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I was still in college when I landed my dream internship as a full-time marketing intern for the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) team, FC Gold Pride, during their 2010 Championship season. As a collegiate soccer player and lover of marketing, this truly seemed like a dream job. I quickly realized I was part of a dream team too, however, being Women’s sports, our marketing was underfunded. Yet the expectation to get fans in seats throughout the season was still incredibly high.

What did our marketing team do? We rose to the challenge day in and day out. We truly gave our all every day, not just on game days. We had to get creative with our budget and our marketing message. I truly believe we did the best we could with what we had, and it was impressive!

Money and Time Are (Mostly) Interchangeable

It is very true that there are many situations in life when money and time are interchangeable. The unique world of professional sports taught me that many industries have aspects that do and don’t work that as well. When I was working this internship, we exchanged a lot of time for money! In fact, this was the case more often than not. It usually worked quite well too. However, there are also moments, in every industry, when it just does not work. There is a “magic sauce” to success, learning the balance between when to use time and when to use money as currency is a core part of that “sauce”.

Since our team did not have a lot of the funds to consistently participate in large-scale mass media marketing, word-of-mouth was one of our most efficient modes to transport our message! Our team did a great job of getting people talking and keeping them talking. We spent a ton of time canvassing areas, while also conversing and engaging with people we met. These networking moments happened almost everywhere a member of our marketing team went. The more people knew about our team, the more they showed up to your games!

Creativity Is A Powerful Tool

The challenge behind funding didn’t stop our marketing team from finding unique ways to reach our potential customers. These challenges gave me many opportunities to show off problem-solving skills, as well as creativity in developing new strategies. We did a lot of word-of-mouth marketing, yet we also habitually showed up to events and engaged with new people. At first, it was intimidating to sell an experience. After a while, it became second nature. During that space in between, took a lot of creativity, as well as trial and error with grassroot marketing techniques.

We were constantly looking for ways to “repurpose” marketing techniques we saw working for other brands, even in other industries! One of the books that really helped me master this skill (and get over my own imposter syndrome) was Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist. I recommend finding inspiration where you can, there are always countless ways to turn that inspiration into marketing magic! For me Austin Kleon’s book really opened by eyes to those opportunities that were already surrounding me.

Nothing Sells Like Word-of-Mouth Recommendations

While we did utilize some mass media, such as billboards and paid digital advertising, none of the techniques we used worked quite as well as good old fashion word-of-mouth recommendations. In fact, we saw some of our greatest brand awareness successes through public interaction with staff and players. Since our budget was tight, players and staff were often paid to attend other events around the San Francisco area to promote our games. We canvassed college campuses, attended Pride as a business sponsor, collaborated with the Men’s Professional team, and even engaged in official events promoting the upcoming Rio World Cup. I got to see first hand how meeting the players or even simply hearing about the excitement at a game consistently brought in new faces. Then those new fans would subsequently share their experience with friends and the next thing you know they have cultivated their own FC Gold Pride cheering squad! Business owners often forget how powerful a recommendation can be, even for businesses selling services or experiences.​

Great Branding Doesn’t Rely On Only One Single Media

I have heard a lot of business owners talk about how one particular marketing media “made their company successful.” However, the truth is that the power isn’t in the media… it is in the message. Brands that understand this never rely on a single media to get there message out to potential customers. In fact, successful brands are utilizing multiple media platforms for marketing, while keeping their message and branding strategy consistent. I am a believer in marketing through a variety of media options and this strategy’s power to increase your audience, as well as increasing the frequency at which those potential customers hear your message. At FC Gold Pride, we had to get creative with our budget, which often meant finding affordable secondary platforms to support our main marketing efforts. I encourage businesses to reach different audiences, using a variety of methods if they can afford to do so. You’d be surprised where some of the best business leads come from. Typically it’s from the repetition of consistently hearing your business’ messages over time through more than one media source.

Keep It Simple Stupid… Always

I am sure that you’ve heard the phrase, “Keep It Simple Stupid.” Marketing is one of the areas where this tactic really resonates. Just because a strategy may seem “simple” or that is has been “done before” doesn’t mean it won’t work. I remember having to come up with endless ways of reaching new people and always having more options available as I researched. I would often customize or evolve a concept I had seen work in similar situations to be more relevant to ours. This worked brilliantly and I still use many of these techniques still today. You’d be surprised what some passion and a couple bucks can manifest! Especially when you know it’s a tried and true technique that works. Also, remember there is always room for creativity in making these strategies work best for your businesses… this is not a recommendation to “copy and paste” another business’ ads.

Constantly Stay On Your Toes

The world of sports is always evolving, so is the world of businesses! The best approach to any low budget (and word-of-mouth) focused marketing strategy is to constantly be ready to evolve. We were always ready to get in front of potential fans, but also to switch up our strategies too. Some marketing techniques are more effective than others and their efficiency can also change over time. It is not uncommon for it to take a little trial and error to figure out the right options for your business. This is a process that even large corporations go through, especially as they are establishing their business voice! Nowadays, many businesses take advantage of digital marketing’s affordability, especially with efficient branding budgets. With so many marketing options, there are countless opportunities to use traditional paid ads, as well as utilizing digital platforms focused on “word-of-mouth” based recommendations

The biggest lesson I learned is that all businesses start somewhere. Many times it is with affordable options that eventually grow into larger opportunities! This is where I learned just how important a central brand strategy is. That way, no matter what media or platform you are using at any given point, your message is still consistent. Going into this internship, I believed I was going to learn the mechanics behind running ads on mass media platforms. What I actually learned was that branding is about building relationships and trust with potential customers. (Also, that doing so doesn’t have to cost a fortune.)

I would love to share some of the other amazing lessons I learned working in Sports Marketing for both in Professional and Collegiate Sports! If you are interested in tapping into some of that knowledge check out my other articles or feel free to reach out. I would love to assist you in any way that I can.