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10 Tips for Vendors Pitching Sports Marketers

If you work in a marketing capacity for a professional sports team, you’re a target. You’re constantly bombarded by calls, emails, tweets and LinkedIn requests from complete strangers who want to sell you dime-a-dozen virtual products that won’t increase your bottom line, and are largely built on hype.

Countless companies are all selling the same vaporware solutions for problems that most teams don’t even understand, or frankly, don’t even exist. Because there’s a new headline on Mashable every day that tells us about the growing importance of social media, business development reps at vendors around the globe are relentless in their quest to reach new targets as they try to make commissions before their start-up goes belly-up.

The good news for vendors? It’s easier than ever to identify (read: stalk) brand marketing decision makers, as everyone’s got a LinkedIn profile, many of us have a Twitter account, and some even maintain a blog. (Oops!)

Cold Call Phone

Sports and brand marketers are accosted daily by vendors, especially in the digital space, all of whom seem to be selling the same thing.

The bad news? We may be easier to find, but we’re harder to reach. You’re all competing with each other for our limited attention. Our phones ring constantly. And your solution is not unique. I’ve probably been approached by 10 vendors in the last month with nearly identical products. If you’re like me, you don’t answer your desk phone unless the caller ID reveals a familiar name.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not completely unsympathetic to the vendor’s plight. Being a salesman in the social media gold rush is a thankless job. Cold-calling people is no fun. Leaving voicemails is worse. But sports marketing professionals work crazy hours, even in the offseason. Our time is valuable. If we took every call and meeting, we’d never get anything done. So we have to be selective. In that spirit, here’s 10 tips for vendors attempting to pitch sports teams with their cutting-edge social media Swiss Army knives.

Do some research before you cold call. Don’t call a sports franchise with a million-plus fans on Facebook telling them that you can help them grow their social media fan base. Guess what? Big market teams–and even many small market teams–don’t need help with this. They’ve got fans all over the globe, and that fan base is already growing organically. Teams are unlikely to pay for growth when they can just watch the clock and watch their likes grow for free. You need a focused value proposition that you can succinctly articulate. Know how you differentiate yourself from the rest of the field, and prove you can generate some real world ROI, because we’ve already heard the same pitch from 20 companies just like yours.

Do some more research before you cold call. Don’t call trying to sell us a Facebook application if we’ve already got a Facebook application. Seems obvious, but it happens way too much. If you don’t have the time to check our fan and do some cursory research, why should we waste our time?

Our game schedule is available. Check it before calling. Calling at 4 pm on a game day is the easiest way to guarantee you’ll be leaving a voice mail. The front office is usually very busy on game day, and most of us are headed to the arena/stadium late in the afternoon. Every team’s game schedule is freely available on their website. Look it up. Pick an off day, or better yet, an off day when the team’s on a short road trip. Extended road trips = vacation days.

Keep voicemails and emails short and sweet. If you can’t deliver your elevator pitch over voicemail in under 45 seconds, you need a new elevator pitch. Or try another elevator. Which reminds me, one of the best voice mails ever received at Boston Celtics HQ is from a vendor who introduces himself, then pauses, sneezes loudly (!), and continues on with his pitch for about 60 seconds. We listen to the first 10 seconds of this thing on speakerphone like once a quarter, and it always delivers the unintentional comedy goods.

“Hi, Keith…this is…EH…AH…ACHOU!…this is so-and-so and I want to tell you about…”

As for email, if you send six paragraphs, there’s no chance it’s getting read. In the age of skimming, who has time? Keep it short and sweet, and send a link for more info. Use a bit.ly link to track whether we clicked through. (Um, I shouldn’t be telling you this…)

If we don’t respond after multiple attempts, don’t continue to harass us. Trust me, we got your email. And your voicemail. And your LinkedIn request. And your Twitter mention. There’s no need to forward us your second unreturned email and ask if we got it. If we’re interested, we’ll let you know. If not, you’re wasting your time.

Don’t exaggerate who’s using your product. The sports business is a small community. Most people who work at a team have worked for multiple teams, or across different leagues, and we do plenty of networking. So if you tell us you’re working with other pro teams, and we’re actually interested in your product, you can expect us to place a call to those teams to get feedback. And if by “working with another team” you mean “gave them a presentation” or “had a conference call with them”, we’ll find out in short order.

Last year, one vendor actually showed me a product demo during a WebEx with content customized for an NHL franchise, and intimated that they’d built a solution for said team. When I followed up with the hockey team, they were shocked and told me they’d never heard of the company. Needless to say, that’s where my conversation with said vendor ended.

Go to networking events and conferences. If you really want to get in front of a sports marketing executive, go to a conference where they’re attending or speaking. You’ll probably be able to meet them in person, and if nothing else, have a beer and chat about your product. People at conferences expect to do some networking, so it’s much better environment to try to make a connection. That said…

Manners are important. Don’t interrupt when we’re talking to someone else. I’ve had this happen multiple times after panels or presentations at conferences. I’ll be speaking directly to someone after a session, and a vendor who’s in a rush to leave the conference with my business card will interject – because their time is apparently more important than that of anyone else – and give me their card, expecting mine in return.

I always try my best to prevent the interruption (even if I can feel the intrusive stare from a vendor who’s looking for a chance to interrupt), but it’s an awkward situation for everyone and leaves a terrible first impression. It also usually earns your business card a trip to the circular file.

Teams spend big money on players, and small money on marketing technology. So teams aren’t going to drop $20,000 on a social media tool that they didn’t know existed yesterday. Sports teams operate with lean staffs on leaner marketing budgets. Thankfully, there are plenty of companies out there willing to work with teams for free or nearly free, because being able to put a team’s logo in your sales deck is worth far more than the $20,000 you’re trying to squeeze out of us for your “must-have” social media solution.

Try to do a deal with the league. Many successful software vendors who have multiple team clients managed to convince the league office that their software is unique and valuable, and cut a deal with the league for all 30 teams to have access to their software. If your product is truly unique, and has scale, you might be better off trying to approach the league first.

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Finding Some Value in Klout

One of the craziest arguments I’ve ever had about social media was a conversation in which someone tried to convince me that someday, my Klout score would be more important than my credit rating.

The day a Klout score prevents me from getting approved for a mortgage or car loan, I’ll be inclined to agree. I’m confident that day is not coming.

I’ve never been a believer in Klout, the service that claims to measure your online influence by assigning a 1-100 score based on your activity across multiple social networks. For many reasons, their system is incredibly flawed, even as they’ve continued to tweak their secret sauce formula for evaluating influence. Their constant tinkering has resulted in drastic score adjustments seemingly without reason, and Klout often concludes that you’re influential about nonsensical topics about which you’ve never discussed.

Klout

Klout assigns a score to twitter handles in an attempt to measure people’s influence across the social media landscape.

While I’m glad someone’s trying to measure and quantify online activity, I think Klout is way off, even when it comes to two of their top ranking profiles, @BarackObama (91) and @JustinBieber (100). For instance, how in the world is @BarackObama influential about Drone Music and Homebrewing? Or, for that matter, even Fascism? And in what universe is Justin Bieber an informed commentator concerning Adolf Hitler or the Holocaust? Klout made all of these claims on Sunday, February 19 when I looked up two of their highest-ranking accounts.

Currently, Klout thinks “Gym” and “College” are among the topics about which I’m allegedly influential, despite the fact that I can’t remember ever tweeting about a workout or academics. The closest thing I can recall mentioning would be a joke about a Shake Weight ad.

I’ve criticized Klout for their misrepresentation of influence on numerous occasions, but they’ve yet to fix the problem. Clearly their system is inherently flawed. But with that said, after watching this interview with Denise Blasevick (@AdvertGirl) on MSNBC where she explains how to use Klout to a reporter, maybe there is some value to keeping an eye on the service.

Denise isn’t caught up in her Klout score either, but she does see value in monitoring the topics about which Klout thinks she’s influential, even if the service is dead wrong.

Her point is important, because if Klout says you’re influential about dogs, uninformed strangers would have no reason to believe it’s untrue. So from the standpoint of brand management alone, you should probably keep tabs on Klout’s perception of your social media activity. And if nothing else, it may help you keep track of the topics about which you actually are tweeting.

“If I want to be influential about something in my industry – if I have a Green roofing company – then I want to make sure I’m tweeting about things that are helpful in that industry and then people will see me as an expert,” Blasevick told MSNBC in the interview posted above via YouTube.

She also point out that Klout is an effective way for small business owners to connect with niche tweeters and keep tabs on the competition, as it ranks its top 10 tweeters by topic over the trailing 90 days.

It won’t be valuable for tracking influencers in broad topics like “social media” – it shows you the same 10 people you’ve already heard of – but for something more specific like Cosmetics, it could be a resource to connect with online thought leaders in the space.

Overall, I still don’t put much clout in Klout, but Blasevick’s outlook made me take a second look. It’s probably worth keeping an eye on, but I’m not losing any sleep over Klout’s claims about my influence, good, bad or otherwise.

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Why a Google+ Brand Page Could Be More Important Than Your Facebook Page

If you think Google+ will never be able to compete with Facebook in social networking, guess what? You’re right.

Google is more interested in owning the search engine results market. And that’s what Google+ brand pages are really all about.

In fact, for brands that sell their products directly, I’d bet Google+ brand pages could become more important than Facebook fan pages. In case you missed it, after an initial false start at launch and months of speculation, Google+ finally opened the floodgates for brands today.

Google+ claims to have 40 million users, but it’s unclear how many of those accounts are actually active. Anecdotal evidence – my personal Google+ feed is repetitively filled by the same four or five users despite having 200+ in my circles – suggests that most users signed up, checked it out once or twice, and never returned. Full disclosure: I logged on to Google+ for the first time in about a week today when the brand page announcement came down, and I do digital marketing and social media for a living. It’s my job to care, and I’ve had a hard time convincing myself that I should be logging in.

Until today.

The first time I wrote about Google+, I maintained that Google+ accounts would be more competitive with LinkedIn, and more important for professionals looking to build their own personal brand. I still maintain that personal Google+ profiles will be important for that purpose, even if the service has already run out of friends to suggest for your Circles. But even if most Google+ user accounts are dormant, Google+ brand pages are going to become important quickly.

Google+ brand pages look a lot like Facebook fan pages, and hence, drew criticism from some corners for a lack of originality. That’s a fair critique. But here’s what truly matters: Google+ pages, unlike your Facebook fan page, will actually generate traffic, because of a little thing called, um, Google. You know, the world’s biggest search engine?

The size of the Google+’s user base is irrelevant with regard to brand pages, because after all, Google is a search engine, not a social network. And Google is the undisputed king of search. Google enjoyed 65% of the U.S. search engine market in September 2011 according to ComScore.

Lost in all the hype around today’s announcement was the following paragraph from Google’s blog:

“People search on Google billions of times a day, and very often, they’re looking for businesses and brands. Today’s launch of Google+ Pages can help people transform their queries into meaningful connections, so we’re rolling out two ways to add pages to circles from Google search. The first is by including Google+ pages in search results, and the second is a new feature called Direct Connect.”

As I suspected, Google is going to include Google+ pages in search results. In other words, if people are Googling for “Boston Celtics tickets”, our new Boston Celtics Google+ brand page will show up in the results, presumably near the top. After all, doesn’t Google have a vested interest in keeping its own traffic in house, on pages it controls, featuring ads it can sell? You can bet Google will eventually place advertising on G+ pages the same way Facebook places ads on your Facebook profile. After all, Google reported made $28 billion in ad revenue in 2010.

That’s $28 billion. With a B.

Celtics.com is already one of the top organic search results for “Boston Celtics tickets”, but secondary market ticket brokers, who’ve spent a fortune mastering SEO techniques, all rank highly thanks to both paid and organic search results alike. Obviously, we want Celtics.com to be the first destination for potential ticket buyers, but if a Google+ brand page is going to perform highly in search results, we need to be there too.

The power of Facebook is that it allows us to grab mindshare whenever we choose from fans who’ve opted-in to our Fan Page updates. Still, we can’t force people to buy tickets just because we put an offer in front of them. More likely, when a fan actively wants to buy Celtics tickets, they will either visit our website, or Google something like “Celtics tickets”. Presumably, our Google+ brand page will give us more control over the search result for that query, and give us a better chance to capture that customer who’s demonstrating buying intent.

As an added bonus, for those users who are active on Google+ and want to become a Boston Celtics follower, we’ll be able to reach them there too, Facebook style, with status updates. I expect that content we publish on Google+ will eventually become more relevant in Google’s search results as well.

So, if you haven’t set up your brand’s Google+ page, what are you waiting for?

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“I’ll Write It…And We’ll Do it Live!”

Broadcasting is probably not my strong suit, but I had the chance to try a little something different on Friday, filling in as a guest co-host on the weekly live webcast for Hubspot, an inbound marketing company in Cambridge, MA. Joining Hubspot CMO Mike Volpe for their live streaming “Marketing Update,” I took a crack at live broadcasting for the first time. And while I was given a format ahead of time for the basic outline of the show, for the most part, the show was pretty spontaneous, and in the proud tradition of Bill O’Reilly, Mike wrote it and we did it LIVE.

We covered a bunch of topics from the news of the week in social media in digital marketing, and spoke quite a bit about my role at the Celtics and how we attack social media. There’s a few laughs along the way as well.

I probably didn’t look at the camera enough, and my eyes just tend to wander when I talk in any setting, but overall I thought it went pretty well. Thanks to Mike and the team at Hubspot for allowing me to take part in the show. It was fun to do, and a pretty unique experience. We had a lot of fun with it, but I think Mr. O’Reilly’s job is safe for now.

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10 Questions on Social Media with Our Lady Peace’s Jeremy Taggart

While social media’s established a strong foothold in the sports world, I’m always fascinated by how every day people use it. You know, people who aren’t digital marketers, public relations reps, journalists, or @Ochocinco, for that matter.

Along those lines, one of the cool things about Twitter is that you can interact with people of all walks of life, and people with whom you’d otherwise probably never come into contact.

Before last weekend, the only time I’d “interacted” with Jeremy Taggart, it was a very one-sided experience. I’d went to go see his band, Our Lady Peace, at the Webster Theatre in Hartford, CT for a small concert with about 1,000 other people. Taggart, 36, has been drumming for OLP since 1993, and has played on all seven of the band’s studio albums.

Jeremy Taggart - Our Lady Peace

Jeremy Taggart has been drumming for Canadian rock band Our Lady Peace since 1993.

The band has enjoyed plenty of success, perhaps best known for their 2002 singles “Somewhere Out There” and “Innocent” off the Gravity album. They’re back in the studio now working on their eighth studio release.

As for Taggart, he’s one of maybe 1,400 people or so I’m following on Twitter, but one I follow with greater interest than most as the drummer for one of my favorite musical acts. But it became more interesting when I received a follow back from Taggart a week ago. I had DM’d him and thanked him for following, and a dialogue ensued, covering his interest in basketball and golf, and a few questions about when the band hoped to return to the Boston area.

When he’s not drumming for OLP, Taggart is involved in radio and TV programs, and also gives drum lessons. He’s a busy guy as you’d imagine, and he’s by no means a Twitter addict, but social media does have a utility for him, whether it’s for interacting with fans or just keeping up with the PGA Tour.

I emailed 10 questions to Taggart to learn more about what social media means to his life and endeavors. His measured responses are indicative of a busy guy who finds value in Twitter and other social media outlets, but also represent a realistic take on their overall importance in society. That’s something I think we tend to lose perspective on as digital marketing pros who spent all day living and breathing these technologies.


Tell me a little bit about how you first got into Twitter and social media. Have you always been into technology?

“Not much for the technology, but I’ve always had something to say. Twitter allows a tiny opportunity to be creative.”

You’re actively involved in TV and radio shows, and teaching drum lessons as well, so how does the medium work for you in those pursuits?

“It’s great for informing people with all of my endeavors. I’ve crossed Canada doing drum clinics; without Twitter and Facebook, nobody would have come. It was packed from people telling (other) people online.”

You follow a lot of sports related people on Twitter, especially golf, some humor feeds, and other bands as well. What do you think that people/feeds that someone follows says about them? And what do you get out of Twitter?

“For sure it says something. It’s one’s taste. I’m a drumming golfer who loves baseball and humor!”

How often do you check Twitter? Are you checking throughout the day, or just whenever someone tweets at you?

“Once a day usually.”

I see that TaggartsTake.com points to your mySpace page. While mySpace gets almost no publicity these days among digital gurus, is it still a viable platform for musicians to connect with fans? And how do you see yourself or the band using Facebook, Google+ or newer social networks for connecting with fans and promoting albums and touring?

“That is just because I haven’t updated that site in a while! Social media is essential to bands nowadays.”

What does social media mean to a band like Our Lady Peace? You guys have enjoyed some major success through the years, but radio airplay and the music industry in general seems much different now, especially if you’re not a hip hop or pop act. Do you see social media playing a major role in how the band promotes itself these days?

Our Lady Peace

Our Lady Peace

“It’s free advertising for smart publicity departments. As much as I can’t stand the constant updating, it’s how we find out about things these days across the board.”

How much of an active role do you guys in the band take in this process? Raine Maida (Our Lady Peace’s lead singer) seems to be pretty active on Twitter as well, and if I remember correctly a few years ago, you guys let fans vote through your website on which album they wanted you guys to recreate in a live show…

“We all are pretty active. We have always done tests with fans to find out what they want, and they don’t have a problem telling us when we ask!”

Bands like U2 spend millions of dollars on elaborate staging and technology for megatours that play to 70,000 people a night, but can you imagine doing something like asking fans at an OLP concert to tweet in setlist requests, or using social media to change the live experience?

“We are pretty good at making our own set lists. There are boundaries. Ha ha!”

Being active on Twitter, do you find yourself having dialogues with OLP fans? How has that changed the relationship between a band and its fan base?

“It just makes it quicker and easier to get info to and from them. I’m not sure whether it’s changed anything though.”

And finally, Spiritual Machines contemplates a world in which computers and technology start taking over our lives, blurring the lines between man and machine. With all of the data that we’re contributing to social networks, and the rapid advance of technology, is that idea any more scary than it was when you guys released that album in 2000? Are we really screwed in 2029?

“We are getting close, and I’m sure we will eventually merge with technology. Everybody is so afraid to die these days it’s insane. Yes. Overpopulation will eventually be the straw to make the camel buck our asses off. Then the world will be able to breath again. That will be nice.”