The Work Needs to Ladder Back

The start of every season in any sport is always one of my favorite times. There’s no better time for marketers to get inspiration. From stunning graphics packages to hype videos, teams and leagues go all out with their best of the best.

While all the content and creative is always amazing, sometimes it feels like we’re consuming missing pieces vs a puzzle that works together. Too often the content landscape feels like a bunch of one-off ideas combined. We have hashtags to promote teams. We have a hype video here and an emotional video there. We have graphics that stop us in our feeds. But, very rarely, do these things ladder back to a larger narrative and idea.

Think about it. In one single day, a team releases their hashflag for a season that’s focused on one message or something generic like their team name. An hour later, a hype video is released that channels another narrative. Then an epic graphic is dropped promoting 24 hours until game day with no unique message at all (like it could come from any team).

This might sound harsh, and I don’t mean it to. The work from teams every year is incredible. But I keep wondering, what if we approached our content strategy a little more diligently? What if we stopped using our channels as a dumping ground and truly gave ourselves permission to focus on what matters? What if our content mapped back to defining our brand and its values?

Our fans see so many messages today from every corner of the internet. If you work for a team, your channels aren’t the only entity covering it. From the league to the media to the fans themselves, plenty of people are sharing content around your team and its players. Your job isn’t just to cover the team; it’s to bring the brand to life.

What does your team stand for, beyond the scores? If you don’t have a sharp point on what your brand stands for – and a plan that ladders back to it– you are going to muddle the message. And, that does not leave a lasting impression. We must take the time to define our brand strategy, and then, create a plan that rallies around bringing that position to life.

The work can be so much more impactful if we take the time to understand the bigger picture. We should make a more conscious effort to move away from the one-offs. We need to move to a holistic view of our brand, our content, our channels, our communities. In the end, it’s work with a sharp point – and a reason for being — that will leave a lasting impression.

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Leadership Huddle With Eric SanInocencio, Houston Texas

It’s time for another 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 Eric SanInocencio, the Senior Director of Digital Media and Strategy for the Houston Texans. Eric has been with the Texans for more than five years now. In his role he oversees and manages digital for the entire organize. Prior to the Texans, he spent time at the Southeastern Conference and Gulf South Conference.

Eric is someone whose career has “grown up” in digital. And, it was clear in our conversation that he gets it.  We talked for nearly an hour about everything ranging from getting buy-in across the organization to career growth. One of the biggest things that stood out to me about Eric’s leadership style is his ability to understand other people’s perspective. He doesn’t make assumptions about what people do and do not know. Instead, he takes the time to understand, listen and build bridges, all while advocating for the work of his team. There’s a lot to learn from his approach.

Below is the transcript of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for space and clarity. I hope you enjoy.

You’ve been at the Houston Texans for five years now. Can you talk about the overall focus and vision for digital?

We really focus on two things when it comes to digital. First, what can we do to over-index? We are a very young franchise (just over 15 fifteen years old) so name recognition and expanding our brand is still very important to us. That’s one of the main things for us; what is the sheer volume of how many people can we reach on all these different platforms?

I think we do a great job in Houston of owning this market. But for us, it’s about figuring out how we can expand our reach so people know about our organization, our players and what we’re about outside of that.

Secondarily, we’re focused on how we can leverage content to tell our story in the smartest and most efficient way possible. We are all in this space creating content and trying to connect with fans. But for us, we are trying to do that differently than everyone else. How can we find our niche?

I love your point about the franchise still being young. And, I think there is a real opportunity within that. How have you all gone about defining your voice and content pillars you want to hit to reach and attract new fans?

For us, we go in assuming that people don’t know a ton about our organization outside of its biggest stars. People may know about JJ Watt, but they may not know about the rest of the organization and other key players. If they don’t know about our organization and our other players, social might be the only touchpoint people have with us.

We ask the question, what can our content do to connect with people so they want to engage with us again? That’s our foundation. If social is the first interaction they have with us (outside of seeing JJ Watt in a commercial), what can we do to bring them into our brand? How can our content play a key role in inciting some kind of emotion that makes them want to come back?

That’s awesome. The top-level funnel piece (awareness) is a fun challenge to have. It lends itself to pushing your thinking a little more.

Without a doubt. And from a measurement standpoint, we all determine our own success. I try to caution people with ranking other teams and how they are doing because all of our imperatives are so different. It’s never really a level playing field. For example, access can be different or tone of voice from the organization can be different.

You have to hone in on what matters to the organization. We measure ourselves against what we feel is important to the org — and that’s not necessarily against other teams. What we are trying to shoot for is different than, let’s say the Cowboys, because we are a young franchise. That’s something we always wrestle with as we continue to tell our story.

It’s always interesting to hear how digital plays a role in so many facets of the business. Aside from the general awareness piece, can you talk about how your department works across the organization?

We are in a truly unique role in that we interact with every piece of the organization. That’s good for us because it allows us to have a ground-level view of what everyone is trying to accomplish. The goal for our team is to offer our expertise so that social and digital don’t become an afterthought in the planning process. 

The challenge we continue to work through is to make sure everyone understands it’s not a one-size-fits-all answer for every social or digital campaign. Sometimes we have to try and change the thinking a little bit. So “hey, that’s a great idea, but maybe we do it this way”. It’s about interjecting expertise when we can. For teammates, the big project they are working on is the most important thing they are doing at the moment. But for you (in digital), you might be helping with 20 other projects. You have to learn to prioritize and communicate what else is happening and if a message might get lost. That’s not always an easy conversation to have.

No, it’s not. And that’s something I’ve learned as I’ve matured in my career is that it’s not about saying “no” but saying “yes, and” or “yes, but”. If you say no all the time people will stop coming to you. It’s a fine balancing.

Elaborating on that a little more. How did you start getting buy-in with these other departments to give you a seat at the table? And then, as someone who leads a team, how do you help the team prioritize with all the different touchpoints you all are working through?

That’s probably the foundation of my job at this point. I think we got to the table by continuing to communicate the value of what we do and how important the value of what we do in this space.

For those of us who live and work in this industry, one of the issues we face is we don’t always communicate the work properly to others. We can’t assume that just because we are involved in digital/social 24-7 that others understand the nuances of what we are having to deal with. What we can really work on is to speak a more plain language in a way that other departments can understand. You have to focus on getting the point across.

If you continue to show that you’re willing to work and be a team player that’s helpful. But also, if you have some successes under your belt from working with teams, they’ll come back to you and your ability to influence the conversation only gets bigger. That’s really what we’re trying to work on from a communication standpoint.

It’s easy to get frustrated in the digital space because people don’t understand, but sometimes you have to take that extra step and make a correlation to something people are used to in their day-to-day. It helps make it click. Again, it all goes back to how we communicate.

Absolutely. And even for someone who is on social, using it personally is very different than using it from a business standpoint.

Shifting gears a bit. We desperately need true digital leadership leading teams. And what I mean by that, is people who have grown up in the space (like you) that understand how to structure the team and what growth looks like. 

So for us in the industry who are looking to move up and eventually get a seat at the executive table (eventually), what advice do you have?

You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I read a great quote about digital once: It’s like building a plane while flying it. So I think for a lot of people, and myself included, we’re used to having a task list, completing it and feeling that I’ve accomplished something today. That’s tough with digital because it’s a 24-7 beast. There isn’t going to be an opportunity for us to be on top of everything. There’s a lack of control when it comes to digital, so we have to be comfortable with that.

Also, I think part of it is the culture in general. Sports is pretty slow moving when you compare it to other areas of business. I think that’s because it has never had to be a ton innovative. I mean, we’re really lucky with the Texans. We have sold out every game in the history of our franchise and have a wait list of over 20,000 people. If I don’t post a single thing on digital, our gameday experience has been enough to keep people engaged with us. I think that’s where the hesitancy has been, right? Sports, for the most part, are successful companies by just putting out a product. Executives probably ask if we really need to disrupt at the speed in which you and I would maybe like to.

You mentioned the speed at which teams move, and I find it really interesting. Sometimes the thought process is if it’s not broken, why fix it? The one thing I always go back to, is it short-sighted of us to not be thinking about the future? The way that younger generations are consuming entertainment is going to change, especially with all the choices they have. We need to be prepared for that.

Talking about the future of digital, what excites you about digital and the role you see it playing?

It’s very interesting because part of our job is to have one foot in the future, but also have one foot in the present. I may not know specifically what is next, but I think whatever is going to be popular in digital is what is going to make us lazier.

Think about how far we’ve come. We don’t even have to go the grocery store or Blockbuster anymore. The ability for this generation to have everything on demand is crazy. And that behavior, attitude is not going away. I have two kids (7 and 5) and they literally get upset when they have to watch commercials. This is the learned behavior that we have.

When you look at how digital is going to be part of that and sport piggybacks off of that, a good rule of thumb is to always look at what makes us lazier. The more that technology can take care of consumers seems to be what it is all about. Mobile seat ordering is a small but good example of this in sport.

I love this and have never thought of it like that (the lazy angle). You’re spot on. People like and expect things in an instant today.

Going back to your point earlier in our conversation about focus. You’ve grown up in digital so you understand the evolution. Can you talk about what you’ve learned in managing teams and in hiring people?

What I have learned is how important it is to give the full 360 view of what’s going on in the department to everyone involved. I have to over communicate so our team understands the decision and the reason for it.

It’s important to talk through how the decision ladders back to the bigger picture. Sometimes that can be really hard because you are challenged in the moment and these decisions need to be made as quickly as possible, but I want the team to feel part of the conversation.

Even when I disagree with something, I try to sit down and explain why to the team. When I first started in this industry, people had a knee jerk reaction and would just say “take it down”. There was no discussion. But I try really hard to put myself in their shoes because I know what it feels like.

I can always do better and get to know them as people and what’s going on in their lives. I want them to know I value them and what they do as a person that’s part of our team. And that’s another thing that really annoys me is people that say “my staff”. You don’t own anybody. It’s not my staff; it’s our staff. It minimizes somebody’s career into a piece of ownership over somebody. That’s never how I want to communicate. This is our staff. If we are going to build togetherness, I try to be in trenches as much as I can. Do you need my help? Can I jump in here?

I also think that mentality translates well to running a team account. It’s not about one person. It’s about the brand and the team that you work. And when you have that mentality that it’s our team and not one individual it builds a more cohesive environment and becomes about the brand and not one single person. That is sometimes hard to do.

Without a doubt. And I may disagree with 99% of the ideas that the team brings to me, but I want them to keep bringing them to me because the 1% may be something that’s a game changer.

As we get older, it’s hard for us to stay connected to what younger people are into it. We have to give them the freedom to try different things. I’m almost completely removed from the posting now. The process is important so we have a social voice template that we work off of so the team has an idea and understanding of what we’re trying to go for, but then they have the keys to go. If there is something that needs to involve me I’ll jump in and help. I think that’s important to give them the trust.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. As digital gets more visibility within organizations and as it becomes a more collective effort, how do we balance you autonomy with mapping back to the bigger picture?

On top of that, you also want to try to carve out some kind of life for yourself. If we are going to add a piece of work, I’m going to try and take something off. Nike has a great way of brainstorming in that they don’t start with the ideas themselves they start with the challenges. That is super smart because you spend all this time and create all this work, but in the end, if you are so bogged down with the amount you have to create, your productivity and creativity are going to go down. And then, you are going to just start doing things to get it done.

Switching to personal growth. And then, on a more personal level, what advice do you have for someone looking to move up?

You have to be comfortable putting the processes in place. It’s hard. I was a one-man band at the SEC and everything posted was by me. I got to the Texans and I was essentially a one-man team for a year and a half and now we have started to build this department up. And it’s really hard because there is a sense of pride when you send the tweet, but you have to take a step back from the tactical piece to grow as an individual.

You had a great tweet about what are people’s goals. And so many people in social/digital wanted to “do this” or “create this content series”. My answer was that I don’t want to be the person that pushes the button anymore. I want to be the person that oversees the entire setup. 

Your mindset changes when you get removed from the community management/execution piece. As you hand off the reigns, what you’re actually responsible for and how you view things is different. Being a little removed from the day-to-day has allowed me to see the bigger picture and how digital fits within that. And sometimes, that doesn’t equate to the perfect tweet. That’s a big piece to moving up.

YES. And again, I think that’s why it’s so important to have that leader who has been there and understand what growth looks like. Marketing is moving towards a trend where the CMO should have a digital-first mindset.

I always think about growth too. If there’s a community manager that’s been part of the team for two to three years and I don’t have a role that’s going to offer them upward mobility, I’m going to sit down and have a hard conversation that it’s time to move on. That’s out of respect for their career. The tactical piece is fun, but you eventually have to take on other things. It’s a really big challenge I’ve seen. There’s a lot of disgruntled voices about pay, growth, etc. but an organization is not going to keep you in the same role and just keep raising your salary. At some point, you have to take your career into your own hands.

I think too, we crave so much that admiration from our peers. If we aren’t featured in something or that top 100 list it’s such a personal thing to a lot of people that work in the business. That’s why we have to understand it’s bigger than that. It’s tough.

You are responsible as an individual for how your career grows. How do you prioritize promoting yourself or networking? It is going to become more valuable than ever, especially in the digital space. If people are going to give digital a seat at the table, they are going to need to feel comfortable with who that person is and that’s not happening on a resume. That’s happening with a conversation they have had with you or with a recommendation they got from someone they trust. It’s on us to continue to meet people and explain what we do.

Finally, for people who are looking to break into the industry, what advice do you have?

Make yourself more than a piece of paper. Take the extra step to make yourself known. Making yourself a person with goals and aspirations is important.

And secondly, you can get experience now. If you want to work in sports and you are in college, walk over to the SID office and ask if they need help. You could get the opportunity to run a team account. That’s tremendous because then you can show people that you’ve done the work. College is a great opportunity to learn.

A big thank you to Eric SanInocencio for you his time and perspective. Connect with him: LinkedIn and Twitter. And, be sure to follow the Houston Texans across digital for some great inspiration.

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

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3 Lessons From Nike’s Serena Williams Ads

Nike is back in its finest form with its latest ads for Serena Williams. They’re playing the ad game that helped us fall in love with their brand. The one that’s focused on the power of authenticity, values and strong emotion. Take a look at their recent work:

Good ads, like the ones above, are an art. They don’t sell; they move people to stop, pay attention, share and (hopefully) convert. Good ads entertain and connect on more emotional. And, there’s no doubt these pieces from Nike do just that. 

While we might not all have the same budgets, staff size and agency support that Nike has, we can certainly take a page from how they approach their work. Below are three lessons learned from their recent work in support of Serena:

We don’t have to overproduce.

In today’s creative landscape, it’s easy to overproduce, overthink and overcomplicate. But there’s a beautiful trend that proves itself over and over again: Simple wins.

A great example of this is Nike’s superhero post. It would have been easy to muddle that message; to try to be grandiose in the creative production (after all, it’s an important moment). But Nike understood the time and the place – and they understood that the message itself was more powerful than any grandiose spot. So, they kept it simple with a strong image and copy. And, they nailed it.

It’s important to think about how creative production impacts the message.  Too often we complicate this already cluttered world with more words to read, more minutes to watch and more pieces to consume. We overcomplicate instead of oversimplify, and in the end, lose our consumer.

As you determine the right creative execution for every concept, keep in mind the time, the place, the context and the message you have to deliver. Sometimes, as Nike proves, simple is best.

Emotions matter.

The idea of emotion in marketing has always been a personal point of interest for me. Years ago I interviewed at Nike (before my time at UA), and when I stepped onto campus I got a little teary-eyed. Not because I was a sneakerhead, but because as a marketer this was the brand that had paved the way in making an emotional connection with consumers. Nike bought into the idea of entertaining and storytelling above selling. And, I felt a personal connection.

A quote in a FastCo article said it best:

Popular brands had multifaceted personalities. They could make you laugh, or cheer, or lean forward and take notes. They’d stopped hammering away at a share of mind, and were expanding to achieve a share of emotion.

Enough with the personal and embarrassing anecdotes though. My point is that as marketers — and especially as marketers in sport — emotion is the most powerful tool we have. Period. 

We’re in the business of understanding people. Our job is to evoke something in people. Make them laugh, cry, cheer or even question. Emotion makes content relatable for the consumer and connects fans at a deeper level.  It’s the most valuable tool we have. Leverage it.

Sport is full of powerful stories. And these stories have the ability to transcend generations, cultures and backgrounds. Whether you work for a team, league or brand like Nike, it should be a priority to unearth these powerful moments for fans. This is how we connect with our fans beyond the scores, win or lose. And, that connection matters.

Brands need a human touch.

Consumers today aren’t buying based on products alone. They are buying based on a brand they believe in and want to identify with. And because of this, more than ever, brands need a human touch.

Brands need to define their values and actually live by them. This means having a pulse on the world and understanding the context for how messages might be perceived. This means evolving, adapting, rising to the challenges and leveraging platforms for good.

Nike’s recent ads around Serena lean into a level of empathy.  By supporting Serena — not only as the greatest athlete of all time but also as a mother, as a woman and as an individual – Nike demonstrates their values well beyond the court. Nike doesn’t sell us on their products. They sell us on a belief in the human potential. And yes, it’s powerful.

Consumers today have choices. They aren’t sold on product alone. What separates brands now are values, connection and a belief in the mission. Like Nike, we have to give people a reason to buy into the brand. 

Note: It’s important to keep in mind that brands can’t take a stand if it’s not core to who they are. Consumers will see through it and it will only do more harm. Before jumping in a conversation, taking a stance or putting out a message, make sure it’s truly core to the brand. If a brand is going to talk to the talk, it must truly walk the walk.

I’m inspired and encouraged to see Nike getting back to the basics of what has made it such a powerful brand: Telling a story and telling it well. In a world where words like brands and advertising have such a negative connotation today, it’s a great reminder that strong brands have always had values and connected more deeply with people. Good advertising isn’t dead, we just need to get back to the basics of a strong brand foundation. 

Nike’s recent work is a great reminder that brands must be emotional over transactional. The intention and delivery of the message matters. But even more today, it’s not just about the message but also the action. Authenticity and emotion are everything. 

While there are many other takeaways from Nike for us all, these three things stuck out to me. Here’s to being inspired by one of the world’s best brands in marketing, and not just doing it, but doing it well.

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Highlights From The Knicks This Offseason

The offseason presents an interesting opportunity for teams to try new things. It’s a time where the scores don’t impact the approach. Teams can let personalities shine, show a different side to the organization and push the boundaries a little more. And, there’s something freeing about that.

The Knicks are one of the NBA teams whose offseason coverage has been strong. They haven’t been afraid to mix it up. From a fresh new graphics package to tapping into the NYC lifestyle, they’ve made the most of the offseason. Below are a few highlights that have stood out:

Lifestyle content.

Sports teams are lucky. They have a product that consumers want to identify with. It’s not just transactional. It’s emotional. And, as such, teams should tap into the opportunity.

This offseason, the Knicks created a “Knicks Summer” content series that shows how their brand is part of the fabric of their fans’ lives. In the series, they showcase fans doing NYC summer things and in Knicks gear of course. The creative feels like a lifestyle shoot that you would see from the likes of a Nike, Under Armour or adidas. Check out a few examples below:

All the feels. #KnicksSummer

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Summer Fridays. #KnicksSummer

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Summertime vibes. #KnicksSummer

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The content is relatable for their fans and effortlessly cool. If someone was scrolling through their feed it would be easy to think the content was coming from an IG style influencer. More teams should start thinking about all the ways their brand seeps into fans beyond the game. Content like this not only deepens the relationship with fans — but it also, for example, can help sell merchandise.

A look BTS.

From offseason training to watching the World Cup, the Knicks have done a good job of giving their fans a glimpse of what their players are up to this offseason. The content is simple but engaging, proving that behind-the-scenes content does not need to be a labor-intensive piece.


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6am call time ⏳

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🇫🇷🇫🇷🇫🇷 MOOD 🇫🇷🇫🇷🇫🇷 #WorldCup 🏆

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Rise Up.

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Behind-the-scenes content keeps the upcoming season top of mind for fans, while also, showing another side of the players and team. We could use a lot more of this type of content from teams. It adds a human element, is uniquely ownable for teams and helps develop a closer connection between fans and players.

Fresh Graphics Package.

The Knicks have experimented with a graphics package this offseason that is unbelievably fresh. It’s vibrant, at times gritty, and is able to manifest in many different ways. Below are some of their swipes for inspiration:

A strong visual identity should be a major focus for teams today. It helps set your content apart from the rest. And, this from the Knicks is a great example of how it’s done.

NYC Roots

Finally, the Knicks have done a good job tapping into the city they call home beyond the “Knicks Summer” series. First, they had an interesting series around the NBA Draft that compared player stats to NYC-centric stats. The result was an interesting and unique spin to typical stats that made them more relevant for their audience:

Secondly, their schedule release also had local flavor by tapping into local basketball courts and fans for their creative. 

If teams want to find a way to make their content more relatable, tapping into local flavor and insights is always good start. Not only does it help to build a stronger connection with your community, but it’s also an angle that teams can truly own.

If the Knicks’ social is not on your radar, it’s time to put them there. From their strong visual identity to their lifestyle angle, they’ve raised the bar this offseason. Follow them here: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. 

What other NBA teams have been doing good work this offseason? I would love to hear your thoughts below!

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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

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