Kristyn Cook, Chief Agency, Sales and Marketing Officer at State Farm, and Melissa Proctor, Chief Marketing Officer & EVP at Atlanta Hawks, are an unbeatable duo when it comes to coaching winning teams from the CMO seat. In their recent conversation on the MTM Visionaries podcast, they discussed their dynamic partnership and shared their winning formula:
- Lead Like a Coach
- Center Everyone around a Common Mission
- Delight Fans by Showing up in Culture
- Be a Valuable Member of the Community
- Give all Stakeholders a Position to Play
- Join Forces with Brands that Help You Win
- Ignite Internal Teams around a Bigger Purpose
Lead Like a Coach
Kristyn Cook (State Farm): Leadership is about coaching, and that’s what I focus on. I work with a tremendous, talented team of very creative and bold individuals. Our responsibility is to steward this iconic brand forward in a modernized way. While we have been an industry leader for decades, we have a “never be satisfied” mindset when it comes to creativity and how it intersects with our business strategy.
Melissa Proctor (Atlanta Hawks): My role is unique compared to other CMOs in the league. We focus heavily on our community impact and building our brand relevance. This includes everything from our game day presentation to our collaborations with other brands. We take pride in our youth basketball initiatives and retail, and we are fortunate to work with State Farm on a regular basis. Our organization also has an internal agency called Hawk Studios that I lead, which allows me to tap into my creative roots. All this work is done internally, which makes it even more special.
Center Everyone around a Common Mission
Melissa Proctor: Kristyn and I are aligned for many reasons, but one of the main ones is our shared belief that we exist to be a civic asset for our community, rather than just a basketball team. This has been ingrained in our ethos since day one, especially since Tony Ressler and our current ownership team came on board. We are honored to be able to serve the city of Atlanta, a city with rich roots in civil rights, entertainment, and culture.
While it is important for us to grow revenue and relevance, our core values are centered around community. Since I have been here, we have made significant contributions to our community, especially by partnering with organizations like State Farm to amplify our impact. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we pivoted our work to address the most pressing needs of our community, and now, coming out of it, our focus is on mental wellness and food insecurity.
Kristyn Cook: My role is to help the State Farm team and partners. It’s all about a relentless focus on the customer and doubling down on relevant insights that matter to them. Our mission is to help people recover from the unexpected and realize their dreams. And certainly, our goal is to drive business outcomes to achieve growth. We’re in a very competitive category, and it’s very price-sensitive. But it’s about who we are, why we’re different, and how that guides our actions. We strive to create that brand value through being a good neighbor.
Delight Fans by Showing up in Culture (Find Your Cultural Currency)
Kristyn Cook: We want to be a company for everyone, but like many, we lean towards the younger generations. Cultural relevancy is our currency, and our State Farm agents are our competitive advantage. We leverage our valuable brand assets, including our iconic jingle, highly recognizable logo, and the color red. We can’t forget about Jake from State Farm, who has become a cultural icon representing us. We’re very proud of him.
We also focus on innovation and are often the first movers in the gaming space. We’re in the metaverse through our partnership with iHeartLand, bringing music and entertainment to people in unique ways. We also leverage NFTs, TikTok, and our influencer strategy to capture cultural moments.
When it comes to sports, we strive to be synonymous with them. We believe that sports are one of the few things today that captures people’s attention, ignites their passion, and connects communities. It’s a great fit for our brand. We focus on award-winning campaigns and sponsorships, best-in-class creative, groundbreaking talent deals, and community-improving partnerships.
Be a Valuable Member of the Community
Melissa Proctor: When I first joined this organization, it was important to us that we did what we said we would do and continued to prioritize transparency and authenticity for our fans and for the city of Atlanta. To achieve this, we came up with the tagline “True to Atlanta,” which reflects our commitment to the city and its people.
Five years ago, we reopened our building with this goal in mind and have partnered with local icons such as Killer Mike and brought in a swag shop. We also hosted performances by famous Atlanta-based artists like the Zac Brown Band and Old Lady Gang. Our goal was to show Atlanta that we’re here for them and to give back to the community.
We’re the first team in professional sports to have a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. We also prioritize community involvement and were the first team in pro sports to open up our building for early voting during the pandemic. We’ve received praise from people who don’t even like basketball, and they became season ticket members because they value the work we do in the community. This is the highest compliment we can receive.
Give All Stakeholders a Position to Play
Melissa Proctor: When people think about sports, they usually think about the team and the game itself. However, people don’t realize how diverse the sports business can be. For example, we have built great relationships with our partners, including our basketball on-court partners, head coach, and many more.
Our business includes one of the busiest restaurants in Atlanta, a store with retail, security, and our internal team, which is more important than anything. Our fan base is so broad that it unites the entire city. We consider our fans team members and our partnerships are essential to our success.
Kristyn Cook: We have 19,400 agents who are small business owners serving their local markets and giving back to their communities. They sponsor sports teams, employ people, and are phenomenal at what they do. When we think about our partnerships, we always think about our agents and how we can amplify that.
Our ongoing partnership with the Hawks and US Hunger aligns with how we think about elevating our impact. We aim to increase our brand awareness but also create a stronger emotional connection through reinforcing our values. Several community-focused initiatives in Atlanta have helped us do that.
For example, we host the largest service initiative that they host in State Farm Arena. It’s an opportunity to rally people together around a ‘Million Meal Pack.’ This year alone, 5,000 volunteers participated, packing over a million meals and 131,000 pounds of food.
Our Good Neighbor Clubs allow people to learn, entertain, and participate in ongoing court renovations that the Hawks have been leading. This has a significant impact on kids, giving them an opportunity to build friendships and learn the game. It’s the community stuff that matters, and our agents are all a part of that. That’s the big formula when you think about winning teams.
Join Forces with Brands that Help You Win
Kristyn Cook: We don’t just operate transactionally, but we also invest in the community. We look for ways to intersect our business strategy with community involvement. The Hawks, and in particular, State Farm Arena, was a no-brainer. It gave us an opportunity to reach large and engaged audiences in the local community.
There’s so much energy and enthusiasm between our organizations, and we continue to support each other and look for ways to do more together. In fact, Melissa and I were just talking earlier about how I was looking for time to make it back to a Hawks game. It’s not just about sharing the joy of basketball and watching a game. It’s about coming back, spending time with friends and partners, and supporting each other. It’s the intersection of our values and relationships that makes us connected.
Melissa Proctor: Years ago, when we were discussing naming rights for the arena, there were several conversations happening simultaneously. When I joined the discussions with State Farm, I was already aware that we were working on some community projects, especially regarding the courts.
We had made a plan to build a certain number of courts in a specific time, and we were focused on implementing it. As I learned more about State Farm, I realized that they were an organization that valued their people and their community. After several conversations, we came to the conclusion that it was a match made in heaven. The ways in which State Farm was already active in the community aligned with our mission of becoming a civic asset.
Ignite Internal Teams around a Bigger Purpose
Kristyn Cook: To navigate new realities, we need to have a sense of purpose in what we do. This is what unites us together. Our role is to focus on aligning everything we do with that purpose. “Living a true life of excellence means being part of something bigger than ourselves” is a favorite quote of mine, and it underscores the importance of having a culture aligned with a sense of purpose.
These days, I often use the word ‘agility’ with my teams. We need to be agile in our mindset, optimistic but also cautious, and take actions that align with our purpose.
I recently read a book by Arthur Brooks with Oprah Winfrey about happiness. It has inspired me to enjoy the ride together with our team, to find ways to support each other, and to find happiness in what we do. Days, weeks, months, and years are all short, so let’s enjoy the ride while we can.
Melissa Proctor: In the sports industry, it is very much in-person, and we have been very flexible and understanding of hybrid workspaces. This has allowed for a lot of creativity and innovation in the way we do our business. When I started working in sports, it was a 24/7 job. However, we have seen more flexibility and understanding across industries, where life comes first.
With our teams, we aim to maintain this flexibility. In terms of motivation, it requires more effort and energy, and I say this across all my teams. We make sure to leave space for people to be themselves and not always focus solely on work.
It’s important to have grace with one another, especially during these difficult times. For us, it’s about understanding one another and creating more opportunities for people to be successful, whether that’s development, coaching, or mentorship.
Kristyn and Melissa’s Career Advice
Kristyn Cook: Reflecting on my career and time playing basketball, I realize that success comes from the intersection of preparation and opportunity. Whether it’s preparing oneself, the team, the organization, or working with partners, preparation is key to achieving success. It provides an opportunity to win; if you don’t succeed, you learn from your mistakes.
Melissa Proctor: Find ways to be an asset, not a liability. This applies to various aspects of life, whether your career or networking. If you have a 30-minute session with someone, try to be an asset to them rather than a liability on their time. Often, people forget the idea of servant leadership and fail to consider how they can contribute to others, even by asking a simple question. Those who are successful are the ones who are always thinking about what they can offer and how it can benefit others in the long run.
Meet the Visionaries
Kristyn Cook, Chief Agency, Sales & Marketing Officer at State Farm: Kristyn has leadership responsibility for Marketing and PR and the salesforce of 19,400+ local State Farm agencies. Kristyn was a State Farm agent in Chicago, IL, before serving in various corporate leadership roles. Prior to her current role, she was SVP of Agency & Marketing where she led a rebrand effort that leveraged iconic brand assets and reintroduced Jake from State Farm. She assumed her current position in January 2023.
Melissa Proctor, Chief Marketing Officer & EVP at Atlanta Hawks: Melissa is the EVP and Chief Marketing Officer for the Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club and State Farm Arena. She joined the organization in June 2014 and oversees the club’s marketing, Hawks Studios, live experience, production, brand merchandising, entertainment industry relations, community impact, and basketball programs team. Melissa started her career with Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. Among her recent accomplishments, Proctor released her first book in 2020, titled From Ball Girl to CMO, and in 2021, she was honored with Adweek’s CMO Award. The American Marketing Association Atlanta Chapter recognized Melissa with the 2022 AMY Lifetime Achievement Award. Proctor is currently in the 2023 class of Leadership Atlanta, serves on the board of the High Museum of Art, and is a member of the Georgia State University Marketing Roundtable.
Visionaries, hosted by Nadine Dietz, airs every week and is brought to you in partnership with The Wall Street Journal. Each week, two new visionaries share their game plan and how that impacts today’s teams, talent, and hybrid work environment.
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