The Cotton Bowl Classic - Making Every Game Count
By: Bianca Gamez, PRSA Entertainment & Sports Executive Committee Member, President Rok'N Society
In this day and age, the game of football is more than just two teams duking it out on the field. It’s providing a source of entertainment for both fans and media attending to experience a once in a lifetime opportunity. The Cotton Bowl Classic has tapped into this formula and has become one of the best bowl games in college football. How did they do it? Through a lot of planning, creating the right kind of campaigns for media placement and molding into today’s social media trends.
I recently sat with Michael Konradi, Chief Marketing Officer of the Cotton Bowl Classic. He has served under the organization for the past 15 years as their marketing guru and has been one of the key staff member to place this bowl in the New Year’s Six. In my interview, Konradi explains the strategy and steps the Cotton Bowl has taken throughout the years to become one of the best bowl games for fans, the teams participating, and the media.
What PR initiatives were taken to get the Cotton Bowl where it is today? What are the formulas?
A: To get the Cotton Bowl where it is today, wasn’t done overnight. There was a plan laid out some time ago before we even knew that AT&T Stadium was going to be built. The key components were relationship building, including on the media side. Developing a strong relationship with them, and making sure that they are taken care of at a level unsurpassed than any other bowl game or at least equal to the top bowl games. We wanted them to have an experience similar to the teams through our hospitality program. Over time, we had a sense from the media that they were rooting for us to get back up. A lot of that was based on the relationship we enforced throughout the years.
What initiatives were done to gain the media’s Vote?
A: A great example of the kind of initiative we created was National College Football Day. This was a great way for us to get our name out there during that time of year when people were not talking about us. We wanted to celebrate the birthday of college football, the first Saturday of November, by sending each media member commemorative lapel pins. We did this for 10 years, and campaigned to get officials on board, as well as the conferences, universities and the Football Writers Associaton of America and others. So, we knew that sending these pins along with postcards to the who’s who in college football would work and get them to start thinking about Cotton Bowl. Now we are in it, the initiative no longer exists, but the purpose for 10 years was to make people think about the Cotton Bowl and it seemed to work.
What does the Cotton Bowl anticipate now from a PR/Social Media and engagement trend after forming this initiative (National College Football Day)?
A: Our focus has now shifted in getting our message out via social media and trying to be as creative as we can. Biggest Example, we have reached out to the social channels themselves to gain a partnership. We will have a Cotton Bowl emoji created, our site has been verified and we will be doing promotions with these channels. We sat down and thought about the important kind of messaging that fans want and they were the following:
Who’s coming to our game? It begisn with our weekly newsletterwhere we placed key media’s proposed bowl matchups on the email and through analytics the numbers were huge, .We utilize analytics in general to help us determine where people are going and what information is important to them.
We also did a test with advertising through twitter, to sell our standing room only seats for this year’s semi-playoff, and we saw a spike. This test shows how we are evolving towards social media and it becoming a mainstream way to conduct business, sell tickets and control our message.
What are the key things you use social media for?
A: We are now using social media first to make any major announcement. A lot of it has to do with cost and we have seen this portal become a strong and inexpensive way to get our message out. This allows us to hit our target market and college football fans in general.
To take social media messaging to an even higher rate, we partnered with The Dallas Morning News. Starting soon, dallasmorningnews.com will start placing an ad (linked to our website) at the top of their page with Who’s In slogan made popular by ESPN, cotton bowl classic logo and the four teams that are ranked that week. This will help direct people to our website and get us the coverage we seek to make this year’s game another big success.
How did leadership, mentorship and teamwork within the various departments of the Cotton Bowl make an impact to get the bowl where it is today?
A: Without the leadership at the top buying into this, you don’t get very far. Over the years there has been an educational curve that we have all had to work through in bringing our leadership up to speed, in order for them to understand the importance of social media. It was a process and we are getting there. We now have a social media budget, and it was bigger than what we anticipated.
On the teamwork side, we couldn’t do it without volunteers like yourself. We all have to work together for the common good to achieve the ultimate goals of the Cotton Bowl. If we do anything that involves social media or any marketing initiative, it will touch our entire staff, which is a small group. It will touch ticket sales, which is the ultimate goal, to sell tickets. It will touch our events group, Kelly in our graphics department, David in social media, and Charlie in communications. Depending on what it’s pushing, it will effect everybody in a positive way, which is why each week at our staff meetings we work to communicate our goals and strategy in order for the entire staff to be aware and buy in.
Being one of the biggest bowl games, how has the entertainment side affected this organization?
A: It’s night and day from how it used to be. ESPN has brought so much to the table, as it relates to the promotion of the College Football Playoff, the New Year’s Six (which Cotton Bowl is apart of). We have never had this kind of promotion in my 15 years at the Cotton Bowl. Automatically you have this national perceived importance, and perception is everything. For ESPN to go out there and push the semifinals and the other New Year’s Six games, has been huge in helping us develop our brand to become bigger. It has helped us evolve. In the last year, we added Goodyear as our title sponsor. It helped us get the message out to the world a lot quicker, that we are no longer the AT&T Cotton Bowl, we are now the Goodyear Cotton Bowl, and we are part of this new playoff system. It’s definitely changed the way on how we have approached things