As 2016 kicks off, so does the second of our Sports Marketing Scotland interviews. I spoke with Electrify Marketing & Communications owner, Lawrence Broadie, on a range of topics including his previous role as marketing manager of Hearts, the part he played in promoting the Petrofac Training Cup, and his thoughts on who’s currently standing out in his opinion for what they’re doing off the pitch.
Just a take a moment to introduce yourself and how you initially got into working in the Scottish football industry?
I’m a 35-year old who somehow found himself working around football. It was actually pretty accidental in that I ended up at Hearts, unexpectedly.
As a student, I had worked on the club’s then magazine and website. I kind of thought when I was asked to apply for the marketing manager’s position that it was a bit of a sop, but I went for it as I reckoned it would be good experience. The twist is I wasn’t even in marketing, I actually started as a teacher for nearly five years.
In going for the job, I reckoned it was good life experience, but I never expected it to go any further, but to quote the panel that interviewed me, I “blew them away”. I’m taking that as a positive given there were other more experienced candidates!
The rest is history, over five amazing years with unbelievable highs and lows, and then into agency life, with a broader range of challenges – all of which have been so rewarding.
Since leaving Hearts, could you tell us what your roles have entailed and how closely you’ve worked with any clients in Scottish football?
I’ve worked with lots of clients in Scottish football, and almost every club too, plus the governing bodies at Hampden.
My role has been to lead teams activating and promoting their relationship with football. Often this means bringing sponsorships “to life” as we say, but sometimes its promoting projects or products.
It’s been really varied, and I excited to have launched my own marketing and communications agency, Electrify, which will work across sport, community engagement and the third sector. All areas which excite me.
Are you able to give us an insight into your plans for Electrify? Is there anything you can reveal that you’ve got coming up in the pipeline?
Well, Electrify is my new business, and I am really proud to have made the leap to set it up. It’s very much in my style. When I told people the name, the usual response has been a knowing grin.
We’re are business that is going to be really strongly based around our mission, values and culture.
To electrify is to “causes a sudden sense of thrill” and that’s how we think stories should be told.
Electrify is also not about building an empire, it’s about working with people we love, on projects that inspire us. As well as sport, we’ll be working across community and third sectors.
I’m VERY excited!
— Electrify ⚡️ (@ElectrifyPR) January 4, 2016
In your time at Hearts, the club brought Wonga on board as a sponsor. What was the process in getting them on board as a sponsor? What had to happen in order to secure the sponsorship deal?
So cards on the table. It was me.
Let’s be really clear about this, Hearts were in utterly desperate trouble by that time, and our job was to find the most effective financial deal. In terms of the boards priorities (and I latterly reported directly to them) they needed cash, and they needed it yesterday.
Previously there had been a desire for the owner’s bank to be on the shirts, and it’s fair to say transitioning away from that was extremely difficult.
We actually secured three offers for the shirt, but the deal for Wonga was the best, and in this case, money talked.
The deal came about via a relationship we’d built up with an excellent agency in England, and they happened to represent Wonga. They were looking for opportunities beyond their then relationship with Blackpool.
Given the sentiment towards Wonga’s brand now, is that something you look back on and maybe regret?
I can’t regret it, because as an employee, I had a job to do as part of a team. I can’t stress how difficult the club’s position was every day. You do what you have to do.
What I can say is the fact I chose to move on, leaving through the front door, should tell you that I felt there was little more I could do at that time. Instead of moaning you need to get on and create your next challenge which is what I did.
If you are asking would I of preferred not to have had Wonga, then possibly, but they were hugely supportive of Hearts in many ways both before, and after I left. One of the other options on the table, in brand terms would have been a no-brainer. But we were where we were.
How did you ensure all the relevant parties were aligned in trying to boost attendances at Tynecastle? Is anything you used to do in your time there still relevant now?
We did lots of things, and were positively praised for this. During my time there we had some unbelievable stats about attendances and ticket revenue. We also won a “best marketing” award for our Magnificent Seven programme, which brought thousands of children to Tynecastle, aged 7, with their families, for a magical experience which ultimately delivered for the “brand” but also on the bottom line.
Let’s not gloss over it, there were some difficult times, though, and results were very varied during that era, even if it did deliver a couple of great moments. We had a very simple rule in meetings, “don’t blame the team”. By that I mean, what’s the point of sitting there and saying, “the team is rotten, we’re all gubbed”.
If you did say that, what’s the point in being there?!
We were the first club to use social media via Twitter and Facebook. I remember sitting at a meeting of then SPL clubs, and the view was withering towards the notion.
We tried to put supporters at the heart of what we did, my only regret being I would be considerably less cautious if I ever went back into that environment. Arguably I’ve learnt more on leaving, the fast rhythm of a club environment doesn’t always leave enough time for best thinking!
Fast forwarding a bit, and your work with the Petrofac Training Cup. Can you give an insight into your role in promoting the competition?
Well I’ve just left Progress, who run the activation for the competition, so this isn’t about my work, it’s about the team.
The key thing in any sponsorship, regardless of brand or size, is to understand what the sponsor wants to achieve. Sponsorship is not advertising, it’s a way of building a brand and telling a clear story, whilst leveraging a good opportunity to engage.
As an agency, on Petrofac, we ran every element of their sponsorship from simple stuff like tickets and organising media conferences, to creating campaigns such as Present the Cup, the Golden Ticket, the live broadcast of cup draws and half-time challenges, etc.
In my opinion, some of the campaigns you just mentioned were really refreshing and hadn’t really been attempted before in Scottish football. How did you get the freedom to activate the sponsorship in that way?
In Petrofac we knew they wanted to engage with supporters and they realised that route would help deliver their objectives and earn them respect.
That’s not something that is easy for anyone to object to. The sponsor was providing great added value by investing further in experiences.
For example, this season’s interactive photo-booths at games, with the trophy there too, has been brilliant and sees huge follow up Facebook engagement.
In terms of getting freedom, it comes down to two things: relationships and trust on all sides. The sponsor relationship with the agency is critical, and then the agency’s relationship with stakeholders is equally so. Get that right and you, as an agency, earn the right to challenge, push boundaries and that is what we sought to do. We’ve seen a lot not work in Scottish football, but we also knew the tools were there to make something special. I suppose you have to stick to your beliefs, too!
It’s clear that social is a big part of the strategy for promoting the Petrofac Training Cup, and there’s clearly been a shift away from the traditional methods of promoting Scottish football. Do you envisage that continuing?
It can only grow. For me though, I’d always urge brands not to get too carried away on “sell, sell, sell” through these channels.
Social media should be about “content”. 2015 was the year that content on social media became king. Facebook successfully took on YouTube, Twitter has embraced a much more dynamic approach to content, with more pictures, better controls, video players, tagging, polls, etc, whilst Instagram has allowed much more flexibility in its product too.
All this is about creating conversation, dynamic conversation.
What I say is, great content, creates great conversation, and it’s that which generates revenue returns.
Just telling someone they “should get their tickets now” isn’t really marketing.
When working with clients, is there one thing that you always recommend as best practice?
Don’t be a know-it-all, even if some think I might be! I’m never afraid to pick up the phone and ask for advice.
Look, PRs are always telling people they know what the media want. I have to say, I’d rather phone a trusted journalist and ask their opinion. The same applies across the board.
More than anything, I should stress that relationships are everything. That’s the bit you work at more than anything, and the rest can fall into place.
You aren’t afraid to voice your opinion of our game on Twitter. Can you hone in on one thing you want to see happen in Scottish football that you think would improve our game for the better?
I would say here, I’m not afraid to highlight positive stuff. I hate negativity. I get why it can be there, but I have this unremitting belief that you control destiny, and so if we want Scottish football to be a vibrant, supporter-focused, spectacle then we need to get on with it.
For me, and I’ve said this before, I think there needs to be a more centralised approach to marketing and communications. I see the model MLS has, and salivate. It raises standards, by investing in the brand, without trying to take over clubs individual approaches and cultures.
To do that, you need to empower a function to exist, focusing on what is important.
I don’t think Scotland will have the best league in the world in my lifetime, but could it have the most engaging league in the world? Why not?
Is there something any of the clubs, the national team or the SPFL do that you think is worth highlighting?
Firstly, I think the Scottish FA do a brilliant job with Scotland and Scottish Cup games. They present them brilliantly, and put great attention into a supporter-focused experience. I think we can learn from that investment in the brand.
Right now if I were to pick out one club who are doing things absolutely spot on for me, it would be Hibernian. In Leeann Dempster and Greig Mailer, the club has two serious reformers.
Greig’s team have produced some superb campaigns in the last year around season tickets, kit launches and so on. Greig has a young team, and they’ve been given freedom to experiment, and such a fearless approach is delivering returns.
— Hibernian FC (@HibsOfficial) December 15, 2015
Don’t forget, the Easter Road support has been through a huge amount, and so the tide was tough. I am convinced though, that such a strong approach, mainly via social media, as per my previous remarks, is delivering.
Outside of Scotland, is there an organisation you admire for what they’re trying to do to enhance feelings towards their brand?
In general terms, I’m a big fan of rugby’s approach to promoting itself. Taking games abroad, double headers at Twickenham, huge investment in how the game looks and feels, the experience of supporters.
They’re not getting particularly silly money, but they are spending their budgets (with salary caps in place) carefully and providing proper opportunities for marketing and events teams to make matchdays special.
The World Cup was at a particular end of the spectrum, but the presentation of games at Twickenham was utterly sensational.
I should add in Scotland, I am a huge fan of Scottish Rugby. They’ve done a lot right in recent years off the field. Hopefully things on the field are heading for a brighter future, because the off-field staff and structure is delivering. Put the two together and it could be potent.
In all this, bear in mind this is a sport which is only 20 years old in terms of fully professional!
What do you see being the “next big thing” in the sports or football marketing industries?
If I honestly knew I’d probably be richer than I’m ever going to be!
For me, areas to look at will be how digital broadcast rights become standalone. The way we consume media is changing, and that might well affect the traditional rights model of the last 25 years.
I mean, I’m starting to question my sports TV subscription. It’s not that the quality isn’t excellent, the analysts are top notch, but with regards to English Premier League rights, it’s us that pays for each enormous hike. In order to avoid the bust that some analysts talk about, there’s going to have to be some thoughts on what happens.
And finally, what one bit of advice would you give someone looking to try and break into the business side of sport?
Get experience. It might not be politically correct to talk about interns working for free, but the industry is tough to break into and has many people wanting to do so. Get experience, show the industry you “want it”.
I really appreciate Lawrence taking the time to give some brilliant answers to the questions. All that’s left to do is to wish him luck with Electrify this year and beyond. I, for one, will be watching on very closely.