The sports landscape has evolved tremendously during the past several years, providing opportunities for brands, including non-traditional organizations, to connect with consumers and key audiences. In many ways, sports provide an outlet for fans to escape from everyday routines with a news cycle often full of engaging and exciting topics.
As the sports industry becomes a more powerful platform, an increasing number of players are competing for visibility. Our Coyne PR Sports team is often challenged by clients to create well-designed game plans to help them stand out above the competition just as athletes are competing to do in the world of sports. Here’s a look inside the huddle on some of the ways our team anticipates the next play and develops winning game plans for clients:
Rethinking the Playing Field
Historically, when a client approached us and said, “We’d like sports coverage,” our first instinct was to focus on exactly this: sports media and sports beat writers. However, the definition of the sports “beat” has been redefined and has required brands to reshape their playbook.
Today, sports means so much more and intersects with countless industries including technology, lifestyle, business and entertainment. Examples include the growth of sports betting, NIL opportunities for college athletes, players becoming more focused on their personal brands and passions, plus initiatives off the field and the emergence of digital collectibles and NFTs.
With this in mind, the first thing we do is map out how a client’s story connects to these areas. What story do we want to tell? How will it help the brand? In which different ways can we tell the story? What can we do to transform a singular announcement into a more robust narrative? Like any good coach, it’s important to set goals in terms of where you want to be so both the agency and brand are aligned on what success looks like.
Every brand is interested in talking about themselves. An important piece of our recommended playbook is to extend a brand’s voice into larger topics and trends that may be impacting the sports industry and their specific ecosystem. For example, we work with clients in the gaming/sports betting space and have built dedicated thought leadership programs to feature speaking opportunities, panels, virtual education sessions, podcasts and more.
In this scenario, the traditional playbook needs to be reimagined. While the tendency is to lead with a conversation about what the brand is doing—announcing its recent success, etc.—a thought leadership program focuses on defining how a brand’s experience and insights can help drive the industry forward.
Putting Your Best Team on the Field/Defining Roles
Having the right team in place as subject matter experts for your brand is instrumental for impactful communications. Similar to managing a team, the first step should be understanding their strengths and weaknesses. What are they comfortable speaking about? What are some areas they’d like to address, but don’t feel comfortable tackling just yet? Is there an opportunity to stretch the field in terms of subject matter?
Beginning with these questions will enable your brand to align individuals with specific roles. For example, higher-profile conferences for certain roles, more targeted opportunities for managers, or, in some cases, combining two of your best players to create a dynamic one-two punch.
Regardless of how you assemble your roster and begin pursuing opportunities, proper preparation is critical. We never take a one-size-fits-all approach to media training, but rather determine which spokespersons have experience with media or speaking engagements which might require “touch up” training via phone or video chat or a brief rehearsal as opposed to a full-day, in-person media training session.
By the time they hit the field, each expert should feel confident, but no matter the outcome, each interview or opportunity should include a post-game breakdown to highlight key learnings and continue fueling improvement.
Developing a narrative and using expert voices are effective ways to tell a story. However, informational and data-driven insights can also help to drive the ball forward.
Rather than simply ask for data points, which could be a tall task for the keepers of this information within an organization, develop a “wishlist” of “headline potential” data. This will help to establish a framework and provide parameters to inform the data mining, which could lead to sustained proactive communications.
The next step is determining where the brand’s data might best fit. For example: Can this amplify key messages? Does it connect to a timely news moment or sporting tentpole event? Are there media outlets who can leverage this as an item to inform a story they’re working on? The best answer is all of the above. Adopting a 360 approach will enable you to fully maximize the information.
The sports calendar/news cycle is truly 365 these days. As one season winds down, several others are already underway and the offseason news cycles for most of the major sports have become more robust.
Each major sport has tentpole events which tend to attract the most media attention and often expand the conversation beyond the traditional sports beat media given their wide-reaching impact on general consumers. The Big Game is a prime example that shines a brighter spotlight, which leads to an increasing number of brands vying for a piece of the action.
When aligning on a sporting event that makes sense strategically to activate around, it is important to understand the milestones within that event to best determine how to break through the defense.
Again, taking the Big Game as an example, each year the “window” highlighting ads/campaigns and marketing initiatives has gotten earlier and earlier. We’ve worked with major consumer brands (who are not traditional Big Game advertisers) to insert them into pre-game conversations about how brands are leveraging non-traditional, more digital-focused channels to engage consumers.
Without taking the time to understand which “plays” will work best in each situation, brands run the risk of being left out altogether.
Fan Engagement/Creating Meaningful Connections
With countless advertisements, logos and messages for fans to consume, simply telling them about a new product, program, etc. is simply not enough.
Successful campaigns in sports harness the power of sports itself—the ability to bring fans in and create memorable moments.
What can the brand bring to the table? How can it connect consumers with their favorite athlete or bring them closer to the action or allow them to experience an event like they’ve never been able to experience it before?
Adopting an authentic approach and displaying a brand’s authentic shared passion for the sports that fans love will help to drive true engagement and advocacy… regardless of the competition lining up on the other side of the field.
Jonathan Pocius is VP, Sports, at Coyne PR.