Aarti Parekh has been part of the M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment for 12 years, having started in the London office. Four years ago, she made the move to Los Angeles. She has worked on every Olympic Games since 2010 and her portfolio boasts an array of sport and entertainment clients and large-scale global events. She is currently working on the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2022 on behalf of Coca-Cola.
As executive vice president for M&C Saatchi Sports & Entertainment North America, Aarti’s role is far-reaching. She is a senior liaison to clients and supports the executive leadership team. She leads planning, development and execution of campaigns, staff development, new business, and leads the agency’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Aarti about why big sporting events like the Olympics and World Cup are worth a brand’s money, the keys to succeeding in such a high pressure field, and her love of bringing people together, whether through large sporting events or home cooking.
LBB> How did you get into communications? Was it a planned thing or more a happy accident?
Aarti> Like so many other people, I left university with no idea of what I wanted to do. I knew the things that I liked – sports, music, film – but I didn’t really consider that it might become a career. My first job was working for a below the line marketing company for sporting events and really, that’s where my passion was really ignited. I then moved on and worked at a couple of different agencies, my passion grew and the events I supported – and the role that I played to shape them – became more significant. It was very much a happy accident - I’m a big believer in life leading you where you’re meant to be, and I was led to the perfect job for me.
LBB> You've worked for M&C Saatchi Sports & Entertainment for 12 years - what is it about the sports and entertainment space that you particularly enjoy?
Aarti> I think the biggest part of what I love about working in sport and entertainment is how much it brings people together and gives people so much joy. At a time when everyone is so involved in their own day to day activities and priorities, there are these moments during sports or music events where everyone comes together in a collective moment to show their support and passion. These events capture the public’s consciousness and give people reasons to be proud of being a supporter or fan, whether you’re there in person or watching at home. It makes everyone part of something bigger. In my 12 years at M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of the biggest brands in the world on some of the most global events, so I’ve seen firsthand how transformative and magical they can be.
LBB> That space is also extremely high pressure - what does it take to succeed in this area?
Aarti> The key to success in this space is organisation. I am managing multiple clients, deadlines, deliverables, briefs so prioritisation is key. It’s always worth that extra 15 minutes to plan your day effectively so you can stay on top of everything.
Secondly, the success of campaigns is down to the team supporting you. Mentoring team members and helping guide their thinking will pay considerable dividends so it’s well worth the time investment. As senior leaders, teaching is a vital part of our job and only serves to help everyone in the long run.
Finally, and it seems ironic given what I’ve just said, but you must take time to stay ahead of the game by reading as much as you can. Looking at what other brands are doing, what media trends are forming, paying attention to cultural conversations – you need all of this to feed your creativity so it’s an essential part of the job and one that very often is overlooked.
LBB> Tell us about your role and what it entails.
Aarti> As an executive vice president at M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment North America, I support our executive leadership team from my West Coast base in Los Angeles.
From the client side, I lead the planning, development and execution of cross-functional earned campaigns and act as the senior liaison to our clients. Depending on the client, it can be anything from developing media strategies or planning events to leading an integrated agency team to deliver 360 marketing campaigns. We have an incredible team across the US who work tirelessly to create amazing campaigns for our clients and it’s my role to keep everything on track and driving forward to meet our objectives and exceed our KPIs.
From the business side, in addition to staff development and new business, I lead our diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. As an agency, we are deeply committed to celebrating and amplifying the voices of underrepresented groups. We have a DEI committee which is made up of a cross agency team that works to develop programming that helps inform the campaigns we create, leverage training programmes and educational workshops to improve our sphere of knowledge. We prioritise diverse recruitment practices to create meaningful change in our industry and the world at large.
LBB> When working on a huge event like an Olympics or World Cup, what are some things that you always have to keep in mind for a client?
Aarti> The role of PR and communications in general is highly dependent on successfully managing a multitude of stakeholders effectively and efficiently. Making everyone feel heard and considered is key. For global events like the Olympic Games or FIFA World Cup that are hosted in different countries or cities each time, it’s essential to ensure that you’re always adhering to and respecting local customs and culture. This is where engaging local teams is essential. Finally, it’s easy to get caught up in the ‘big event fever’ so remaining true to your brand values and audience helps ensure that any campaign will resonate with target consumers.
LBB> Why are such events worth the investment for particular brands in your opinion?
Aarti> Brands are always looking at ways to connect with consumers, and as two of the leading passion points for many people, supporting sports and entertainment events is a no brainer. At its most simple level, it’s a way of brands saying ‘we know what you love and we want to show you that because you love it, we’re supporting it.’ Involvement in these events also opens brands up to new markets and previously untapped audiences.
That being said, any sponsorship has to be strategic. We’re long past the days of investing in a particular sport or event because someone in the C-suite likes it. Being very clear about objectives upfront and ensuring there is rigorous measurement in place allows brands to evaluate the true impact of these events. The brands that leverage data to provide insights and analytics that help inform marketing investments are the winners here.
LBB> Which events and campaigns that you've been a part of have been particularly memorable and why?
Aarti> I’ve been fortunate enough to work on every FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games since 2010 and every single one has had its special moments. The standout for me was probably the London 2012 Olympic Games. Having an Olympic Games take place in your home city is incredibly special as it’s the moment you’re on show to the world. There was a lot of media negativity and public reluctance to hosting the Games but when it started, everyone was so incredibly proud and energised. During the Games, I worked with Coca-Cola on its global campaign which leveraged athletes, music and culture, and also led a project for the United States Olympic Committee in which Team USA athletes used their platform to give back by raising funds and providing inspiration for disadvantaged youth. I barely slept for a month but that was one of the best points of my career. Now that Los Angeles is my new home, I’m looking forward to taking it to the next level during the LA28 Olympic Games.
LBB> How has the pandemic shaped branded communications around global events in the long run, if at all?
Aarti> For global events, there has always been two sides of it – people who are there and people who are watching it from afar. Even before the pandemic, brands were creating ways to bring people closer to the action and connect with them meaningfully. The pandemic has created a shift in consumer’s needs and behaviours, and brands now need to meet their expectations and provide true value. The role of global events has become more important than ever as people look to connect in ways they have been denied. Brands will need to be adaptable in their comms and develop a level of flexibility as a matter of course. Ultimately, I think that’s probably a good thing for the industry as a whole.
LBB> What trends in the industry do you find yourself sounding off about the most and why?
Aarti> I’m really interested to see how the metaverse becomes something that more brands leverage. As it continues to take shape, and brands work out who they want to be in that space, the possibilities are exponential. There’s a lot of investment happening on all levels and I’m excited to see how brands merge their physical and virtual presence in a compelling way to engage consumers.
LBB> Outside of work, what's inspiring you right now?
Aarti> Cooking! I’ve always been a foodie, and through the pandemic when we were all unable to travel, I channelled my energy into bringing different cultures and experiences to my home by learning how to cook new things. I was born and raised in London as part of an Indian family that has roots in Kenya, so learning to cook some of the recipes I grew up eating has created an even stronger connection to my heritage. While LA has a lot of amazing food, there isn’t much great Indian food, so I’ve been hosting a lot of dinners and introducing my friends to different Indian inspired dishes. I’m so inspired by different cultures and I really believe food has the ability to bring people together.