Building A Brand From Inside The NFL: 5 Questions With Indianapolis Colts Head Of Marketing
"We’ve learned it’s vital to be able to adapt quickly to accommodate the every-changing nature of social media."
There is no shortage of Super Bowl advertising coverage this week, but we wanted to find out what it’s like to manage a brand from inside the marketing powerhouse that is the NFL.
“As marketers, the Super Bowl is not just about the game itself, it’s about the opportunities we have to expand our reach and build our brand well beyond just our avid fan base,” says Stephanie Pemberton, senior marketing director of the Indianapolis Colts.
Pemberton has been part of the Colts marketing team for more than ten years, joining as an intern in 2004.
Prior to being named senior director of marketing three seasons ago, she served as senior director of community relations following terms as the club’s community relations assistant, community relations coordinator and director of community relations.
“When I was given the opportunity to start my NFL career in Community Relations, it gave me a new perspective on sports and the platform that we, as an NFL team, have to create positive change,” says Pemberton, “We want our legacy to be not only a winning franchise, but also a team committed to our community and our fans. I love that about this organization.”
A graduate of Purdue University where she earned her Bachelor’s of Arts degree in communications, Pemberton lives just outside Indianapolis with her husband Keith and daughter Kendall.
“I remember when the Super Bowl came here to Indianapolis and you would see people who may have never watched a game or followed the sport, but they got excited about it and started paying attention to it.”
With the Super Bowl XLIX just days away, Pemberton tells Marketing Land how her team engages fans online, and shares the locker room video that has generated more than 10 million views.
5 Questions with Indianapolis Colts Senior Marketing Director
Amy Gesenhues: Tell me how the Indianapolis Colts marketing team is structured, and your role within the organization.
Stephanie Pemberton: Our marketing department includes the following areas: Events/Promotions, Community Relations, Cheerleaders, Mascot and Youth Football.
My role is to oversee each of these areas, assist with our overall branding and marketing campaigns, and work closely with our digital, sponsorship sales, ticket sales and production teams to make sure our efforts are integrated and cohesive.
I also work closely with our local media to pitch “off the field” content and generate awareness around what we’re doing from a marketing/fan engagement standpoint.
Amy Gesenhues: As a fellow Hoosier, I had a blast pulling for the Colts this season. Can you tell me how an NFL team’s marketing efforts are impacted as the team advances during playoffs? How do your efforts overlap with the NFL’s overall marketing policies?
Stephanie Pemberton: While we activate very heavily around NFL initiatives and events – such as the Draft, Breast Cancer Awareness, Salute to Service – we have quite a bit of autonomy in how we activate around these initiatives. We also have our own local initiatives that we activate around, separate from the NFL.
Because we are a smaller market, having this autonomy really helps us customize what we do to ensure it’s not a “one size fits all” approach.
The playoffs are a special time of the year for teams who get the opportunity to extend their season.
Because every game could be our last game, we really try to use the time leading up to each game to maximize fan engagement. We generate as much buzz around the team as we can so that, win or lose, we create a good launching pad into the off-season, and generate some momentum for our marketing efforts once we do have our final game.
Amy Gesenhues: Two days before your final playoff game, the Indianapolis Colts website underwent a “Blue Out.” Can you tell me more about the decision to take the site offline, and the accompanying #BlueFriday campaign?
Stephanie Pemberton: Blue Fridays have been a longstanding tradition with the team – we ask our fans to wear blue the Friday before every Colts game to show their support for the team. We’ve really seen this effort take off across the state, from schools having their students wear blue on Fridays to local media wearing blue during their newscasts.
For the playoffs, we were in a brainstorming meeting about ideas, things we could do to engage our fan base and reinforce the excitement of this playoff run. One of our digital team members had the idea of doing a “blue out” on our website as the ultimate “Blue Friday.”
We started sharing concepts around that idea and ended up turning the website blue and featuring an inspirational video from our players.
Amy Gesenhues: With more than 2.2 million Facebook followers and over 348K on Twitter, you guys have a strong social media presence. Can you tell me more about how you engage fans online and some of your more popular social posts?
Stephanie Pemberton: Social media has become a tremendous means of engaging our fan base, giving fans a more personal experience with the organization and expanding our brand’s reach beyond just Indiana.
From offering exclusive content to giving fans a platform to share their fandom, social media continues to be an integral part of our overall marketing strategy. Our digital team does a wonderful job creating content that is unique, interactive and engaging.
We’ve also learned it’s vital to be able to adapt quickly to accommodate the every-changing nature of social media. Something that’s trending one day could be completely forgotten the next.
One of the most popular videos of all time on our social media channels was the Ric Flair speech that one of our players, Sergio Brown, gave after our first playoff win this year against the Bengals.
It has been viewed over 10 million times since we posted it on our Facebook page after the game. This example is proof that sometimes you just don’t know what will resonate with fans and what will have that “viral” effect. You usually cannot plan for these things – they happen very organically. You just have to be ready to maximize them when they do go viral.
Amy Gesenhues: What have been the biggest lessons you have learned about your fans from your social media following?
Stephanie Pemberton: Listen to the fans in regards to the content they want to consume and how they want to consume it. They are our customers…and we have to always listen to them.
They are a great real-time gauge on what we do. Our fans always react well to content that includes our players and head coach.
We strive to offer a high volume of “exclusive” content that fans can only see through our channels. The Sergio Brown video is a great example. We are the only ones who captured that and posted it. In addition, fans enjoy seeing our players in a very personal way and social media provides a great platform to do this.