Red Bull’s College Marketing Whiz Strikes Out on His Own

Fights misperception of undergrad audience with a holistic approach

After seven years working for Red Bull, and some two leading North American efforts on the brand’s much vaunted college marketing program, Mike Poznansky is striking out this week to start his own agency, Neato. With financial backing from Los Angeles agency Mistress, whose clients include Hot Wheels and Jagermeister, Poznansky seeks to leverage his experience at the energy drink giant (having overseen, for example, its popular “Air Drop” stunt, which distributed almost a million cans of the beverage to 400 campuses worldwide in a single day) into helping a broader range of brands reach undergrads, a $76 billion market.

Adweek: Why leave Red Bull to start your own shop now?

Poznansky: Companies are realizing they have to enter the college space, but they aren’t really sure where to begin. And those that have begun don’t have the right resources they need to develop and implement a truly robust, effective college platform. I’d like to see that change.

A college platform?

A few years ago a college program was about throwing a few events and hooking up with a few cool kids, and it’s now a platform that could really be interwoven into every facet of your marketing and sales mix. It’s really about developing your business with the college audience and those within their sphere of influence. There’s just a lot of misperception about what that really entails.

What kind of misperceptions?

That an ambassador program is the lifeblood of a college marketing program, or that all your focus should be on getting your brand and your product on campus. To color that in, just a fraction of the college experience takes place on campus. Most students don’t even live there. Most of their spending isn’t happening there. So, some brands are just frankly investing way too much money on the wrong things. You really need a comprehensive approach. You’re not going to achieve everything through one vertical.

Why is it important to reach college students specifically?

The college experience is unlike anything else. It’s a young adult’s first blush of independence. This is their entry point into adulthood, where rituals, habits, purchase behaviors, loyalties are built and sustained. They develop lifelong bonds with friends and brands. And yes, these are the future power consumers when they hit the workforce. Also, it’s amazing to see how much students are influencing household purchasing for families. They’re so resourceful and connected that mom and dad are turning to them for advice on purchases big and small—cars, computers, phones, vacations—which is just an interesting shift from years or days of the past. And college is such a focused environment to target Gen Y and really soon target Gen Z.

What differentiates your agency from others in the space?

We’re really going to be the first in this space to offer a holistic, comprehensive approach. We’re not married to any medium. We have some really exciting intellectual property in development around research, trend reporting, strategy development, production and execution. At the same time, it’s important for us to be the right partner for a company. We’re not going to force all these things down their throat. That’s the unique perspective I have coming at this as a brand marketer and not an agency guy.