Jay Sharman: Welcome to Brand Story Inc. I’m your host Jay Sharman. Every week, we sit down with smart folks, to talk about innovative ways they are creating content to connect with their audiences. I like to say every company can be a media company and this conversation hopefully helps you understand why. Welcome to Brand Story Inc. Joining me today is Paul Kennedy, the Associate Athletic Director of Northwestern University Athletics in Evanston, Illinois. Paul oversees all communications for the Northwestern Wildcats, and during his nearly eight year tenure as part of the athletic department, has built out a content studio from the ground up. Today, we’ll explore how he did it, the why behind it, the business impact it’s had and some advice that you, the listener, can take away. So Paul, thanks for joining us.
Paul Kennedy: Thanks for having me, Jay.
Jay: Well, let’s start with some context. Northwestern, as you well know, is a member of the Big Ten Conference, which boasts the likes of Michigan and Ohio State. You have 19 varsity sports. I think one fallacy out there, from people who aren’t in the college space, is that these are just enormous businesses. And while Northwestern’s private, so you don’t disclose budgets, typical public Big Ten institutions range from $80-125 million budgets. So in business terms, it’s more of a small to maybe the bottom end of a mid-sized business. I think that’s important context for folks. So with that in mind, we’d love to hear what your responsibilities are on a day-to-day.
Paul: Well, my department, communications, oversees … this is probably not a complete list, but media relations, public relations, website, video and any digital media. So any external communications functions of the athletic department, which as you mentioned is 19 teams. It’s more than 500 student athletes, all of which, at some point or another, may be on Big Ten Network, as you know. But most of which will not compete in front of 47,000 people, like the football program or 8,000 people, like the basketball program. My team is responsible for that for all 19 teams, whether they’re going well, not going so well. Department functions, so when you get away from those teams, like promoting the academic success, promoting the student development success, promoting professional development success, internships. Things like that, that really the entire student-athlete experience at Northwestern, which can be a bit of a challenge and we can get into that later. But who and what are we servicing on a day to day basis? Is it the fans, is it the student athletes, is it the coaches? Most of the time, the answer is all of the above.
Jay: Full disclosure, I’m a Northwestern alum, so I’m also a big-time consumer of the content that you create. So I have a really good handle for the volume, which is pretty extraordinary. Explain typical day, month, the volume of content that you’re creating and the content studio team that you have in place.
Paul: I’ll start with the team first. We have a broadcast ops staff of five full-time employees. It started as one, 10 years ago, when the Big Ten Network came into existence. Every school received a Big Ten Network liaison. At that time, Northwestern had only really one functioning video board in any of our venues. Ryan Field brought somebody in from the outside to run that on game day. But now, that five-person broadcast ops team not only handles all of our in-venue, which includes video boards at Ryan Field at Welsh-Ryan Arena, at Martin Stadium, at Miller Park, at Drysdale Field, at Lakeside Field, and I may be forgetting one or two, they also handle all of our creative video. So practices, games, locker rooms, highlights, on the bus, in the hotel, anything that takes you behind the scenes come from that department. And then they also produce our television show single-handedly.
We produce eight episodes of television in the fall for NBC Sports Chicago, for football. We actually backed away from our basketball television program this year and made it just a digital online only, but that five-person group handles basically all of the video production that you see anywhere in the department. Now, we also have a six or seven-person communication staff, and each communication staff member is responsible for anywhere from two to four of our varsity programs. We rely on them to create a lot as well.
We’ve really put an emphasis on hiring generalists, I think would be the best way to put it. The people that can not only handle the media relations and the broadcast relations and the public relations, but can also pick up a camera and shoot, can also do a little bit of design, know how to work their way through the Adobe Creative Suite. So what you see from fencing might be a little bit different than what you see for football because it’s coming from two different people. So we rely on, I would say that 11-person group to create most of what we create.
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We have an assemblage of students. Certainly, we could always use more. Northwestern is loaded with talented kids. It’s also quite a bit smaller than most Big Ten schools. So, we’re at a little bit of a disadvantage, relative to the Iowas and single-handedly of the world, that just have a much bigger pool to draw from to get student help. But we have a very talented group of students that chips in, that we kind of develop over the course of their four years if we can, but you don’t trust them with that much early on. They’re updating game notes, they’re updating bios, they’re writing recaps. But you start to tease out what they’re individually really gifted at and hopefully use that, and leverage it for the benefit of the department as we go along. So, a normal day, it’s hard to say.
I divide the year into four segments. First is football season, which I would say football is, from the perspective of our ticket sales department, is 12 months a year, 365 days. The really intense part of it is from about Big Ten kickoff time, which is late July, right up until your last game of the season, which hopefully is the first week of January. After football season, you kind of go into basketball season. We have distinct staffs, from a communications perspective, to handle football and basketball because of the overlap in November and December. And then once basketball season wraps up, you have the spring season that runs … if lacrosse can win a national championship or softball can go to a super-regional, could run right up until early June. And then you have what I would term the off-season, which runs from about that to the Big Ten kickoff six weeks later.
Jay: I look at Northwestern Athletics is a master brand. You have 19 different sports. Then you have the Northwestern Athletics account. You have other accounts too, development. Give us a context. How many Twitter accounts do you have? Northwestern lacrosse is a different brand than Northwestern football and basketball and the like. So how many actual accounts, ballpark, do you have for each platform?
Paul: Well, it’s probably at least three per team. Pretty much every team we have has a Twitter account, an Instagram account, and a Facebook account. When the NCAA relaxed their recruiting regulations a number of years ago, every team got on Facebook because it was a way to communicate with prospective student athletes. That’s changed obviously, with the introduction of Twitter and Instagram and also with the continued relaxation of those recruiting rules from the NCAA, but we’re probably running upwards of 50 social media accounts on a regular basis. I mean, I would say that’s probably the biggest change in the college space and in the industry over the last 10 years. Is that the communications role for a team like, just for example, tennis, you’d handle the events, you’d update the bios, you’d update the statistics, you’d update the record book in the off-season then you’d probably say goodbye until the season started again. Now, because of those channels, because they are so important to recruits, which is the lifeblood of any good program, every program has an expectation of constant creation and constant distribution and constantly telling that story, again, 365 days a year, which is a lot for a small staff. Certainly, we are not doing the same volume of work for golf as football necessarily, but you do try to do right by every single team. Because for each of those teams, that head coach thinks they’re the most important thing going, those student athletes think they’re the most important thing going and they should. I mean, that’s why they’re there. Our fencing team, as an example, is back-to-back Midwest Fencing Conference champions. They deserve some extra attention certainly, but they also only host one home event. The actual ticket sales aspect for fencing is very, very different than basketball.
Jay: Right. Let me jump in there. Help me understand this. Because you just said your content studio has 11 staff members, 50 accounts, and you yourself said it, they’re utility players. Somebody could be shooting, they could be writing the content, they could be doing graphic design on the content. That’s a ton of content to create on an ongoing basis on a bunch of different brands. How do you, at a top level, look at and measure the investment of the resources that you’re putting in from a department standpoint? Whether it’s staff head count or investment that you’re putting into it, how do you guys look at … What’s success for you guys? What are your key performance indicators?
Paul: It varies. For our big marquee sports, football and men’s basketball, you want to measure things like views and impressions and engagement, certainly. But for a team like swimming, sometimes it can come down to, is the head coach happy? I read an article actually just yesterday, about if you’re creating and nobody’s seeing it, what’s the value? For us, because we’re not just servicing, again, fans or donors or alumni, but if we create something … Let’s say we invest two weeks in creating something for the softball team. We had our director create a video with softball this weekend at their season opening tournament. If he spends two weeks on that and it gets seen by 2,000 people, feels like it’s not a great investment of time and resources. If one of those 2,000 people is a five star recruit, who ultimately decides to come to Northwestern as a result, not just of that, but if that’s a contributing factor, maybe it’s all worth it. So, how we measure it, oftentimes it’s inconsistent to say the least, because we can’t just be … we’re not just driven by revenue generation. We’re not just driven by fan engagement. Sometimes, it really is just, we need to make sure that the programs, especially downstream from football and men’s basketball, are presented in the same professional, creative way that makes people look at it and say, “I want to be a part of that.”
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Jay: Well, it’s interesting too. As I think about this, if I’m a B2B brand or a consumer brand that has nothing to do with athletics, it’s pretty complex because you have people like me who are passionate fans of basketball and football, so there’s that engagement of the existing fan. Then, you have prospective fans, who you’re trying to get to come to sample the product, buy a ticket. Then you have recruits, then you have donors. I mean, you have a lot of different target audiences within each of these individual … A target audience for swimming, to your point, completely different than for football. From a top level planning standpoint, do you have kind of like a master plan on it or do you give autonomy to each of the teams? How does that work, in terms of the organization of just the content strategy?
Paul: Well, every team absolutely has input. We try to meet months out from every season, with every coaching staff, to get a feel for … Every team we have among the 19, is at a different point in that life cycle, that some of them are mature and competing for championships. Lacrosse is a great example. I mean lacrosse is one of the preeminent brands in lacrosse. Northwestern Wildcats is one of those things, that when you mentioned to people not from the Midwest, that you work at Northwestern, they say, “Oh, you have a great lacrosse program.” So every coaching staff has to have input because they have to have ownership. I mean, they’re all different, and if we’re running counter to what they’re telling recruits and families and fans and their own team, we’re all out of whack. Over the last several years, we’ve done a better job of establishing expectations, of establishing, okay, this is the baseline level of service that we can provide to everybody. Whether you are in first place or last place, we can do this, this, this and this.
What we have tried to do then with that, is reserve some resources, so that when somebody is good … Sometimes it’s predictable. Again, lacrosse, we expect to be good this year. Softball, you expect to be good this year. You’re always going to have teams that surprise you. So when that happens, that we can push all in to say, “Okay, we could win a Big Ten championship in wrestling here. What are we doing to support that program in this moment, that maybe we weren’t when their season started in December?” You have to leave a little bit in the tank at all times because it’s always going to be a little bit unpredictable, just with that many … I mean, sports is unpredictable as it is, with one team. The Cubs, the Blackhawks, the Bears, the Bulls, the White Sox, they have a sense of how that season might unfold, but there’s going to be surprises every single day. We have the same thing happening in 19 different places, that a team you think might be great falls off because of injuries, because of attrition, whatever. and those teams that maybe you don’t expect a whole lot from, wind up really hitting the afterburners and turning into a great story. Women’s basketball for Northwestern this year is a team that we knew was good. I think around mid-December, we realized they might be really good. And now I think we have a plan in place, so that if they win a Big Ten championship, if they host the first two rounds in the NCAA tournament, we can support them in a way that hopefully not just satisfies them but surprises them, excites them, not just for fans, but for recruits. To go back to that sort of split between fans, donors, faculty, staff, and the recruits, which I’ll put on the side, I’ve been a believer for a while now, that if we create with recruits in mind, that’ll play for almost anybody. If you’re a Northwestern fan, if our mindset creatively is targeting 16, 17, 18 year olds … Because again, it’s the most important acquisition we can make, is to get the best and the brightest … then it’ll work for season ticket holders. If we are designing creatively, with a family of four in Highland Park in mind, it doesn’t necessarily flow back downhill to the recruits that way. So, it’s a constant balance, but if you made me make a choice between focusing on the young people or the fans, I think we have to focus on the young people. But over the course of the year, we’re doing ticket sales, commercials, we’re doing family driven content. So, it’s a balancing act all year round.
Jay: I should say, I talk about this not just because I’m alum, I do think you’re one of the premier content creators out there. The pace, the style, the frequency, all the things that you’re talking to, it’s pretty remarkable from the outside, especially knowing how many different brands that you’re supporting at the same time. I’m guessing ticket sales would be the easiest thing, in terms of an ROI to kind of track the funnel of, “Hey, we connected with somebody and did it lead to a ticket sale?” How sophisticated or unsophisticated is the state of tying the social media to tracking purchase at this point in time?
Paul: More sophisticated than it was three or four years ago, not nearly as sophisticated as we would like it to be. We have a robust email database that we mine constantly and we’re starting to figure out that … I think when the content development began for Northwestern, it was with social media in mind. That we have all these channels, we need to fill them, that’s where people are. It’s always available to us. Now making sure that, especially with as much pay-for-play is required in social media right now, to be sure that the stuff that we’re creating is reaching the people that it’s intended for. I’ll give you an example. We have a new offensive coordinator at Northwestern for the first time in over a decade. He is not someone who’s ever worked here before. He’s someone that people are really unfamiliar with. So we sat him down and we did a big interview with him. We’ve dressed it up with motion and highlights of his former players and highlights of our players. And then the choice becomes, okay, now what? We’re going to put it on social media. Certainly, there’s no doubt about it. Is it going to come from Fitz? Is it going to come from the football team? Is it going to come from our main athletics account? Does it fit on Instagram? Does it only fit on Twitter? On top of that, how can we put this in the hands of the most dedicated fans we have, which is season ticket holders, alums, donors, sponsors? The people that can reach those audiences are not necessarily my communication staff. It’s our sponsorship team, it’s our development team, it’s our ticket sales team. So what we’ve tried to get good at over the last several years especially, is taking what we’ve created, maybe for one purpose and making sure it’s available to everybody to use for their purposes. Because for our tickets, if you’re selling tickets, if you’re on the phone day in, day out trying to sell season tickets at Ryan Field, we need to make sure that you have all the weapons available in your arsenal to convince somebody to make that purchase. It’s a tough sell sometimes. I mean, it’s a lot of money.
Jay: There’s no competition for entertainment dollar in Chicago.
Paul: Yeah. Well, and that’s something that I think makes Northwestern, not unique but a little bit different, is that we do have to fill seats. We have room available for new fans on this bandwagon and we happen to be in one of the most densely populated areas of the world. So, I firmly believe that there are people out there that don’t even know they want to be Northwestern fans yet. I am also a firm believer that if you’re within an hour of Iowa City, you’re either a Hawkeye fan or you have decided you don’t want to be a Hawkeye fan. But Iowa opens the gates of Kinnick Stadium, they’re getting 70,000 people every single time pretty much. They have a different mission with regard to the content they’re creating, the people they’re reaching, than we do, because the revenue is really important. The football, men’s basketball revenue helps support 19 teams, or 17 other teams, I should say. I remember a conversation I had with with one of our coaches shortly after I started and I said … I met with all the coaches when I started eight years ago, as you mentioned, and I asked, “What can we do for you? What do you need from my department? What do you need from the external department, the communications department that you haven’t been getting?” And she very matter-of-factly said, “The best thing you can do for our program is fill every seat in Ryan Field, because that rising tide lifts every boat in our department.” But Clemson is a popular example of a department that turned inward, very intentionally, purposefully, a number of years ago, that the media relations will take care of it. We’ll service them, those external sources, but what our communications staff is going to focus on is our channels, creating for ourselves with recruiting in mind. That’s an easier decision to make when, again, you open the gates, you roll the ball out and 65,000 people stroll through. We’re in a little bit different spot that way, that our marketing, our broadcast, our communications, our sponsorship, our tickets are all grinding a little bit differently because we have that inventory to sell. And it is really important that we … The department has revenue goals from the business office. Morty Schapiro, our university president, I’m sure is involved and aware of them. So making sure that every seat in Ryan Field is filled to the best of our ability and maximizing that revenue is really important. So when it comes down to, okay, we have a week to create something great, just very generally something great, who are we creating it for? Well, we’ve got to sell season tickets, so maybe we should do something family focused. Those things are constantly pulling at us from every direction.
Jay: So help me connect the dots now to the non-sports-brands listening. You worked at the Blackhawks in media relations prior to this and while there’s challenges to get new fans, there’s just an inherent brand recognition, you’re a football fan or tennis fan or lacrosse fan, whatever you may be. That’s kind of built into sports. Brands have a different challenge. If you’re whatever, a razor blade or an orange juice trying to connect and engage with people, using content on the same platforms is a taller hill to climb I think. So I guess, having been there almost from the inception of this department, that’s now grown into a content studio within Northwestern, that is part of what you’re managing, along with other duties. What are some of the universal truths or things that you think might apply to other people, that are maybe not at the point where you’re at, in terms of having built out the infrastructure or have kind of learned how to navigate the things that you just talked about? What are things that you think maybe apply, regardless of what industry that you’re in, if someone’s going down this path?
Paul: I think the first thing is unique access. Whatever you are selling or presenting or anything that you are trying to show to the world, that take advantage of the unique perspective that only you have. Right now, you can watch every Northwestern basketball game on television, Big Ten Network, ESPN, CBS, whatever it is. So, we’re not providing really any value of the things that happen in the course of the game. We might be fortunate enough to get a unique angle of a great play, but where we differentiate is that we’re the only people allowed in the locker room. We’re the only people on the bus. We’re the only people in the hotel. We’re working for tomorrow, to send a camera with our head football coach to his son’s basketball game. Those are places that we can take you that nobody else can.
The other thing is, we try to start from the end point of what we’re trying to elicit emotionally. What are we trying to make people feel? And I think sports, as you said, is kind of a universally understood … That image of someone with their arms in the air, with a big smile on their face, triumphant, regardless of the uniform they’re wearing or the ball or the puck or the whatever that’s next to them, is somewhat understood. If you’re a razor blade company, it’s different. I envy, I think some of those brands, that they have a very defined idea of what they’re after. As we mentioned, are we after ticket sales, are we after recruits? It’s never totally clear. But if you’re just trying to create sales, if you’re just trying to create affinity for your razor blade, what is it about that makes it different? Are you going to try to be funny about it? Are you going to try to be insightful about it? Are you going to try to be … Is it a technological innovation that you’re trying to sell? Work from the emotion and then back out from there. Because I think a lot of the things …
We borrow from other organizations constantly. I will say that, not entirely, but a lot of the inspiration of some of the video stuff we do is … You mentioned the Blackhawks, where I was fortunate to work for a couple of years. I think Blackhawks TV was a real trendsetter in this area. They had a video crew that they decided, they were going to dive deeper than any NHL team into the personalities of their players. Now at the time, it was a very young roster, a group that they were invested in for a decade or more and they knew that. You listeners can Google this, but the Blackhawks Christmas album is unlike anything I had ever seen from a professional sports team ever before. I mean, to put Duncan Keith in a holiday sweater and a Santa hat, snapping along to a parody of a Christmas song that had Blackhawks lyrics was just … It sounds like a dumb idea and maybe it was a dumb idea, but it played really well. For the Blackhawks, it was important to create that connection to the individuals on the ice. Rather than connecting to the mascot or connecting to the general manager, that those players were central to the strategy from day one, once Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were drafted, and knew they were going to be important for the next decade, decade and a half. So you decide that, “How do we want people to feel about these players? We want them to feel close to these players. We want them to feel like they know these people.” That Blackhawks TV really did a good job of, when the Olympics came around, putting those two guys in speed skating suits and racing them around the United Center. It’s a ridiculous idea, but it humanized them.
We are in a little bit of a different spot, that our players, our student athletes turn over every four or five years. It’s hard to create too much affinity for those kids. One, because they don’t come in necessarily as established stars, and two, because they’re in and they’re out. Certain ones have a chance to grab you by the heart, no doubt about it, the Justin Jacksons and Anthony Walkers and Derek Pardons of Northwestern, but the coaches really are the face of the franchise for us. They’re always there. They are our best representatives in front of the camera, in front of a microphone. As an example, this off-season, we’re trying to think of some ways that we can continue to humanize Pat Fitzgerald.
Our head football coach, Pat Fitzgerald. He’s a Northwestern alum. He’s local. He’s been with the school forever. He is probably the most famous Northwestern Wildcat now and maybe forever. So, over the last several years, we’ve tried to figure out different ways to show you Pat Fitzgerald away from the sideline because you’re going to see that on the broadcast anyways. We want to show him with his family. We want to show him in his hometown of Orland Park, here on the South Side with our homegrown campaign a couple of years ago. Now, how do we continue to evolve him as a personality, as a social media presence, so that people want to like him? Sports, as you mentioned, is very tribal. That’s the thing, is that if you’re a razor blade brand, if people like your brand, it doesn’t necessarily mean they hate your competitor. For us, if they like us, they probably hate our competitors. So that works both ways, especially when you’re a small school, that we have a smaller … I will say the fans that we have, per capita, are as rabid as anybody in the Big Ten, but it’s a smaller group because we are one-third the size of the next smallest Big Ten school. We’re probably one-sixth the size of a lot of the big boys, Michigan and Ohio State and Nebraska. All those people from all those schools are not going to come over to our side of the fence, for the most part. If you went to Wisconsin and you moved to Chicago, if you’re coming to Ryan Field, it’s probably to see the Badgers play.
Jay: That’s another interesting thing to that point, to jump in there, the authenticity of your brand and the tone and voice. Knowing if you’re razor blade or orange juice, you’re not having a ton of people come in your social media accounts and being, let’s just face it, sometimes lunatics of defaming your brand and things like that all the time. So, it’s a different mentality of kind of being, “Okay, we’re going to be authentic, we’re going to be transparent, we’re going to be positive,” knowing there’s going to be haters that are coming on to try … I don’t want to go too deep into that because it’s very unique to sports, but from a real top level, how do you approach that?
Paul: Most of the time you ignore it. I tell my staff a lot, “Never read the comments,” which I will find myself doing it. Not out of an emotional way, but just out of a professional way, that sometimes you do you need to know it’s there. But more often than not, don’t read the comments, don’t read the replies. We went to the Outback Bowl a couple of years ago and from the moment the game was announced, we were flooded, flooded with University of Tennessee fans, one of the most engaged, passionate fan bases anywhere in sports. There’s nothing you can do about it. I mean, those people are not going to be on your team. They’re never going to be on your team. You can engage with them occasionally with humor. I mean, if you see that you can … I think that especially when it comes to social media, to show that there is a human being behind the brand is important, occasionally. Not to pick on Wisconsin, but if it a Wisconsin blog comes at us and you can respond in a way that makes them think, “Oh, Northwestern’s not so bad,” you didn’t create a fan but at least you didn’t create an enemy. We are always going to have people that are rooting against us, thousands and thousands and thousands of people that are rooting against us. It’s the nature of sports. But you do have to remain consistent to what you think you are.
At Northwestern, I think we know who we are. We are different. We are a founding member of the Big Ten Conference. But if they started the Big Ten Conference today, the odds of them inviting Northwestern to join are really, really slim. You look at the other 14 schools, it’s big state institutions, it’s 50,000 person enrollments. We’re smaller, we’re more urban. It’s elite, certainly. I mean, it’s a top 10 academic institution, which makes the balancing act of athletics and academics tough, both from a recruiting and a brand standpoint. Nothing makes the university global marketing communications team prouder than our graduation success rate and it makes us really proud too. I don’t know that it’s helping us lure recruits because I think everybody’s telling recruits, “You’re going to graduate from this school.” If there are coaches out there saying you’re not going to graduate from this school, it’s a different discussion. But what Northwestern University presents as a brand is slightly different than what Northwestern Athletics and Recreation is presenting as a brand. We are a little bit sleeker, a little bit more progressive, a little bit more aggressive. It’s a conservative place, a lot of universities are, at their core. Northwestern’s been a very successful place for a very long time with that mindset. Northwestern Athletics, however, up until the last 25 years or so, was not very successful with that mindset. So we do have to be a little bit different. We do run into some points of conflict with the university as a whole. Not major conflict certainly, but we’re selling something a little bit different.
Jay: All right. Last question before we bring it home here, what’s in the near future? What’re the next 12, 24 months going to look like, in terms of content creation? What are the things that you’re keeping an eye on and where do you see things going around engaging your audiences through content?
Paul: Seven, eight years ago, when I started at Northwestern, Northwestern produced two television shows. They produce The Pat Fitzgerald Show and they produced Wildcats Fastbreak for men’s and women’s basketball. They were typical, bland highlight and interview driven coaches shows. Every team had one. In the Big Ten they all used to be on the Big Ten Network. About five or six years ago … I am so fortunate to have an incredible staff. I mean, Rob Coons, our director of broadcast operations since the position was created, runs all of our video production. Ben Rohde, who oversees most of our creative video production. Those two in particular came to myself and Mike Polisky, our deputy AD, my boss, who runs the entire business side of the department and said, “We can do better.” What we created instead, was more of a Hard Knocks style show, called The Foundation and the reaction was extremely positive. So we did that for football, we did it for basketball. Now we’re trying to branch out and do that for more of our sports. We don’t have the staff to create a Foundation type feature for every single team, every single year.
Jay: Deep, high quality original entertainment, episodic.
Paul: Yeah. The type of thing you’d see on HBO. Yeah.
Jay It’s really good.
Paul: I’m extremely biased. I think it’s great, I really do. I am so proud of that team for what they produce because I see-
Jay: It won an Emmy award, didn’t it?
Paul: It won an Emmy award for the basketball team’s run to March Madness, yeah. I see other teams doing something similar. They’re almost all using outside companies to do it. And we’re doing it 100%, from the the creative to the production to the editing to the distribution is all in-house. So over the next 12 to 24 months, how do we apply that model to our other teams that do deserve it? As I mentioned, we just had our video team with softball this weekend, to create with them. We did an 18-minute episode on women’s basketball because they deserve it. I’d like to try to apply that in more places, in probably shorter than 18 minutes. But again, four or five years ago we would create 30-second hype type videos and 10-minute narrative type videos. So over the next two years, we’re working really hard to try to meet in the middle of those. I’m not necessarily going to get much of a narrative through a TikTok, but how do we take advantage of telling the story in those small bites, that people want as they’re scrolling on their phone? And then the other thing is, the distribution is going to change considerably. It changed for us last year. It’s going to continue to change, because we want to put these assets that we’re creating in the hands of the student athletes and coaches that have their own audiences, that are reaching different people than Northwestern University, Northwestern football, Northwestern basketball. When you would do a media day for the football program, where we’d take all of our pictures and video for the season in the summer, it used to be that you’d get a head shot of every guy and you’d do a couple of action shots of your stars. Now, it’s like a five, 10 minute shoot with every player on the roster, because the backup long snapper might have 10,000 Instagram followers. He’s got friends that are following. He’s got student peers that are following.
Jay: If you have 500 student athletes, it’s 500 influencer networks.
Paul: Exactly, and that’s kind of what we’re looking at it as, as an influencer strategy. With name, image and likeness, we’ve dialed way, way back on putting student athletes … They’re not in commercials. They’re not on posters. They’re not on billboards. It’s just a conservative slant that we took. We were one of the first schools to stop selling personalized jerseys, just because I think the leadership at Northwestern recognized, we need to tap the brakes here and see where this is going. But with pictures and these videos that that we have … Because our intake on a typical football game will probably be in the range of 1,500 photos and just more video than you can even count or tabulate, that we’ve got four or five shooters on the sideline at all times. Because when you’re in the live space, the moment only happens once, and if we miss it, it’s gone. If that camera’s out of focus, forget about it. So, we focus really hard on making sure we’re there and prepared to capture it, because if you get it, everything else will take care of itself. We can figure out a creation strategy and a distribution strategy from a buzzer beater, but if you don’t get the footage, you’re out of luck. So, we’re creating more than ever before, probably more than we need to. I think we’ll dial some of that back. We have more quantity and more quality than we’ve ever had before. We need to focus it now. And it’s really hard as, again as you said, a master brand with 19 sub-brands, to make sure you’re taking care of everybody. We are never going to make everybody happy, unfortunately. We are trying to make as many people happy as possible, but the things that we’re creating are more purposeful than ever before. That we have a better idea of what we’re after, whether it’s ticket sales, emotional grip, recruiting than ever before. And now it’s a matter of taking the talented people that I’m lucky enough to work with, pointing them in the right direction and saying, “Go.”
Jay: Well, you made me happy. Thanks for joining us today.
Paul: Thanks for having me, Jay.
Jay: That’s Paul Kennedy, Associate Athletic Director of Northwestern University Athletics, here in the Brand Story Inc. podcast studios in downtown Chicago. Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next Thursday. Thanks for listening to Brand Story Inc. We’ll be back next week, with another conversation digging into the ways companies are becoming like media companies. Be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and give me a follow on Twitter @_jaysharman and on LinkedIn.