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Women in Sports Finally Comes of Age

The summer of 2019 will be remembered as the time that women’s sport came of age. And it couldn’t have come soon enough. Finally, the press was covering more female sports that mass audiences were engaging within their millions. Joining the cricket and football World Cups were other elite sports, fighting outdated stereotypes and upsetting the status quo. One of the boldest to hit the tracks this year was W Series, a new but truly international all-female motor racing series, moving from concept to the track in little more than a year.

However, with increased attention comes the pressure of ensuring that the online experience of emerging sports lives up to the promise of the sports themselves. Without the legacy of sporting history, how do you build a sport, from scratch, that delivers a positive digital experience to equal our expectations?

The honest answer is, you don’t. Well, at least not in the first season. But there are things you can do to progress quickly.

Engaged at the beginning of W Series’ inaugural season to build their digital presence, we formed a real partnership with the racing pioneers. But there has been a steep learning curve for all concerned – so what have we discovered?

Ground-breaking clients

Firstly, everything is in beta. There is a real sense from most start-up clients that they’re building something from nothing. In W Series’ case, this is extreme; they were inventing the rules of the sport as we went. It’s important this same pioneering spirit is embraced by the agency because without it you’re constantly out of step and that’s a precarious place for agencies to be. In a past life, working at an agency with a national newspaper as a client, the editor of the newspaper was consistently underwhelmed by the agency, taking days to amend the headline of a proposed press ad – during which time he should have published two days’ worth of news. If you want to work with fast-moving clients, you’ve got to move fast too. Synchronicity is key.

Secondly, collaboration is fine, but sometimes the agency just needs to work it out for itself. The idea of ‘doing first and seeking permission later’ doesn’t sit well with a lot of agency processes or their people. And quite rightly, because for some clients it’s seen as high treason and grounds for the chop. But for clients who are genuinely breaking new ground, it’s a vital component of the relationship, because quite often the answers simply aren’t there yet. Patience and a bit of give and take is key.

Thirdly, ‘small data’ over ‘big data’. Sometimes there isn’t a huge amount of wholly relevant information available when you start something completely new. Sure, there are reference points, but this isn’t the fabled world of ‘marginal gains’ off the back of lots of experience and in-depth knowledge. This is about building a minimum viable product (MVP) and making iterative improvements on the hoof. W Series was born with a purpose in mind but there wasn’t a ‘consumer need’ as such, and there wasn’t a clear audience in mind for the product either. In fact, the Series itself morphed as we got closer to the first race, meaning we started with our best hunch, based on limited data, and refined as we went.

Price, speed, quality

It is often said that you can’t have more than two of the three, so if you want quality at pace, it’ll be expensive. Obviously, this is still largely true, but increasingly there are ways to mitigate against this notion in the digital world – a way to have your cake and eat a little bit, too.

Select the best platforms and entertain the idea of templates. There was once a time where templated websites looked atrocious, a time when limits on design and functionality signaled look-alike and feel-alike sites, meaning any self-respecting brand would steer well clear of ‘wearing someone else’s clothes’. At the very top end that’s still the case, but for fledgling brands with seriously tight budgets and a need for fast-evolving functionality on a stable platform, simple plug-ins and composite construction are valid options.

Set your velocity to ‘fast’ and learn as you go. To make the most of the above, you need to have a team that know how to build great things from simple stuff – much like the way origami masters create a scale replica of the Houses of Parliament from a sheet of A4 paper. A talented team not only moves quickly, they enable you to iterate quickly and stay in step with the start-up mindset. In our case, it’s also important to have seasoned practitioners with the right temperaments and the ability to work in tight-knit groups.

Then there’s the matter of quickly assembling an audience. At Organic, we fuse a deep understanding of technology with a clear understanding of the needs of the users. In most cases, that means devoting time to getting to know the audience well before we create and build. However, when you’re dealing with genuinely new or ground-breaking products and services, that’s not always feasible. In these cases, we learn and learn quickly. We learn from other sectors, categories and from impromptu UX testing, the creation of iterative cohorts, helping to establish fluid A/B and MVT programs – all meaning we build at speed and iterate quicker.

Agile, well, sort of

Adopting an ‘agile methodology’ has become a hackneyed and clichéd expression across the industry, as well as being increasingly used to simply mean a flexibility in your way of working. For Organic, agile in its purest form is a lot more than this, but it’s also not ideal for most client projects because it can be too restrictive.

However, what is fundamental to the premise of agile, is a method that gives focus to projects that are constantly evolving, without suffering loss of momentum or valuable time en route.

Adhering to the right principles allows us to quickly build sites that are fit for purpose. In the case of W Series, as with a lot of start-up MVPs, the requirements and functionality evolve on an almost daily basis, in line with changes in the product itself. We, therefore, build with an end goal in mind, while adapting to an emerging audience with previously undefined needs.

Nowadays, tight deadlines, constant requests and 24/7 communication mean it’s increasingly hard to stay on top of everything whether it’s personal or professional. However, in a progressively digital world, there’s constant room for improvement.

To combat these challenges, it’s extremely important to work with agility. But what does this actually mean? And should everyone rush to jump on the bandwagon?
It’s true that most agencies throw the term agile around, professing to work in certain ways when the reality is starkly different. More often than not, companies have outdated processes and business systems that hold them back from achieving any kind of “agile” working practices.
It’s one thing to recognise a problem, it’s another to address it head on. Currently, most agencies only manage to harness glimpses of agility. From client wants and needs, to lack of internal capacity, there are many barriers that stand in the way of making agility a core value.

The steps to establish an agile system
The first step to business agility is to look at team skillset. In some cases, you’ll have a large team dealing with one client, whereas other agencies may service clients on a more individual basis. Whatever your situation, you need to make it a priority to learn about your team and understand from a strategic level what can work more efficiently. You can use risk analysis to make sure you don’t upset the apple cart, particularly when dealing with long-standing clients.
When Organic moved towards an agile way of working, we had to be brutally honest with ourselves. This meant taking a good hard look at our work, people and numbers so we could put together a bespoke, agile framework for the agency. This is key, because there’s no single solution that will work for every business. It’s important to treat each situation as distinct and unique.
Next, don’t just suddenly announce that you’re transitioning to becoming more agile. Everyone on your team has to buy into it, so it needs to be a collaborative approach. Assess how you plan to roll out the strategy; for example, are you introducing Slack or trialling Trello?
When implementing these steps, you need to consider timing and create a plan that fits within a pre-determined schedule. The “two-week sprint” process works well, as you can tweak in real-time, based on employee feedback, and judge what has worked and what hasn’t.
Above all, flexibility is key. Change needs to be monitored, which means ensuring proper organisation before undergoing such a radical culture shift.

The benefits of working in an agile environment
Before you make the shift to an agile approach, you need to be confident that the transformation process will lead to positive results.
One of the main benefits is that you can cope with change positively and start to act proactively – not reactively. There’s always a knock-on effect with how situations are handled, so planning in advance can make a real difference to performance outcomes.
Agile working also means you know how to add value and where. Resources and time aren’t wasted, which is actually much better for staff. This gives employees the freedom to manage their own time and take ownership for their responsibilities. Of course, line managers can still monitor their work.
Overall, this shift to an agile approach empowers people and boosts productivity.

Don’t let fear hold you back
Businesses shouldn’t be worried to step outside their comfort zone. That’s only natural of course but you shouldn’t let that get in the way of experimenting and trying something new.
You can’t expect everything to just change overnight. You have to do the groundwork and start with your people. If you’re afraid of taking the plunge, then test different “flavours” of agility and see what works for your company and your employees. Remember, every agency is different.
That’s why the tactics and processes you employ should reflect your company’s values and beliefs. Taking the process seriously is the only way to truly reap the full benefits.

Should we jump on the bandwagon?
While “agile” has become something of a buzzword within the marketing sphere, it’s not suitable for everyone.
Agility is, at its core, the ability to reach and change. If you don’t want to completely overhaul and rethink your methodology, you can start by defining things in small chunks and deliver “agile” projects in small iterations.
Start little and do it often. When you test and learn, you’ll be able to determine what works and what doesn’t. That knowledge is incredibly powerful.
But a final word of warning – be careful! Another agency’s agile framework might be completely ill-suited to your brand, so don’t just lift, copy and recycle. Be open to changing direction but lean into what makes your agency unique. That is how you champion real, meaningful change.

#TheSocialStandard event was an event we held on Tuesday 26th July. Through a series of presentations and a panel discussion, #TheSocialStandard shed light on the most critical emergent trends in social.
Amongst the panellists at the event, held at The Rooms in Browns on St Martins Lane, was James Lubbock, Strategic Client Director UK and Ireland at Socialbakers.
We got in touch with James to find out what stood out for him.
(Organic) How did you find the event?
(James) I thought it offered a clear, up to date and informative view on the current state of social media marketing. It was also encouraging that there was very little jargon used, something that many events have been guilty of in the past. There was balanced mix of industry professionals from across verticals which added an element of expertise to cap off an enjoyable, insightful social media day event.
What was the most important outcome of the panel discussion, in your opinion?
I think the focus for our industry professionals on developing their social customer service proposition is significant given the trends we’re seeing in our own Socialbakers data. Consumers are increasingly going to social as a first touchpoint when they want to contact brands. That’s big.
Couple that with the added opportunity of developing a revenue stream that brands can potentially tap into during the customer service journey through the additional data they’ll have at their disposal of each customer, and this area of social suddenly becomes critical for many brands in the coming year.
Which of the near-future trends and developments in social that were discussed during #TheSocialStandard have the biggest implications for how success is measured?
I’d say VR has interesting implications for driving additional purchase behaviour, in that it could potentially be used to offer innovative ways in which to promote products through immersive social VR networks. This could then be directly attributable to revenue for the brand.
Also, as more budget is attributed to a brand’s social customer service proposition as a result of the trends I mention in my previous point, we can expect to more easily measure cost saving for a brand’s customer service in its entirety, through better efficiencies and technological developments, such as increasingly sophisticated chatbots. And then of course there are the cross/upsell opportunities that I touched upon above too.
Which developments would you advise organisations to get to grips with most urgently?
I’d say it’s always important to get back to basics as a first step and assess your content strategy – how well does it really align with your overall marketing objectives, how effective is it being, and do you have a clear social channel strategy, with each network having its own defined objectives?
Apart from the obvious one of social service, a focus on how they can best articulate the value of social internally within their organisation is always key and every tool in the box should be utilised – analytics needs to be central to this.
Finally, the rise of chat apps is becoming critical to brands with a younger target demographic. I would therefore recommend brands to explore what’s possible and how these relatively new networks can be used by brands to interact with their consumers in new and innovative ways.
Many thanks to James for sharing his expertise at #TheSocialStandard and for answering our questions.
#TheSocialStandard is just the latest in our ongoing series illuminating of events for marketing and management professionals. Join our mailing list below so you won’t miss out on future opportunities to learn from expert speakers, share ideas with your counterparts and expand your network.

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