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ESL’s CMO focuses brand refresh on the esports company’s compelling founding story
Get to Know: ESL CMO Rodrigo Samwell
Before being named CMO of ESL, the world’s largest esports company, Rodrigo Samwell began his marketing career in the telecommunications industry when mobile marketing first took off.
“I started my career in 1999 as a product manager at Telecel, which was a private telecommunications provider in Portugal,” says Samwell. “Later Telecel was acquired by Vodafone. I was lucky to be given SMS (text messaging) as my first product, and was hit by this impressive wave of growth that was the real birth of mobile messaging.”
Samwell says his predecessor was involved with the development agreements that first allowed messages to be sent across all mobile operators.
“I joined exactly at that moment. From there SMS just grew exponentially.”
Samwell moved to Düsseldorf, Germany in 2004 to be part of Vodafone’s first global product marketing team. Since then, he has served in a number of executive marketing and strategy roles.
“Over the years, I worked on projects like the launch of Vodafone Red, which is still today the company’s flagship offer,” says Samwell, “I also had my fair share of failures, which allowed me to learn a lot. I was very fortunate to be part of a company that invests significantly in talent development.”
Samwell was named ESL’s CMO in July of this year, and now oversees all of the brand’s marketing strategy, leading everything from communications and commercial management to customer analytics, merchandising, and licensing.
“This is a very interesting challenge because the esports industry is growing at a fast pace and is in the intersection of three industries that are super exciting today: sports, entertainment and gaming.”
Since joining ESL, Samwell says the most strategically important project he has taken on is a brand-refresh initiative.
“ESL has been the leading global esports company and has paved the way for esports worldwide through innovation and a variety of initiatives,” says Samwell, “The rich and authentic history behind ESL has really inspired me, but the story hasn’t been told in the way it deserves to be. I see an opportunity to tell the founding story of the company and ensure it reflects in the brand.”
What was the first thing you checked on your phone today?
Which apps do you use most often for work?
Currently, Slack. It is a great tool to keep everyone in the company engaged and informed of what is happening.
What was the last thing you shared on one of your social networks?
A retweet of a link to a video from the starting ceremony of the ESL One final in Cologne from this past July.
It was actually the first event I attended since joining the team at ESL. Walking through the doors was an amazing, magical moment with our fans in the arena and it showcased the quality of the production we have.
— ESL (@ESL) August 4, 2017
What’s the first thing you tackle when you get to the office?
I always begin the day by reading any urgent emails and planning for the rest of the day.
Take me through your typical work day.
It is very diverse, given the variety that I overlook. A typical day could be anything like reviewing ticket sales, discussing with advertising agencies, reviewing the next collection of items to our shop, planning the marketing execution for a specific event, or reviewing concepts for big innovation ideas in the esports space.
I like to spend as much time as I can with people and the teams here, and less time locked away in my office.
How much of your work-time is actually completed in your office?
Currently, most of it is spent currently at our headquarters office in Germany. I only joined ESL recently and I want to familiarize myself with my colleagues, the business overall, and the challenges ahead.
I will start traveling globally to some of the other offices starting in September.
What’s your favorite martech?
I am a believer in using data analytics tools to understand customers better and execute real-time digital contextual marketing. Currently, we are evaluating the right set of tools for ESL internally.
What work challenge keeps you up at night?
Currently, the most important challenge I am working on is assembling the best team of talented people and creating a great work environment where they can be both effective and fulfilled. But, with the amount of opportunity at hand, I’m not worried — so I sleep pretty well!
Where is the best place you’ve traveled for work?
That is a tough question, but I would have to say that my trip to Lapland, Finland, at the beginning of my career was most pivotal.
The telecoms business was booming and there was a supplier who invited us to go on a three-day all expenses paid trip. We drove on snow bikes in -40 degrees Celsius through the forest, followed by a traditional Finnish smoke sauna in the middle of nowhere with no electricity.
I remembered this was the time where I realized how amazing business life can be, but I was also skeptical of who was paying for all of that luxury. I never did business with that company, and they shut down sometime after. I will always remember this experience in my career so I keep my business decisions grounded in reality.
Can you tell us about a campaign or work project you’d like to do over?
Throughout my career, I have made plenty of mistakes — some larger than others. Each of them taught me a lot and allowed me to grow my career and guide me in future decision-making. That being said, I don’t think that I would go back and do them differently, as I probably would not have learned each lesson that I had.
What has been the most pleasantly surprising thing that’s happened to you in the past year?
The amount of support and positive feedback I received when ESL publicly announced I was joining the company was the most pleasantly surprising thing that’s happened to me in the past year.
I was impressed by how many people in my outside network think of esports as one of the most exciting businesses to be in, and I couldn’t be more excited to be the industry.
What marketing leader do you most admire?
Steve Jobs because he was able to define a purpose for Apple and focus on making amazing products by competing with himself, rather than changing course. He had a vision, inspired others, and pushed through execution relentlessly.
How do you de-stress or clear your head when you’re away from work?
I really enjoy working on my garden. It is the perfect anti-stress for me. I also like running and playing sports with friends — whether it be outside or gaming on my Xbox.
Can you tell us something about yourself that your team would be surprised to know?
I stitch my own buttons back on my shirts when they fall off.
Why did you go into marketing?
Marketing is the glue that brings together everything a company does. Connecting a business strategy to a product line to a communications strategy, and inspiring everyone in the company to work in one direction.
What did you want to be when you were young?
What’s the last thing you read that impacted how you think about marketing?
While it’s a few years old, the “See, Think, Do, Care” marketing framework from Avinash Kaushik impacted the way I see marketing. For example, I’m a believer in segmenting a customer base by purchase intent, rather than a cluster of customers based on demographics, and Kaushik articulates this extremely well.
In the digital world, in order for companies to succeed in digital marketing they need to have a system that almost organically adapts to customer purchase intent in real time, by using the right channels, content and measurements.
Outside of your company’s efforts, what ad campaign caught your eye recently?
“The Get Away Car” video by Volvo for their new brand refresh and new product line. I liked that it was linked to the wise words of Alan Watts’s text, “Life fully now,” and the new Volvo station wagon as a “get away car.”
Not only is it a beautiful video with a lot of meaning on the words of Alan Watts, but it also represents Volvo’s position as more than just a car manufacturer. In this video, Volvo shows how they can inspire, care, and be human without ever saying “buy my car.”
In my perspective, large brands should aspire to elevate themselves to this level where they articulate their beliefs, their purpose and then take everyone on a journey with them.