Startup Aura360 Stakes a Claim in Adventure Sports

Three-month-old sports-marketing firm Aura360 is close to a deal with its first high-profile sponsor, Nike.

The athleticwear client is expected to sign on this week as sponsor of the Elite Adventure Team, a global-adventure race team and client of the Portland, Maine, startup, agency executives said. Nike officials were unavailable for comment.

Media and marketing veterans Rory Strunk and Rufus Frost formed Aura360, which focuses on the action- and adventure-sports niche, in January.

“I know this audience intimately,” said Strunk, who serves as CEO. “I was excited to chart my career to a bigger playing field and felt that this category was compelling.”

Strunk, 42, founded Resorts Sports Network in 1985. It was the first cable TV network to focus on outdoor sports such as skiing. Frost, 32, spent a decade as a senior executive at Interpublic Group’s Octagon sports-marketing unit.

Portland ad agency Via has invested in the startup and plans to partner with the shop on pitches and projects. Ben Shaw, who worked on the business-development team at Via, moves to Aura360 as a strategic principal.

“Action-adventure sports is one of the fastest-growing worldwide event segments,” said Via CEO John Coleman. “The realization that [that] trend [was] happening led us to work with Rory and Rufus. Via’s mission is to pioneer ways to grow our clients’ businesses.”

Aura360 is handling all marketing and promotional engagements for the Elite Adventure Team, which consists of multisport endurance athletes who have won major adventure races that include the Eco-Challenge and Raid Gauloises. The agency handles U.S. marketing and sponsor development for the Raid Gauloises and X-adventure Raid Series.

The shop is also working for Teton Gravity Research, a Jackson Hole, Wyo.-based film-production company that focuses on adrenaline sports such as snowboarding, kayaking and surfing. Aura360 is the exclusive marketing agent for the company’s 2003 TGR World Film Tour.

“There are a lot of people who are very new to this particular world, and we felt that it was important to work with someone who was not a generalist and someone who innately understands the challenges and strengths of the action- and extreme-sports world,” said Mary Dickinson, CEO of Teton Gravity Research. “[Aura360] also has credibility with mainstream marketers.”

Aura360’s tight focus on extreme sports could give it an edge in a growing category, said William Chipps, senior editor of the IEG Sponsorship Report in Chicago.

“There’s more and more of these adventure-racing series. If they can stake a claim to this area, they should do well,” Chipps said.