What a sport

Former Olympic ski team athlete Jim Kirby has been hired to head Publicis Toronto's new sports marketing division. Kirby, the division's GM, was a member of the 1984 Olympic ski team in Sarajevo and has worked in sports marketing for the last 20 years.

Former Olympic ski team athlete Jim Kirby has been hired to head Publicis Toronto’s new sports marketing division. Kirby, the division’s GM, was a member of the 1984 Olympic ski team in Sarajevo and has worked in sports marketing for the last 20 years.

‘Our clients turn more and more to sports marketing as a way to further their brands and strengthen their relationships with consumers,’ says Publicis Toronto’s Andrew Bruce, EVP/COO to explain the new venture, officially called Publicis Sports Integrated, which opened for business in early January. ‘Agencies have typically been disconnected from the conversations surrounding sports marketing and therefore haven’t been able to have a voice in how to best plug it in [to overall marketing].’

Enter Kirby, who has worked with some of the top names in sports marketing, including IMG, where he led the Royal Canadian Golf Association account and was responsible for repackaging the Bell Canadian Open, and most recently with the Canadian Olympic Committee as director of sales and licensing. Bruce says besides Kirby’s obvious qualifications and passion for sport, he brings deep industry contacts and a good sense of the broader relationships of marketing.

Kirby says Sports Integrated will offer ‘unique positioning’ for companies that may sponsor a sports event, for example, but aren’t using it fully in building its brand. They’ll also focus on recruiting athletes, contract negotiations, organizing big events – everything that will leverage a client’s relationship with an event, sport or athlete. He adds that with ‘fan passion’ and overall interest in sport on rise, the timing is right for a venture of this nature.

The idea for the division came from Publicis HQ in Paris, which started its own sports marketing arm in March 2003. Kirby says he doesn’t know of another Canadian agency that has taken a similar leap and therefore considers the division’s direct competition to be full-fledged sports marketing companies such as IMG and the Gem Group.

He says the Publicis difference is neutrality. ‘We look at which athlete, for example, would be best for our client’s brand,’ whereas a sports marketing firm would push athletes already signed to the agency. Kirby says a couple of prospective clients are in the works and that there are no current plans for additional hires.