If you found yourself near Atlanta’s Philip’s Arena in early January 2015, you likely would have seen crowds of people, dressed up (by basketball game standards), pouring into the stadium, staring at their phones.
They were all on Tinder.
Yep, Tinder. As a wildly unorthodox — but no doubt genius — marketing exercise, the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks hosted its first “Swipe Right Night,” inviting Tinder users to meet up at the game. The event was such a success that they did it again in March 2016; participants shared photos on social media and the event made news nationwide.
Behind this idea and many other innovative, out-of-the-box marketing strategies was Melissa Proctor, CMO for the Hawks. Proctor and her marketing team have employed fresh thinking to attract the attention of the Atlanta public and it has paid off. In August, the Hawks released its schedule on Twitter using only emojis.
Proctor’s creative thinking has resulted in increased excitement around the Hawks. I sat down with her between strategy sessions and speaking engagements (her next appearance will be at business conference NextCon) to discuss how she determines her target audience and the best advice she’s received.
With so many NBA teams vying for fans and ticket sales, how do you compete?
In my mind, when others zig, we zag. I don’t really think of other teams as our only competition. Our competition is anything that can entertain you, which could be a Netflix show, the nearest restaurant, a fashion show — basically anything happening within Atlanta is competition from an entertainment standpoint. We are selling entertainment. We don’t just look at the world of sports.
Who is your target audience and how do you reach them?
Next-generation Atlantans are our target audience. Atlanta is an interesting place because we experienced a major population boom after the 1996 Olympics (population soared from 3.5 million in the mid-90s to 5.5 million today). A lot of people settled here from places like Boston and New York — people who already had allegiances to the Celtics or Knicks. We can’t change those allegiances, but we can be the team for the children of those residents. That is our goal.
We’ve taken this really seriously and done things like design our jerseys to be the coolest jerseys when those kids play the NBA 2K17 video game. Everything we do is through the filter of attracting that audience.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing sports marketing these days?
Across the board, teams are looking to create deeper fan engagement. They are focusing more on mobile and how to integrate that experience with fans in the arena and at home. I’ve heard about teams considering virtual reality opportunities for fans to help build brand loyalty. Content is also huge right now. Players are becoming their own brands and publishing their own content, which helps fans interact. We’ve seen that happen within music and other industries. It is now coming into the sports world, too.
What does your average day look like?
Every day is different for me, but I’d say meetings are a constant — lots of lunches, breakfasts and general networking events. Marketing is about collaboration and connecting with others. I have an amazing team and we have a lot of brainstorming sessions. Just yesterday we had an Oreo cookie birthday party for a team member. We try to keep it light and fun.
When I’m not in meetings, I do my best to be available and answer questions. Good ideas can come from anywhere; it isn’t the loudest voice in the room that has the power. It is about a team that can collaborate.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
No one manages your career but you. A lot of people who work in corporations are looking for someone to give them their next opportunity or waiting for a job to open. Instead, create the job you want. Go into your career with an entrepreneurial mindset and watch amazing things happen.