The meteoric rise of Duncan Fulton

A PR pedigree and an all-in commitment to social and digital, FGL Sports’ new CMO is turning heads

Here’s a sneak peek at Marketing’s Nov. 28 issue.

With a PR pedigree and an all-in commitment to social and digital, FGL Sports’ new CMO is turning heads and stocking up on talent

You could say Duncan Fulton, senior vice-president of communications at Canadian Tire and the guy the company tapped to also lead marketing for Forzani Group, is a new breed of CMO. That’s because his background is primarily in PR, consumer research and digital—disciplines historically undervalued in the CMO role. Fulton started in communications for then-New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna, and was appointed press secretary for Prime Minister Jean Chrétien at 25. That led to a seven-year run as GM and senior partner for PR firm Fleishman-Hillard. In November 2009, Canadian Tire recruited him to lead communications and corporate affairs. Now Fulton, 36, gets the chance to lead all aspects of marketing as CMO of FGL Sports, the group Canadian Tire created from its recent $771-million acquisition of Forzani Group which includes Sport Chek, Sports Experts, Atmosphere and Nevada Bob’s Golf.

This promotion is a vote of confidence for public relations. How have you increased PR’s contribution to Canadian Tire?
When I first got here in 2009, there were maybe two people doing PR and an annual budget of $100,000. In terms of earned media, PR was an afterthought, like “Okay, now let’s get someone to put out a press release.” Now we have 10 full-time people handling PR and corporate communications, which is unusual for most companies, and we’ve significantly increased the budget. So far this year, we have spent about $1.7 million on earned media, but generated almost four billion media impressions and $68 million in equivalent advertising value for Canadian Tire.

How do you reach media?
If you go to the media with say, a six-piece orange pylon set for $2 off, they’re not going to care. But if you find a gas-powered drink blender for the back of your pick-up truck—a real product we recently pitched—suddenly, media want to have it on their must-have Christmas lists. We also generate coverage through long-lead tactics, like our “Christmas in July” event. We rented a three-floor penthouse at the SoHo Metropolitan in downtown Toronto, decked it out with seven different Debbie Travis themes, and had staff make cookies and apple cider, so that by the time media walked in it even smelled like Christmas. We had 48 mainstream media organizations come through this year—everyone from CityLine to Canadian Living and The Globe and Mail.

You’re responsible for PR, but also areas like sponsorship, community and events. How did that come about?
These areas used to be divvied up across the organization. For Canadian Tire stores it was in one place and Mark’s in another. That changed after we went to a NASCAR race in Montreal, and up behind the Canadian Tire car we had in the race came a PartSource car and behind that a Mark’s car. It was like we were racing against each other! So in September 2010, we went to a shared-services group model, so that events, sponsorships, corporate donations and community relations would be served from one group across the enterprise. And that group was placed under my umbrella, in addition to PR and corporate communications.

What changes are in store for Sport Chek?
We plan to keep the Sport Chek name, but want to rebrand the customer experience and infuse digital into everything we do. So we’ve hired Sid Lee. As part of their mandate, they’re also working on early concepts for a new store design. Ultimately, we want to build more of an emotional connection with consumers and in doing so, drive greater frequency and basket size inside the store.

What have Sport Chek’s strengths and weaknesses been as a marketer?
We now need to bring more strategy and campaign planning to our marketing, as well as a heavier emphasis on digital. The Sport Chek customer is consuming digital media every day. So I want to fully integrate digital and social into the marketing mix by hiring experts throughout the group steeped in social versus having a standalone digital group. Most companies build siloed digital teams, and usually when you do this, it ghettoizes them. More often than not they’re brought to the table after the strategy is done. People who get digital need to be building the strategy because it is going to be executed digitally.

What do you see as Sport Chek’s brand challenges? Post your thoughts in our comment section.

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