Sponsored Content: Partnership Not Ad Space

Years ago the idea of sponsored content was forward thinking. But today, leveraging a team or league’s social audience to bring in revenue through a partnership is commonplace. Everywhere you look there is a logo slapped onto social content as part of an agreement. So much, that sometimes the internet feels like a live billboard.

It’s time to take a step back and evaluate this sponsored content thing. Because slapping a logo on a score graphic doesn’t move the needle for your brand, your sponsor or your fans. Instead, the focus should be on integrating sponsor’s message with your brand in a natural way.

Here are a few examples of sponsored content done right:

 

 

We win. You eat! 😎

A post shared by Carolina Panthers (@panthers) on

 

@jetmckinnon1 delivers in every way possible. #Skol

A post shared by Minnesota Vikings (@vikings) on

 

 

 

 

Of course, this is no easy task. It takes creative thinking, the right partners around the table and collaboration. When done right though, you can elevate your content, add value to your sponsors (and fans) and bring in even more revenue.

So, how do you create sponsored content that actually works and goes beyond a logo like the examples above? Below are a few tips to think about:

 

Know the value.

Your team has worked hard to build an engaged community, so don’t take it lightly. Sponsored posts on social shouldn’t automatically be part of every deal or pitched as x number of posts a year. The audience you’ve built is worth so much more than that! Don’t sell the worth of your channels short. Activating on social should come with a price tag – and a commitment to doing it right. Know the value of your channels and push back when something isn’t right.

 

Ban the word sponsored.

The word sponsored content automatically makes a partnership transactional. And when we have in our head that something is transactional, it’s much easier to slap a logo on a photo. It’s important to combat the idea that you’re just selling sponsor space on your digital channels. In order to actually move the needle for sponsors, fans and the brand, it has to be so much more than that.

When creating content with sponsors, go into it as a partnership. What is your team/league’s goals on social? What are your sponsors trying to accomplish? Why does this make sense? How can we make this the best together? Make it a thoughtful partnership, not an ad space.

 

Find common values and themes.

The best sponsored content is one that has a natural tie to the sponsor. It will take some creative exploration, but it’s so important to find where the synergy is between the sponsor and your team/league. What is a message or value that you can both rally around?

In the examples above, the content and message aligns with the sponsor. FedEx Air & Ground plays, Gatorade’s Path to the Splash and Chevrolet’s Drive Summary are all great examples of strong content that has a natural to the sponsor.

 

Take a content –first approach.

Like everything that goes out across channels, good sponsored content must add value. How is content useful or engaging for fans? Create a series that peaks interest, evokes emotion and is something you would share with our without sponsor money behind it.

Quality content means fans will pay attention. And when fans pay attention, it means more eyeballs for your sponsors and probably more revenue in future years. That’s a win, win, win.

 

Do not disrupt your feed.

It’s important to have brand guidelines and share them when working with sponsors. What’s the box to play in? What are the brand guides that the content should follow? Sponsored content shouldn’t disrupt your feed in a negative way. Instad, the content should flow very naturally with the rest of your feed.

 

Sometimes, you have to walk away.

The worst thing you can do is try to force a sponsor play on social that does not work. Do the due diligence to find partners that align with your message, creative vision and goals. Don’t dilute what you’ve built by cluttering it with noisy ads. If it starts to feel forced, phony and of no value, it simply might not work.

And at the end of the day, sponsored content has huge upside for teams / leagues, partners and fans – if done right. Go into every deal as a partnership, not ad space, and you’ll start adding value all the way around.

Digital Is Not A Niche

Digital is not a niche. As a role, as a strategy, as part of an organization. And, we need to stop thinking about it as such.

When I started my career early on, digital was more of a speciality. But with the shift in consumer behavior, those days of it living in a silo and hoping to be successful are long gone.

Think about it. The phone is the first thing consumers reach for in the morning, and it’s the last thing they put down at night. It’s the vehicle to reach your consumer, no matter the target.

But for all the talk about being digital first, we still have a long way to go. Brands need to stop treating it as a silo. We don’t need separate digital teams– we need digital teams embedded within the larger strategy. We need marketing leaders who are truly obsessed with consumer behavior online. And, are driving 360 marketing plans with digital top of mind.

Digital *is* the grounding force in a marketing strategy today. No, it doesn’t reflect all marketing, but everything else is now a specialty.

5 Strong Postseason Plays From MLB

The MLB postseason is in full swing with all the drama, home runs and big plays you would hope for. To capitalize on the momentum of the postseason, MLB has come out in full force with strong content and digital initiatives. From stellar graphics to unique media partnerships, it’s worth taking note of their work. Below are five strong plays from MLB so far in this postseason.

 

1- Sharp look & feel.

It makes sense to approach the postseason / playoffs as a mini campaign. It gives creative a refresh, makes the moment feel bigger and helps rally fans around the moment. It’s a big stage, so elevate it.

As part of their postseason coverage, MLB rolled out a visual identity that is both retro and modern. Not only is the look sharp, but they have varied the content while still keeping things consistent. The result is an engaging and fresh look that stops fans in their feed – and immediately screams MLB.

The key takeaway is to create a look and feel that is own-able, but have enough elements where each piece of content still feels unique.

 

2- Graphics that engage.

Part of social is bringing your fans into the conversation. You don’t have to beg for retweets or comments to get fans to engage. Instead, think about how you can leverage design and creative to prompt fans to take action. MLB has created “who ya got” graphics that are a great example of this.

The one you’ve been waiting for … Who ya got in #NLDS Game 4: @Nationals or @Cubs?

A post shared by MLB ⚾ (@mlb) on

Decision time. Who ya got: @redsox or @astrosbaseball? #ALDS Game 1 starts NOW on @mlbnetwork.

A post shared by MLB ⚾ (@mlb) on

 

3- Unique media partnership.

The MLB has partnered with Bleacher Report for a content series called #TallTales. It’s a fantastic content series debunking certain MLB myths and legends. While they have only done one this postseason, I expect more to roll out.

There are a two big reasons I like this. First, working with an external partner can help push creative thinking and bring new ideas to the table. Second, it helps bring in a new audience. One can assume that the partnership with Bleacher Report is to attract a younger audience to MLB – and it’s a smart partner, for sure.

 

4- Video, created for social.

The traditional rules of video are out the window. Instead, the focus is on optimizing for mobile and capturing attention quickly (you have less than three seconds). The exact delivery, of course, is up to interpretation and some a/b test.

MLB has done a good job of creating video with social in mind. They prove that video content does not have to be elaborate to stand out. The majority of their videos are short and rely on text overlay – not sound – to get the message across. A few examples below:

What’s the #postseason got in store for this Hollywood story?

A post shared by MLB ⚾ (@mlb) on

The @yankees laugh at “rebuilding” years. #WildCard

A post shared by MLB ⚾ (@mlb) on

 

5- Strong sponsorship play.

MLB has partnered with Gatorade for a postseason content series called “Path to the Splash”. The video content showcases each team’s path to get to this point. The content is interesting and has a natural tie to the sponsor. Wins all the way around.

 
This post scratches the surface of the good work being done in the postseason, from both the league and teams. What has stood out to you so far?

When Sports Are Bigger Than The Scores

We focus on the scores, wins and losses a lot in this industry. But when you step back, sports are bigger than sports. The game has the power to transcend entertainment into something much larger. This past weekend in the NFL was proof of that.

Amid the NFL battle with President Trump, there were two brand pushes that stood out. First, the NFL decided to push out its Super Bowl commercial about unity again. The lines in the spot are so powerful:

“Inside these lines, we don’t have to come from the same place to help each other reach the same destination. Inside these lines, we may have our differences, but recognize there’s more that unites us.

Second, the Miami Dolphins pushed out this beautiful and simple piece:

These decisions and moves for brands, teams and leagues aren’t always easy. The line for brands is blurring. Today, many consumers expect brands to embrace a position and set of values. But of course, it’s a slippery slope.

When thinking about taking a stance on anything beyond the game, it’s important to remember the following things:

 

Define your brand values.

For any brand to take a stance, they must know their brand values first. What as an organization do you stand for? Before a brand, team or league takes any position, ensure the values are defined.

 

Look internally first.

Writing down brand values on a piece of paper doesn’t mean the organization is actually living by them. It’s important to take a hard look in the mirror before taking a public stance on anything. Is the brand walking the walk? Brands must practice what they preach. Period.

 

Be consistent.

Values aren’t something a person is wishy washy on. If you believe in something, you stand by it. The same is true for a brand that wants to take a stance. If you plan to take a position, you have to stick to it. If you try and play every crowd consumers will see right through it and you will alienate everyone.

 

Less is often more.

There’s something about simplicity that is powerful. When working through messaging, remember less is often more. Don’t get cute. Don’t overdo it. Keep it simple. The Dolphins post is a perfect example of that.

 

Know the pulse.

The world changes and views evolve. This doesn’t mean that we completely abandon are values, but it does mean we need to have a pulse on what’s going on in the world. There’s nothing worse than a tone deaf brand. Awareness of the current climate is key. It will go a long way to ensure you shape a message the pushes things forward instead of backfire.

This weekend was a small example of the impact sports plays in the world. It’s more than entertainment. It has the ability to inspire, move and mobilize people. Consumers look for brands to take a stance– but only if it’s authentic. When tapping into something more than the scores, remember that it’s important to actually know and live by your brand values.

Breathe, Pause, Think

If you work in social and digital, this a reminder of how important it is to put your brand hat on. To take a deep breath, pause and think. It’s not only okay, it’s needed.

Social media can turn into the wild, wild west for a brand if not careful. A place where gimmicks are awarded and eyeballs viewed as successful. It’s a place where brands can lose their soul if the right thought is not given.

One of the challenges this industry faces is the pressure to be on, all the time. This pressure means we are constantly doing and not thinking. We push and pray without understanding why. In essence, social media becomes a playground for tactics. And then, everything turns into a sea of sameness.

But this pressure, it’s created by us. And we need to shake it off. Consumers are not asking us to post and push all the time. The world will continue if you stop and take a couple days for strategic planning. Consumers won’t lose their brand affinity if you don’t tweet for one day.

Here’s the thing. Social media is about the now, but it’s also about the brand. And brands don’t come to life without a vision, purpose and unique point-of-view. It’s critical to spend time thinking about what social media means for the brand at a higher level. The greater danger is not in pausing to plan. It’s in never planning and losing sight of you brand.

Good work isn’t easy. In fact, it’s tedious. And thinking about a brand strategy and how digital and social plays a role is no doubt an undertaking. But it’s the work that matters in making sure social plays the right role in an org.

So here’s my advice. Give yourself permission to step away from the tactics. Immerse yourself in the brand strategy. Identify focus. Create a plan. Then, once you’ve done that, focus on the tactics and execute well.