If you’re looking to grow within the world of action sports, Mark Sperling is the man you need to know. Previously, he has worked with Red Bull, Transworld Media, Live Nation, Lollapolooza, Tony Hawk, and Split Clothing and gained a great understanding of what makes the industry work. In his current role as the co-founder and President of group Y, his vision is to connect the people in the action sports industry and inspire them to be the best in the industry.
This week Mark and group Y will host two events that feature the best of the best in the industry. The Action Sports + Culture Conference (or ASC) is set to take place on Wednesday, July 24th in conjunction with Agenda Show Long Beach with the theme of Authenticity. Two days later on Friday, July 26th group Y will debut Agenda Emerge which will feature the streetwear side of action sports.
How did Group Y get started and what made you decide to reignite the brand?
We started in 2006 with a handful of friends who had roles in marketing and PR at action sports brands. It began as a way to casually get together monthly to talk about our jobs, share advice and make connections—at that point it was great to meet just one new person, or even just to get to know an existing acquaintance a bit more. Each month the group grew, and more of their friends and colleagues joined us. Over the years, our small social group has grown via our events and social media to over 80,000 online followers. Group Y’s collective membership now includes those working within entertainment, fashion, music, consumer product goods, gaming, media, digital, automotive and other industries.
After producing over 40 monthly networking events and numerous sold-out successful ASC Action Sports Conferences since our launch in 2006, both Liz and I needed a break. We were both working in full time jobs while maintaining the day to day operations and planning of Group Y. In addition other organizations started replicating our model and events, which we were happy to see.
However over time, we saw that these same events were too exclusive or were off the mark when attempting to address the need to bring industries and like-minded folks together. In my previous role overseeing national partnerships at Red Bull, I had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with CEO, CMO, VP’s and key executives at top Fortune 500 brands. In almost all cases, there was some personal tie back to our world of action sports, whether they were a participant, via family involvement or just a fan. They all wanted to find ways to tap into our world and the actively engaged youth audience that comes with it. It often was a surprise to learn how they or their co-workers had attended a past Group Y event or conference.
We agreed to relaunch Group Y earlier this year, with the intent to expand the reach and industries involved. In January, we kicked things off with a successful ASC Action Sports + Culture event at Agenda Show with Danny Way, Amy Purdy and others speaking.
Group Y is a fantastic organization. As a co-founder, what are you hoping for the organization to achieve?
We’ve expanded our purpose this time around. Our tagline “Uniting Industries, Igniting Ideas” best exemplifies what we are trying to achieve. Our mission is to share insights across industries and ignite ideas that inspire the current and next generation leaders and decision makers. Using events, outreach, content and consultation, Group Y takes the work out of networking and strengthens the areas where industries overlap. Our focus has broadened beyond action sports, which will still be the core of our organization, but to other progressive and expressive industries.
During Agenda Show Long Beach, Group Y is presenting two conferences. What do you hope that attendees gain from these events?
Aaron Levant, President of Agenda Show shared his plans here with Transworld Business (http://business.transworld.net/133993/features/aaron-levant-shares-details-on-agenda-emerge/) for what he hopes to accomplish and achieve with the Agenda Emerge platform in the near future. For me personally, it’s the opportunity to have these four share their stories and in turn help inspire the just out-of-college design student or the budding entrepreneur to launch something creative and innovative. It would be great to see that same person come back to Agenda as a future exhibitor and grow this industry. Plus, I’m personally a big fan of all of the presenters, and to have them share their personal story to others to me is a treat.
Tell us about the Action Sports + Culture (ASC) and Agenda Emerge conferences and what your vision for them were.
We wanted to create a platform that truly showcases and educates others about the youth culture from those who are leading the way. At most youth marketing conferences we’ve attended in the past, you find these so-called “experts” spouting statistics, research and sound bites about what the youth of today are doing. They are so disconnect and often generalize and/or label what this “generation” are influenced by. We wanted to create a gathering that would in a sense provide you the real “truths” as to what youth are doing, participating in, and engaging in on a daily basis. We are all aware of the size and buying power the youth have, but not many have a true understanding as to how they help shape and guide which industries and brands will succeed.
With ASC Action Sports + Culture, which has been our successful conference series over the years, we wanted to unify the industries as a whole by providing a better understanding as what is occurring now and in the future. Agenda Emerge is the newest series in partnership with Agenda Show, whereby we bring the top streetwear brand founders to educate and tell their stories in hope of inspiring and influencing future designers and brand builders.
I feel both events are beneficial to anyone who is either working, entering or involved in some capacity with the youth culture and related industries. From those who lead the marketing and creative for brands either in house or at agencies to senior executives down to the college student who sees opportunities within this space to be involved. We have something for everyone. No where else are you going to find this caliber of speakers with the networking opportunities among your peers.
Group Y has been able to bring some heavy hitters to this year’s conferences. What is your criteria for the presenters Group Y chooses?
We have an outstanding line up of presenters. Each represents brands that are leading or shaping youth culture and media. As a whole they represent over 200 million online followers and lead in each of their respective categories. Presenters include;
+ Christopher Mater, Head of Sports Marketing at Red Bull
+ Seth Combs, Co-Founder / CMO at Sol Republic
+ Shaun Neff, CEO / Founder of Neff
+ Eric Grilly, President of Alli Sports (NBC)
+ Derek Callow, Director Global Partner Marketing at YouTube
+ Curt Morgan, President & Creative Director at Brain Farm and director of “The Art of Flight”
+ Norb Garrett, SVP / Group Publisher at Grind Media
+ riCardo Crespo, former SVP Global Creative Chief at 20th Century Fox
+ Brian Socolow, Partner / Chair, Sports Practice Group at Loeb & Loeb
+ Steve Larosiliere, Founder / President at STOKED
Pat Parnell, Sports Broadcast Journalist (NBC, FUEL, ASP) as our ASC host / moderator.
Which presenter are you most stoked about seeing?
Honestly, all of them. It’s been an honor to work alongside Aaron Levant from Agenda Show and our partners in creating two event platforms for these presenters to share and people to learn. Having spoken to all of the presenters about their appearances, I know will all come out with guns blazing. A lot of great insights will be told with few laughs thrown in. We hope the attendees will be inspired to maybe launch a new brand, reshape their current one, or apply that inspiration to their own life in their own way.
What is this year’s event theme and why did you chose this theme for these events?
The event theme “Authenticity Is Everything” will focus on the key ingredient that is the foundation upon which youth culture and action sports are based - the ‘North Star’ in a landscape driven by commitment, progression and constant reinvention. It’s a word that often gets overused and muddled, especially when it comes to branding and marketing. In speaking with a number of CEO, CMO, VP’s and other execs of Fortune 500 brands during my time at Red Bull, they all are always trying to find a way to make their brand “Authentic” to their consumer. They think it will magically appear if you throw enough dollars and marketing messaging at it. They don’t understand that Authenticity means different things to different people, and that it lies within one’s own DNA. Even when looking inward into our own industries, there has been a lot of questions as to a brand is remaining “true” to their consumers and fans. Then there are those who are “faking it” by attracting those to a particular lifestyle, for example surfing, but have no true roots within It (example is Hollister) It’s a word that is highly conversional and evokes strong opinions among those actively involved. So with that, I wanted us to address it at ASC in a format and platform for people would learn and become engaged.
What’s next for Group Y?
We’ve only just started. Group Y has a number of key projects and initiatives in the works. First are our networking and educational events which we are best known for. Our goal since day one has always been to get like-minded people together in a fun and relaxing environment and encourage networking and learning. Our past events have been huge successes and the stories we hear from attendees about new business or connections they made or ideas they were inspired by is motivating. We want to continue that moving forward as we launch a new event series called “INSIDE:” which provides an exclusive look into the inner-workings of top brands and provides an opportunity for attendees to have a deeper understanding as to the daily on-goings. Our first with Saatchi & Saatchi LA, a leading ad agency, where our audience experienced Saatchi’s way of listening to and engaging with consumers via award-winning ad campaigns and activations. The attendees participated in a group exercise alongside Saatchi executives on real-life client scenarios. We are planning more of these type of events with industry-leading brands, as well as other theme-based discussions events in key cities like New York, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Denver/Boulder, and of course Southern California.
Our other important initiative is the launch of our content-driven website within the next few months. We are currently developing content based around themes that have been discussed at our events and conferences such as “Authenticity.” We hope to create a platform that extends the conversation, provide insights and tools and adds a layer of education and inspiration to what you may already find on another site. In addition we hope to become a conduit for those who are interested in the Youth Market and Culture, whether it’s a brand, creative agency or the media, to look to us to provide assistance and consultation toward insight into this growing segment.
We have other exciting news we hope to announce to our members here shortly.
And the 2 questions we ask everyone…
What’s your motto?
I don’t really have a motto per se. Instead I carry around 2 quotes with me everywhere I go that I find profound.
“Eventually everything connects – people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.” – Charles Eames
“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” - Wilhem Stekel, from “Catcher In The Rye”
What did you eat for breakfast?
Acai from Banzai Bowl