing a pass.


But how exactly did a guy with almost no marketing experience become one of the most successful sports marketers in the NFL? If you ask Imbriano—now CEO of Trinity One marketing—he’ll tell you it’s all in his roots. He just used the common-sense wisdom and smarts he got from his blue-collar Italian upbringing to give his customers what they wanted.

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“We have found at Trinity One that the same principles that apply to sports marketing can be brought to other industries … every company has season ticket holders, they just don’t view them that way.”

  Lou Imbriano, CEO Trinty One


“When I was a kid growing up in East Boston, my parents and grandparents were unbelievable entertainers,” Imbriano explains. “We are Italian so everything [was centered around] food. And my family really knew how to treat people. They paid attention to people, what people liked and didn’t like, and knew exactly how to take care of people,” says Imbriano. “And to be quite frank, that’s all that marketing really is—building relationships or rapport with your customers or clients, no matter what kind of business you’re in.”

It’s all about relationships

When the Kraft family—the owners of the New England Patriots—offered Imbriano a job in marketing in 1996, Imbriano had just two years of marketing experience in sports radio. But the Krafts sensed Imbriano’s energy and enthusiasm. “I was hungry for results and they knew it.” The first thing Imbriano did when he started was—the same thing his Italian family did—get to know the people that mattered: in this case it was the Patriots fans. “From the very beginning, I went down into the parking lot, where people tailgate, just the regular ticket holders, and just chatted with the fans. And I asked them questions: ‘What do you like? What don’t you like?’ That was truly the best way to find out what these folks wanted and how to alter things and create events that they enjoyed.”

From his firsthand knowledge of the fans, Imbriano created his very first sponsorship event for the team, “The Patriots Experience,” an interactive event where fans could come to the stadium during training days and experience a piece of the Patriots’ training session. This idea was something entirely new and exciting, and it became a tremendous success. “Because I understood what the fans wanted, it allowed me to market to them better,” says Imbriano. “I think that’s what made me catch on to marketing so well; it was less about me being this big marketing person, which usually involves all this analysis, and more about building relationships with the fans.”

What corporations get wrong

Imbriano thinks most people in corporations don’t spend enough time getting to know their customers. “I think that’s what’s wrong with a lot of these corporations. They spend a lot of time thinking … they can create all these great mechanisms and products for people to enjoy,” says Imbriano, “but half the time they wind up creating things for themselves as opposed to creating things for the masses.”

Keeping his finger on the pulse of the Patriots’ fans, Imbriano went on to develop golf tournaments, charity events, gala dinners and “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences where VIPs got a chance to stand in the giant “Patriot’s helmet” up close with the entire team while they were getting pumped up before the beginning of the game. “If you’ve ever done that, it’s an experience you’re not likely to ever forget,” says Imbriano.

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“Over the course of a couple years, the Krafts came to me and said, ‘We love what you’re doing, we want you to take over sales,’” says Imbriano. “So marketing expanded into a larger department, until nine years later, when I was given the title Chief Marketing Officer and we had an entire laundry list of areas we led.” In the span of a few years, Imbriano took the Patriots’ sponsorship revenues from $16 million to more than $90 million.

Not just sports

With a legacy of success behind him, five years ago Imbriano decided to leave the Patriots and branch out on his own. Today, as CEO for boutique marketing agency Trinity One, Imbriano’s clients include companies like Gillette, Visa, Fidelity and McDonalds. And although he still focuses mostly on sports franchises, he hasn’t limited his business to sports.

“We have found at Trinity One that the same principles that apply to sports marketing can be brought to other industries,” says Imbriano. “What I always say is, ‘every company has season ticket holders, they just don’t view them that way.’ So for example, if you have a restaurant business, then your ‘season ticket holders’ are your regular patrons. You just have to mine that data and find out what that group likes. If you have a group of customers who like wine, Eureka! Now you know to have a special wine tasting dinner and invite those customers. There are a million things you can create to get your ‘season ticket holders’ to spend more discretionary income.”

Relationships don’t happen overnight

“The key to getting to know your customers is investing time,” explains Imbriano. “You really have to engage with them at a level that’s much different than the pleasantries that most of us do from day to day.” To explain that kind of investment, Imbriano likes to return to his roots and talk about the corner grocery store that he frequented as a kid in Boston, owned by an Italian guy named Marty. Although there was

Lou Imbriano’s 10 commandments for organizing business relationships:

1 Always review the business card of everyone you meet. Reviewing the business card isn’t about glancing at the information on the business card; it’s about taking stock of the relationship potential.

2 Create a system to capture information about the relationship. Imbriano recommends using Dragon Dictation, which records your verbal notes and allows you to send emails or file notes in other documents.

3 Follow up with any person you meet. Even when it appears a person will not contribute to your business development, don’t just end the relationship there. You never know who is going to end up being a good resource.


4 Honor your relationship and gather information. Acquiring information from people requires that you provide information about yourself as well.

5 Don’t stop here. Don’t kill the relationship by not paying attention to it. Cultivate the relationship by keeping it going.

6 Send periodic notes to keep communication flowing. Stay on people’s radar. The mechanism doesn’t matter: email, text, instant message; just keep the conversation flowing.

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Lou Imbriano’s 10 commandments for organizing business relationships   continued

7 Surprise people by remembering something about them. When you can recall something about a person that they wouldn’t expect you to remember, it resonates in a powerful way.

8 Invite people to an event that you can go to together. The purpose is not to send someone to an event; it’s to spend time together to strengthen the bond.

9 See that what you do DELIVERS to the relationship. Lou recommends that you imbue every business relationship with these 8 characteristics: Dedication, Energy, Loyalty, Investment, Vision, Engagement, Responsibility, Sacrifice.

10 Repeat numbers 6-9 on a repeated basis. (From “Winning the Customer: Turn Consumers Into Fans and Get them to Spend More,” McGraw Hill 2011)

another store in the neighborhood with lower prices, his family was always loyal to Marty’s store because Marty spent time getting to know his customers.

“Whenever I came into the store, he’d ask me about my grades, or if my mother was sick, he’d give me something extra,” says Imbriano. “Here was a grammar school dropout, and he was probably one of the best customer service gurus anywhere because he understood how to build great relationships.”

With a nod to Marty, whenever Imbriano meets a potential client for Trinity One, he takes copious notes, jotting down everything he can remember, from the names of people’s kids to their favorite appetizers. “If you pay attention and have the discipline to really go deep, that’s when you’re really going to know somebody and form an unbreakable relationship. And then how can you not be successful?”

Recently Imbriano found time to put some of his wisdom into a book, Winning the Customer: Turn Consumers Into Fans and Get them to Spend More, (McGraw Hill). He wrote the book, he says, because he loves sharing knowledge and giving younger people a leg up. In fact, he teaches a class at Boston College on sports marketing in his spare time. Where does he see himself and Trinity One 20 years from now? “In 20 years … well if money isn’t an issue,” he says, “I’d love to have a company that was just like an old-fashioned help desk, where people walked up to the desk and I said, ‘How can I help you?’”

Imbriano’s first piece of advice: “Forget the golden rule your parents always told you: ‘Treat others the way you want to be treated.’ That’s wrong,” he says with a grin. “Don’t treat others the way you want to be treated. You’ve got to treat them the way they want to be treated.”


Jenny Jedeikin lives in Northern California and her writing has appeared in San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Rolling Stone and In Style, among other publications.

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PHOENIX FOCUS | November/December 2011 | The Entrepreneurship Issue


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How to score clients:
Tips from former New England Patriots CMO

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