Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Marketing sports; local pride, too

September 02, 2007
Mary Schmitt Boyer

The office is much like the company -- new, sleek, funky and fun.

When LRMR Innovative Marketing and Branding, the marketing company formed using the first initials of its founders -- LeBron James, Rich Paul, Maverick Carter and Randy Mims, was looking to open its first branch, it decided there was no better spot than in the IMG building in downtown Cleveland.

It could be seen as a little cheeky, the upstart renting space from the company generally recognized as the creator of, and worldwide leader in, sports marketing. But Paul sees it as a sign of respect.

"We respect IMG," he said. "They're one of the pioneers in what we're trying to do."

Paul is the president of the company, and Carter is its chief operating officer. Those two handle the day-to-day operations.

Obviously, James is their biggest client -- and, until recently, their only client. But the recent signing of former Glenville and Ohio State star Ted Ginn Jr. of the Miami Dolphins, as well as the establishment of the office, is a sign the company means business.

"In the beginning, no one was giving us a chance," Paul said. "We're out to show the rest of the world that we can do business the right way. We want to let the business world know we're here."

The signing of Ginn is the result of a long relationship between Paul and Ted Ginn Sr., the legendary Glenville football and track coach and father of the Dolphins rookie. It's also one part of a three-pronged partnership between the Ginns, LRMR and Beachwood-based agent Neil Cornrich, who represents Ginn Jr.

Paul, now 26, was 10 years old when he first met the elder Ginn in 1991. Paul was playing for the Sims Raiders team in Cleveland's municipal football league, and Ginn was helping out.

"He always took the time to speak to me as a kid," Paul said of Ginn Sr. "If you were in the neighborhood, to keep kids from going down the wrong path, he pulled you aside and talked to you as a man. . . . I'm a product of the environment. I graduated from Benedictine High School, but my heart pumps Glenville blood. I'm one of his kids, you could say."

Ginn Sr. said he always realized there was something special about Paul.

"I saw the athleticism, but also I saw the gift of intelligence and creativity," the coach said. "I saw it even back then. Now that's part of his job and his life."

What is part of both of their lives is the commitment to give back to their community, helping others reach their potential. In that sense, the partnership of the Ginns and LRMR was a natural, as was the association with Cornrich and his company, NC Sports, another established firm Paul respects.

Cornrich, who also represents former Glenville and OSU star Donte Whitner, has been in the sports management business for 23 years with major clients such as coaches Bill Belichick, Bob Stoops and Kirk Ferentz, as well as NFL Pro Bowlers Aaron Kampman of the Green Bay Packers and Mike Wahle of the Carolina Panthers.

He has known Ginn Sr. for about eight years and has developed a tremendous appreciation for the coach and what he's trying to accomplish. When Ginn Sr. introduced Cornrich to the LRMR partners and proposed they all work together on marketing opportunities, Cornrich found the young men engaging and energetic and serious about doing a good job and establishing a foundation for success.

"It's Ted Ginn Sr.'s vision to keep his kids together, to provide opportunities for the kids who grew up in his neighborhood and to be positive role models for the next generation," Cornrich said. "In order to be positive role models, they've got to be in a position of sustaining success."

That success does not have to be on the athletic fields. It can come in the classroom - or in the office.

"When Glenville kids started going to college and started playing on Sundays [in the NFL], the rest of the kids in the community said, 'Hey, I can do the same thing,' " Paul explained. "It's no different for me. I'm a product of that environment. They see I'm not an athlete. I'm not an entertainer. I'm a businessman. I don't have to be an athlete. I don't have to be an entertainer. They can say, 'I lived next door to Rich for 10 years. I've seen him have the same struggles I've had - and now look at him.' There's a sense of hope."

Ginn Jr. describes Paul as his big brother, even though he refers to him as "Little Rich."

"I believe in Little Rich," Ginn Jr. said in a telephone interview from Miami. "I believe if the company wasn't where it was supposed to be, he wouldn't have brought it to me. He wanted it to be the best situation for everybody."

According to Ginn Sr., who is opening the Ginn Academy this fall for boys who need extra academic and support services, this is all part of his master plan.

"We're building our own empire," said Ginn Sr., whose programs undoubtedly will produce a pipeline of additional athletes and potential business people. "We want to help everybody. . . . We'll be the pioneers getting things started for LRMR. We'll be pioneers of something totally different, based on family values and helping people reach their full potential. We're not forgetting where we came from. We want to build things to show the next kid we can pull the next one up."

Paul looks around his new office, taking in the bright blue or green panels that break up the expanses of white walls, the exposed ductwork in the ceilings, the concrete floors, the track lighting and the curvy leather furniture. He has just returned from a meeting in Washington, D.C., and will leave shortly for meetings in Las Vegas. He has phone messages to return and is late for a meeting, the sorts of concerns any young businessman has.

Considering where he came from, having a career and an office like this was a long shot. Then he smiles, which he doesn't do often, and says, "Chances make champions, where I'm from."

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