Shaquille O’Neal and the woman behind @Shaq, Amy Jo Martin Nathan Perkel for Bloomberg Businessweek
Amy Jo Martin makes men—grown men, tough men, professional athlete men—do incredibly stupid things. She got Shaquille O’Neal to pose as a living statue for an hour in Harvard Square while fans took photos. She got UFC President Dana White to tweet his cell-phone number so fans could talk to him about an upcoming fight. She got golfer Bubba Watson to post a video of himself hitting a ball from inside his house, over his pool, and into a bucket before jumping in the water fully clothed—just to persuade Ellen DeGeneres to book him on her show. It’s less like she’s a public relations professional than a fraternity recruitment officer.
Martin, 32, is the kind of person male athletes listen to. She’s energetic, pretty, and self-assured; the two least surprising things about her are that she was a cheerleader in high school and went to Arizona State. for a person who seems to be online constantly, she’s out a lot; she’s already visited more than 80 cities this year, often to attend events with clients and point out stuff they should tweet. That’s her job: professional Twitter coach. as frivolous as that sounds, there is a real, urgent, and high-paying demand for her services. It turns out athletes need a lot more help with their writing than they do hitting golf balls and making free throws.
Sitting on the balcony at the Los Angeles outpost of Bouchon, barely touching her food, Martin is trying not to check her phone too often. but some tweets need tweeting back right now. before the main course comes, she reaches into her purse to pull out a tiny wireless charger to resuscitate her iPhone. I am pretty sure she tweets about that.
Her company, Digital Royalty, has come up with social networking strategies for clients such as the Chicago White Sox, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Nike, Fox Sports, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and her original star client, Shaquille O’Neal. The UFC puts their fighters through five days of Martin’s social media training each year and has a bonus pool of $240,000 for fighters who tweet well.
At one point, in October of last year, 9 of the 10 trending topics on Twitter were related to her clients. The two-year-old company does in the “mid-seven figures” in annual billings, which are up 525 percent in 2011. Martin has done so well with teams and athletes that Digital Royalty picked up companies such as DoubleTree and Discount Tire Centers; non-sport clients now make up 70 percent of the business. She employs 15 people (mostly young, mostly women, mostly pretty) and is looking to hire at least five more. She’s moving all of them, the fleet of Digital Royalty-branded bikes, and the company’s CDO (“chief dog officer”) from Phoenix to Santa Monica, Calif. “I grew up in small-town Wyoming, so I’m not exactly the glittering Hollywood type,” Martin says in a way that sounds very glittering Hollywood type. “however, the networks, talent agencies, studios, and big brand opportunities are all in L.A.”
Six years ago, Martin had a public-relations job with the Phoenix Suns. She started doing a lot of online promotion for the team without being asked. She also wasn’t asked to call herself the Director of Digital Media. “I didn’t ask permission. Instead, I asked forgiveness.” She went on Twitter as@PhoenixSunsGirl and got a few thousand followers—and there weren’t that many more on Twitter back then—by tweeting about the team. Incessantly. “I would stay up all night and reply to every fan. I knew advertisers would find value, and I wanted to prove it internally,” she says. She quickly got 25 Suns employees, one of whom was the team mascot, on Twitter. (Sample tweet from @SunsGorilla: “What’s better than a photo of me? A photo of me with hundreds of bananas!”)