Leaders Summit Day 1 Recap: Twitter & Sports, NHL Biz, Buzzfeed Content Insights, & More

In March 2017, Leaders Performance Institute held their annual Leaders Summit in New York, bringing together leaders from the sports business world.

This is a collection of the best quotes, stats, insights, and observations shared via #Leaders17 on Day 1 of the event. Thanks to everyone whose tweets helped fuel this recap!

See the Day 2 Recap.

Adapting and Experimenting the New Norm for Social Media and Sports

The two most frightening words in the English language — status quo.

In an age when content and news is absorbed and delivered instantaneously, when industries are disrupted seemingly overnight, and when consumer behaviors evolve just when we were catching up, flexibility is essential. The team at West Virginia University Athletic has embraced and executed upon a mindset of being in control of their own digital destiny, and eagerly exploring encouraging avenues.

One of the first steps in this direction was deviating from just about everyone else in the country by making their website an internal project, eschewing the SIDEARMs and CBS Interactives of the world, in favor of more control and more self-serve customization and ability to adapt and change on the fly.

“(Having our own website) is really the flexibility of doing what we want when we want to do it…,” said Grant Dovey, Digital Media Manager for WVU Athletics. “The website I look at is CNN.com. If you look at CNN, sometimes it won’t look the same… Right now (on our website)…if we win something, maybe I change it and make the whole top of the page one column (for example, instead of thirds)…”

It may seem subtle, but jumping onto the back-end of the website and revising the overall template and presentation to account for the news of the day or the newest feature or social feature of the moment offers impressive flexibility. It’s more than website administration, though, it’s an attitude of looking for ways to optimize and to get better on a daily basis.

Social media and sports pros are often in an advantageous position in which representatives from the social media networks are eager to work with them to get their massive audiences active on their platforms, as well as sampling and maximizing their newest features.To be sure, many are too busy or succumb to a suspicion of more work or resources needed to try something new, possibly at the expense of something tried and true. But the only way to discover something great is to find a way to try it., before the season’s hours turn into days and months, and you blink and it’s the last week of the season.

“I am all about trying new things,” said Dovey of working with social media networks to help WVU Athletics get the most out of them and work with newer features. “…If (social media platforms) have something new they want to throw our way, I’m all about it…Just continuing to try anything new is what we’re down for.”

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Yes, there is shiny new toy syndrome. But there is also the opposite (insert witty name here). The best are always keeping their eyes and ears open, though, looking at everything they’re doing, digitally and socially, through the lens of their fans. It’s not about keeping up or staying ahead, being the first, or just being different for the sake of being different. We must not be afraid to deviate from the safe and comfortable, and seek to create a better experience or better content or fans. Master your craft, but don’t get so good at your routine that you’re not ready to adapt to what happens tomorrow. Tell your stories, but be prepared to present them in newer and better ways. And don’t get seduced by the safety and satisfaction of status quo.

15 Sports Biz Things from the 2016 LEADERS Summit

The annual LEADERS Business Summit brings together top global names from sports business and never fails to deliver tremendous insights into the industry. There are remarks on marketing, sponsorship, emerging technology, growing sports, leadership, and more. While I did not attend the London-based event (which included a stop at Stamford Bridge), following along thanks to Twitter revealed some fantastic lessons and themes from the sports biz leaders of today. Here are 15 of them [it’s a quick read, don’t worry!]:

1. Bleacher Report wants to “own sports moments

Sports is the last bastion of consistent live moments, in many ways, and everyone wants a slice. Social media is peppered with graphics, GIFs, videos, and, uhh, “wit” to try and win the Internet, so to speak, during sports moments. Bleacher Report aims, like many, to be unique, and their CEO Rory Brown particularly pointed out how infusing content with animation has been popular. (Clearly, many others are adopting this, too).
Some great stats were shared, too, including that B/R reaches over 200 million people per month, 90% of whom are mobile users.  Even with such lofty numbers, however, monetization remains a challenge. Attention is a strong currency, but a clear pathway to converting that into big dollars is  still evolving.

2. 200 million fans in China watched the NBA Finals in 2016

Perhaps the theme of major pro sports eyeing China for the next infusion of fans and revenue is nothing new,  but it i more a reality now than ever before. This astounding stat illustrates the huge potential there, in addition to the plans and current activities of European football clubs that were discussed at the Summit. There will be more and more media, marketing, content [including AR And VR], and travel to China among all major pro sports.
Globalization is upon us for real this time and teams and leagues are focused on a genuine presence and path in the country. The intentions to engage corporate partners at the local level abroad was made clear and represents a promising way to wade into all markets in the country. Karen Brady, the Vice Chairman of West Ham United F.C., emphasized the need for teams to better understand the audience sponsors are trying to reach. More knowledge on both sides will help all parties involved. A lesson that can apply to any team or league with fans and corporate partners that transcend its domestic, let alone local, fan base.

3. Esports is growing and it’s making money, too

Peter Moore, Chief Competition Officer for EA Sports, offered some impressive data around esports, particularly those of the EA brand (often not as closely associated with “traditional” esports, like DOTA and CS:GO). There are over 148 million esports fans globally, a compelling stat itself. In 2016, 32 million individuals played FIFA 16, the 2nd most popular game in the US. And, upon reporting the FIFA Ultimate Team earned $654 million in revenue, Moore stated “We see it as the future of competitive gaming.” Esports have been around the world a while, but are new in the sports business world.
It’s hard to say what the future of esports looks like, from a business perspective, but there is little doubt it’s here and more is coming as everyone gets their piece of the pie.

4. 37% of people watching esports do not watch traditional sports.

It is surely statistics like this that widen the eyes of those in sports business. It represents the opportunity to reach and capture a new, significant consumer base. This also suggests that there exists the opportunity to convert current sports fans into consumers of esports, too. Esports is having its moment, no doubt.

5. 15% of fans at Superbowl 50 in San Francisco used Uber to get home

It’s hard to get 15% of any group of over 70,000 fans to do anything, but that was indeed the case for the world’s most popular consumer-driven, mobile taxi service. More and more sports and entertainment venues and teams are partnering with Uber, designing their lots to facilitate and streamline the Uber experience, and building an Uber integration into their mobile apps. Uber is a name that will become increasingly ubiquitous for sports and entertainment, as sports business evolves to forsake some parking revenue in the name of fan experience.

6. Sports and music are perfect partners

Another bedfellow for sports business is music. We’ve long heard the idea that athletes want to be musicians and musicians want to be pro athletes, but the industries are becoming ever more intertwined. Particularly salient was the notion of music for esports, let alone on video games and at sports venues and games, representing a great opportunity for growth, like buying a song on iTunes after hearing it on a video game. Music has always been a soundtrack to our experience of sports and esports, and the business side of it all is now catching up to that consumer connection

7. The Process is working for the Philadelphia 76ers…at least off the court

Despite a poor record with the Sixers losing over 81% of their games the last three seasons, ticket sales have TRIPLED in that time. That is stunning and is powered by an enormous sales staff that is the biggest in pro sports in the US, and possibly the world, and what is described as an “inclusive corporate culture.” Staffs can be scaled and sized up, sure, but unless it’s all effective and operating synergistically, it does more harm than good. “Your brand is the sum of your customers’ experiences,” said Sixers CEO Scott O’Neil. Every fan touch point must be evaluated and optimized. While the team endures growing pains on the court, their sales vehicle is already humming.

8. Aim to reach “modern fans”, not a “young audience”

This was an insight that came from the Bleacher Report panel and others. It’s about keeping up with the fans more so than keeping up with the kids. It is important to be innovative, to enhance fan engagement and experiences, but it’s easy to get seduced with a compulsion to follow and adapt what the youngest generation or a specific age group is doing. It’s interesting and important to consider the difference between targeting the “modern fan” vs. the “young consumer” and how that should dictate strategy for anyone in sports business.

9. The Atlanta Hawks are reaching Millennial fans

While the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks have gotten their share of attention for social media strategy and “Swipe Right (Tinder) Night,” they are studying the fans they want to reach, and reacing to their habits. “There are new opportunities in print,” said Atlanta Hawks Chief Creative Officer, Peter Sorckoff. “Millennials now view print as luxury, in-depth reading time.” There is deep engagement happening and teams can aspire to capture this level of attention.
They are adjusting their marketing budget to adjust to the modern fan, too, with 60-70% of their marketing digital, 50% of which is geared to mobile. There are so many more medium to which attention spans are being diverted and the Hawks are staying nimble to find each and every opportunity to grab that attention.

10. Fans won’t adopt new technology right away

Stop me if you’ve heard this before – the 49ers and Levis Stadium are doing technologically advanced things for their fans at games. Their impressive mobile features boast, among other things, the ability to order concessions and have it delivered to your seat, and instant replays from several angles delivered right to your phone. Such features were touted as key contributors to reinvigorating the live attendance experience for fans. Sean Kundu, Vice President, New Ventures for the 49ers and General Counsel for app maker VenueNext shared some stats that showed adoption can be slow. Now three seasons into in-seat delivery and mobile ordering, Kundu said the 49ers are doing a bit under 1,000 orders per game.
There may be a ceiling to how many mobile orders the venue can handle on a given game day, but it has likely not been reached yet. The camera offerings are something thousands of fans and access via their app. And the 49ers impressively deliver replays of every play within 4 seconds. However, under 1,000 fans access any replay each game. There are certainly some valuable lessons to be taken away about what fans want to do at a game .

11. Of 200,000 attendees at the Ryder Cup, 70% activated their RFID wristbands; with fans mostly in the 45-55y/o age range

This information came from Antonia Beggs, Head of Client Relations for the PGA European Tour, and underscores that, in fact, new technology adoption can be accomplished, if introduced and executed effectively. Even with an older fan demographic, by baking in the RFID experience into beginning the event and into organic experiences they would have at the event, they achieved extraordinary activation numbers from the RFID bands. RFID technology has long performed well at PGA Tour events all over the world for a few years now.

12. Per Steve Cannon, CEO of the AMB Group (Atlanta Falcons, Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta United), there is just 3% overlap between Falcons season ticket holders and Atlanta United season ticket holders.

Definitely a compelling statistic here and underscores the under-served soccer market that justifies Atlanta United becoming Major League Soccer’s newest franchise, beginning play next season. It’s no small secret the number of soccer fans in the US is on a growth trajectory and there may exist a wide swath of fans not overtaken by the country’s other major pro sports. Even in a crowded pro sports market in Atlanta (which has all covered, except for an NHL club), Atlanta United has found new sports fans, excited for futbol.

13. The new Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta will be completely digital allowing complete re-branding for every event it hosts.

The proliferation of multi-purpose venues, coupled with the increasing demand for targeted, digital advertising has brought in this innovation and trend. We’ll no doubt see more of it in the future, on TV and in person. Should the same ads be seen at an NFL game as a Taylor Swift concert, a Disney on Ice performance, and a Korn concert? This is a capability and a space in which all parties will have to (and should want to) evolve with the technology.

14.Maverick Carter on the success of Uninterrupted content: “It’s got to be authentic, insightful, and entertaining.”

LeBron James’s longtime manager and confidant, Maverick Carter, offered up the simple statement underlying the LeBron-backed Uninterrupted platform, which hosts streaming video and other media straight from athletes. Sure, it seems so easy, but many would do well to look at their content and really evaluate whether it meets that criteria. Sure, having raw content directly from athletes is not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it’s important to know and establish standards to which your content should be upheld.

15. Brandon Gayle from Instagram, Head of Global Sports Partnerships for Instagram: “Creative without strategy is just art.”.

I thought this statement was equal parts instructive and insightful, with applications across the board.

 

Thanks again to LEADERS for putting on another fantastic event. For more information on them, visit their website.

Themes, Lessons, and Examples from Social Media on College Football Opening Days

There’s nothing like a college football Saturday. And with each passing season, the tonnage and creativity of content continues to grow. While many settle in, kick back, and take it all in (phone in hand), I have my eyes wide open, trying to learn as much as possible from all the content, strategies, and posts coming from all directions.

I can’t help it. But it’s fun. And while I will readily admit I likely missed 99% of the content put out there, here are a few, unique themes (and examples) that stood out to me:

Going Live When You Can

Anyone that works in sports knows a lot of content is off-limits. When content ownership is valued in the millions, there is simply too much at stake to risk overstepping one’s bounds. But while some may lament and complain about it, others look for what they CAN share and how they can use the access and content THEY own.And the results came.

Whether it was Auburn capturing the Tiger Walk, UCF having their phone ready on the field after the game, a pre-game walk down the tunnel at The Big House for Michigan, or (though not live) a peek into Wisconsin’s post-game locker room after their upset of LSU, so many teams killed it, even having to navigate the times and nuances when sharing video content was off-limits.

Real-time and Personalized GIFs

If this past year in sports was about having pre-baked GIFs prepared for touchdowns, interceptions, sacks, fumbles, (and similar for other sports), a small next step is customizing GIFs for players. Not only does this deviate from the same-old stuff that can get old after one game, let alone an entire season, it makes fans more familiar and more in love with the individual players – a key factor in driving emotional fan attachment to a team in any sport, pro or college.

Beyond the personalized GIFs is the increasing speed with which GIFs are created across the board. From a shot of fans cheering from that game to a GIF that one can loop over and over of a sick move or hit in a game, content teams are getting bigger and better and faster.

Just a tiny sample here, but so many teams had custom GIFs for players that would be making big plays throughout the season (Clemson also stood out with this) or a GIF template that could be quickly tweaked to at least add in a player’s name, teams are realizing more and more that going into a season with a half dozen GIFs and then calling it a year is not the best idea. GIFs are also getting more and more eye-catching and creative.

Be Human

We’ve been evolving for years, now, away from the robotic game updates to the enthusiasm-laden fan-like exclamations now more prominent in social. But it’s all part of a greater theme, which is that fans relate to humans, so appealing to those ties and emotions and senses is all further penetrating this space, hitting fans with goosebumps and even tears. Sports lead the way, but stories also serve to transcend, and personality reminds us that we’re fans, they’re players, and we’re all chasing the same goals.

A few different examples here — with Colorado State kind of mocking themselves because they, like their fans, knew that first quarter was NOT what anyone had in mind or had anything worth celebrating. It’s one thing to say one should amplify what the fan community is saying, but when there’s nothing good to say, sometimes a little light-hearted humor can work. Everyone can relate to being upset when a game is not going well, so don’t try to pretend otherwise.

Meanwhile, Nebraska and Pitt celebrated (not just on Twitter), a couple of stories that tugged at our heartstrings. While Saturday was all about football, the digital teams for each school came in prepared to throw gasoline on the fire of emotion surrounding their games, which they knew would include some moments of inspiration and introspection. Nebraska beautifully provided a verbal supplement to the touching way the Huskers football team honored the late punter Sam Foltz. This was bound to go viral as a game highlight, but the way they articulated that in under 140 characters hit hard.
For the University of Pittsburgh, Saturday marked the return of star running back James Conner, who spent last year battling back from cancer, inspiring so many along the way. Their digital team knew the story would resonate and found a way to package in such a snackable, but meaningful way that gave chills to any fans that watched that GIF.

Unique Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories are still in their relative infancy and teams and media outlets are still trying to figure out how best to utilize the new feature, which can become a Snapchat clone, for some. For others, it’s a stream of Instagram posts, some re-purposed for the main feed and some that just didn’t make the cut for IG, but may be from Twitter or Facebook. But there were a few that impressed yesterday (and in the days leading up), bringing fans something unique, using the ease of uploading creatively produced video, and giving a visual panoply to delight fans tapping through the story.

I likely missed 95% of the awesomeness happening on Instagram video, but two that stood out to me as being different from an IG stream or Snapchat story were Clemson and Michigan. We all worship at how Clemson utilizes their incredible array of resources and talent (would just anyone be able to do the same, all things being equal? Easier said than done) and the way they package content for their Instagram Stories is nothing short of incredible (they also re-purpose some for other platforms and the feed). It truly is visual story-telling with that polished level that Instagram was, at least heretofore, known for. (Incredible use of video and narration, too). Michigan also did something unique with the platform, including some great graphics that fit better in a story than a stream and videos using IG’s hyper-lapse effect. I got something on there I wasn’t getting elsewhere.

Snapchat did its thing, still unique and novel

While the Live stories were a bit more fragmented than last year, due to Snapchat’s makeover prioritizing its Discover channels, the content is still unique in its rawness and behind-the-scenes feel and content. Whether it’s a quick look at warm-ups, the locker room before or after the game, fans going nuts in the stands or at a tailgate, and even a fan in the front row getting to meet JJ Watt, this is still content unlike stuff we’re able to digest so easily on other platforms. While I did not see a ton of unique geo-filters at home stadiums, teams are still taking to Snapchat (some doubling up on IG Stories with very similar content) to give fans stories they’re not getting elsewhere. Snapchat’s live curators also differentiate it from other platforms (including Twitter Moments).

What was the Worldwide Leader up to?

I’m always trying to keep track of what ESPN is doing, because the size and forward-thinking mindset of their digital team typically brings out some key themes to watch in sports with each and every season and sport. They kept up throughout the day, sharing updates and video on Twitter and Facebook (but not much native video and not much live video on FB, more on IG), photos and graphics a bit, and activated their Snapchat channel more than ever. So here’s a quick look at their efforts

Vine was fine

 

An oft-forgotten platform (except for the NBA) and often just put in the same boat as Twitter (yes, Vine is a separate app), Vine saw some consistent usage from ESPN’s properties, including the samples above from the College GameDay account. Whether using real-time shots or a Vine uploader, Twitter seemed to see a bit more Vines than GIFs and ESPN’s accounts racked up millions of loops on the platform. The questions are if ESPN will find a way to monetize Vine and if they will get creative beyond clips, with music and creative montages and multi-video Vines.

ESPN the Ocho? Nope, it’s Snapchat

While I mostly just watched some of the College GameDay content on ESPN’s Discover channel, it’s clear ESPN is devoting more than just passing attention to the platform. With Snapchat becoming a primary place for fan engagement on game days, and every day, ESPN basically produced a show, packaging its content specifically for Snapchat. The look and feel felt native and the content was thoughtful and not just filler. The call-to-action at the end included ‘Swipe to subscribe’ and native ads were served throughout, but they felt appropriate (and were easy to tap through, which will remain an issue of concern, for now). Another surprise was, after hearing that Snapchat deep links were coming a while back, all ESPN could do to promote the GameDay channel was to tell their Twitter followers to go to Snapchat and click on the ‘Discover’ tab. Not exactly the most frictionless way to deliver fans from point of promotion to content consumption.

Instagram native videos racked up the views

 

While Facebook and Twitter were more links than native, Instagram served up a ton of native video content from games ESPN owned. And while there was nothing jaw-droppingly unique (but some cool angles stood out from the ‘normal’ highlights), the selection and copy and consistency helped each video garner hundreds of thousands of views. ESPN knows their content is powerful and when they make it a point to serve their Instagram audience, they get results. Definitely keeping an eye on how they utilize IG Stories and if/how they start to more consistently monetize the platform with partners and their other channels (App install promotion?)

 

The best news to consider coming off this opening Saturday of the college football season? We’re just getting started. Each week is another chance to create, to experiment, to innovate, to surprise and delight. Social media is our classroom and school is always in session.

Episode 74 Snippets: Peter Stringer on how the Boston Celtics build value with Social Media

On episode 74 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Peter Stringer, Vice President of Digital Media for the Boston Celtics.

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Posted by Neil Horowitz

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Content and Strategy Takeaways from the Sports PR Summit Social Media Workshop

What is your content doing to add more to fans?

This was one of the primary takeaways at the recent Sports PR Summit Social Media Workshop (see a recap here), which featured speakers and panels from such social media and sports behemoths as Twitter, UFC, Bleacher Report, Pac 12 Network, opendorse, the Golden State Warriors, and more. Here are some themes gleaned from the tweets from the event:
(Get more info about Sports PR Summit here)

Be additive to games and serve content that complements

With the burgeoning growth (okay, domination) of live video on social and mobile, the key questions social media and sports pros are considering are what constitutes good live video for social, from a metrics, engagement, and goals perspective. After Twitter and the UFC emphasized the centrality of social for live conversation and praised its ability to allow emotion to exude from a game or match, the Warriors talked about they use social. The word that stuck out, again and again, was to be “additive.”

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Whether it’s live or not, a major (key) behind content is context. While it is tempting to chase metrics and satisfy the unquenching thirst of the diehards for anything and everything, don’t post just to post or go live just to go live. Have a reason for it and consider whether your audience is viewing other content at the time, talking about a certain play or player, or curious about something. Embrace what it means to be additive and to complement.

The same goes for partnerships with brands. Bleacher Report works with influencers and brands, but doesn’t force it. If it’s not adding value, it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

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Mind all your properties, whether on ownedor  rent land

Many go back and forth with where to put content, owned vs. rented platforms, and how to truly define ROI with social media. Bleacher Report takes social seriously, and has enjoyed massive success as a result. They treat social with as much care as content posted on platforms they own. Every brand-fan interaction, every piece of content enjoyed and consumed is a win for B/R. But, even more than that in recent years, is the quality of content consumption. Perhaps listicles and slideshows wasn’t building true brand affinity, despite the ease to drive volume, but more meaningful content lends itself to more meaningful connections with fans.

Bleacher Report is an omni-channel brand. It laughs at ComScore metrics scoring website traffic, instead looking at the bigger picture. And that perspective fuels them to take care of each platform, to optimize content for each, and not just shot-gunning content that lives on its website.

Another key theme from not just the B/R panel, but several others, was being intentional to stand out from the crowd. The best know what their audience enjoys and what they, themselves, can do that other can’t or won’t or aren’t doing. When a shocking scoop or sweet play happens, and everyone’s timelines light up, what can you do with that content to be different and more remarkable than the others. I loved the idea of having a “creative barrier to entry” that can an advantage.

Bleacher Report’s Mason delved deeper into how intentionally unique they are in the sports space — voice and personality. It is showcased not just in the copy, but the content. Fans know what to expect from the B/R brand and they deliver, taking the same foundational content (information) that others have and packaging in a way all their own, a way that continues to win over millions.

 

More and more each year, everyone is beginning to buy in to the notion that scare tactics are not the way to go with athletes (and student athletes) and social. Because it IS powerful and it IS a major opportunity for athletes to build themselves into valuable representations of themselves and their teams and schools (and their brands). The University of Nebraska (led my the incredible Kelly Mosier) was preaching the gospel of reversing course from more TO DO (and can do) for student athletes and less DO NOT DO.

 

And when student athletes grow up, they can continue to be ambassadors (and wonderful examples) for their schools! Nice work from opendorse below.

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The sentiment was even echoed from the current pro athlete featured at the event, NFL player Emmanuel Acho, who is one of the best out there when it comes to self-awareness, brand, and using the platform and influence his position enables. He is among the enlightened athletes, understanding proactive education on the positive aspects of social media can and should outweigh the warnings.

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Something that becomes increasingly clear as brands abandon intrusive techniques is that it’s better to integrate with native fan activities than to try and divert their attention and activity elsewhere. Basically, a mantra I like to espouse myself, help fans do more of what they want to do. While Sprinklr/Postano has built their business on engaging fans/consumers through their mobile devices (and social platforms they use on their mobile devices), the point they hit home is correct – if fans are on their phones, meet them there. If fans are on your app, a social network, start engaging them there. While it may seem like a repudiation of traditional notions of attending a game, it is merely enhancing (not engineering) fan experiences.

 

The Pac 12 Network closed the day with energy and enthusiasm and hammered home the previous point about embracing, maximizing, and differentiating the story. Content, in the form of highlights (how much of our content is consumed today, on our timelines) is a playing field and currency that the Pac 12 Network seizes upon — conveying emotion, finding fans’ timelines by being unique, and exuding emotion that touches fans of the teams and sports fans, in general.

And even when attention is at its zenith, the Pac 12 Network thinks about how they can do more, catch you off-guard with something you didn’t expect to see, but are so grateful you did. That is engagement, surprise and delight, and moment marketing that comprise so many best practice thoughts these days. The key to nailing it? Preparation, planning, purpose, and positioning — that is, being in the position to capture and deliver that unique side of the story.


The barrier to entry has never been lower to push content out to the (potential) masses, but the bar has been raised more than ever to win (earn) the attention of fans. So don’t just do the expected, don’t be afraid to experiment, embrace the brand, find the stories, know your fans, and deliver content that makes them feel something. Give ’em something to talk about. Give ’em something to share. And always be ready for the next magical moment.