Paragon Marketing Group makes post-pandemic moves
Around 26 years after its founding and just as the industry adjusts to the changes wrought by the pandemic, Paragon Marketing Group has bought out partner David Brenner and is adding capabilities and charting a new course for the agency, one of the few independent sports marketing agencies of any size. Brenner will remain as a consultant.
Meanwhile, Paragon, which consulted on numerous venue title sponsorships over the years, from Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey to PNC Park and PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, is now entering the third-party sales rep business for naming rights and other high-ticket items, like jersey patches. Until now, Paragon’s only sales efforts have been for media and sponsorship assets around the many high school sports programs partner Rashid Ghazi has packaged and produced for ESPN.
Adding sales capabilities has been a delicate matter for consulting agencies over the years. Some have purposely eschewed sales, seeing it as a potential conflict. “We feel that we can maintain distance between our consulting clients and the properties we represent,” said fellow Partner Tony Schiller. “It will be different people. We won’t be force-feeding anyone.”
The Paragon partners said they have been asked to do sales for clients many times, and that the timing is now right. We note the success Excel Sports Management’s had since it established a third-party sales unit under Jason Miller a few years ago. The sales opportunity is here and it’s growing, as local property sales teams will be faced with selling more of what they hope will be seven-figure assets.
“We’re seeing more and more pro teams looking to leverage a growing variety of [branding] assets on uniforms and in stadium,” said Ghazi. “But a lot of agencies sell them and then leave. Our expertise is activating after the sale, so clients can get the value they want.’” Schiller said sales will be limited to top-tier assets, “anything that puts a permanent representation of a brand in a team’s environment.”
Why now for Paragon?
Under Ghazi, production has long been a priority, especially in high school sports, where the agency has been working with ESPN since 2002. Now he wants to expand that and fill brands’ growing demand for content with “Paragon Studios.”
Other new areas within which Paragon is expanding: leveraging the events and logistics skill it’s developed after years of creating basketball tournaments for ESPN; leveraging its demonstrated expertise in youth marketing to expand in that area; app development; and exploiting brand marketers newfound penchant for women’s marketing by developing a year-round platform for girls’ sports.
There are 78 Paragon employees now. With the expansion, Partner Julie Simmons — with the firm’s new business targets — said that should grow to 100 “sometime soon.” Paragon’s client roster includes longtime relationships with brands including ESPN, Gatorade (since 2000) and PNC Bank (since 2004).
“Our stability in leadership, and at the senior staff level, has surely helped us with client continuity,” said Schiller, noting Paragon’s average client stays more than eight years.
History of signage
Paragon traces its roots to Ha-Lo Sports and Entertainment, founded in 1995 by Brenner, the former Bulls promotions director. In its early years. parent Ha-Lo Industries, which began as an advertising premium company and morphed into a rollup of marketing agencies, including Ha-Lo Sports, made waves by buying and pioneering a raft of unusual signage on and around the field of play in the mid-1990s. There was Ha-Lo signage in MLB dugouts, on foul poles and on the Bulls chair backs — all places where there had never been signage before.
“When I started, there was no courtside signage of any kind, beer companies were severely limited, and the Illinois lottery could NOT buy any TV visible signage,” Brenner recalled, adding that none of those MLB signage deals cost even $100,000. “Now look at where we are.”
Brenner said he’ll continue to serve as an assistant basketball coach at a local high school, spend time with his grandson, and serve on causes, including the 100 Thousand Foundation, which funds local urban youth sports charities.