harrie bakstHarrie Bakst is a 23 year old CEO who has steadily and quickly built his company, Carnegie Sports and Entertainment, into one of the most respected emerging companies in the relatively new field of sports marketing philanthropy.  The approach was one that Bakst stumbled upon almost by accident, but a unique combination of a life threatening illness, a love of sports and entertainment and the economic crisis spawned a new cottage industry, one that few had thought of just a few years ago.

Carnegie’s approach is to work with brands to expand their allocated marketing dollars and get more ROI by combining those efforts with cause-related events.  So instead of a brand like Chipolte or Coca Cola just doing conventional marketing, they use Carnegie to find causes that meet their marketing needs and also have a philanthropic twist.

The results have been amazing, in a very short time Carnegie has forged relationships with the NBA, Major League Soccer, Stand Up For A Cure, as well as athletes like New York City Marathon winner Meb Kelfezighi, the Boston Celtics Paul Pierce, former New York Giants star Tiki Barber, even Survivor winner Ethan Zohn, to find ways to make the philanthropic and marketing dollars work together to win for everyone.  We took a few minutes to have Bakst explain how Carnegie got started, where it is going, and what’s next in the field of cause-related marketing in sports and entertainment.

Describe how you built Carnegie Sports & Entertainment and how its different from other agencies that deal in sports and entertainment marketing.

I started the company almost by accident.  When I was a senior in college, I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa to carry out research for my honors thesis on how the 2010 FIFA World Cup was helping the country’s peace and economic efforts.  When I was getting my immunizations, the doctor felt a lump on my neck, and just like that, I was diagnosed with Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma – cancer of the salivary glands. The type of cancer I had is an extremely rare form, so government funding in addition to individual donations for my specific research was’t prominent.  I saw an opportunity to tap into corporate marketing budgets for my cancer research, and with that idea, Carnegie Sports & Entertainment was born.

A little less than 3 years later, we have become a true agency and we differ from others by specializing in two key areas, cause marketing and corporate social responsibility.  We represent 4 types of clients — non profit organizations, brands, events & properties, and athletes & celebrities — with every project having a philanthropic platform and cause integration.

This June, I am finally taking that trip to South Africa with our client, Grassroot Soccer.

How has the philanthropic element been to deal with when you mention sports?

It has been great.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge sports fan, but that is not why we choose to target the sports and entertainment industries.  Sports and entertainment, via athletes, celebrities, events, PR, etc., have significant media value attached to it.  With that media, we are able to position a cause as a viable business platform and are therefore able to tap into corporate marketing budgets, which trump the size of a company foundation budget.  We purposely position out clients this way in order to tap into those bigger pockets. That is our ultimate goal.

What has been your biggest success and your biggest failure?

I’d like to think my biggest success is surviving cancer.  However, as it relates to Carnegie, it has been surrounding myself with successful, smart, and caring individuals from our employees, board members, and clients.  I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from such amazing people.  I try to be a sponge wherever I can and just listen.  Surrounding myself with quality people is by far the best thing I’ve done.

In terms of failure, when you’re young and success finds you, a lot of people want to latch onto that success. Early on, I think I had a hard time saying “No”.

What advice would you give young people starting their own businesses?

I started this company with $2,000 in my pocket, I knew no one in the industry, and I was still without a full head of hair after just surviving cancer.  Yet, I knew the money, the connections, and the experience wasn’t going to come over night — it had to be built over time.  Instead, I focused on two things I had in my control — my work ethic and my sincerity.  You have to protect both of those things. No matter how much money and experience one has, no one can take those two things away from you. Worth ethic and just being a good hearted individual are two things we all possess.  Those two things are the true meaning of affluence.

Where do you see the business you have built in five years?

I see Carnegie continuing to add quality people as employees and grow in our 4 key areas of business. Specifically, I would like to grow more in the entertainment space. I see huge opportunity in the music, film and Broadway markets. I think in 5 years from now, we will have to find the perfect balance of growth without sacrificing an ounce of our quality of work. We are a service business after all.  That will ultimately determine where we will be in 5 years from now.

How competitive is the sports philanthropy field for brands?

Very competitive and it’s ever emerging.  Brands are drastically changing the ways the spend their marketing dollars, both strategically, and geographically.  Cause marketing has seen a big rise in spending over the last few years and research is telling us that will continue.  Brands are now integrating their philanthropic efforts with their corporate marketing objectives all under one roof. Just like anything else, brands hate saturation, so the fact that cause marketing is somewhat untapped right now breeds immense competition.  My job is to make sure we have a front row seat.

By Jerry Milani