How can fan engagement strategies and employer branding complement each other?
As we've seen throughout our recent series, modern fan engagement is now an intricate process, driven by deep technological insight and creative use of digital platforms. But are sports organisations applying the same resources to engaging with potential employees? And what are the overlaps between the two?
Whilst capturing and sustaining a fanbase is an obvious priority for anyone in the sports industry, attracting the highest standard of candidates is equally important if an organisation is to stay at the apex of the rapid rate of change in the industry.
With this in mind, clubs, federations and brands across the sporting landscape need to think about where employer branding figures in their marketing and fan engagement mix. Does their image as an organisation make them an attractive proposition to the best potential candidates?
The good news for the industry is that the metaphorical Venn diagram showing effective engagement of fans and potential job candidates shows two heavily overlapping circles.
As GlobalSportsJobs CEO Will Lloyd explains: "Employer branding and consumer branding are not mutually exclusive and should dovetail into each other. This is particularly true in sport, as in many circumstances, professionals are also consumers.
"However, the employer branding strategy should be focused on the engagement and attraction of talent. The messages, the channels and the content should be different; you are not selling a product, you are selling an opportunity and workplace."
Many in the sports industry have yet to embrace the subtleties of how consumer branding relates to employer branding, but INTERSPORT, the international sporting goods retail experts, are ahead of the curve.
The Swiss-based firm's brand message is "Sport to the people," connecting with everyone from the professional athlete to the everyday sportsman. To do so they engage fans in experiences with pros, such as the McKINLEY team's 'Beyond All Limits' Mount Everest Expeditions and the PUMA evoCHALLENGEs featuring former Arsenal winger Robert Pires.
This customer branding flows into its employer branding too, with a conscious effort to ensure INTERSPORT's workforce reflects that customer base.
"Our brand is inclusive of all sports enthusiasts and this is mirrored in our company culture," says Cristina Schneider from INTERSPORT's HR department.
"Our headquarters office has a relaxed, open-door atmosphere with an entrepreneurial team representing over 20 different nationalities. This collaborative and inclusive environment allows us to have a large international impact with a relatively small team.
"We strive to have an online presence in a variety of types of media and communication channels or make our brand visible to all generations as well as the specific industries needed to fill jobs that require unique education or skill sets."
Nielsen Sports, the premier provider of analytics and insights within the sports industry, use innovative technology to understand fans' demographics, desires and behaviours, enabling its clients to make strategic decisions and drive their business.
They apply this same deep knowledge of fans to their own employees. "We know how to interact and engage with our workforce in the same way we advise businesses to interact and engage with their fans," they commented.
In the same way that its in-house single-source data tool 'Fanlinks' gives Nielsen valuable insight into consumers, the London-based firm has developed its own internal People Analytics function to understand its own associates and how they can continue to engage them.
"One of the tools we use at Nielsen is the myVoice survey, which gives our associates across the globe the chance to share their thoughts and feelings, which then allows us to be strategic and precise when making decisions about working life at Nielsen," they explain.
Bas Schnater, a graduate of Johan Cruyff University who is now Head of Marketing Strategy and Fan Engagement at Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar, has researched this fan/employee engagement crossover extensively.
Schnater refers to marketing consultant Simon Sinek's 'Golden Circle' theory to explain how customer and employee engagement overlap. The theory investigates what makes customers and employees 'buy into' a company and discovers the question 'Why?' is all important.
If a sports organisation can clearly demonstrate why they are doing something, and its customers and employees share in that purpose and belief, that is the path to deep and lasting engagement.
So in Schnater's case, AZ Alkmaar are holding fan focus groups to shape the club's digital future. AZ also organise summer and winter sports camps for children in the local community who are disadvantaged or have health issues. These types of philanthropic, community-building activities unite the fanbase, demonstrate clear values and give employees a tangible and fulfilling shared outcome and purpose.
As Schnater concludes: "Graduates that are now hitting the market are part of a generation that choose purpose over salary, and inner motivation over material reward. Employment is becoming part of the bigger picture of 'life purpose' and thus requires more than just an appealing pay cheque.
"Companies that have realised this are now sweeping up the best of the class and are thus best prepared for sustainable future growth."