Paul Marcolin and Mick Russell started Spike Creative together in 2004 as a small design and publishing company. The company now employs 15 people and has worked for nine of the 10 Victorian AFL clubs plus GWS Giants and Brisbane Lions. In the past two years it has expanded into providing creative for NRL club Manly and this year has revealed a membership campaign for Wests Tigers. Spike has also worked for Melbourne A-League clubs Victory and Heart, Super Rugby’s Rebels, netball’s Vixens and Melbourne Stars in the cricket Big Bash League, as well as world championships in several sports. It has branched out from print to audio, video and is now stepping up its digital presence to become a full service sports advertising agency.
In this piece for SBI, Paul Marcolin looks at the key factors to keep in mind when you are providing cutting edge sports-related creative in a rapidly evolving marketplace, where fans come in many different types and mindsets.
1 Fans live their support for their team 24/7 and your marketing must respect that
Fans have changed in the eight years we’ve been doing this. They are savvier; you can’t treat them as fools. They want to feel engaged. It’s no longer just coming up with a slogan and a pretty graphic. You need to think about how does a campaign work across all channels, and especially social media, because fans want to have a voice. They want a conversation, they don’t want it to just be you talking to them and telling them this is what we want you to do. It’s not about us just saying “hand over your money, thanks, and we’ll see you at the game.”
Fans are fans 24/7, 365 days a year. My advice when we’re rolling out a membership or brand campaign is we have to be able to talk to these people and let them have a voice back. How are we engaging fans on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, not just five hours on game day? Fans are week-in week-out year-in year-out; they want to feel like they getting some love and being heard at all times. We need to start thinking about how does a campaign work across all facets of the channels fans are on, not just TV or a website.
An example of how consumers have changed? We found a year ago one of our clients got into EDM [Electronic Direct Marketing, or Mail]. They had a massive database of supporters and started sending out two to three EDMs a day to supporters and some supporters starting unsubscribing. You can’t any longer bang out an EDM to everyone. There’s no point sending out an EDM advertising the latest guernsey to a supporter who has been with you for 10 years but never bought merchandise. You have to spend time and money segmenting your data, find put who these people are, what they like, what they spend their money on.
We have to get smarter at how we operate, otherwise it’s just noise.
2 There is no longer scope for a one size fits all campaign for clubs
Membership campaigns used to all be basically about the passion and the hope and the players as the heroes; most of the campaigns were based on that philosophy. There are only so many ideas out there when it comes to sporting teams. That’s why the passionate diehard supporter thing has been done, and done to death.
Over the past couple of years there has been a significant change and organisations tend to put in a lot more thought into the briefs that they provide us and into their campaigns. There is no longer a one size fits all category and now there are specifically separate campaigns based around brand development, membership acquisition and membership renewals, as well as retail ticket sales campaigns.
Some membership campaigns nowadays are based around what the fans want or about the fans themselves. For some clubs, it’s not just about the heroes it’s about engaging with their members and fans and making them feel part of it.
Emphasis shifts from year to year. With St Kilda last year the brief was for it to just be about the fans. They didn’t know who their coach was going to be when we first started talking about the campaign, they didn’t want to talk about the players, it was to be all about the fans. They gave us a specific brief based on research into their fans and their fan base.
We pitched for that campaign as one of five agencies and we ended up giving them three concepts. The one they chose was a campaign called Draw a Line in the Sand (see below). The reason we came up with that slogan and campaign idea was based around the idea that they wanted to own a particular geographical base.
The idea was to draw a line in the sand all the way back from Portsea to Port Melbourne and it was about their supporters coming down to these beach side locations and forming a line which was the theoretical line in the sand. They had endured some off-field dramas which threatened to cause a spill of negativity over the club and its supporters and they were basically saying as a group “enough is enough, we’re drawing a line in the sand and from this day forward we’re going to look forward and not look back.”
3 You have to be clear who it is you are going after
Every club has a different way of approaching their campaign. It comes down to the brief as to what they want to target and who they want to target. Every club has such a wide-ranging demographic of supporters and members that it’s hard to hit upon a magic slogan that’s going to resonate with everyone. You’ve got to segment your audience and decide which ones are the ones you really want to go after.
With the Melbourne Rebels, we have just rolled out their renewal campaign and we’re about to do a variation for their acquisition campaign which is aimed at a different market. Renewals are obviously members and we look at ways to engage them and get them to re-sign but for acquisitions we look deeply at how to tackle that.
It starts with determining just who are we looking at. In this case, we’ve strategised around the expat market – the New Zealanders, the British, the South Africans, the people from European markets who love rugby union; they’re the ones we’re going after the ones who are living here now. Even Melburnians who are wanting something different, who might follow an AFL team but are looking for a different form of entertainment.
We’re looking at that market and thinking about how do we get those people interested. It’s all about showing them this is the world’s best rugby union competition, with the world’s best players competing, and it’s being played right here in our city, which I think a lot of people are unaware of.
4 Drill down to the differences in each club and find something that resonates for them
You should look at a brand campaign that speaks as to where the club is in its premiership lifecycle, or premiership clock, as Mick Malthouse says. We did the Carlton campaign a few years back called “No Passengers”. That was the club talking not only to its supporters but to its staff and players as well – that’s what they wanted, everyone to contribute.
The Collingwood campaign which we had a lot of success with (see below) was “March to October” [the grand final was October rather than September]. It worked with Collingwood because of the Magpie Army and they rallied behind it. It was ground breaking for sports campaigns in Australia, and was the biggest TV ad produced in southern hemisphere in terms of numbers. We thought we’d get a few hundred along but thousands turned up for their club.
You have to try to tap in to what works for most without being too clichéd, find a fresh way but in terms they can understand.
If we’re talking about rules, one that we have every time we formulate a campaign is: does it resonate with the team’s fans and the team at that time? There’s no point doing a March to October campaign for the GWS Giants, that’s not going to resonate with anyone at this stage of their lifecycle.
5 Membership is crucial and AFL leads the way
In the eight years we’ve been doing this, all of the sporting clubs we deal with have become a lot more professional about the way they go about their membership campaigns in particular. Membership has become the heart of the AFL system. My business partner, Mick recalls that eight years ago it was ‘you’re a Carlton supporter, here’s a brochure, re-sign.’ There was a little bit of thought put into the campaign but not a lot. We find these days a lot of the briefs we get for campaigns is 10 fold what it was eight years ago.
AFL is easily ahead of other sports in this area and that has helped us grow into other sports, including the NRL with Manly and Wests Tigers. A lot of NRL clubs are realising they have to move into that membership space more aggressively as an alternative form of revenue. Right now a difficult culture change for some NRL clubs because membership is not something Sydneysiders have particularly grown up with. When I look at NRL clubs and I think they’re five to 10 years behind the AFL in terms of membership but they’ll catch up quickly.
6 Make sure your campaigns stand out and don’t look the same
The Brisbane Lions came to us last year and their brief was they wanted something that was going to stand out in the market up there. They’re up against some successful teams, the Heat are doing well, the Roar are doing well, there’s the Broncos and the Reds had just won Super Rugby so they were asking “how do we compete, how do we have a voice in this market?” It’s not an AFL market, so the call to action needed to be strong and the visuals needed to be even stronger, something people would take notice of. That’s when we came up with the half person-half lion approach to get attention.
It’s great when you have a client who goes “yeah it could be a little controversial, but let’s do it.” It was confronting. Some found it gruesome, there was a bit of worry about how kids would react with it, but they were in the space of needing to do something that stood out; it couldn’t be your standard thing that everyone else is doing.
That’s another thing we’ve found, when we do so many membership campaigns, especially so many AFL clubs that they don’t all look the same. A couple of years back everyone, not just us, was doing the moody shots of players standing there looking strong, hands on hips, it was a standard rolled out across numerous sporting organisations.
We made a conscious decision two or three years ago after seeing all those campaigns, some of which we’d done of saying, “hey we have to do something different and make sure no two campaigns we do look the same.”
We do work for a lot of clients in the same field. My business partner Mick quite often says it’s like having six girlfriends; you’ve got to remember who you are talking to and what you said to one and not the other! But the key point is that you also have to treat them like they’re the only one. That’s one way of looking at it. My philosophy is that we’re not trying to turn North Melbourne members into Collingwood members. We’re trying to turn North Melbourne fans into North Melbourne members or at least get them along to North Melbourne games.