Chip Rives has found a way to tap into a highly desirable demographic for advertisers and marketers: college kids.
The 49-year-old Rives cut his marketing-career teeth years ago, while working in sports sponsorship and marketing positions at various firms. In fact, he even helped start and build Arnold Worldwide’s sports marketing unit. As a result, he’s long been in close contact with advertisers and marketers trying to reach those ever-elusive late teens and early-20-somethings on campuses across the country.
So six years ago, he co-founded Fluent with the specific aim of targeting college and grad students between the ages of 18 and 24, also known as “college millennial consumers” — and he hasn’t looked back since.
Fluent has experienced rapid growth in recent years as a result of signing up clients such as Microsoft, Macy’s, Zipcar, Keurig, Jack in the Box, Kellogg’s and other high-profile companies trying to increase awareness of their brands and products on college campuses.
The result has been 1,049.6 percent revenue growth for Fluent over the past three years, to $12.6 million, and that rapid expansion has made Fluent the fourth-fastest growing company this year on the BBJ’s annual Pacesetters list.
Another key to Fluent’s success is its ongoing partnership with the National Association of Campus Activities, a nonprofit trade organization for college deans, administrators and other personnel involved with campus activities for students.
The partnership has given Fluent an opening for preapproved promotional events on campus, such as fashion exhibits put on by Macy’s and new tech product displays by Microsoft. Besides events, Fluent also handles social-media and other digital campus campaigns for clients wanting to target college students.
“It’s really given us unprecedented access to campuses,” said Rives of Fluent’s relationship with the National Association of Campus Activities.
Today, Fluent promotes activities at about 600 campuses nationwide. Locally, the company has done promotions at a number of local higher-education institutions, including Boston University,Boston College, Tufts University, MIT,Harvard University, UMass, Northeastern, Simmons, Babson, Brandeis, Wellesley and other area schools.
Fluent won’t just barge onto a campus with trained adults to pitch and promote products. They also hire on-campus students to help out with marketing efforts.
Rives’s immediate goal moving forward: About 30 percent growth in 2014 alone and an increase in employees to as many as 60 from its current 42-person staffing level. Longer-term goals include beefing up Fluent’s digital-media offerings and its growing research analytics business tied to college marketing, he said.
Bruce Mittman, president and founder of Mittcom, a Needham advertising firm, said college-age kids are definitely a desirable age group that many, though not all, companies are trying to reach. Banks, automakers and travel companies are particularly interested in establishing a “life-time brand experience” with college students, he said.
“It’s often a busy, distracted audience to try to reach,” said Mittman of the college crowd. “But it’s a positive and desirable (demographic).”