Delighted to get the opportunity to speak to Joe James of Albion Rovers in the fourth Sports Marketing Scotland interview.
Even at such a young age, Joe already has quite a bit of experience behind him of working in Scottish football, and now Albion Rovers are reaping the benefits of his hard work. We spoke about his plans to build on the clubs on-pitch success, his first hand advice for someone looking to carve out a career in off the pitch and, of course, his ambitions for the future.
Could you take a moment to introduce yourself?
First of all, I am Joe James, I’m 17 years old and currently study Advertising and PR. Outside of studying a course I’m hugely passionate about, I am the Communications Officer for the Ladbrokes League One side, Albion Rovers!
How did you initially get into the Scottish football industry?
It actually all began when I was 15 years old and I started my own blog about Scottish football. After writing my fair share of articles – some good and others not so good! – I was thereafter asked by a photographer of Dundee United (the team I support) if I’d be interested in assisting the club with some of their media duties.
What were you tasked with helping out with at Dundee United?
My roles at Dundee United over a period of time developed. At first, I helped out solely with the match previews and match reports, however, after a while I provided match-day commentary on the social media pages and after a season at the club, was given my own column in the official programme.
How valuable was being in and around the club to your personal development? Can you single out one thing that you’ll take with you into your career going forward?
One thing I’ll take away from my experience with Dundee United is the importance of double checking all the content produced. When I first started out at United, I’d be quite hard on myself for making any little mistakes or being criticised and it took a while for me to actually get into the habit of double checking my work and getting it proof read. Having said that though, I’ve still not perfected it, at the start of this season I was doing the updates for United and instead of typing the name of Partick Thistle striker ‘Mathias Pogba’, I wrote the name of Juventus and French superstar ‘Paul Pogba’ instead. It’s fair to say I was slagged a fair bit for that one and it’s a mistake that my friends bring up a fair bit!
Working at and helping out at the club you support, a good or a bad thing?
For me it was very much a good thing. I learnt so much from the media team at Tannadice and their support and belief in me allowed me to develop so much and gain more confidence in my communications skills. Seeing the running of the club I support was something hugely different to what I expected, but overall it was an enjoyable experience and one I look at hugely as an important part of where I am now, as well as my future.
So how did your role at Albion Rovers come about, and can you explain to us what it entails?
The role at Rovers came about when I spoke to PFA Scotland Communications Officer, Michelle Evans. I was originally contacting her to enquire about a possible work placement at PFA Scotland, however, due to my work with Dundee United, she informed me of the vacancy at the Rovers and Michelle felt I could assist them greatly. The role I have is managing the Albion Rovers website – updating it with regular, useful and informative content. Furthermore, I also take charge of the social media accounts – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram too (in a few weeks!) – whilst also dealing with all press and media activities.
How do you find combining your time at the club with your studies?
It can sometimes be challenging, especially at the end of the blocks when assessments and reports are due, but overall I’d say I do a pretty good job of dealing with the workload. Albion Rovers are currently just a part-time team, I don’t usually need to spend more than 13 hours a week doing the work, that gives me plenty of time to get my course work done and to socialise too, something I think is hugely important at this age. At times over the last few years I’ve found the act of balancing my work and spending time with friends difficult, but I’ve now started to realise the importance of down-time and being able to relax with people that make me happy and bring out the best in me.
This season saw the club secure one of the highest placed finishes in their history, what’s your plan to capitalise on that off the pitch for next season?
Last season – on the pitch – was by all accounts the greatest season in the club’s history.
Great effort from Rovers, narrowly missing out on the fourth play-off spot following Stranraer's win. pic.twitter.com/OnZjCvjwwW
— Albion Rovers F.C. (@albionrovers) April 30, 2016
I believe that much of the squad’s success was due to the team spirit and bond that all the players, coaching staff and officials had created. In order to build from the momentum created on the pitch last season, off it, we hope to replicate that unity and spirit with the club’s supporters – creating a stronger relationship with them and allowing them to be far more communicated with than previous seasons.
Can you give us an insight into the comms strategy you’ve got in place at the club?
If you ask many people about how they perceive Albion Rovers football club, chances are their description would be along the lines of a club that is friendly, approachable and holds the community as one of the club’s key values. So that is therefore how we wish to communicate to supporters, the media and various stakeholders. We want to be a club who are open and always welcoming. That is, generally, what we have in mind when posting on our social media accounts or producing content for the website.
Another thing you’re looking to do at Rovers, which I think is brilliant, is utilising the talents of students aspiring to make a name for themselves. Can you outline the thinking behind that, and how it’s coming to fruition?
Basically, we’re setting up a partnership with City of Glasgow College, allowing students to gain experience with the club in a host of different ways. For example, if a student is interested in sports photography, we’ll give them the opportunity to be an Official Albion Rovers photographer, or if a youngster is interested in video editing, we’ll give them the platform to do some highlights of the weekends game. Through doing this, we’re creating a media team full of talented youngsters that are hungry to gain experience within their chosen industry and at a level that can be deemed as high enough for them to gain decent exposure from.
Social media is obviously hugely vital to any football club. Can you give us your take on clubs lower down the spectrum using social media channels? How can smaller clubs that don’t have the same level of resources as others use social to their advantage?
One thing all football supporters have in common is opinions. Whether these opinions are what players should be starting in the next game, what they think the score is going to be – they’ll always have their own view on things. Albion Rovers are a fairly small club, however, we’re now attempting to use social media to our advantage by getting increasing supporter’s involvement – asking them questions that will allow the public to engage with us more. Clubs who have limited resources and budgets need to not use their social media accounts as a catalogue of robotic match-day promotions, instead, providing supporters a platform to engage with others as well as the club.
On Scottish football as a whole, can you narrow it down to one thing you think would improve our game for the better?
I think many will agree that we need to do a much better job of promoting our game. Our game here holds so much history, but it’s almost like those high up in the game undervalue it and don’t see its potential worth. That negative attitude tends to breed into the stands and clubs, with the supporters thereafter starting to question why they should part with their cash to go to the games. Next season, with Celtic, Aberdeen, Hearts, Rangers and possibly Hibernian coming up, it’s shaping to be an exciting league campaign, one that is perfect for us to create a buzz about and make people want to watch the Scottish Premiership again.
If you want an example of a league that isn’t the greatest, yet do a fantastic job at promoting themselves then it has to be the MLS, they manage to create a real positive experience for the supporters, something Scottish football forgets to do. You only need to look at the MLS website to notice how good they are at self-promotion. If Scottish football can focus on what it can provide its supporters instead of what it can’t, I believe we can start to get more supporters through the gates and allow a plethora of audiences to understand the benefits of coming to a Scottish football match. We need to find the thing that makes Scottish football stand-out and use that to promote our game!
Are there any other clubs, or organisations, that you follow closely and admire for what they’re doing in terms of their marketing or comms?
Since going into administration and re-emerging, I’ve got to admit, I’ve been really impressed by Hearts and the way they regularly and clearly communicate to their supporters. Recently they’ve been doing a really good job of getting their fans on board – their clever third kit and Anne Budge’s regular updates being just a few examples. It’s vital in the modern game for clubs to now give fans insight into the financial running of their club too, something Hearts have been doing well.
Outside of football, I’m a big fan of Glasgow Warriors’ marketing and communications strategy. The club have rapidly grown over the last few years and do a fine job of involving supporters on social media.
What do you predict as being the ‘next big thing’ that sports organisations will pick up and adopt?
We saw a couple of months ago supporters utilising online streaming to broadcast football matches. I think there will be an increase in the use of apps like Periscope and Facebook Live over the next few years. It won’t necessarily be to stream full matches – that just gives further reason for supporters to sit at home and watch it! – but perhaps provide pre and post-match interviews, warm-up snippets and other content that can be viewed as improving the match-day experience for those not in attendance, too. At Rovers we’ve recently had discussions about ways in which we can effectively use online streaming and we’ll be announcing plans before the start of the 2016/17 season!
From your own experience, what advice would you give to anyone looking to work in the sports industry?
Don’t just wait for University or college, no matter what age you are, go out there, gain some experience, start to network and talk to people within the industry. Before you know it, you have contacts who you can speak to and enquire about voluntary work or perhaps employment. Although it might not be hugely attractive at first, voluntary work really is key, so many organisations look for assistance and it’ll look fantastic on your CV.
Once you’ve finished your studies, what’s the plan?
I’m still keeping quite an open mind about that actually, although I know I’d like to be working in the public relations industry I have a few avenues I’d be interested in going down. Firstly, I’d either like to possess my role at Albion Rovers or for a bigger club, and another aspiration I have is to run my own public relations and communications agency. After I earn my qualification this year, I’m still contemplating whether to stay on for another few years and get my degree or actually go out into the world of work. I’ve already got a few interviews for marketing agencies across the UK but I’ll need to look at all my options and thereafter decide which one will be best for my development.