A Conversation with Grant Russell & Laura Brannan from Motherwell FC.

In this episode of ScorePlay Talks, we had the pleasure of chatting with one half of the media team at Motherwell FC in Scotland!
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How the club helps its players develop their brand? How do you go about having an authentic message? How important is storytelling to build a community with fans ? So many topics that are all about the Motherwell FC content strategy and how to do lots with little. Thanks to Laura Brannan, Senior video producer & Grant Russell, Head of Digital, Communications and Brand at Motherwell FC.

Could you paint a high level picture of Motherwell's content and media strategy?

It’s important that a club and it was certainly important that our club actually understood what it was as a club and what it was as a brand. So that was actually the first point of the exercise. It was several years ago that we sat down and said OK we think we understand what the club stands for, what it represents, but it's all up here, in our minds internally and also the minds of our supporters but it was never formal anywhere, that was never committed to any strategy. So the major part was finding out exactly what does Motherwell stand for? What are the values that it represents? What are the principles that can guide us going forward? That said, this is Motherwell and anything we do as a club follows those values and principles and doesn't deviate from them in any shape or form and then that makes a content strategy much easier to carry out. Because all we do in our content strategy is say OK this is my Motherwell FC this is the thing that it’s trying to do. So when it comes to content we only tell the stories of those values and those pillars, that we call them, of what eventually arcs back up to an overall message. Motherwell’s mission statement is: “We exist to improve people's lives”. Which is quite unusual for a football club but that's underpinned by a set of values, a set of principles. Then for our content strategy, we set in four buckets so for example there is the match, which is again the fundamental part of why really people are drawn to Motherwell FC. So when it comes to the storytelling and trying to attract people to come to the games and be interested in the matches, we'll try and set a consistent narrative through the whole season that says okay this is what we expect will happen this season and try and pin back. All of our messaging, all of our videos, all of our graphics, anything we do on social media ties back into that central narrative just to try and have a consistent story for the season. Motherwell is a selling club. When it comes to the player side of things we commit to telling the stories and building the characters of our players so that the fans can feel a deeper connection to them but also when it comes to trying to advance their careers which we quite openly will say to players: Come here, do well, you will get a bigger move to a bigger club. So a big part of what we do from a content strategy point of view there is trying to build their personalities through good storytelling. There is a nostalgia side of things because having great stories and great tales from the past and as I said it's not about winning things at Motherwell but it might be about great European trips or memorable matches. And retelling those stories in the community, together with shared memories. And then one of the big parts of Motherwell is a pillar we call People. What essentially it is, is all the great work that goes on in our local community, both by our club and it's charitable arm the Community Trust, then also just great things that are happening in our local area and giving people a platform and giving local causes a real platform that only Motherwell FC in this area can provide to such a national and international audience. We do a lot of work with the community. So we try and find what good story is out about the town and just going to showcase the good that people do. We did one recently on food banks, unfortunately food banks is such a prolific thing in Scotland and especially this area of Scotland. So we wanted to showcase just how good a job they do and how important a job they do. We did a collection a food collection at one of our games, we've done things like that, working around the community. We're always looking for different stories in the community just to kind of help promote good messages and improve people and help improve their lives and  showcase what is wrong and how we can fix it and what's going well and how we can celebrate it.

How do you help your players build and leverage their brands?

We will sit down with players when they come in here we will sit down with them as a team and say OK, what is it that you want to achieve from your time here. It might be I want to move on to a club in England or you know get a bigger move, it might be for many I want to play international football. We will sit down and have that conversation. And we have a whole worksheet for player branding and we say ok this is what they say they want to achieve and we turn around and say this is how we're going to help them achieve it. You know 99% of it is what you do in the park. if you do well in the park, you're going to get noticed. But if we can give that 1% to try and help get the perceptions around you as a player and a person, hopefully we can try and elevate you that bit more. There's a great example only last night, a player who joined us from Norway, Sondre Solholm, he came to us on his initial meeting and said “Actually I'm eligible for the Canadian National team” and he expressed an interest in actually wanting to do that is through his grandmother. So we put, I mean when we say storytelling it's not just written interviews, we took Sol as we call him out into nearby near where he's staying, we took him out to a local park he was buying a coffee and he was just telling, showing his personality, showing him and having him tell stories. To the extent where in that video he said “Hey I'm allowed to play for the Canadian National team“ and then within a few hours, we had basically a Canadian soccer press banging down our door wanting to know more about Sondre’s plan. He will be an international footballer for Canada. I'm not trying to say that that's all the work that the content and media team does here, but it shows that if you tell the right stories, in the right way and try and build personalities of players, you start getting success. And actually how I define success is helping them achieve their ambitions, that’s the heart of our entire content strategy. This idea of if you want to get big you have to think small if you want to amplify you have to specify and if you really go hyper super specific on certain things and only tell those stories then it cuts through into the audience and the supporter bases minds. If we try and give them too much information, they don't understand. But if we say this is Sol, he is you know the rugged really all action defender who is really into Canadian sports and charity work and he's a larger-than-life character football, I can identify and I like him. So we just keep telling those stories. So that's what we mean by player branding. I think it can get quite confusing, people have different interpretations of it, but that's how we actually make our audience understand, engage with us. What gives us a success in helping players elevate their platform. What helps people come on the journey with us. What helps us really tell rich stories of people in the local area is only telling those things. It really is as simple as that, it's about being specific and fundamentally understanding what you are, where you're trying to get to and then only telling those stories. That is, I mean, it isn't any more complicated than that for me. We take kind of great pride in trying to brand our players and show them as who they are as personalities and who they are as players. So we like to showcase them as people and them as characters and maybe we kind of speak them, about what do you think is maybe the perceptions that fans have of you, what do they maybe think is the bad points or the negatives and then for example maybe one of the player might see like Oh they think I'm good at defending but i'm not very skillful on the ball. So we'll go OK, well let's try and showcase that, let's maybe film you at training one day or focus on your games to really kind of get the clips that show you are good on the ball. We do a documentary called Inside Motherwell once a month and within that we do  documentary features, little mini documentaries where we take a player and we put them into their environment we let them choose where they want to do a shoot, maybe we'd take them there, be at their house or we went to the horse racing with one of the players recently or we'd go to restaurants with them and things like that and go for walks in the park - that was a popular one during lockdown, taking the dog for a walk in a local park. And just gonna find out a little bit more about them what their story is, what their personality is. We find that the result of that the fans feel a lot closer to them and we find that's important because if you understand a person as a human rather, than just a footballer you get, you almost create a level of empathy, so that if things aren't going well on the pitch people actually, they forgive you more and they don't they hate on you as much because they're like well we actually know what they’re like as a person and we like that character. So we find it actually beneficial for bringing the fans.

The big part for us of ScorePlay has been to be able to give players the vehicle to be able to communicate quicker after matches, win, lose or draw, if we had a delay in getting photos to them the players might not post, they might not say the things that then the fans will then connect with them and sympathise or congratulate. I mean by the time the guys hit the dressing room, the locker room at full time the photos their photos are there for them so they can literally they can sit in their seats before they hit the shower or probably more advisably after they've been in the shower and had time to cool down, it's there and then they have that rich media that they can then go and say whatever it is they want to say and it's a real important tool for us to be able to communicate through the players because it's one thing when it's coming from the club and we try to have that deep level of authenticity but the most authentic platform or vehicle for getting your message across is the players. And we don't impress anything on them we don't force them to say anything. Sometimes some players will come to us and say what do you think of this should I be saying that but it's actually getting rarer and rarer because the guys are so switched on to again going back to that initial this is what we're trying to achieve and they understand that, they understand that from the manager first and foremost and they understand that as a group and they understand that as a club. So then being able to communicate so quickly after matches really helps as well in that regard. Being able to get things so quickly to them really helps shape our approach as well.

How do Motherwell do things differently?

There is a strategical side which is saying okay we understand who we are and where we're trying to get to but and it's actually bringing that to life and it's using the tools at hand as a and I mean storytelling tools to actually bring all of that to life. So we rely and you know we're privileged here that we have great access and great relationship with players who will trust us and we'll open the doors to say that you know they'll allow us to try and tell their stories as clearly and authentically as possible you know, there are things like at full time after a match we are on the pitch and before the players caught their breath we're asking them what they thought of the match. Because it creates that really kind of connection and feeling of capturing in that moment exactly what their emotion is. There's the being able and again getting the trust and access of people who have really difficult stories to tell in our local community. In terms of our social media approach there's a real quality over quantity approach so we're really going to say OK at the start of a month and planning our months and say OK these are the stories we're going to tell. And even if that means we put one item of content on social media a day then we're just going to own that and we're not going to be bothered by that because we think that that's how we'll cut through and that's how people will actually see us rather than just bombarding people for the sake of it. And then in terms of the video content approach, we are able to start from the base point of say OK we have our Inside Motherwell monthly documentary series where we say we're going to tell these specific stories and then we'll break them down into individual content parts which go at a different time so don't want to watch the whole recap you can dip in and out of I'm only interested in these stories and that helps build out the whole content calendar as we go. In terms of geography, we compete so much with Celtic and Rangers, we're so close in terms of locations to these two clubs that it's only natural that supporters or people in general flock to these two teams and unless you're really from the town of Motherwell, which isn’t a big town you're probably unlikely to become a supporter if it's not already in your family and you've grown up with that. so we are a small small community and yeah I know I know I know that's so cliche I know a lot of clubs always say we're a family, we're a community club, I know it's so so cliched. But there is a real sense of that here that just through the work we do, on and off the pitch that people really do feel a connection to us and I think it's because we are such a small team in terms of numbers like staff wise that we don't just forget about a certain bit of work and go home at night and switch off or work nine to five, Monday to Friday with the game on Saturday. We work so many hours and we put our like blood, sweat and tears into this and that's kind of what we said after we won the [Football Business] award was that we're just four people working with ridiculous hours, to try and be different and it's nice to be acknowledged for that sometimes and for people to realize. Because you get late nights, I do a lot at night so there's been a lot of late nights where you go is this worth it and it is because you see the rewards for it.

What are the future ambitions for the club?

Our approach going forward will probably be shaped by what the supporters want, what the club wants to what is communicating how it wants to communicate and then the platforms that are available to us to be able to tell those stories and spread that message. I mean we'll sit, we sit down every summer or in advance of every summer and say OK how are we going to change up our content approach what are that because as I said fundamentally the stories that the club are trying to tell, ok, new story lines come up, but the core stories never change and will never change, yes the club will evolve but it's not going to change necessarily one season to the next, other than on the the playing side of things so what we're more looking at every year is: is that type of content successful? How do you measure success? Is it what's actually getting cut through supporters but is also the best way of telling our stories? What are other people doing? Because unashamedly there is no such thing as a really as a unique idea in this industry. You know everyone is getting inspiration from somewhere and we are no different and so looking out there, what's the best practice, what's going on in the market in America or over in Europe from other clubs around us. They're saying how can we find the right way of communicating and actually this season the approach hasn't deviated too much but I think come next summer again we'll be looking at saying ok, especially with the explosion of Tik Tok I mean we're not going to take away from anything else, our primary platforms right now remain Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and Youtube as well for the video side of things. The day-to-day ones are the you know the three I mentioned at the start. But it's finding the way. Tik Tok is such a platform that's not going away to say ok what's the best way to communicate the Motherwell message there. I think we fell into the trap instantly with Tik Tok, but everyone did, because when you first log on to Tik Tok as a new user you're seeing everyone doing funny dances and all the trends and you think oh we need to get in on those trends. And we did that at first and with great success and actually we took a step back and thought well that's not, that's completely belaying everything that we stand for as a you know we're not using a platform to communicate what makes us us. You know we're trying to bend in shape to be something else. So again we took that step back and now started seeing Tik Tok has an extension again of trying to tell stories just in a different medium and in a different style and actually having vastly greater success in doing that and staying true to ourselves rather than trying to become this caricature of our club. Because fundamentally whatever club you are at, you're as a social media, digital media, storyteller wherever you are in a media department, fundamentally your role is to tell the story of the club and nothing else it's not to try and fit in with a different audience, it's not to try and be cool, it's not to try and be quirky, it's to tell true truthfully and truly the story of your club in as many innovative and meaningful and deep ways possible. I think it's just finding that way to constantly evolve and not getting stuck in your thinking. Not patting yourself in the back and say Oh we won an award so we must be doing something right. It's like yeah we are but if we thought that's fine, that's validated us, let's just continue to do that forever, then we'll never win anything again. Or we’ll stagnate and actually regress as a club. Because fundamentally, the club's ambition is to grow and grow. Grow its family, grow its season ticket holders, grow its revenues and grow its awareness as a club both locally and nationally and beyond as well so that's actually what it's all aligned to at the end of the day is trying to help the club grow. That's why we exist, we don't just do it for the sake of it and the media department doesn't exist just because it's the right thing to have. It's because it's a fundamental key part in trying to help this business and club grow. We want to keep pushing the boundaries and being different we want to keep catching the eye, we've been doing it for a couple years now and be it individual features or just the overall impression of people saying oh yeah Motherwell are good at such and such or one video doing ridiculously well and everyone's sharing it. We just want to continue doing that in general, we want to keep making content that surprises people and makes people think that's an interesting way of looking at it, that's an interesting way of filming it or shooting it editing it. I've learned something that i didn't know before, I've watched something because I've been drawn into watching it that I wouldn't normally have watched previously. We just want to keep highlighting the club, the good the club does, the good the community does, our individual players as well we want to keep pushing our individual players and their individual brands and just keep striving to be better than we possibly ever thought we could be. We don't settle, we don't want to just settle for boring, we want to stand out and keep surprising ourselves never mind everyone else.

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