Wolverines push marketing envelope

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- One of the first things Hunter Lochmann did when he left the high-profile, high-pressure world of marketing the New York Knicks for the Michigan athletic department was read a book.

He needed to learn about what he was getting into as the athletic department's first chief marketing officer besides what his new boss, Dave Brandon, told him. Lochmann, along with Brandon, knew they would push untested boundaries when it came to marketing and modernizing Michigan.

So he reached back to the past.

"What really helped put things in perspective before I got here was Bo [Schembechler's] book on leadership," Lochmann said. "It gave me the sense of the aura around here."

In his first 18 months on the job, Lochmann listened as much as he spoke. He learned there were non-negotiable things about working at Michigan. Mascots were out. So was advertising inside Michigan Stadium for football games.

So don't expect to see a massive billboard of Denard Robinson's bright smile and dreadlocks on the side of a building in New York City as a promotion for his Heisman Trophy campaign.

"We're not going to do that," Lochmann said. "As a marketer, would that be fun? Absolutely. But you have to do it in the context of what Michigan represents."

For decades, Michigan represented a staunch old guard in college sports, a program resistant to change, hesitant to new voices and lacking innovation.

Brandon and Lochmann made an early strike with the night football game against Notre Dame last season, the first at Michigan Stadium. They experimented -- good and bad -- with different football jerseys for bigger games.

In April's spring game, they started to push social media even more, placing a hashtag (#GOBLUE) on the Michigan Stadium field.

"It was a lightning rod in many ways," Lochmann said. "But the Thursday before the spring game, it was the third story up on [ESPN.com] and people were talking about it.

"We [had a] presentation [last Friday] that we're going to learn the debrief of the hashtag and how much brand exposure it got us globally. It was 31 countries, 48 states. You look at the numbers and that's why you do it."

That was the start, and Lochmann has plans of what's next. He is almost done staffing -- there are a couple of jobs still vacant -- as he reshapes what Michigan needs, including an increased digital presence and pushing Twitter usage.

He helped revamp Michigan's ticketing department, working with California-based ticketing and marketing firm Paciolan to search for different ways to sell tickets and extend their reach.

"Steve [Lambright], who oversees our ticket department, has been here for 27 years, and he said it is his busiest summer and it's crazy to think about," Lochmann said. "Because of the Cowboys Classic game and executing 30,000 ticket sales toward that. Then the Crisler reseating, that's happening in the next couple of weeks, that's been a daunting, long process that we've been very careful with."

He also reconfigured his staff into assigned roles, including a focus on the business of social media and constructing a strong email database system to give Michigan's brand more reach. As Lochmann constructed this, he knew some of the changes would be criticized.

It hasn't stopped him or Brandon, though. Entering the 2012-13 academic year -- Michigan has its first varsity event, a women's soccer exhibition, on August 7 -- he has already planned ahead.

Michigan is planning on bringing back a marketing plan aimed at children and a revamped student loyalty program the school plans on instituting later this year.

The loyalty program -- Michigan had tried it before with men's basketball -- will be more comprehensive and involve many of the school's 29 sponsored sports. Many schools across the country do this, but innovation is the key as Lochmann figures this season will be a test run for the future.

"Our unique position on this is going to be the use of technology," Lochmann said. "There's going to be a mobile app you're going to learn more about and then the uniqueness of some of the prizing, some of the rewards we're going to be giving out.

"A lot of collegiate programs do it and we've benchmarked them and we're going to do a lot of similar things. When you get to the technology, that's going to set us apart."

This, along with everything else, is part of Lochmann's plan. He came from New York, the busiest, most market-hungry and diverse city in the country if not the world. He worked for a crown jewel in sports, the New York Knicks.

Much like everything coming out of Manhattan, he has a big goal.

"Has there been things we couldn't do? Sure," Lochmann said. "But we're all about trying new things here and trying to be the best in college and I'd like to take a swipe at pro athletics, too.

"I'd like to be the best of any sports property."

Bold words, but he has been there before.