There are a lot of people in the soccer world who operate behind the scenes in order for the game to flourish. You might not know all of their names or see them in the limelight, but without them, things aren’t getting done. The sport is not growing. The final product that we see on the field and in stadiums each week throughout the season just wouldn’t be the same without these folks. We want to showcase these folks a little bit more. Introduce them and their good work to soccer fans across the country. They make the sport better and we feel it’s only right to give them a little bit of the shine that they deserve.
We’ve shown some different people in the soccer world through our Conversations in Soccer series, and we’ll start doing that even more.
Up first is Brendan Hannan from the LA Galaxy. When I say Brendan is literally one of the best in the game, I am not fronting. He is as good as they come. He’s smart. Creative. Passionate. Genuine. He’s one of those dudes that gets it. You know that LA Galaxy viewfinder we posted yesterday? Yep. That was him.
I headed down to the Stub Hub Center last week to catch up with Brendan for this piece. Early in the conversation, Brendan was talking a bit about Steven Gerrard. That’s just where the conversation took us. So I’m going to start there, as that’s where this started anyway. If it seems slightly out of order, that’s why.
You talked about signing Steven Gerrard, are you privy to that kind of information ahead of the signing so you can have plans in place?
Yeah for sure. We have a cohesive organization. Chris Klein and Bruce Arena really understand what the club is trying to do from a communications and digital standpoint. So those guys can be open with us about the types of moves we are going to make. Especially when it comes down to a big signing like Steven Gerrard. So we are looped in on that and then it is upon us as a group to put together a plan that we think makes sense to announce the news.
So we collaborate with our whole group. Chris Thomas on the digital side. Brad Saiki on the graphic design stuff. Chris Glidden and Vicky Mercado who are part of our communications team. We put together a whole plan on what we are going to do. The Gerrard stuff is crazy because he is such a big player. Such an iconic player. So you want to make sure that you are cognizant of what he’s done for Liverpool. It’s his boyhood club and you want to respect all of that. You also want to be able to tell the story of him coming from Liverpool to Los Angeles and what that means in terms of the big players who have played at this club. So we have some time at the start of the year where we put plans in place. We talked to him, we talked to his representatives and everybody sort of came together on what the plan would be and how it was going to go down. And you just execute on those things. Once the announcement is made it’s all about planning and preparing for when he’s coming over here and how you maximize everything from community events, the soccer side of things, the influencer side of things and how we tell that story once he arrives in LA and in advance of his first game in a Galaxy uniform.
In terms of seeing player deals come together, was the Gerrard deal pretty typical or do they all vary?
They all vary. Sometimes you are more in the loop on them, sometimes you are less in the loop. Sometimes things happen really quickly. Sometimes you have a ton of time to plan. Often your best laid plans get shifted and adjusted based on the timing of everything else. But this one felt like we had a good bit of lead time and an understanding that things would come together towards the end of the year. Then it’s just a matter of putting things in motion. Once Liverpool announced that he wouldn’t be returning, that puts you in an area where you are getting ready to make your announcement. You want to be sure that your announcement counts. There’s always going to be a lot of speculation so you want to make sure that you have the content to back it up. The social elements ready. Something from the player talking about their excitement to join the club. Those are significant drivers and those are things that we think about. We want to think about our brand on a local level, a domestic level and a North American level. But also on an international level. When you are signing a player of the ilk of Steven Gerrard, you want to make sure that you are reaching as many people as possible and that you are putting the LA Galaxy brand in front of as many people as possible.
Let’s back up a minute here. Can you describe your job with the LA Galaxy and then we can work backwards to how you got here.
I’m the senior director of communications for the LA Galaxy and Stub Hub Center. I’ve been here for about a year and a half since July 2013. We do a lot of different stuff. The hope of any good communications department is the ability to collaborate with all the different departments that you work with. You have a lot of different bosses and you want to be there as a mini agency that can serve the needs of the club. On a top level, we serve the need of all of our players. So we act as the main liaison between our athletes and the media. We act as the main liaison between our senior executives and the media. We take care of any media requests that come in. Anything from simple information, to interviews to in-depth research to things for broadcast. We try to work collectively with all those different constituents to try to make sure we are helpful but also informative and try to drive the Galaxy narrative. Also I oversee all of digital. That’s all of the content creation. Everything we are doing on social media. Everything that we do online. And then we work with our marketing and ticket department, global partnerships and our foundation to help amplify their messages. We also provide creative support for all of those different groups. If ticket sales has a certain initiative that they are pushing we try to help build a narrative and tell that story. Our foundation just announced a 20 for 20 initiative highlighting the 20th season and everything that we are doing in LA. So we try to take those things and make sure that we are highlighting everything that we do. Everything we do is a collaboration. We have a great team of people who all work here. We have two videographers. We have two PR people. We have a digital person and someone who does graphic design. Everyone works together to help manage these different aspects.
Let’s back up a minute here. Can you describe your job with the LA Galaxy and then we can work backwards to how you got here.
I’m the senior director of communications and digital for the LA Galaxy and StubHub Center. I’ve been here for about a year and a half since July 2013. We do a lot of different stuff. The hope of any good communications department is the ability to collaborate with all the different departments that you work with. You have a lot of different bosses and you want to be there as a mini-agency that can serve the needs of the club. On a top level, we serve the need of all of our players. So we act as the main liaison between our athletes and the media. We act as the main liaison between our senior executives and the media. We take care of any media requests that come in. Anything from simple information, to interviews to in-depth research to things for broadcast. We try to work collectively with all those different constituents to try to make sure we are helpful but also informative and try to drive the Galaxy narrative. Also I oversee all of digital. That’s all of the content creation. Everything we are doing on social media. Everything that we do online. And then we work with our marketing and ticket departments, global partnerships and our foundation to help amplify their messages. We also provide creative support for all of those different groups. If ticket sales has a certain initiative that they are pushing we try to help build a narrative and tell that story. Our foundation just announced a 20 for Twentyinitiative highlighting the 20th season and everything that we are doing in LA. So we try to take those things and make sure that we are highlighting everything that we do. Everything we do is a collaboration. We have a great team of people who all work here. We have two videographers. We have two PR people. We have a digital person and someone who does graphic design. Everyone works together to help manage these different aspects.
How did you get here?
I have a fairly interesting tract. I graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in creative writing and English literature. I traveled and worked a little after university. I tried to do some writing. Tried to write some poetry, which pretty much meant that I slung a lot of margaritas and played a lot of recreational basketball. From there I worked for the Make-A-Wish foundation as a wish grantor. I worked with kids who had life threatening medical conditions and got to work on a lot of the sports and unique wishes and that was a great experience for me. From there, I got an internship with MLS in 2008 as part of their communications department. I had never even been to New York before. I moved from Denver on about 10 days notice. I stayed in the storage room at a friend of a friend’s place. I hung my one suit on an upside down bicycle. I made my way to MLS headquarters trying to figure out how to make a go of things.
My hope was that I wanted to work in soccer. I knew that I didn’t have a lot of money to my name. But I knew that if I gambled on myself, that if I went to New York, that I would come out with some sort of job in soccer. I wasn’t sure if it would take me six months or six years, but I felt that I had to try and do something to put myself out there. So I did that for a year with MLS. I walked dogs on the side. I did anything that I could. I flew my own way to US v Mexico in 2009 and did some work with US Soccer to try and get the experience of doing a qualifier and see how those guys worked. And then I worked for a small sports marketing company called Leverage for a couple of months doing all their PR and digital before getting hired by the Chicago Fire. I joined the Fire in 2010 as their press officer and then progressed through the ranks. I ended up overseeing a bunch of different things for them like PR, digital , communications, broadcast and some marketing stuff as well.
You seem to have a particularly interesting and creative view on how you go about getting things done. Where do you think some of that comes from?
I probably sound pompous if I say it’s my creative writing background from the University of Colorado Boulder (said in a joking manner). I think going into it and trying to get involved in sports and soccer specifically, my thought at the start was that if I could work harder than anyone else and think differently than the way anyone else was doing it, then that would benefit me and I would be able to make an impression on people. I think the creative stuff is part of trying to think differently and do things differently than traditional sports marketing or traditional sports PR has been done. Some of that is just because I like some of the indie and creative culture of music and arts. I also think it’s about surrounding yourself with good people. In Chicago I worked with good creative people. And the ownership and the leadership give you an opportunity. And it’s the same thing here in LA. You surround yourself with good people who can challenge you creatively and who have good input and you can bounce ideas off of. We have a great organization around us that embraces our ideas however off the wall they might be. And that’s not to say we always have great ideas, or that every idea works out. But we try to think differently and the people that I have surrounded myself with have been good to embrace that and have been interested in thinking differently themselves. When you have leaders like Chris Klein, Dan Beckerman and Bruce Arena, I think they see that you are trying to do things a little differently and they welcome that. It’s really accepted and appreciated here in LA.
You brought up music. I know you really enjoy going to see live shows. Do you think that influences some of the things you are doing here?
Yeah, for sure. I think you are influenced by everything around you. You certainly have a base of values, beliefs and ideals. It’s good to be able to find muses so to say, and I think stuff you’re reading influences you. The way a certain writer says something influences you. The way that you write something. Not to say that I’m reading Steinbeck and then all of a sudden my emails to media members are flowery descriptive or anything like that. But the hope is that if you look around you, then you are able to take some of those different influences and apply them to a sports tilt. A good example of that has been the match posters that we have done. It certainly isn’t the most original idea. Rock posters have existed for a very long time and you can probably go back and see propaganda posters that have been a way to tell a story for a long time. But I’m a big fan of rock posters. And I think you can differentiate the art for each city that you’re going to. So for us to be able to change something up and share something that is visual and interesting to some people. We thought that was a cool way to show off each match and to tell a story in a different way. We sell them and they benefit the foundation so we think it’s a good thing. It’s just another thing that people can talk about ahead of your match. Something they can share that is cool and that lends to your brand being well rounded. So you try to draw from all of those different inspirations.
You talk a lot about storytelling and narratives, which I’m a big fan of. If you look back a number of years ago, it seemed that MLS clubs weren’t doing as much storytelling., the way that we see clubs doing it now. Maybe they were more focused on trying to sell players to their local audience. Or doing some of the more traditional things that we would associate with sports marketing and PR. But now it seems that there is a much broader story to tell and we see these stories being told much differently than before. Do you think that is because the league has been around longer. That there is some psychological shift in how clubs and the league want to be perceived by the audience?
I think it’s probably a couple of different things. For us, storytelling through various media outlets is still very important. I think there has probably been some shift in how brands tell their stories . I think with the way the Internet has moved and how content has become such a big part of what everyone is doing, storytelling has become more of a tool for brands to use. You have more people consuming your brand on social or online and so you have a greater opportunity to tell stories with photos and videos. The Internet has moved in a way that to tell a story you have to do it across platforms. It’s about utilizing content. You use those things to tell a fuller story of what your brand is. We can tell our brand story in 15 second snippets on Instagram. Six second snippets on Vine. There might be a collection of images that we put out on Twitter. And then head to our website to watch a five minute video that tells the full story. The way that content has changed has changed the way we want to tell stories and how brands sort of embrace storytelling as a big part of capturing an audience and getting the audience to grow as their consumers.
So the term “digital” is in your actual job title. And it seems that term might be more fluid than it once was. That it might mean something different now than it did a few years ago. When I say that word, what does it mean to you?
You could say the same thing about PR. Some people think of one thing. I think that digital is sort of all encompassing, but you have to try and piece together all of the different parts that digital can mean. We want to make sure that we are telling the stories of the different departments that we represent and with the club as a whole. So it’s building out content. It’s also making sure that the website is up to date and getting numbers and impressions and those are good for sponsors. You are trying to find ways in which you can grow your brand and your reach. So I think digital is pretty all encompassing and touches all the different things in different ways that people can interact with your brand. Be that online or socially.
~~~For those that know Brendan, this will make a ton of sense…~~~
I know that you have been involved with some pretty cool projects. Are there any in particular that stand out for you?
I think you always want to be creating things that will cut through the clutter and that will make people think of you for maybe an extra second longer. A lot of this stuff that we have done has been really enjoyable to put together. Hopefully that shows in a lot of the things that we’ve sent out and the types of collaborations that we have been able to do. The bobblehead project that I did in Chicago was a pretty big undertaking. It’s something that took me about three years to get done where we created personalized bobbleheads of local and national media members wearing a Chicago Fire top. The research and the time that I had to put into that was incredible – and when you think about its probably like “Its just a bobblehead ya dummy”. But it was the type of thing that I thought had a really personable touch to send somebody something that was in their likeness. I really enjoyed that project.
The match poster project has been really close to my heart. It started out slowly and then started to gain some momentum. We’ve gotten to work with some really great artists who are passionate about soccer and art. Being able to work in that space is cool and unique for a PR stiff. We collaborated with Ames Bros, the guys who have done Pearl Jam posters since the beginning. They have also worked with bands like Radiohead and The Black Keys. To have them putting together a Landon Donovan poster for our last regular season game or a wild west version of Robbie Keane has been pretty cool. We’ve done a lot of cool stuff so it’s hard to pick projects that I might put on my mantle.
Over the last five years you have probably seen change quite a bit. If we were to have this same conversation in five years, what are some things that we might be talking about that has happened?
I think that there is still a ton of room for growth. It’s one of the exciting things about soccer and being a part of this league. I think we have made great strides over the last 20 years, but there is still a great deal of work to be done and a lot of exciting things to do. So while I think we’ve put ourselves in great positions, I think we need to put in a lot of work to grow our relevance locally and our buzz and try to continue to identify us as part of the fabric of our culture and the culture of North American sports. So I think in five years what I would like to see is that the work we are doing now is something we are proud of and that it might be something we are even prouder looking back five years from now.
Thanks so much B.