ChainOn Interview is the new interview format created by ChainOn: sports business personalities tell their stories, talking about their work and rattling off various curiosities.
Today’s protagonist is Carlo Merlini, Marketing and Commercial Director of Gresini Racing.

Carlo, your role has a strategic and significant importance within the team, and let’s start with this: what does your job consist of and what does it mean to be ‘Marketing and Sales Director’ of a company that operates at a global level?

The commercial and marketing area is the one that manages the entire sphere of collaborations, consisting precisely of the commercial component and that of support to partners for the activation of sponsorship. Starting with the former, we refer to the phases involving the sales process, profiling, the search for a reference partner, up to the negotiation, contractualisation and signatures. And then, once we have acquired the partner, we begin the coaching and support phase to develop the activities related to the sponsorship. In other words, we want to be by the partner’s side at all times to ensure that the programme works and delivers the expected results. As ‘Team Gresini’ we do all this on a global scale: MotoGP is spread across all continents, and it is right to look at markets further away from Italy and Europe. We, for example, have a lot of sponsors in Asia, where the MotoGP is really well followed in some countries.

Team Gresini is a historical reality of the MotoGP, and you have been with it since its origins. How has the relationship with sponsors evolved over the years?

There have been radical changes because, compared to when I started this path about 25 years ago, the way of ‘thinking’ about sponsorship has evolved. Back then the most important thing was visibility, the objective was almost exclusively to have a sticker or a patch as big as possible, activation as we understand it today was almost nil. Now, however, there is a greater focus on opportunities to engage with strategic stakeholders, both in the b2b and b2c sphere. And that is why we offer team experiences in the paddock, create events, organise sponsor meetings to foster business relationships between team partners, and much more. The challenge is to anticipate how the sponsorship market evolves and, at the same time, how the demand of our customers changes.

As you said, we live in a world that is constantly evolving and innovating: what advice would you give to those in your role, perhaps even in ‘smaller’ realities?

Regardless of the reality in which you operate, the thing that counts most is the passion with which you approach your work: I know that this may sound like a clich√©, but it absolutely is not, and it is really the aspect that I consider essential to carry out this activity. And then, especially in the early stages of the career path, it is important to choose the right ‘boss’. That can become the driving force behind everything, offering the opportunity to grow, learn and show off one’s qualities. This is the most dispassionate advice I can give to a young colleague entering this world.

From the outset, Team Gresini was one of the companies that joined ChainOn, adhering to the project and the innovative potential of the marketplace. From what, was this collaboration born?

When ChainOn was born, it immediately seemed like a good opportunity to me: we salespeople are always looking for new businesses, we try to generate new leads and talk to prospects. Precisely for this reason, having a reference marketplace allows us to expand opportunities and get in touch with new business entities. Furthermore, as I said before, Team Gresini is in a global market, and ChainOn has also developed the possibility of generating leads internationally, which is particularly important for us. I’m also pleased to add a personal note: with Giovanni Palazzi, CEO of ChainOn, there is a friendship that has been going on since 1994, when I was a young graduate student who in the morning was writing my thesis on sports sponsorships, and in the afternoon did an internship at Sport System Italia, a company that monitored the exploitation of sponsorships and of which Giovanni was the founder and Executive Chairman.

We are entering the final part of the 2023 World Cup and, probably, our gaze is also turned to the future: how do you live the day-to-day life at this time of the season?

It may sound strange, but in our world the seasons now overlap… a championship begins and it’s already time to look forward to the next season: this touches all areas, from the technical to the sporting, but also the commercial and sponsorship areas. And then you’re always with your suitcase in hand… the pace is hectic but I’ve been doing it with absolute passion and enthusiasm for 23 years, and it’s really nice.