Robert Zitzmann is the chief executive and managing partner of Jung von Matt SPORTS, Europe’s most-awarded creative agency in sports and the winner of the top honor at The Hashtag Sports Awards, Outstanding Achievement in Overall Engagement for an Organization in 2020 and 2022.
Born in Germany, Robert is a true globetrotter having received elementary education and master degrees in Ireland, the USA, and Spain before starting his career as a creative sports marketeer in 2010. After joining the industry as an intern at SPORTFIVE, Robert gradually developed his vision of a brands-first approach for sports.
Chatting with Hashtag Sports below, Robert shares his team's creative process, why endurance is important in creativity, and how his team produces consistently award-worthy work year after year.
In 140 characters or less (like the old Twitter!), tell us who Jung von Matt SPORTS is as an agency, and how you got to where you are today.
We at Jung von Matt SPORTS believe that creativity is the playmaker for society, business and sports. As Europe’s leading creative agency, we play to make sports a better business - with game changing ideas for brands and fans!
You had three different projects that won Hashtag Sports Awards in 2022. How do you decide what projects from your portfolio to submit to the awards each year, and how do you determine which categories to enter them in?
First, we always analyze the metrics and ROI of our projects to evaluate their true impact in real life. Sometimes award cases look flashy, but only for the academy or the respective brand and agency submitting it. That’s why all of our submissions are determined by valid data.
Beyond that, we make social and human impact our priority. Media impressions are nice, but did our content actually touch anyone’s heart for more than seven seconds? The answer must always be yes. And that’s what we love about Hashtag and its award categories, as it values true engagement in sports and through sports across all modern dimensions of digital marketing.
Jung von Matt has won more Hashtag Sports Awards since 2019 than any other agency. How are you consistently creating award-worthy work?
The original purpose of our daily work as a creative agency is to raise the bar of what’s possible in sports: for athletes, teams, leagues, sponsors, media and ultimately for the benefit of fans and sports communities. That’s what we stand up for every single morning.
But beyond the few shiny cases that win awards and earn global conversation, it’s about the many times our ideas don’t make the cut. Or just like Michael Jordan once said: it's about the shots you miss and all the times you fail. And in a way the same counts for our team: we love what we do, and maybe, we just try harder than others to create meaningful moments.
The Dyslexia Jersey initiative created for German soccer club Hamburger SV was one of the highest-scored entries submitted to the awards in 2022. Where did this idea originate, and what led to the creation of this work?
The ideation was led by two angles. For one, the social issue of Dyslexia, its actual (and hidden) relevance and the missing public attention. Secondly, our brief was to create as much attention and action as possible for Dyslexia with as little budget as possible. And all of that in the most authentic and surprising way, leveraging the power of live sports with a strong bridge between TV and social media screens.
That’s why when the respective players walked on the field with their names spelled wrong on their jerseys, it appeared to be a mistake by staff and supplier, and that’s what fueled the digital debate immediately. Ultimately, the overall engagement for Dyslexia when the natural engagement for sports has its peak. At Jung von Matt we have a saying, that great impact doesn’t just need great ideas but even greater execution. That said, the success of this case study is very much based on all the invisible details of our distribution plan and script involving the athletes, the club, the broadcaster, third-party media, influencers and the social audience.
The F.O.A.T for Sheffield FC was also an entry judges loved in 2022. Can you talk a bit about the differences in working with an 8th division club as compared to working with some of the globe’s largest?
If you don’t always win, you’ll have nothing to lose. Working with Sheffield FC is not just fun because of the creative dancefloor when working with a non-profit and grassroots sports team, but also because of the brand’s original narrative and USP being the world’s first and oldest football club.
We can - and we will - tell millions of cool stories around this brand because it simply has a super cool story to tell. So the creative work flows very naturally. Our ultimate goal is to revive the club’s heritage and history for football’s next generation. And that’s why partnering with EA Sports has been such a fun experience for all of us, because we were connecting the past and the future of the world’s greatest sport. For me personally, the F.O.A.T. was one of the most fun and emotional projects we have ever delivered. Maybe a lesson learned for others is that great campaigns and brand collaborations sometimes start with great contracts. Going beyond what’s obvious and telling stories that are yet unknown, maybe our industry needs more of that.
Where do you turn to for inspiration or as a guide for creative direction on new projects?
We turn to the power of our people and the freedom of mind. That’s where it all starts. Further, great ideas are built upon great briefings. Great briefings live by great insights. And our insights come from observations of human and societal truths. You could call it data. Or sometimes it’s just our very own sense for “Zeitgeist.”
Inspiration comes from whatever we can learn, see and feel across the web or in real life, every single day. On top, today’s and tomorrow’s technology offers us more opportunities to engage with fans than ever before.
Describe the creative process behind the walls at your office? Who is involved, and how do you bring ideas to life?
As the DNA of our job is to solve problems for brands and businesses, our strategists, technologists and analysts are at least equally important as the creatives developing the visible and final concepts. Our work is like a complex orchestra, made by a diverse group of musicians. Bringing such diversity together in one team requires a strong system of processes and systematic workflows, but above all it requires a sustainable people culture.
At Jung von Matt, we believe in the theory of the infinite game. We are never finished, and we will never be perfect. But we try to build the most perfect environment for creativity one could imagine.
From the client’s perspective (sports property or brand), what is the purpose of an agency like JvM creating work that pushes boundaries and hasn’t been done before?
Our role with clients is to do the work they cannot do. Because they are missing the resource, the skills and the culture. For many brands we work with it’s also the access to creative talent that brands maybe could afford, but will never be able to hire.
As an agency, we provide an ecosystem of the creative and the crazy that help brands to break out of their daily routines and limited perspectives. Our job is not just to push boundaries, it’s ultimately to enable and enforce progress for the business of our clients in a world of unseen and ever-growing complexity. Sometimes we act like a translator, sometimes we are the empowered creator and other times we are just a trusted service provider. And in the best times, we are the eye-level partner and loyal friend going toe to toe with the brands we work with - and that we truly love.
Can you share an example of a project that you really had to fight for with a client and how it turned out?
We can easily pinpoint to our F.O.A.T. campaign within FIFA22. The first time we have pitched this idea in 2017 to EA Sports. And it took us five years to get it done. Resilience and endurance sometimes matter the most.
How are you using technology (if at all) to shape fan engagement projects?
We believe the purpose and nature of technology is that it’s a tool to enable humanity. Not the other way around. That’s why we have a very explorative mindset when it comes to new tech such as AI or AR. And our job is to help the brands we work with to grow a mindset of curiosity and continuity when applying new digital functions and applications to their brand marketing. Being thoughtful and playful at the same time, while making sure that technology is increasing utility and experience value for the fan and consumer.
Can you preview any of the work you may consider submitting to the awards in 2023?
For 2023, there is some real fun stuff in the making, maybe even groundbreaking. What we can say for sure is that our masterpiece for the Topps Company and Fanatics will be part of the mix. We have activated their new partnership with the UEFA Euro 2024 with a bold digital campaign and as a result, broke all kinds of records on TikTok with our brand ambassador Josè Mourinho. But regardless of any potential awards, we are already looking forward to seeing everyone at Hashtag in NYC next year!
Learn more about how to effectively engage the modern fan & consumer at Hashtag Sports, an annual conference designed for media and marketing professionals.