With the challenges of COVID-19, how do collegiate sports continue to promote their brand while pivoting to virtual options? Now more than ever, marketers are needed to be agile, keep fans engaged and keep the traditions alive. Join special guests Jenn Cartmille, Director of Marketing, Greater Columbus Sports Commission and Eric SanInocencio, Associate Commissioner of Strategic Digital Media, Atlantic Coast Conference, moderated by Bill Nevin, Assistant Vice President of Communications for the WVU Foundation as they discuss how NCAA-20 has been affected by COVID-19.
Bill Nevin: How are you and your marketing teams adjusting to this "new normal?"
Jenn Cartmille: I almost feel like we need to wipe "new normal" and just call it normal. I don't think sports are ever going to look quite the same. I don't know what they will look like, but I have this gut feeling. I have been talking to some of our institutions about whether normal will include fans in the stands, or if it will be a little different. We are used to things being so calculated, as a strategic department, and things just can't be that way anymore.
I cannot express enough how nothing prepares you for this situation. No one could have predicted how quickly we'd go from "at-risk individuals" should not be at the game to just kidding we're literally not having sports. We are learning to throw plans out the window and adapt.
Eric SanInocencio: I usually try to be optimistic, it's in my nature. I think the one good thing that has come out of this, at least from the social and digital side of things, is people are now more aware of how important digital engagement is. I think in the college space everyone uses digital in a different way, whether it just be as a recruiting tool or just a content creation mechanism. Now, without face-to-face connection, marketers are seeing digital channels as a way to engage fans and create connections.
We are now learning how to create digital and social media plans and articulate those to our senior staffers. Our teams are getting better at explaining the strategy behind each post and digital tactic.
Bill Nevin: What challenges are you facing in your roles due to COVID-19 pivots?
Jenn Cartmille: We sell events and experiences. It is really difficult to sell those things through a computer screen. The biggest challenge is definitely deciding how we are going to pivot those experiences. During this time you are really having to expand your skillset as new projects and innovative ideas arise. As marketers we know that this industry only grows, so if you are not able to expand your skillset and go with the flow, you will have hard time.
Eric SanInocencio: From a digital perspective, each school has their own priority for what they deem as important on their social channels and how they are producing the content around that. You add into that the social justice perspective of everything that is happening. There is no manual for how to handle these situations. We have a lot of channels and a lot of things to consider. I always tell marketers, it is really good to be great at one to three things rather than be mediocre at 10. Our challenge is identifying where schools are their strongest and where they need support, almost like being a coach and putting them in the best position to succeed.
Bill Nevin: Have either one of you had the opportunity to showcase your creativity in your messaging?
Eric SanInocencio: One thing that comes to mind for us is managing creatives remotely through this situation and trying to give them some direction. We cancelled the ACC men's basketball tournament for the first time in history. So, we wanted to tell this story in a creative way to help others feel created to something. We created a mini-documentary called "The Tournament That Wasn't" and released it on our social channels. Our team chronologically told the story of what happened leading up to cancelling.
Jenn Cartmille: We pivoted our brand approach. Our content calendar is typically full, but after all of this it wasn't anymore. We really tried to piggyback on what was happening in our community. Our positioning was to become a resource for our audience. For example, we did a lot of content marketing about how to have a virtual watch party - where to get take out from your local sports bars and things like that. Our partners also reshared this content, expanding our audience. We truly focused on how to keep sports in your life during this time.
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