PR firm Lola Red jumps into sports with new division devoted to marketing athletes
Alexis Walsko admits that she is not a hard core sports fan, but she thinks that may be a strategic advantage as she adds a professional sports division to her Minneapolis-based media relations firm.
“We bring a different perspective to our clients that can help them define their personal brand,” says Walsko, founder and president of the Lola Red agency and its new Lola Pro marketing arm.
The new division kicks off with representation of four NFL players, including Minnesota Viking tight end Kyle Rudolph.
“All of our clients are in their 20s, and all of them are smart enough to want to use their time while the spotlight is brightest to maximize their opportunities,” Walsko explains, adding that Lola Pro is currently in talks with several NHL and NBA players.
Known for her platinum hair, hearty laugh and sidekick Lily, (her pet Chihuahua), Walsko was still a college student when she started the agency in a 450-square-foot apartment in 1999. The first company she repped for media coverage was a skin care line, pitched to beauty editors.
“I figured out how to match products with the people who were writing stories about them, and that’s what we still do,” she says. “We know how to connect the dots for our clients.”
In the following 15 years, Lola Red has grown to 13 employees, with its main office in the North Loop and a satellite in Boulder, Col.
One of the company’s clients is Dr. Josh Sandell, a Minnesota orthopedic specialist who has treated hundreds of professional athletes with sports injuries through his company, Orthology.
“In the course of treating them, he gets to know them and he heard from some of them that they want to do more to market themselves, they want to do more in their communities. He brought this to us and introduced us to a few of the athletes he was treating,” Walsko says.
Skeptical at first, Walsko spent almost a year studying the potential of the opportunity and testing and implementing the first strategic plans.
“We wanted to proceed with caution. We work with companies with marketing departments; individual brand development has a lot more moving parts,” she says. “Now we’re enthusiastic about this. We’re comfortable saying this is a path that we are going down.”
Walsko works with the pro clients to identify what is important to them, and to find the marketing options that may connect to their personal story, beliefs and interests. She cites research that shows that most consumers want to know about more than the sporting accomplishments of top athletes.
“We take a deep dive into their lives. We want to learn about them, from their favorite color to their upbringing to that they do in their spare time. We want to develop campaigns that are about them as individuals, not a cookie cutter approach that you could use for any athlete.”
Walsko cites a deal she’s brokered for 26-year-old Kyle Rudolph to promote an Internet retail company called MeUndies, a direct-to-consumer purveyor of underwear.
“It will show his wit. He wants to have fun, he’s game to try things,” she said. “This will be a brand partnership that will be authentic for him.”
As to whether the 6’6” Rudolph will be wearing boxers or briefs, Walsko, ever the savvy marketer, lets the suspense build.
“You’ll have to stay tuned for that,” she says, emitting one of her trademark laughs. “I promise there will be photos.”