Marketing, Cirque style

For the unconventional brand with expansion in its plans, it takes an equally unique and unflagging marketer. Meet Mario D'Amico

For the unconventional brand with expansion in its plans, it takes an equally unique and unflagging marketer. Meet Mario D’Amico

Mario D’Amico is not your average marketer. Then again, Cirque du Soleil is not your average brand. ‘Mario is one of the few guys in Canada who is on the giving end of global brand management,’ says Bertrand Cesvet, chairman of Montreal-based Sid Lee, Cirque’s AOR.

In 2007, D’Amico’s global branding and marketing role (he was responsible for crafting the brand’s pillars and essence, starting in 2001 and debuting last year) became more pronounced as Cirque embarked on a strategy to reach new markets. Shows like Saltimbanco were scaled back (i.e., no big top) to accommodate smaller markets like Kelowna, B.C., and Halifax, N.S.; and new shows will debut over the next two years in exotic locales with promise, like Macau, Dubai and Tokyo.

In his new position as SVP marketing (he was promoted in February), D’Amico is leading the charge. Marketing remains central, but his responsibilities now include critical consumer touchpoints such as merchandising, web, corporate alliance and business development. In that latter role, he spent 211 days travelling the world last year, doing what may seem like the impossible – growing what is arguably Canada’s most recognized global brand.

‘Mario is the guy who is trailblazing and developing the new markets. His biggest accomplishment in ’07 was singlehandedly taking Cirque to the United Arab Emirates,’ says Cesvet. ‘He’s found a way to inspire and lead, regardless of whether he’s in Macau, Vegas or Dubai.’ (D’Amico has seven direct reports, and his global team numbers 125.)

‘Cirque du Soleil is such an out-of-the-box company,’ says Rodney Landi, Cirque’s VP merchandising and hospitality, ‘and Mario needs to do an enormous amount of out-of-the-box thinking. He has to be sure-footed and quick-footed as we work on a large number of international projects simultaneously, in incredibly different landscapes, to still have Cirque ring true to all of those ears and languages.’

Impressive marketing coups were part of his standout year. Staying true to a philosophy of creating PR executions that generate word of mouth – with minimal use of mass marketing – D’Amico and his team helped two new North American productions, Wintuk and Kooza, launch to record sales. And to mark the first anniversary of Love, which was inspired by Beatles songs and runs in Las Vegas, Cirque founder Guy Laliberté appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live. It resulted in a spike in sales for the show, which already boasted 96% turnout. Last month, the Love troupe also performed at the Grammys.

Cirque also had its most successful year ever with its five shows in Las Vegas. Notably, D’Amico spearheaded a deal that had the five MGM casinos – which prefer to market independently – promote all Cirque shows through one portfolio marketing strategy. Called the Summer of Cirque du Soleil, the promotion increased sales 30% during the normally slow summer season.

‘It was a fantastic year, our best since I’ve been there,’ says D’Amico. (Cirque’s revenues were $630 million US in 2007 and are expected to top $700 million US in 2008.) But he’s quick to point out that it’s the shows that inspire the marketing. ‘This is a creative-run company,’ he says. ‘Marketing is the navigation; the driver is creative.’

Expect more unique executions and hookups this year. For the World’s Fair in Zaragoza, Spain, for example – which opens in June and is expected to attract more than six million people over three months – a daily one-hour Cirque-style parade was created to ‘take the crass commercialism out of marketing,’ says D’Amico. There’s also a Las Vegas show with American magician Criss Angel on tap. And as part of Cirque’s plans to expand the brand into areas that fit, there’s talk of more bars like the Beatles Revolution Lounge in Vegas, which was built near the Love venue to create an after-show Cirque experience. D’Amico describes the challenge as one of beating past successes: ‘We’re trying to figure out how to top one year after the next.’

It’s a challenge he will take on in typical Cirque style. ‘Mario’s funny, irreverent, intuitive. He’s gutsy and something of a risk taker, very much like Cirque,’ says Landi. ‘These [characteristics] marry perfectly with the brand.’

Team size: 125

Years at Cirque: 9

First job in marketing: Assistant brand manager on pastry brands Jos. Louis and May West (then owned by Culinar) in Montreal

Marketing style in three words: ‘Laissez-faire. Trusting. Relaxed.’

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Introduction

Overall winner: Unilever’s Geoff Craig

Top integrated marketer: LCBO’s Nancy Cardinal

Top entertainment marketer: Nintendo of Canada’s Ron Bertram

Top retail marketer: Shoppers Drug Mart’s Michele Slepekis

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