It’s Time To Redefine What Quality Content Means

In this era of TikTok, memes and lofi content, we face a unique challenge for creatives and digital teams. The challenge? To redefine what we view as quality content.

For so long, “quality” content has referred to the level of production value – how polished, how pretty and how much work was put into it. Creators and marketers have historically defined the standard for quality content and advertising by what they deem aesthetically and creatively appealing. And, we have been looking at it all wrong.

Digital, with instant feedback from consumers and a generation that’s creating straight from their phones, is forcing us to rethink how we approach and think about all aspects of marketing — and the definition of quality content should be one of them. For so long quality content has been based on a marketer’s definition and has completely ignored the audience.

Are you ready for the truth about content?

Our audiences don’t care how much time was spent creating something. They don’t care if a piece is polished or it isn’t. They don’t debate 4K video vs. iPhone video or care if Photoshop or Canva were used to make a graphic. And, they especially don’t care if something went through a 100-person approval process.

Our audiences care if the content is interesting to them, period.

Because of this, it’s time to flip the definition of “quality” content on its head. Quality content should not only be defined by production value. Quality content should be determined by how much it resonates with the audience.

This is not to downplay high-production value. I believe production value and creative integrity matter, but there’s a time and a place. For far too long creative has been upheld as a very precious thing that has to be perfect. And in our audience’s eyes, that’s not the case.

It’s actually empowering and freeing for all creatives out there when you realize the standard of creative you’ve set for yourself is higher than the audience you’re catering to. All the rules we’ve been taught or enforced on ourselves are out the window. We have permission to experiment; not everything has to be perfect.

If quality content can take many shapes and forms, then we don’t need to get bogged down in the details that simply don’t matter. We can test and try and let some less-so-polished things fly.

If we can remember that consumers scroll, tap and move on quickly and that the shelf life of content is short and fleeting, then we can permit ourselves not to have to make everything perfect.

If we can understand that quality content is less about the time spent on something and more about how much it resonates with people, we’ll spend more time on how to evoke emotion in people and less time worrying about how to simply make it pretty.

Quality content is about making people feel, not making something pretty. It’s always a win when you can make people feel something with pretty content, but it doesn’t always have to be high production and artistically perfect to resonate.

Creatives and marketers have to get comfortable with what makes us uncomfortable. We should always want to put our best foot forward, but that doesn’t mean we have to be so precious that we don’t recognize that lofi and less polished content has its place — and that it actually reosnates.

So here’s to lots of quality content ahead, whether it’s a lofi Tiktok created straight from your phone or a long-form video that tells an emotional human interest story. As a consumer, I hope my feeds are filled with both.

Lessons On Creating With Limits From The Pause In Sports

While sports were on pause, social teams experienced extreme constraints around content creation. No games. No in-person access. No traditional sport storylines. No ability to capture new footage directly.

Creating under such limits can be a daunting task. Even more daunting, though, is the expectations to produce at a high volume despite the changing landscape. And for the sports industry, one that rarely sleeps in the social space, there is no slowing down even if the games are on pause.

When we have limits, though, we innovate. We find solutions to things because there is no other choice. And throughout the pause in sports, teams found ways to tell their story and connect with fans. 

Yes, sports are back and games to fuel teams, leagues and brands with new content again, but I believe there are critical lessons to learn from the pause in sports that we can take away or the future. Here are a few of those lessons on social and social:

Obsess Over Creative Execution 

Zoom and iPhone footage were the few vehicles of access teams and leagues had to players throughout the pause in sports. And while any access is fantastic, Zoom and talking head fatigue is a very real thing.

It didn’t take me long to realize months of Zoom interviews wasn’t going to work. Audiences were going to disengage quickly. You have about three seconds (if you’re lucky) to convince people to stop and view your video. In those three seconds, your video needs to set the tone and get people interested. And once you have them watching, you have to keep them engaged. Two minutes of someone sitting and talking directly into a camera is rarely going to keep people around. 

What’s a social team to do when they have excellent access to video interviews but don’t want them to fall flat? You focus on taking creative to the next level. 

Sometimes, as in the case of Zoom interviews, the creative execution and details matter a lot. We have to obsess over taking pieces to the next level through dynamic intros, b-roll, graphics, etc. 

Creative execution is what separates the best from the rest. When teams focus on the details of how to bring a piece to life, they are more likely to create something that captures attention, fits the platform and is the best reflection of the brand.

Obsessing over execution does not mean that production value has to be high or overproduced. It merely means that you’ve taken the time to make sure the idea comes to life right. Do your Zoom interviews and everything else right: Focus on packaging the content to make it as compelling as possible. 

Here’s an example of taking a Zoom interview and thinking critically about how it’s packaged to elevate the series:

Let Design Work Hard For You 

One of the toughest things about sports being on pause with no new and natural storylines was making the old feel fresh. Teams, leagues and brands had to dip into the vault of existing content and repackage it in a way that made it feel new, fun and unique. This is where great graphic design can come in. 

Graphic design can play a crucial role when you’re looking to create content with limited access, slow news days or no new assets (like photo or video). First, graphics can make existing photos and videos that you might have already used to feel unique. 

Second, design can help your team create something engaging from moments that don’t have a strong visual attached – a radio interview, media availability, etc. 

Below are a few examples of how teams leveraged design to make the old feel new or take a small audio snippet/quote and make it feel much more elevated and packaged:

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A match made in heaven. ??

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Ex of taking a quote from Town Hall on Zoom and turning it into a more dynamic asset.
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KD likes what he's seeing ?

A post shared by Brooklyn Nets (@brooklynnets) on

Ex of taking audio from a podcast and packaging it through design for an elevated asset.
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? (Via @bleacherreport)

A post shared by Baltimore Ravens (@ravens) on

The Ravens used design to package commentary from Bleacher Report.

Makes Fans Active Participants

One of the best trends to come out of the sports pause was the focus on fans. With no games to cover and no original storylines, all of a sudden, fans become a central focus for keeping social channel’s lights on. 

Throughout the pause, teams and leagues emphasized content that brought their fans into the fold. All of a sudden, content wasn’t just a mechanism to push something out; it was a mechanism to pull fans into the brand. 

Simple community tactics go a long way. Fans want to be active participants. It’s the ability to engage that makes social media different from any other channel. When fans feel part of the community, teams build stronger advocates. Focus on the fans. 

Test, Learn & Pivot 

Social media is often the ultimate balancing act. You have to plan, but also be willing to pivot. And in unusual times, there was no better reminder that so much of social media is about leaning testing, learning and pivoting. 

Creating content and publishing during the pause in sports was the ultimate lesson on planning while remaining flexible. With no natural storylines, teams had to plan way ahead to make sure calendars filled up. But how were we supposed to know what was going to resonate with people during a pandemic? We didn’t, so we had to test, try and pivot. 

Sometimes in social, we create things that don’t resonate — and sometimes we hit unexpected home runs. That was the story during the pause in sports. If you work in this space, it’s your job to continually have a pulse on what performs and what doesn’t and push for necessary changes and tweaks. 

While there are a lot of lessons to take away on creating content during the pause, these are the ones that stuck with me the most. So much of working in social media is about getting resourceful, finding ways to look at things differently and never falling into the trap of doing the “same old thing”.

So often limits are looked at as a negative. But when we push ourselves to create in new ways, we innovate. My hope is that we’ll always push to look at things in a fresh and different way and seek to innovate, limits or not.

Innovation Through Strong Creative & Content Is Key

In the early days of social media, you couldn’t even upload a photo to Twitter (gasp). Innovation then was linked to platform updates. Every day it seemed like there was a new feature, new rollout and new way to tell your story with the rise of “visual platforms”.

It’s 2019 and we’re no longer experiencing a rise of “visual platforms”.  The internet and social media became visual playground long ago and it’s here to stay.  As a result, innovation on a day-to-day basis is less about platform updates and more about to push the envelope through creative, content and unique executions.

In the early days of social, people were obsessed with platform updates. How can we be the first to do x? How can we know the latest updates right away? How can we experiment with the latest and greatest?

It’s time to take that same mentality and apply it to content. If you aren’t obsessed with how you can bring your brand to life in innovative ways then you’ll get lost in the noise. Innovation through strong creative and content is key.

The teams, leagues and brands that stand out on social are the ones that obsess over how they can tell their story in unique and different ways. So much of what we do today is driven by creative. How can your brand offer something different than everybody else?

There are no hard fast rules when it comes to pushing the limits of creative and content, but a few things to keep in mind:

Start with a content strategy (aka know your why).

Too often in social we throw things at the wall. We test and we try, without understanding the why. This fly-by approach means that teams are creating content that doesn’t necessarily move the needle on the business objectives.

The only work that really matters is work that has the larger picture in mind. The best way to ensure that everything the team is creating has a purpose is to put your plan to paper. Take the time to define what a content strategy looks like and how it maps back to the larger goals.

When you put your plan to paper it gives the the team purpose, permission to focus to what is important and defines a box for creative to play in. More on creating a content strategy here.

Quality > output.

Output for the sake of output is one of the worst things about digital today. It’s caused a seam of sameness and an incredible amount of noise.

Marketing has never been measured by the volume of content though. It’s measured by the quality and effectiveness of the work, and it’s time everyone that works in social media reminds themselves of that.  

Digital leaders today need to give their teams permission to focus less on volume and more on quality. The daily churn of content becomes a toxic cycle that is hard to break. It’s a cycle where teams become burnt out, content becomes stale and consumers start to turn out.

Good content doesn’t happen overnight. There’s a process and it takes time. Say no to content for the sake of content and yes to content that elevates your brand, engages fan and moves the needle on business objectives.

Encourage experimentation.

Sometimes teams get so caught up in chasing likes that they become scared to try something new. Highlights work, so highlights are what is shared all day long.

When we become obsessed with vanity metrics and have no larger vision, then it’s easy to fall into a state of complacency and sameness. We find that “one thing” that works and we keep doing it over and over again.

This sort of routine might work for a little while, but in this fast-changing world of the internet, things will eventually become stale.  

The reality is we don’t know what truly works well unless we try. And, it’s our job in this industry to push new ways of thinking, storytelling and creating.

Leaders must foster an environment where experimentation is encouraged in order to stay ahead of the curve and keep things fresh. Experimentation shouldn’t just be allowed, but celebrated.

Success is multifaceted.

Too often social teams look at success in a one dimensional way. Just because highlights are the best performing piece of content does not mean that’s the only type of content that should be shared. Don’t let engagement metrics pigeon-hold the team to sharing the same thing over and over and over again.

When teams have a clear and defined content strategy, then measuring success should map back to that. Success is not just about engagement alone. Success is also defined by how well the team tells the brand’s story, the content franchises that are brought to life, how the story is executed, etc.  

Social channels are multi-dimensional for teams and leagues allowing them to tell their complete story, engage with fans and drive revenue. And because of that, how we define success should be multifaceted too.

Think like a programmer.

Too often social teams suffer from the fear of missing out. There’s a sense that we have to cover everything, all the time.

Batting practice and pregame warm ups are a good example of this. Before every game, across every league, you are guaranteed to see the same exact pregame pictures and video over and over and over again. It becomes a tired story very quickly.

When teams get in the mindset of covering, we start doing and dumping without understanding why. Think about Instagram on game days. So many posts upwards of 20 times and garner less than a 2% engagement rate. That’s a serious flag that we need to give thought to content volume and distribution. A less than 2 percent engagement rate should show a serious need to pivot (and no, don’t blame it on the algorithm).

Instead of “covering” everything, think about how to “program” everything. Look at the totality of the season and curate a plan that shows every moment, every angle, every storyline over time. The *over time* is key here.

Teams don’t have to dump everything on fans all at once. Consider what has already been covered and offer up something different. With a plan and the focus on curating smartly, the story can unfold in a natural and organic fashion over time– without being intrusive to fans’ feeds.

Obsess over execution & variety.

Execution is where good ideas go to die, so don’t spend all your time obsessing over ideas and forget to emphasize the need to execute right.  How teams produce and package their content has become as critical as the content idea itself.

Creative execution is what separates the best from the rest. When teams focus on the details of the creative execution they are more likely to create something that captures attention, fits the platform and is the best reflection of the brand.

Obsessing over execution does not mean that production value has to be high or overproduced. It simply means that you’ve taken the time to make sure the idea comes to life right.

In addition, there are so many ways to bring a story to life. Whether teams turn stills into moving image, leverage illustrations or tap into a strong video edit it should be a priority for have variety in creative executions. Obsess over all those ways you can bring your story to life and execute right. It matters.

Okay, so are you to push the envelopes of your creative and content? Here’s a wide range of content lately that will provide some inspiration:

Ohio State & Braves– Package Your Assets
I’m a big believer in finding ways to package your assets together. Instead of flooding your feed with a million photos and videos from a practice, game or moment, executions like the below allows teams to leverage multiple assets to piece together a story in an engaging way:

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E I G H T in a row. #ChopOn

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Oklahoma & Mariners– Simple Edit Brings The Fire
When I talk about obsessing over creative execution, it does not mean that everything has to be overdone and complicated. Below are a few examples of simple and clean edits that still bring the fire, whether they offer unique access and perspective or evoke emotion:

Brooklyn Nets – Subtle Motion
Subtle motion helps to capture the eye and pull people in without making them wait for information to unfold (like a long-drawn-out animation can do). Don’t have motion be a nuance. Use motion to pull people in while still making it easy and quick for them to get the information they want and need.

Purdue Basketball – Humanizing Through Stills

Purdue Basketball launched a content series that shares the meaning behind student-athletes’ tattoos. The series is a great example of how to showcase a more human side of players. The best part is they leveraged stills, not video, which could be an easy route to execute if face time is limited with players.

Miami Heat – Split Screen to Engage
Highlights are everywhere these days, so it’s important for teams to think through how they can leverage highlights in different ways. The below from Miami is a great example of a clean split-screen execution used to engage fans:

Other Unique Edits & Creative Executions That Have Stood Out Recently

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“No way.” ?

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The Case for Cooperstown. #LegaCCy

A post shared by New York Yankees (@yankees) on

In today’s overcrowded landscape, how we push creative and content to new places is key. Invest in a strong vision around content and empower teams to work their magic.

Package Audio With Design For Engaging Content

There’s a new philosophy I’ve adopted. And, it’s this: If you work in digital and sports, one of the big keys to your job is packaging content in a unique way. In a world where almost everyone has access to the information and assets, your job isn’t just to distribute. Your job is to find a different (on brand) angle with the content.

We’re in a constant state of content overload and a sea of sameness. Even highlights, which weren’t widely distributed a few years ago, can feel exhaustive in feeds. Between broadcast partners, teams, leagues and even fans, distribution is not the issue. The challenge is thinking about things differently. To stand out today, one of the keys is to continue to push the envelopes of creative through design and execution.

Thanks to podcasts, audio has become a recent trend in content creation. From strong quotes at press conferences to play calls, there are a lot of different opportunities to capture and leverage audio.

One thing I’ve noticed with audio, is teams, brands, etc. tend to be creative in their execution. The blend of sound plus design (since people don’t always turn on sound), makes a powerful combination. And, it’s the perfect example of how to think about packaging content in unique ways.

If you’re looking to mix up your content and do something different, below are a few examples of leveraging audio in sport. And, they are all great examples of how to package content:


NBA On TNT’s Audio Toons

Forget watching the broadcasters sit around and talk in the studio or the broadcast booth. Listen and watch them in cartoon form. This is probably one of the most creative executions I’ve seen. They took audio from what could be a traditional studio segment and leveraged design (and fun) to mold it for social. This, my friends, is the perfect example of packaging content.


Razorbacks – Call of the Game

Calls add a level of excitement and emotion to a normal highlight. Good ones especially, have a way of pulling you in. This “Call of the Game” example from the Razorbacks is a perfect example of combining design and audio into an engaging piece. Layering in the call with the highlight makes it more than “how to buy phentermine weight loss pills“. Plus, the design helps to capture attention when scrolling through the feed.

Additionally, this is a great sponsorable series. It would be really strong with a mobile partner since there’s a natural integration to “call”.


Warriors Talk

Talking heads aren’t always the most visually appealing thing. So, even if a coach or player had an interview that would really resonate with fans, it can be hard to pull them in. The “Warriors Talk” execution is a great example of how you can leverage design to pull people in to listen. It’s is a great example of packaging content a little differently. And, it could work in a variety of situations, whether you take a page of out this for simple interviews on the field or for press conferences.


The Players’ Tribune

First-hand accounts are the heart and soul of The Players’ Tribune content. And, as a result, they rely a lot on interviews and audio in their content. They do a good job experimenting with how to package content. Below are a few examples that stood out recently.


ESPN + Split Screens

ESPN uses split screen executions with audio bites and highlights. Showcasing interview snippets with the moment the audio is referring to gives amazing context for fans. And, the design pulls you in. This is a great example of why packaging content is so important. The audio clip alone might not capture attention, but the use of the clip and the highlight with the design makes for a powerful creative execution.

As you can see from the examples above, taking the content we have at our fingertips and infusing design is a critical. The teams and brands that stand out now and in the future will push creative envelopes. They’ll take something ordinary (like an audio clip) and make it unique. How we package and design today is key.

What executions with audio bites have you seen that stand out?

Sponsored Content: Nailing the Concept

Sponsored content is all the rage these days. As, it should be. It’s helped bridge the gap between organic social and driving business goals for teams, leagues and brands. After all, there isn’t anyone around the leadership table that’s going to complain about revenue opportunities.

If we’re increasing sponsored content in our feeds though, we must commit to executing right. Slapping logos on content and treating channels as billboards will make people tune out, unfollow and disengage. Sponsored content is a beautiful way to prove ROI, but it’s not an easy “check the box” if you actually want sponsored content to do its job.

There are many keys to getting sponsored content right (see here), but this post tackles one of the most important: Nailing the concept. This is what moves you away from a billboard to actually interesting, engaging content.

Nailing the concept requires two things. First, connecting the dots between both brands. And second, leveraging design to integrate the sponsor seamlessly.


Connecting the dots.

The best sponsored content is one that has a natural tie to the sponsor, while still being relevant to the team or brand. It’s about finding the synergy that exists between the two. I typically attack connecting the dots in the three phases below.

Do your research.
The first step in connecting the dots is to do your research on the potential sponsor. Spend time understanding the product and their value proposition. Browse the potential sponsor’s website to learn about their values, mission and the language they use. Understand their products. Look at their social media accounts and voice. Do everything you can to learn about their product and their brand DNA.

Write down phrases.
While researching the company, jot down any phrases or words that could relate to your team/product/sport/brand. Don’t leave anything out during this process. Jot down anything closely and loosely related. This isn’t a time to overthink or play favorites. You never know what can spark an idea.

So, for example, let’s say you work for an NFL team and Ford is a sponsor. During this phase, write down anything that ties into their brand and potentially the team/the sport. Quick examples include: Drive, Go Further (their tagline), on the road, built tough, miles, the full lineup, ride, etc.

Start the brainstorm
After the research and writing down phrases, it’s time to start actually concept content series based on the synergies you found. How do the words tie into your team/sport and content that would interest your fans?

A few examples of how it might work with the Ford examples above:

“Drive” is an easy one since it’s synonymous with the game. You could showcase the “drive of the game”, the winning drive, etc.

“Go Further” could be a sponsored series around good returns, showcasing the significant yardage. Whether you want to do a return of the game of a monthly highlight package that showcases the best returns.

“On The Road” or “miles” could be a series that showcases where the team is traveling for away games. The “miles” could be a series during the schedule release to showcase how many miles the team will travel in total. And, the “on the road” could happen during the actual season for each road trip.

“Ride” could be a human interest series during the NFL Draft or Rookies that showcases each player’s “ride” to get to the NFL.

Hopefully the above illustrates how you can connect the dots between potential sponsors and your brand. Some of the connections will be strong and easy to make (like Ford), others will be more subtle and take time.

It’s a creative process. Trust in it. You are going to come up with a lot of ideas that don’t work, but commit to the exercise and throw anything and everything out there. You will land on a gem. The key is to keep talking through it and fine-tuning the ideas.


Design seamlessly.

Once you have nailed the concept you want to move forward with, it’s time to approach how the creative will come to life. Design plays a critical role in making sure the sponsor integration feel natural. When done right, sponsored content won’t disrupt the feed. There are a few keys to take your idea from concept to execution while working with sponsors:

Keep platforms in mind.
Not all content belongs on all platforms. Once you decide what concept to move forward with, it’s important to think about where it should come to life. Don’t force a series across all platforms to guarantee more impressions for the sponsor if it isn’t going to perform there.

Set expectations.
When bringing concepts to a sponsor, it’s important to set the expectation that creative should feel seamless to your brand. If your team has a look and feel, even sponsored content should follow that. Approach this as a positive thing (because, it is). If the creative feels like everything else it won’t feel like a billboard, and as such, will perform better.

Create a style guide.
In a similar vein as expectations, take the time to put together a style guide and examples of what the creative on your channel looks like. If partners see your look and feel before the concept is final, they’ll have an idea of how it will come to life. You’ll get less pushback when the look is more seamless to your brand vs pushing the sponsor’s colors and guidelines.

Bring it to life.
Once you’re ready to bring the creative to life, it’s important to take a content-first approach. Don’t let the fact that you have a sponsor attached to it affect your design. Create as you would, making sure that strong and engaging creative is the top priority.

Another key is to make sure the message comes to life. In your creative brief, let the designer know what to accentuate. So, with the Ford “drive” example, the design should play into the idea of “drive”. The fan should connect the dots between “drive” and “Ford” easily,

Finally, work with your creative team on logo placement that gives visibility but doesn’t distract. If you’re accentuating the key message, it should be easy to make this happen.



So, what are some examples of sponsored content that connects the dots and integrates design seamlessly? Below are a few examples to see how it all comes to life. It’s important to note that all of these examples go beyond slapping a logo on a piece of content. They find the synergy, and that’s the key.

Chicago Bears + Tide

For Mother’s Day, the Chicago Bears, Tarik Cohen and Tide helped moms to “take a load off” on the holiday. THIS is the perfect example of a brand partner integration. Good content, fun play on words (attached to the product), access to a player and something people want to share.

Verizon + Miami Dolphins

This example from the Dolphins showcases how to align a product with a series. Phones are for talking, so it’s natural for Verizon to sponsor quotes from players and coaches.

SuperCuts + MLB

SuperCuts tagline is “Ready to Go” which lends itself perfectly to so many scenarios in sport. In this example, MLB aligns the sponsored series with MLB debuts and the idea of being “ready to go”. When someone gets a hit in their debut, this series is triggered. It’s a seamless integration that does not feel forced.

Zoom + Warriors

While stats aren’t necessarily that connected to Zoom, this is a great example of how to leverage design to integrate the sponsor. This content is visually appealing and the sponsor doesn’t feel intrusive, even though they have quite a bit of visibility.

Indochino + Yankees

Indochino is men’s clothing company where everything is a custom-made experience. The suits are literally, “Made to Measure” as their tagline says. The idea of “Made to Measure” is a natural fit for stats and integrates their brand proposition seamlessly into this content series.

Delta + LAFC

When it comes to airline partners, series that showcase the team on the road are a perfect fit. The creative execution from LAFC on this is strong. The Delta branding feels so natural in this creative that it does not feel like an ad or sponsored series at all.

Sleep Number + Vikings

This from the Vikings is an interesting example of finding the synergy that’s a little more subtle. It’s hard to imagine tying in sleep patterns to a team’s content, but the key here is timing. Fans will stay up way past their normal bedtime to watch their team, especially in a big game or rally. The timing behind this — after a big win — makes the content relative and relatable for fans.

Adobe + Chicago Bulls

Interesting team art is a big trend these days, so I love this series #BullsIllustrated series form the Chicago Bulls. It’s a content-first approach aligned with a partner that makes sense. Because the partner integration is so natural and strong, it does not take away from the great, creative work.

Tijuana Flats + Orlando Magic

It would be easy with a Tex Mex restaurant to resort to a sweepstakes or promo code, but the Orlando Magic found a way to take a content-first approach. Playing into the idea that tex mex food is hot, they created a throwback video looking back at “fire” plays. And, the graphics in the video are a great tie to the Tijuana brand.

There’s a lot more to the process of nailing sponsored content, but I hope this high-level overview and examples provide some inspiration. It’s important to remember that the best sponsored content provides value to the fans, the sponsor and the team. That requires a content-first approach and nailing the execution. Take the time to get the process right for coming up with concepts and pushing the creative boundaries. It’s hard work, but worth it.

As we continue to sell social sponsorships and the volume rises, integrating right needs to be a big priority. Invest in sponsored content, but also invest in doing it right.

What good examples of sponsored content have you seen? Share your examples and thoughts!