Lisa Baird On The Spot

Football fan Lisa Baird, svp of marketing for the National Football League, recently worked on her second Super Bowl since joining the organization in 2005. Baird, 45, introduced user-generated advertising for the first time, and served as a judge on the panel that named Buffalo Bills’ fan (and marketer) Gino Bona the winner of the NFL’s “Pitch Us Your Idea for the Best Super Bowl Commercial Ever. Seriously” contest. She came to the league after senior-level marketing and advertising posts at IBM, General Motors and Procter & Gamble. —

Q: Were you a football fan before you landed the job at the NFL?

A: Yes! And what being in the middle of everything in the NFL does for you is it gives you much more detailed knowledge and an insider’s view, which is very valuable in any conversation you have because pretty much everyone is an NFL fan.

How did you make the jump from marketing at corporations like IBM and GM to a sports/entertainment entity like the NFL?

I’ve had years of experience at disciplined marketers who are very conscious of managing and investing in brands, and managing complex integrated marketing programs. I think that was one of the things the NFL wanted. I also think that I think about the game of football and the brand and the fan differently. I think the NFL’s been very accepting of some of the innovative ideas I’ve brought in. … I think the idea we’ve been most involved with is involving the fan in creating our Super Bowl ads.

So why did you decide to use a consumer-generated spot for the NFL this year?

So many people came up to me and said, “You know, I have this great advertising idea.” Or, “I have this great story that I think is relevant to a lot of other fans.” It was really kind of this outpouring of passion for the NFL that got me to thinking: Let’s give that fan the biggest advertising stage of all. … And for some of these fans, it was an amazing experience to get an inside view of the NFL, which is very different from corporate America. … One of the things we wanted to do, and this is definitely from my background at IBM, is to bring in Joe Pytka as a key partner and collaborator because he’s just one of the best Super Bowl ad directors of all time. And to give a fan an opportunity to collaborate with Joe is just a once in a lifetime experience.

Which spot do you remember best from your previous work with Pytka?

We had a very funny commercial [“Adapter”] where a bunch of crazy inventors came in and pitched ideas, such as, “This is a time machine or pixie dust that you can sprinkle on your [computer] server so that it’ll work, the universal business adapter.” We shot 11 commercials in one day. I never want to go through that again.

There were more than 1,700 pitches. What were some of the highlights?

Some were hilariously funny. Some were poignant. Some were not for public consumption. It was the whole gamut. … We asked fans to come in and talk about what is essentially a lifelong passion, not a product. Not a consumable.

So how does one plan for something as big as the Super Bowl?

Certainly, in the world’s biggest reality show, there are things that come up and happen and make things hectic and good. So, I think you would see the combination of executing plans that have been put into place as long as 18 months ago and reacting to last-minute opportunities that are potentially big stories and big marketing opportunities that we can put into play. We’re now working on an 18-month planning horizon, which is where most of our sponsors and partners want to be. That’s the kind of lead time they need for their machines. [Also], right before Super Bowl, the partnership between PR and marketing is incredibly important because so much of what we’re doing communication-wise is actually delivered by media. A lot of our marketing is delivered through PR.

Does the NFL preview the work of other advertisers for the Super Bowl? Do you have a complex screening process?

If they’re going to use our trademark, then we do see those commercials in advance. Otherwise, we would not. We’re always talking with our network partners. They understand our values and goals.

This year’s game went smoothly, but two years ago there was Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction.” Do such controversies pose a danger to the league’s marketing?

Absolutely. The NFL is an iconic brand. Some people might accuse us of being conservative, but I’m going to say, “Look, we’re protecting assets for ourselves, for our sponsors, for our broadcast partners and, most importantly, for the fans.” Now, is it something you can’t recover from if you have brand strength? Of course you can. There’s no doubt in all the research we did that it did not have a lasting impact on how fans view [the NFL’s] basic brand attributes.

What does your family think of your job?

My husband, Robert Baird, is a marketer also, so there’s a little bit of competition. … My youngest daughter, who is 7-years-old, is the biggest Tom Brady fan you’ve ever met.

Are women becoming more interested in pro football?

We have some of the most famous fans in the world, such as Condoleezza Rice. … We continue to fight the stereotype that the average Super Bowl fan is male who wants to lose his wife so that he can watch Monday Night Football. She’s right there with him.