#6: Integrated Marketing Strategy with Lexie Sidney
Lexie Sidney is the Director of Strategic Marketing for the Houston Dynamo and Dash. She shares her favorite campaigns from her experiences in sports marketing, discusses integration of traditional marketing components with digital and social, and shares insights on creating effective promotions.
Video of Scott's Interview with Lexie Sidney
Podcast Audio of Scott's Interview with Lexie Sidney
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Transcript of Scott's Interview with Lexie Sidney
You know digital has taken over in every area.
Scott: Lexie, welcome to the show. Thank you for being here. As the Director of Strategic Marketing for the Houston Dynamo, I think you're a fantastic guest. All of my students, of course, are local in Houston and they get really excited when we’re able to connect with marketers who are part of our professional sports organizations, so first I just want to thank you for your time.
Lexie: Thank you for having me.
Scott: And I know when you work in professional sports your, kind of, your job is always on, so I know that your time is very valuable and I just appreciate you being here.
I want to start things off, because it is such a cool field, it's such a cool organization to work for, you know, you're working for an MLS team. It seems, like, very aspirational for people studying marketing if they're interested in sports to reach that level of working for a professional team, so how did you get into sports marketing? Why did you choose sports marketing instead of just marketing or another business discipline? And then if you kind of talk about what your career trajectory has looked like. I know you started in Indiana and then you've kind of moved your way around until you ended up here in Houston but just give us a little bit of background.
Lexie: Sure. So I am originally from Indianapolis and I went to school at Indiana University and I was studying marketing in the Kelley School of Business and during my time, actually in my sorority, we did a philanthropy event with IU baseball and so I worked very closely with the athletic directors and the marketing department within the college athletics there at IU and just fell in love with, you know, promoting specifically sports and giving back, and using it as a platform for good and at that point I just started exploring different career paths with my marketing degree and sports marketing is actually a really big program in Bloomington. So I ended up switching my major at that point as a sophomore, I believe, and I just figured that was, you know, exactly what I wanted to do and it still had all of the business elements to it but it just was a lot more focused on that so then my junior and senior years, I started looking into internships and that led me to my first internship with the Indiana Pacers. It was in their community relations department and for those of you who aren't familiar, it's basically the charitable arm. Most professional sports teams, you know, are really committed to giving back to their local communities, so obviously being from Indiana and that being my hometown team, that was kind of a dream come true and it really gave me my first exposure into what it was actually like day-to-day to work at a professional sports organization. So, I knew that that's what I wanted to do.
So, that led me to my other internship opportunities, so after graduating I joined USA diving which is an Olympic sport and that particular headquarters is in Indianapolis and I did marketing and events with them for a summer and then that led to an internship opportunity with the Indianapolis Colts for a season and then as a graduate I joined the Atlanta Braves organization, so I spent about 11 months there in community affairs and marketing and then I got my first full-time offer from the Dallas Mavericks. And I was the coordinator of corporate communications and community relations so it was a nice blend of PR and CR, which is community, and during my time with the Mavs I had a lot of you know over, kind of like overlap with the marketing department and transitioned into more of a general marketing role there and spent two seasons in the marketing role and then relocated to Houston and began this job with the Dynamo and Dash. And so soccer is new to me, still relatively new, but it's been a lot of hopping and every you know position of mine has led to the next one and I've been fortunate to have exposure into three or four different areas of the marketing department which I think has lended me to doing this role.
Scott: Right. Wow, that's quite a path for being pretty early in your career you’ve worked for a lot of cool organizations and I can't help but notice you've worked for every professional sports league, major league, except for the NHL is that right?
Lexie: Except for hockey I know, I’ve got to get the cycle, I need to get hockey at some point in my career.
Scott: We know what's next, I guess.
Lexie: If anyone’s listening.
Scott: Right, the Dallas Stars will be calling after the interview. So, since you have had exposure to all these different leagues, I know a lot of your knowledge in sports marketing is generalizable, but particularly working with the MLS which is a little bit smaller but growing a lot faster than some of the other leagues, are there any differences? How does that… I know there are differences but are there any that that, like, really affect you as a marketer? Do you do more, you know, different tactics kind of organic marketing with MLS than you did or the NFL, for example?
Lexie: Yeah, I think the two major differences are that soccer is on a global level, especially, you just mentioned NFL. That's obviously a very Americanized sport and it's, you know, it's the big dog right now within athletics here in the states. And then even though MLS is the fastest growing sports league in America it also has, you know, a huge international following, so we're kind of the new kid on the block here in the states but everywhere else soccer is a big-big deal, so I think from the two major differences that I see, you know, budgets are a little bit more constrained here just obviously with being a younger league and needing to just be prudent in our business operations and make sure that we're growing to scale and being responsible fiscally. That's been a big transition and then just the target audience I think is still developing with it being such a younger skewed crowd, you know, it's changing every day the different feedback we're getting from our fans the different groups. It's a lot tougher I think to segment who we’re going after and there's a lot of, you know, differing opinions within the soccer world on do we go after people who love, you know, international soccer or do we focus on the youth movement that really has only known American soccer, how do you blend the two how do you blend them, when do you blend them, when you keep them separate?
So, I think that's for a marketer that's the most difficult thing is that you've got everyone in the world who is potentially a soccer fan but you can't speak to them all the same way.
Scott: Right that's really cool, it's a big problem but it's an interesting one and it's a problem that relates to your growth, right? Because it's almost as though you have too many opportunities to grow and you're really just trying to get a little bit more granular and figure out do I want to go after a market in Mexico or do I want to focus on kids in Houston? And I'm sure you're doing both, but you're going to handle those marketing efforts a little bit differently.
How has that international audience affected your target markets? Is it is it only Mexico really that you target or how does that work?
Lexie: We try to be open on it. We're in an interesting position where we also operate BBVA Compass Stadium and so we host a lot of international events at our venue, so you know, naturally where we're tying into a lot of different nationalities and cultures as different events come through and we'd be remiss to, you know, avoid that as an opportunity to cross-promote the Dynamo and the Dash. It also depends a lot year-to-year on, you know, based on the makeup of our roster, I think last year we had on the Dynamo side, if I'm not mistaken, twelve different countries represented. So that has a lot to do with how we message people and where we're going. It is predominantly Mexican fans that tend to come out to our games as far as the demographics go on paper but it's not something that we feel comfortable you know honing in only on one country. Our head coach Wilmer is Colombian and so you know for us that's important to tap into that. We have really notable Honduran players and we've actually seen tremendous growth locally with that community as well as, you know, internationally. They're one of our top most engaged and interactive fan bases.
So, you know, it's really changing it's really in flex but just based on the makeup of our location and our city, Mexican soccer fans are a big priority for us.
Scott: Okay good and I'm glad you mentioned that the player’s country of origin can have an effect on your fan base because I always thought that was kind of cool with Yao Ming and the Rockets so now with such an international sport if you're drawing players from all over the world, you have to be aware of where the players are coming from and then how you might market to that home country.
Scott: That's a that's a really neat dynamic, I think.
Now let's suppose you've kind of, and you do this, but you've refined your target markets and you’ve kind of figured out that “hey we want to send some kind of messaging to this market,” whether it's the, you know, youth in Texas or adults in Mexico or fans of a particular player in Honduras, how do you go about crafting a message? What is your, what's your strategy How do you make an appeal to someone who's not yet a fan?
Lexie: Yeah, so we start honing in, we definitely want to hit Houstonians first so there is a lot of crossover internationally with such a cultural, culturally diverse, city but I think first and foremost we need to figure out you know where, what is our goal with the message and you know what's the endgame there? Are we asking them to come to their first game? Have they come to a game before and they haven't engaged with us in a long while? You know, in the international area, are they English-speaking? do we need to communicate with them in their native tongue or you know can we speak to them in English? And it's, you know, that's more comfortable and so I think it's just figuring out why we're talking to this group, what our message is based on the goals that we're looking to achieve.
So a lot of it is just tracking where they are within, you know, their fandom and then I think it's just important to treat every segment as individually as possible. For instance, with a Hispanic market we may send more of a family-friendly offer that's a lot more inclusive at the you know beginning so that it's more of a community minded thing whereas youth soccer it might be, you know, something that's a little bit more catered to a suburban family that's playing club soccer and has a very-very different experience within the soccer world. And then beyond that there are sports fans which we typically like to target, we try to draw them in to experience soccer for the first time and so we would speak to them incredibly differently than someone who identifies as a soccer fan first and foremost. You know it's things like saying game versus match or field versus pitch, there's like very simple language differences that we can't assume, you know, a 40-year old football fan would necessarily identify with.
So it's complicated but I think it just depends. A lot of times for us it's just come out to a game because we feel confident that if you come and experience it, that's going to be the best marketing that we could possibly give someone is the experience of a game and our prices are affordable and the atmosphere is not like anything else in Houston. Houston’s, you know, sports identity and so for us it's come to a game or come to an event and then just learn more about it, learn more about soccer, the sport, the team and then we also tie very-very heavily into Houston pride, even for the international fans, it's interesting because in American sports it’s traditional to have one team. Maybe you'll see a little bit of difference between pro and college, you can support both. In soccer you can definitely have, you know, an international team and then an MLS team so we also try to really have message that one does not exclude the other.
Scott: Yeah, that's really cool I'm happy that you went where you did with the messaging and how different it can be depending on which segment you're going after. I think that in in marketing we talk a lot in terms of launching new products, we talked about compatibility and if it's something that's kind of radically different you have to speak about that product in terms that are consistent with the worldview of that customer. So things you said like football versus soccer, you know, match versus game, that's really cool, that you have to be mindful of that for your audience. I guess that's for your general sports audience, right?
Scott: Okay you would say soccer and match and field or no, soccer, game and field.
Lexie: For a general sports fan, yes, and then for more of a soccer savvy fan you know it would change to football, pitch, match.
Scott: So for channel selection so where you're going to send these messages with that general sports fan, and if you're comfortable sharing, are you able to do things like, on Facebook the Houston Texans have a huge following, so can you buy ads and target fans of the Houston Texans page? Is that is that similar to the kind of things that you do?
Lexie: We can, you definitely can do that, specifically on Facebook, that's kind of the holy grail of being able to segment because fans are self-identifying and so that's the most valuable insight that we could possibly get, you know, any marketer should know that surveying is important but it's obviously the data is only as good as the people participating and with Facebook having such a grasp on so many people, and it's kind of scary sometimes, the levels to which they share their personal information but it's a marketers dream because then we can go and find overlaps.
So there have been times where we have cross promoted to different, you know, different sports target, you know, target audiences and things like that and it's not always the obvious ones. We’ll find trends within our demographics that show that, you know, this one group might be more interested in minor league baseball because they're coming more for the experience or the price point and so when we're having more of a promo item or special offer we may go more to the family crowd and the things that they're looking for.
We typically see a lot of really good results when we have a specific theme outside of just the soccer game so for instance we've done a Star Wars night the last couple years and we can go on Facebook or many other platforms and see who's identifying as a Star Wars fan and that's one of the ways that we really try to capture someone who may not have otherwise been tempted to try a soccer game and then we have seen tremendous results and, you know, they come, they come for the Star Wars and then they end up coming back and buying it no other games because they really just enjoyed themselves and had a great time.
So that's best-case scenario. We do that a little bit with other sports teams and a lot of times it's just behavioral or other interests or things like that. We also do a lot of targeting based on area so if we know that there's a weeknight game we'll do a lot more targeting towards the downtown crowd because it's a little bit easier for them to get there than the family crowd that maybe having to go home and pick up the kids and then come right back downtown.
So there's a lot of ways that you can go. Facebook provides the most flexibility but there are other avenues that we like to look into. We do a lot of our own scrubbing and email offers with, you know, segmenting on our own through our own CRM system and then a big thing because of the international crowd we also, this is actually more of an NBA model, but we do a lot of targeting based on the players that are coming to town. So if there's a Kaká coming, you know, we can see based on the fan profiles if someone is a Kaká fan. It's not ideal, we'd obviously love to get to a point where people are coming because they're Houston Dynamo fans or they're, you know, a fan of people in our roster and a lot of times, you know, it's just the thing that puts them over the edge and makes them act now so we do a lot of that as well.
Scott: That's good and don't feel bad about it because the Astros aren't shy about, you know, hosting the Yankees or the Cubs.
Lexie: Exactly, everybody does that right and rivalries, everybody loves rivalries and, you know, when LeBron James comes to town all of these things, so we do it's very interesting because they do see a big spike for potential matches and matchups with different players but we're kind of across the board and it's really just dependent on, you know, a lot of our main factors are day-date-time, the team that's coming into town, the players that are coming into town, and then the special promotions that we have game by game
Scott: And how far in advance do you have that information so that you can start putting together campaigns?
Lexie: So our schedule got released by MLS I believe January 4th and on January 5th we had a meeting to go through what are these key, you know, moments within our season and who are our key demographics to reach with those? So we actually just launched our partial plans are mini plans and with those in mind. So we're highlighting, you know, the different matches that are coming, the different players that are coming. We have actually a very holiday heavy schedule this year which is great. We've got games around, Cinco De Mayo, Memorial Day weekend Fourth of July, so you know people are looking for things to do. So a lot of times it's just their availability and they're looking to spend entertainment dollars and we want to be their choice.
Scott: Right-right and you mentioned the promotions like Star Wars night that you run, do you use those to smooth demand so that if you think there's a game that's going to be in low demand then that's when you'll kind of place the promotion. I'm just curious how you use that.
Lexie: Now we're definitely, we're definitely smart about where we put them. If we think that a game can carry itself then there's no reason to put, you know, a special promotion on that night. At the same time we try to be strategic about when to put it so, you know, for instance the last couple years we've announced when our Star Wars night is around May the Fourth because it's a newsworthy you know “May the 4th be with you” holiday. So some of it is, you know, some of it is timing based on what makes sense. There are definitely promotions that we’ll put on a weeknight because it's a weeknight, a weekend because we're targeting families, but yes the goal of a special promotion is to drive interest that wouldn't otherwise be there.
Scott: Right-right and have you learned a lot from minor league baseball because they're kind of known for bizarre promotions and things that get fans in the stadium who aren't necessarily, at first, that interested in the game.
Lexie: 100% I mean I think, you know, I'm a big believer that you can learn from anywhere, not just sports examples. You know, theaters do it, you know, like Hobby Center. Movie theaters do different things. If you dive deep enough it's interesting, like, when does a movie premiere? You know everybody uses some sort of strategy, so I think you kind of as a marketer have to be looking at best practices not just within the sports world. You have to be looking at entertainment as a whole, is very relevant to our industry, but beyond that you know there are corporations that do a lot of promotions around seasonal launches, you know, Black Friday, you'll see a lot of great content with retailers and so for us it's just what makes sense for the cyclical nature of our business.
We're in a tough place schedule wise, most people don't realize this I did not realize this until I worked my first season, but MLS season goes from March until October, so we are the longest, you know, running season even though baseball has significantly more games from a time standpoint. We have to remain relevant for the longest period of the calendar year and we have the shortest offseason to plan. So for us it is good to think about it like minor-league baseball. How do you keep people's interest, you know, over such a long season when it might not be the easiest product to sell? But we do try to be cognizant of the fact that we are a professional organization, we don't want to turn into you know this crazy discounted wacky promo type of business, so it's a blend of what relates to our fans and what's taking it a little bit too far.
Scott: Right, I think Star Wars nights on the more sophisticated end of that type of promotion so I think I see what you're getting at. Some of the minor league teams just go absolutely crazy with their promotions, so that's really cool and I was thinking when you're when you're talking about, kind of, you're trying to increase the customer’s willingness to try the product and if that interest isn't really strong. And one local example that I think is cool is the Houston Zoo with their Zoo Lights, and I know all the zoos, the big zoos are doing this now across the country but, you know, it's even personally I never think about going to the zoo to see animals but around the holidays I want to see the lights and I live in a really small neighborhood and I don't get to see them. So I go to Zoo Lights and then we ended up buying an annual pass. I mean maybe you have kind of the same thing like, I go to, I go to Star Wars night and then I end up buying season tickets for the Dynamo because I have so much fun at the game and season tickets must be a lot more reasonable, right, and you know the Texans have a waiting list, so if the sports fan really wants to have that enduring commitment to a local team then the Dynamo provide an excellent opportunity for that.
Lexie: Exactly and with our schedule the nice thing is our games are pretty spaced out so we only have 17 home games but it's, you know, on average it's two a month it's not 81 home games a year, it's not 41 home games a year, it's very-very manageable, it's very affordable, and it's, you know, it's a really different experience. You're not going to get that with any of the other you know major teams in town but your Zoo Lights example is spot on because it's something that they have placed during non-peak season and you know drives a lot of attendance during a holiday that normally the zoo would be irrelevant and no one would think to do that without that type of promotion.
So that's exactly what we are trying to create is, you know, you'll see a different experience in the summer than you would during a home opener or a Fall game.
Scott: Right-right that's very cool and, do you have a, is there a favorite campaign that you've run since you got to the Houston Dynamo or even one that you ran with one of the other organizations that you worked with, something you're proud of and that kind of says something about who you are as a marketer?
Lexie: Well start with a Dynamo example. My favorite Dynamo example was actually really quickly after I joined the team, we were launching a black jersey for the first time in the club's history and our tagline is Forever Orange, so it's interesting that we rolled out a color other than orange and so we did what we referred to as the Paint It Black jersey. We did a Paint It Black campaign and we launched it with a local graffiti artist, Gonzo, and he did a graffiti mural here in EaDo and it was really-really cool because we were very intent on keeping it local, keeping the focus on the fact that we are downtown Houston but as opposed to the other teams we are East downtown and, I mean, there's a very visible difference you start to get into the graffiti neighborhood and it's a little bit edgier and, you know, we play out in the heat and we think that we're a little bit of a grittier brand and we wanted to make sure that it felt very local both to Houston and to EaDo. It was not a traditional way to launch a jersey to just see a massive mural come up with a player wearing it but it was really great because, you know, it definitely incorporated as a brand how we wanted to present our self. We tied in our jersey partner at the time. They literally had a graffiti billboard of you know their sponsorship on the logo. It was definitely a different and interesting PR pitch to get news cameras to come out and cover a painting as opposed to a runway show or you know a digital photo gallery or something along those lines and then we did a lot that whole season to promote when the team would be wearing black and we had a ticket offer tied into it.
So, I think it was just a very well-integrated campaign that was a fresh take on something that happens every single year but I feel like we kind of knocked it out of the park and things like our fans responded, and you know it became a destination for them to go and take photos and engage exactly how you hope fans engage with your brand.
So that would be my Dynamo example and then when I was with the Mavs I was still on the community relations side and they have a fundraiser called North Texas Giving Day which is like, you know, a one day giving campaign and there's different matches and things like that and if you remember the Geico commercial where they said, you know, “Guess what day it is. It's hump day,” we did a take on that with Dirk Nowitzki and, he said, he did a commercial “Guess what day it is, it's game day,” and so we extended that really successful campaign into “Guess what day it is, it's North Texas Giving Day” and we actually brought a live camel into the Mavericks offices and had Chandler Parsons and Devin Harris ride a live camel screaming “Guess what day it is. It's North Texas Giving Day. Give to the Mavs Foundation,” and so that was just fun because, I mean, where else can you bring a live camel into your office and have a professional athlete, like, ride it and be on, you know, on camera doing it so it was for a good cause. I just think you know, at the end of the day, we have fans and fans get very passionate and very sometimes aggressive on, you know, their wishes for their teams to do well and so it's really fun when we can remind people that we are in the entertainment business and it is light-hearted and it is fun and we have good guys and it's a cool platform to promote the right things, so that campaign was really enjoyable to just be on the, light, more lighthearted community side of things.
Scott: Right, that's cool, that's a good marketing story and I also think it kind of represents why people want to get into sports marketing. It's such a, you know, it's kind of an aspirational thing for a lot of marketing students. Yeah, and I want to be respectful of your time here but I want to get into one more thing and you touched on it with your last answer. But I'm teaching courses in integrated marketing programs and, you know, how marketing usually it's its own department but then there are all these kind of subsegments of what marketing is all about and of course with modern marketing it's really important for brand consistency and messaging to have integration of all these different arms of the marketing department.
So can you tell us a little bit about how your sales promotion, your advertising, your PR, your direct selling, any personal selling you do for suites or something like that, and your digital social presence, how are these all tied together? Are you the person that's managing that integration? What are, what are kind of the challenges and successes that you've seen with integrated marketing?
Lexie: Yeah, I think well first, yes I am the person here within our organization that tries to pull them all together so I work very closely with our ticket sales and service memberships team, I work very closely with our corporate partnerships team and then obviously I fall within the marketing and communications department. So it's definitely interesting because the landscape as you've just described has changed so much even in my short career, especially with everything, you know, pushing toward digital. It used to be that social media was its own kind of brand on behalf of your company and then you had traditional marketing and then you had traditional communications and PR and then you had you know traditional sales that was much more face-to-face or over the phone, and now all of these things have really, you know, digital has taken over in every area so it's tough to blend things that have stood alone for the longest time. But from our standpoint it's just very important that we hone in on what our goals are as a company. So our goals as a company are to build the Dynamo and the Dash brand and interest in the sport of soccer but specifically with the Houston teams. So our men's team the Dynamo and our women's team the Dash, and then the game through our international events coming through the BBVA Compass Stadium.
That's our primary goal is just to build our fan base and get people interested in the first place and then beyond that as I've alluded to it's getting people to a game, so obviously that's the sales component to it. We can have all the fans in the world, but we need them to show up and fill the building and then the last part is to connect with our community and so it's very important for us that we are, you know, community minded and that we're a pillar within Houston, so I think that's where we just really strive to tie everything back in together and amplify the same messages, the same calls to action, the same things that we're looking for from our fan base.
So you know the most successful campaigns that we've had internally are the ones where we're launching something as a company and it's not marketing doing this, and sales has started this, and corporate partnerships is over here, but it is in any industry not just the sports world, getting tougher and tougher to stay consistent because there are so many channels and there are so many business goals and so I think it's just really important that you understand what that overarching strategy is and you preach that time and time again to every staff member. And I'm personally a fan of taking different jobs so you can understand someone's role in a different area.
So for me personally, one of the things that I strive to do as a marketer is take a position that has some elements that I'm very strong in and some that I need to learn more about and that would be my advice for a student is to, you know, you're never going to be a hundred percent comfortable in a position and if you are it's you're probably not pushing yourself hard enough but you know we can't have a social media coordinator that thinks their only job is to post on social media. They need to also understand how they're helping drive ticket sales or how they're helping to tell the story about what we're doing in the community and we can't have a ticket sales person who thinks they're only here to sell tickets they need to understand how they're representing our brands and how they're, you know, contributing to the overall fan base that we're trying to generate.
So, I think it's my job to help from a strategic planning and how we buy our media and how we roll things out and when and where and to whom but it's every employee’s responsibility to understand how they, you know, how their puzzle piece fits into the bigger picture.
Scott: Right that's great advice and I love that answer. I think and I kept thinking back to your Paint It Black campaign when you're talking about integrated marketing because on its face it doesn't feel like a digital or, you know, social activity but you could just imagine all the people that were being photographed in front of the mural, and it's just you're kind of built deliberately building in these links between the different arms of marketing which is really what marketing is becoming is it's kind of, you know, starting with your target market but also with your creative and your message generation, figuring out you know what is going to what is going to have these links built into it so that it's not really hard for us to maintain consistency and shareability and all these things that we value across the different aspects of marketing and PR.
Scott: Awesome, all right Lexi, I'm going to let you off the hook. I have eaten up a lot of your time but I think it flowed naturally and you had great stories and I think your advice to students is going to be very well received, so thank you for spending time with me to the chat through marketing for the Dynamo. We'll look forward to the rest of your work there and then whichever NHL team you end up with in the future.
So thank you very much.