Leadership Huddle With Harry Arnett, Callaway Golf

It’s time for the fourth installment of Leadership Huddle, a series on the blog where leaders in sport and beyond offer perspective on digital today. Some of the guests work directly in digital while others are leaders outside of the space (but get the work and advocate for it).

This installment of the Leadership Huddle features Harry Arnett, the CMO at Callaway Golf. Arnett has been at Callaway for more than six years. In his role his serves as the SVP of Marketing for Callaway Golf and the President of Ogio. Before arriving at Callaway, Arnett worked at TaylorMade – adidas Golf and Russell Athletic.

Arnett is a true advocate for the digital space. He has built a culture where digital and content is priority, ideas flow freely and brand fandom is encouraged. If you follow Callaway Golf on social, that probably comes as no surprise. They’re innovative, engaging and one of the best follows in sports. Below is the Q&A. I hope you enjoy the perspective and insights.

It’s evident that Callaway has invested heavily in digital, content & innovation as core to its business. What was the catalyst for going “all in”?

Ultimately, we want to be wherever the consumer is and obviously with so much technology being available for connectivity, we felt that being dedicated to feeding peoples’ needs to curate their brand experiences was the right way to go. That meant behaving more like a media entity with daily engagement and round the clock content than it did functioning like a traditional OEM or consumer products brand.

I’ve seen social be attributed as part of the formula for success of Callaway’s Growth. Clearly, you all have a mature approach to digital. What are the keys to building a strong strategy that maps back to business?

The key is to not treat social in a silo or separate from the brand, but instead, as an integral and vital part of consumer engagement. We put social engagement as a starting point for all of our brand activities, even leading with it.

We view availability and accessibility to our brand as a way to directly interact with our fans rather than relying solely on traditional media. We let what was happening in real time via social media inform the rest of our brand and marketing activities. It gave us a freshness and currency that has created a noticeable and needed energy for our brand.

A lot of organizations struggle with the fact that organic social/content does not always have a direct tie to revenue. What role do you think organic social and content play in the business? And, how can teams think more strategically about its value?

We want to be top of mind for consumers at all times, not just when they are further down the purchase funnel. So constantly engaging via social media is a major part of that strategy so that people look at us more than just a transactional or only think of us occasionally.

In our context, that means getting golfers specifically to be thinking of Callaway as a valuable partner in their entire golf experience, Monday through Sunday, not just on the weekends when they are playing or on an even more infrequent basis. From that standpoint, strategically, thinking broadly about how your brand might fit into a larger frame of reference for a current user or a potential user can carve out interesting opportunities that maybe don’t have as much competition. In our case, that was definitely a white space in our competitive landscape.

You seem to be an extremely engaged CMO, even actively participating in live shows, podcasts, etc. Why is it important for you to be so engaged at this level?

We think it’s important for consumers to appreciate that these are real people working on our brands, making our products, teaching them the game, and working around the clock to deliver a unique experience for them. I love that interaction with people who like our brand and our company. It’s really important for me personally to know that my job is truly to be of service to them.

Many social and digital teams report into leadership who is not as engaged (and have never done the work). For teams whose leadership is not as engaged, what advice do you have on educating and getting buy-in?

Find a way to let the leadership be a part of it. That can be as simple as reviewing all the activities within the function on a regular basis or even allowing them to be integrated with the content. Understand that a lot of what happens in social media is an abstraction to people who traditionally work in very concrete terms. So,  making abstractions concrete is really important.

An example of that would be to not necessarily talk about brand impressions, but more about the audience you’re reaching and the engagement that audience has with your ad messaging. In this sense, ad messaging is your social media executions.

What have you learned about setting digital/content teams up for success?

First thing, be fanatical about the type of environment you want to create. Ultimately, for social to be effective, you have to have an organization that welcomes the freewheeling and ever-changing dynamics within the social sphere. And not only to embrace it but to actually thrive creatively within it.

You have to let people have the freedom to experiment with the brand executions. And of course, to do that, everyone who touches the platforms and the end consumer has to know and love the brand more than anyone.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for digital in organizations today? And, how can teams work to offset these challenges?

It’s dealing with the relationships the brand has with consumers in an environment where the rate of change in digital is entirely too fast to try to predict. And, it all unfolds transparently because of the interconnectivity of all the stakeholders.

Finally, what excites you most about the future of digital and business?

It’s a playing field where creativity is rewarded much more than getting it perfect. So personally, it’s awesome to wake up every day and be around the most creative people doing work they love. That’s a nice place for a brand to be.

A big thank you to Harry Arnett for his time and perspective. Connect with him: LinkedIn and Twitter. And, be sure to follow the Callaway Golf across digital for some great inspiration.

If you enjoyed this conversation, be sure to read the others from this series: Eric SanInocencio, Graham Neff and Brendan Hannan.

Leadership Huddle With Brendan Hannan, LA Galaxy

Welcome to the second installment of Leadership Huddle, a new series on the blog where leaders in sport and beyond offer perspective on digital today. Some of the guests work directly in digital while others will be leaders outside of the space (but get the work and advocate for it).

This post features a conversation with Brendan Hannan, the VP of Marketing, Communications and Digital at the LA Galaxy and StubHub Center. Brendan has been with the club for more than five years, overseeing all facets of marketing for both the team and the StubHub Center. Prior to the LA Galaxy, he worked for the Chicago Fire.

During my conversation with Brendan, there were several things that stood out. First, their team is structured in a way that allows them to approach their work holistically. Every consumer touchpoint sits under one roof, so each channel works together to tackle what they’re trying to achieve. And second, their work is centered on doing what’s best for the brand, their team and the business. Their team has done the work needed to lay a strategic foundation on who they are as a brand and what they’re trying to achieve. And, because everyone understands the vision, it empowers their team to run with ideas as long as it maps back to the larger needs. It’s a perfect balance, allowing focus but also giving room to push and innovate.

It was evident in my conversation with Brendan that he’s a fantastic leader who understands the big picture. Below is the transcript of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for space and clarity. I hope you enjoy.

To start, can you give insight into your role and the team at the LA Galaxy?

What we have is sort of unique across sports in that we have everything sitting under one roof. So, marketing, communication, digital, game presentation, broadcast, video, operations, events and our supporter relations sits with me in a big team of around 28 people.

What it has allowed us to do is eliminate the silos you see at some other organizations. We try to make our collective decisions based on a couple key things. Is it good for our fans? Is it good for our players? And is it good for the city of Los Angeles?

Once we can answer those questions, everyone has the autonomy within the structure and the group to proceed. Obviously, we have checks and balances and we work as a group, but there is a lot of strong collaboration that goes across the board. We are able to make sure everything we do is aligned with one over-arching vision.

In essence, we act as a mini-agency for the club and the facility. So any story that needs to be amplified comes through us whether that is driving revenue through ticket sales, creating content for global partners, creating programming and content for the foundation – we work cross-functionally across the board to make it happen.

I love this. And, I think it’s a challenge I’ve had in roles throughout my career: How are we holistically telling our story across consumer touchpoints?

There’s always a challenge for that. I think we’re all sort of beholden to the revenue and the all mighty idea of ROI. I probably consider myself a creative and have focused on storytelling and brand building, but I learned early on that you have to translate that storytelling to be able to sell what you are doing and show that ROI.

It’s taking the numbers that you get and making sure you are telling those stories as well. Often times, those stories are just as important. I mean, we all want more money or more headcount (more money to do these creative things), but a lot of times you want to make sure you’re not always beholden to ROI but that you are ahead of the game.

That’s one thing that I’ve learned.  At the end of the day, we have to look at everything holistically and how it maps back to the bigger picture. With that said, can you talk about the role digital and creative plays within the organization with the larger business needs?

Yeah, for sure. People are our biggest resource. With the team we have here at the LA Galaxy, everyone understands that showing revenue is important. You have to think about the brand, but we also have a direction where we can show the results. We try to utilize the creative and storytelling as a vehicle for us to drive that revenue. And then, we make sure we are merchandising those things across our organization. I think we are able to do that. 

We think that creative content, well designed social and good digital strategy will always lead to more revenue – we just make sure the storytelling we are investing in applies to our brand as we’re trying to show that ROI.

For people that are looking to advocate more for their work, especially as it relates to decision makers within their organization, what the biggest piece of advice you have?

The budget challenges or the silos that can exist within organizations can frustrate a lot of people. But, I would push everyone to keep on pushing. There is always a way to find an opportunity to get something done. I think being creative does not always just apply to the stories that you are telling; it also applies to the method that you are ensuing and building the brand with the budget that you have.

Communication is key when trying to eliminate a silo or getting something done. You have to vocalize what’s important to the brand and why it’s relevant to the business as a whole. Whether you start small or whether you have a seat at the table with the president or chairman, articulating why it’s important is crucial to getting anything accomplished.

How has the role evolved over the years?

It’s evolved slightly. When I first got here, I was doing the communications, digital and broadcast. After about two years, I took over the marketing pieces of it and we have been able to continue to grow and finesse that. It’s trying to have a level head and putting together strategic plans.

Planning is key for us. Being able to come up with a creative idea is one thing, but being able to put all the planning together is another. Making sure that everything is detailed and aligned across the entire business is really important to us.

That’s (the planning) something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, especially as it relates to burnout and the frenzy within. There’s this internal pressure to be everywhere and everything to everyone. And, I feel like having a strong leadership voice because you can’t do it all. Can you talk about how you have set the team?

Things start at the top. Our leadership trusts us and believes in what we’re doing. We try to present very detailed plans and ways in which we want to do it. At the end of the day, they trust us to get the job done. And when you have that level of trust at the top you can emulate that across the organization.

We try to understand the stresses that can go on, so we make sure that we have a collective group that can contribute. Everyone knows the tone and voice and everyone understands the way in which we want to be represented, so it does not need to be one sole person handling that social and digital. The tone and voice are pervasive across everything we are trying to do.

We understand that work-life balance is important. People need to take breaks and go on vacation, so having a group that can fill in is in crucial.

Can you dive into how many people you have working on digital/social and what your creative arm looks like?

When you say everyone can pick up and do everything, that’s pretty literal. We have three people dedicated to digital/social every day. Chris Thomas, Vanessa Alexander and I come up with the direction and overarching strategy across all of our business units. On the digital side Andrew Schwepfinger, Chris Hybl and Adam Serrano serve as the digital hub while Christian Delarosa handles the email. Content is a little different. We have a video team of 2.5 and a creative team of 2.5 people led by Brad Saiki. That team puts together a lot of the day-to-day, but I would not say that anyone is working on “just digital”. 

For example, right now our creative director (Brad Saiki) is working on a mural for our garden, ticket sales templates and creative visual communication for social. Everyone is multi-faceted. In MLS it’s crucial because of how nimble you have to be with our business and our budget.

I also think it’s interesting from a growth perspective to have to have that type of structure. It’s important for people, especially early in their career, to be exposed to a holistic view of marketing. Your structure allows them to understand all pieces of the business (from a marketing perspective).  

Yeah, I think everyone needs to have an understanding of all the different things. From my perspective, it’s always a challenge to put labels on something. I think communications is marketing. I think digital is marketing. I think digital is a communications tool. At the end of the day, throw out the label. Everyone is going to have a certain level of expertise, but the broad understanding of how to grow brand relevance is something that everyone within the organization has to have.

I love that. I always say that digital is marketing and marketing is digital. We almost need to rid with titles. We get too caught up in the tactics and not enough in the big picture. 

You know, we talked about planning. For me, that is so important. The day-to-day stuff can become a grind, but it is certainly essential to the business. As you become more experienced in your role you have to force yourself to think conceptually. And you have to think about the future — what does one year look like, three years, 10 years? That type of conceptual thinking is challenging, but I think the more that you can start that type of thinking with your younger staff and instill in them the conceptual idealism it helps them grow and helps them see the bigger picture. 

You nailed it when you said it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, especially in sports. What advice do you have for teams trying to shift the thinking and engraining strategic thinking into their roles?

You have to have a little bit of a sense of humor. We work in a business where you can control some of the results, but we can’t control what happens with the game of play. We can prepare when the key moment hits, but you can’t control a lot of the other stuff. You have to understand that fans are passionate and they love their team. If you are working in the day-to-day social, you have to understand that not every day is going to be easy. 

With the right planning and the right team around you, you can get through the challenging part with the understanding that we are all working in sport. We are trying to bring joy and excitement to people’s lives. So when times are tough and people are all up in your mentions, being able to respond playfully if the moment requires it or take it on the chin and figure out what the best message is next is usually the best advice. 

What do you see as the biggest challenge and how teams offset that challenge?

I think the biggest challenge is always budget – but again, if you have the idea and the proper planning, I think most organizations will provide you the budget that you need. And if it’s not the exact budget you were hoping for, that’s when you have to get creative to make sure you’re able to make something happen with the budget you have negotiated for. That challenge exists everywhere. No one is naive that the goal is to grow revenue and try to reduce the expenses. As a marketer, digital person, or anyone that works within a business, you have to recognize that and recognize the best way to tell the story.

Last question. What excites you most about the future of digital?

I’m always excited about what’s next. I think the most exciting thing is that people are always trying to innovate in the space and that pushes others to innovate. Being able to be challenged by others and try to be competitive and be the best in your field is always exciting to me. Production value and the time and energy that is put into social now is constantly asking others to be challenged and see where they can improve.

Also, there’s an opportunity to invent and reinvent. This year, Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced his signing with the LA Galaxy with a full-page newspaper ad in the LA Times. It’s such an old form of media compared to the digital space, but it got picked up, people shared it on social and people talked about it. Trying to reinvent and play with all the mediums is exciting.

A big thank you to Brendan Hannan for you his time and perspective. Connect with him: LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram.  And, be sure to follow the LA Galaxy across digital for some great inspiration. 

And, if you enjoyed his conversation, be sure to read the conversation with Graham Neff