From Landon Donovan’s farewell tour to the news that a rival club was leaving and another one was coming in to their completed “First To Five,” culminating with an extra time win over the New England Revolution in MLS Cup, it was a thrilling and sometimes exhausting ride for the Los Angeles Galaxy this past year. One who was there through all the creative twists and spins was their head of communications Brendan Hannan. A young veteran in the communications field, Hannan made the move out west after running communications for the Chicago Fire, a rarity amongst PR professionals in leading efforts with a team in two of the three largest media markets in the country. (We haven’t found anyone who has done so in New York as well, so if Hannan ever makes it to Gotham it could be a first for team sports PR).
We caught up with him in South America, where he was on an Herbalife tour not too long after winning the title, to talk soccer, promotion and the up’s and down’s of business in LA.
You have now spent time running communications in two of the three biggest markets for a team. What was the biggest difference between Chicago and LA?
Both Los Angeles and Chicago are very similar in a lot of respects. They are both major markets with no shortage of sports and entertainment options. The objective for communications and digital with the Chicago Fire and the LA Galaxy was to cut through the clutter and create a greater brand relevance within the local marketplace. Los Angeles is a slightly bigger market and the multitude of quality sports options combined with the appeal of the beach and the entertainment aspect of the city is the biggest difference.
How was it managing the Landon Donovan farewell tour? What were the best and toughest moments?
Managing Landon Donovan’s retirement has been one of the most fulfilling and humbling experiences of my young career. The entire process was a great collaboration between Donovan, his agent Richard Motzkin and the Galaxy. It was great to be able to work collectively with a number of local, national and international media members, large media outlets and with U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer to help share and admire Donovan’s impact on the sport of soccer in North American and his contributions to the growth of MLS.
The biggest challenge was ushering in Donovan’s final days while being cognizant of his time, his teammates and the fact that he was still competing for a championship. In the end, we found a healthy balance that allowed for him to be properly honored while staying true to the task at hand of winning a record sixth MLS Cup.
The best moments were many. Seeing the outpouring of support through the #ThanksLD hashtag was vital to the digital component of the campaign. His interaction with five different Make-A-Wish children over the course of his final five regular season games showed his character and compassion. However, the most memorable moments came in between interviews when you could see the genuine level of mutual respect between Donovan and the media members who had covered him for so many years.
I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to oversee the final days of the United States’ greatest soccer player.
You have always come up with unique partner promotions with the media. What has been your favorite or most effective thus far?
I have had a lot of really enjoyable experiences with unique activations. It’s hard to pick which one I’ve enjoyed working on most. I’ll narrow it down to two…
In 2013, while with the Chicago Fire, we created personalized bobble heads for over 250 local and national media members. We had done two unique direct to mail campaigns as part of the Fire’s partnership with Quaker. The first launched the jersey in a co-branded Quaker Oats canister with personalized jersey included. The second was an Austin Berry Rookie of the Year LIFE cereal box. To complete the set of three, we sent local and national media members a Fire/Quaker bobblehead in their own likeness. It had been a project three years in the making, so we were pleased that each media member had a positive response to receiving something so personal. It garnered a lot of publicity for the Fire and Quaker’s partnership and out of the box approach.
This year, the Galaxy collaborated with soccer magazine dudes, Howler to create a 20-page Galaxy specific magazine – The Angeleno’s Guide to the Galaxy – as our season ticket renewal collateral. The piece was sent to all of the Galaxy’s season ticket holder base and over 300 media members. The magazine features an article by George Vecsey, an in-depth look at the history of soccer in Los Angeles, a Landon Donovan paper doll and first-class illustrations. The Angeleno’s Guide to the Galaxy presented our brand in an innovative manner. It garnered media attention, created a social buzz and helped the club renew over 85% of its Season Ticket Members.
Soccer is obviously global as a sport, especially in a market like LA. How much time do you spend with multicultural media outreach?
We spend a lot of time with multicultural media outreach. The Spanish-language audience is a big one for the Galaxy and for the sport of soccer in Los Angeles. We have an established strategy and plan, in conjunction with our marketing group, to continue to build our brand and our players within the Spanish-language community. This is a day-to-day focus for us. As part of our communications team, Vicky Mercado leads the charge on our outreach and day-to-day interaction with key multicultural constituents.
The Galaxy have been able to really own the market because of the issues with Chivas USA. how do you think that will change with the new expansion team coming in?
We are excited for there to be competition in the Los Angeles market with another professional soccer team, however, we don’t see that changing our approach a whole lot. The Galaxy has been the elite club in Major League Soccer since the League’s inception in 1996. The club was the first to sign a Designated Player, the first to start a ULS PRO second team and the first to win five MLS Cups. The Galaxy’s goal is to lead by example and drive innovation throughout the entire league. A tradition of winning, an ardent fan base and one of the best professional soccer facilities in North America can’t be replicated. The Galaxy are LA’s team and we will continue to work to maintain that.
Where do you look for ideas?
Jeez, this answer is probably going to make me sound like some kid who got a creative writing degree at the University of Colorado – Boulder… I find a lot of inspiration in writing, art and music. My approach has always been to try and think differently about traditional sports communications and sports marketing.
That said, none of these ideas would be possible without buy-in from those above. It starts at the top. Galaxy President Chris Klein believes in the strategy we presented and is open to us coming up with different ideas to promote the LA Galaxy.
Most of the ideas we have come out of collaboration. Chris Thomas, our digital lead, Brad Saiki, our graphic designer, and Casey Leppanen, our Senior Director of Marketing are great people to bounce ideas off of. We all have different backgrounds and it makes for a productive and creative work environment.
What campaign have you been most proud of and why?
I’ve been really proud of all of the creative campaigns we’ve done over the years. I think I am most proud of the Quaker Fuels the Fire campaign that was put together in 2012. It was my first real opportunity to run a creative campaign from start to finish. We put together a plan that spread across numerous traditional and digital platforms, including co-branded Quaker Oats canister, a viral video and personalized jerseys for over 150 media members. The launch of the jersey partnership accrued over 597 placements and more than 580 million impressions.
It established that a different approach could be utilized and be an effective communications and digital strategy.
How important is it for communications and marketing to work closely? Whats the best example of a success story you have seen?
Collaboration between communications/digital and marketing is key to success within a successful organization. There has to be in intrinsic link between the two to properly communicate your brand to the world.
I think U.S. Soccer does a really nice job with this. Around the World Cup they were able to coordinate cool marketing concepts – watch parties in Grant Park, celebrity ambassadors (Will Ferrell, Lupe Fiasco, Hulk Hogan) and pre-match rallies – and drive content and communications placements around the build-up and through the 2014 World Cup.
With the Galaxy now having five titles, what will you be planning for the offseason from a communications standpoint?
We are excited. Next year is the 20th anniversary of the Galaxy and of MLS. We have a number of cool things planned. This is a great time to be working in soccer in North America. As a group, we hope to build on the success of this season and continue to drive innovation within the soccer space next year.