After spending the past several months as interim chief marketing officer with the New York Islanders, Michael Beckerman is returning to a new agency role in one of the most partisan hockey markets in North America.
The long-suffering Islanders’ surprise 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven first round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins has the veteran marketer feeling confident about their chances. “I think they’re going to sweep all the way through the Stanley Cup,” he says before remembering his impending return to Toronto. “That’s off the record,” he jokes.
Like the Islanders, Beckerman is feeling good about his game as he approaches his new role at Dentsu Aegis Network‘s Toronto-based sponsorship and live event company, MKTG Canada. “I’m at the top of my game,” says Beckerman, who takes over as president and CEO next month.
He succeeds former MKTG Canada president Matthew Logue, who announced his intention to step down earlier this year. On LinkedIn this week, Logue called Beckerman a “huge addition” to the company.
The new role marks a return to the agency world for one of Canada’s top marketers, whose resume includes increasingly senior roles at Nike (for whom he worked in Canada, the U.S., Asia and Europe), Air Canada and BMO.
He spent a decade with the now-defunct Ariad Communications and Bluespire Marketing, first as president and then as CEO, from 2006 until 2016.
Beckerman is currently helping with the search for his successor in New York as he prepares to take over at MKTG Canada. He will report to MKTG Canada founder Brian Cooper, who will maintain oversight of the company.
“It’s been tons of fun working for a team, and it’s actually given me some really good experience as I go into MKTG Canada,” says Beckerman of his time with the Islanders. “Just seeing the rhythm of season ticket renewals, new sales and promotions and sponsorship management—hopefully I’ve been able to contribute a little, but I’ve also learned a ton.”
He and Cooper have a longstanding professional relationship that dates back to the mid-1980s, when Cooper was working to establish a charity softball tournament with legendary composer David Foster—which evolved into the David Foster Miracle Gala & Concert—and Beckerman was working as a summer student with Labatt.
The two men reconnected when Cooper was appointed executive in residence at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, where he helped develop the school’s sports business curriculum.
“I saw him in action and thought ‘This guy is really pushing the industry forward,'” says Beckerman.
Beckerman’s arrival at MKTG comes as sponsorship continues to grow in stature, driven by the growing power of live events—particularly sports—and increasing interest in the development of personalized communication strategies.
“Media dollars are getting challenged like they’ve never been before,” he says. “I think as CMOs have better metrics and dashboards than before, sponsorship and events have become a significant part of their marketing budget and efforts.”
Beckerman, who ran track and played rugby through high school and university, says that sports has an unmatched ability to create strong emotional connections between brands and consumers.
“There’s an emotion and artistry to sports that is relevant to a lot of brands,” he says. “We’re all working hard to capture the minds and hearts of consumers, and in the age of Netflix… I think that sports and live entertainment is a way to differentiate a brand from the clutter.”
Beckerman brings multiple lessons learned over the course of his career to his role with MKTG Canada, from the importance of developing locally rooted brands, to nurturing and growing talent, to re-framing marketing as something beyond mere advertising—with an emphasis on what he describes as the “spheres of influence” that help facilitate greater connections between brands and consumers.
His goal with MKTG Canada, he says, is to lead the conversation around the concept of “Sponsorship 2.0.” Brand awareness, he says, is “marketing’s fools gold,” a function of how much gets spent on media. But sponsorship is increasingly being viewed by CMOs as an opportunity to differentiate their brands from competitors.
“It’s getting its time to shine,” he says. “It’s not about signage and non-emotive communication. It’s about being smarter and more agile and being able to segment your audience to develop customized and tailored messages that are going to build that emotional connection with your consumer, which in turn is going to build loyalty and equity in your brand.”
The next round of Beckerman’s career begins on May 1. Based on his bold projections, that should put the Islanders, still undefeated in the post-season, on the brink of the Eastern Conference Finals. Possibly against the Toronto Maple Leafs.