Here is a transcript generated by of The Content Mix podcast interview with Harriet Drudge, social lead at The Athletic UK, on social media marketing, increasing engagement and more:

Carlota Pico 0:13
Hi, everyone, and welcome back to The Content Mix. I’m Carlota Pico your host for today’s show, and I’m excited to introduce Harriet Drudge who is social lead at The Athletic UK, and has over 10 years of experience in social media marketing. Welcome, Harriet and thank you so much for joining us today on The Content Mix.

Harriet Drudge 0:35
All right, great to be here. Thank you for having me.

Carlota Pico 0:37
No, it’s great to have you. Okay Harriet, let’s jump straight into this interview. Could you talk to me a little bit about your background experience? How did you get to where you are today?

Harriet Drudge 0:46
Yeah, it’s a bit of a winding road. I did a business management degree and I was always taking a keen interest in marketing modules when I was doing that and trying to get some experience in an industry that I was really passionate about, which was football media. So, throughout my degree, I was always trying to do different things on the side, extracurricular in media, getting that experience as well. 10 years ago, my job probably didn’t really exist for many companies. If there was social media involved in companies, it was usually a bolt onto an existing job role. But I saw there was an opportunity with lots of football brands up and coming, so I started putting my CV out to places and volunteering to lead social media marketing. There was a podcast at the time called The Offside Rule Pod, which is still a podcast now and actually now comes under The Athletic umbrella, so that’s quite a nice full circle story. So after university, I was looking at jobs in media, specifically in sports, I worked for a charity called Women in Sports, as their media and events officer, then I progressed to FourFourTwo as their first ever social media editor and the first social media editor at Haymarket Publishing Group. From there, it started building, brands were putting more of an emphasis on social media and audience growth through social channels. So I was dipping into not just football at that point, and not just sport, but other brands as well and helping out there. Then I went into a bit of the, the other side, not the dark side I wouldn’t say, but the journalism side. I was freelance for 9-10 months, doing a bit of writing, as well as social media management for brands like DAZN, working on their commercial team and for a while on their social media campaigns. Then I was approached by The Athletic last summer to head up social media marketing in the UK, which is both in terms of marketing, but it’s also obviously, quite heavily led by content. So there’s a lot of editorial responsibilities in my job, as well as working across marketing, audio, we’ve got podcasts, written media and lots of other things as well, but I’m sure everybody watching will be appreciative of the many different fingers in pies that we have as marketing professionals.

Carlota Pico 3:34
How exciting. So what’s your 32nd elevator pitch on The Athletic, what is The Athletic?

Harriet Drudge 3:41
So The Athletic is a revolutionary app for sports journalism, not just in the UK, but in the US as well. It’s long form the best of the best journalism out there for sports fans, and it’s based on a subscription model. And so, we’ve gathered the best journalists out there to give the best coverage and best content for football fans. So we’ve got reporters for every Premier League team in the UK and in the championship as well. And yeah, so that’s the crux of it and we’re expanding all the time into different areas of the product too.

Carlota Pico 4:17
Okay, how exciting. Well, you say football, I say soccer. This is a perfect example of why localization matters, of course, but I do want to ask you, what’s your favorite football team?

Harriet Drudge 4:28
My team is Manchester United and that is very much a family thing. I actually started playing football before I was ever interested in watching it. But then I wanted to go and watch local football with my dad and he would only take me if I could prove to him that I could watch at home. So I watched his team, Man United, play and I didn’t fidget so much that he refused to take me, so that’s how I came to be a Manchester United fan.

Carlota Pico 4:56
Okay, well, I am a big Real Madrid fan. So Obviously, I’m from Madrid and it also runs in my DNA and my entire family supports Real Madrid. But just like yourself I’ve been watching football or soccer depending on what region you’re in since I was a little girl. Okay, could you talk to me about some of the experiences that have shaped you as a marketing professional?

Harriet Drudge 5:21
So it’s a really good question. I think my early experiences in social media management really shaped me because it was such a new area of the industry and I was quite fresh to marketing as well. I’d only really ever studied it and not done anything proactive. So when I first started working and volunteering for The Offside Rule, I was really getting to grips with what it would be like to be a social media marketing professional. So the content that they were producing in their podcasts and also trying to make waves in the football media space on social media in their own right, separate from the content of the podcast, was something that I took on and thought, well we can’t just promote podcasts because why would people want to come to us just for that if they don’t know what it is? So that’s when my appreciation for the intricacies of social media marketing really clicked into place and the things that I’ve developed from that in whichever job I go into, you know, the rule of thirds on social media, that you promote your own stuff, because that’s your bread and butter. I mean, if you don’t promote it, who is going to? You share other content that’s relevant in your wheelhouse, and then you engage with people as well. And something that I find it’s taken a while for the industry to catch up with is you can’t just be the media side on social media. You have to do the social thing as well, you have to engage with people for it to be a successful social media strategy. And so those, I’d say that really early kind of experience properly shaped me, and then obviously going into professional settings and taking on and putting myself forward to manage the social media platforms in my placement year when I was at the Football Foundation and when I took my first job out of university at Women in Sport, social media was always a bolt on and quite often one of the first things to get forgotten about, but in every job that I went to, I tried to elevate it because I recognized the importance and the opportunity of it. So that is a bit separate, the opportunity there is first and then it can become important to the business. So I’d say those really early stages have been pretty influential for me.

Carlota Pico 7:58
Okay, well spinning off from that response Harriet, what did you have to unlearn about social media when you went from theory, learning about social media in school or in uni, to later practicing social media?

Harriet Drudge 8:11
Actually I don’t think there was a great deal in university when I was studying about social media marketing. It’s been a little while since I graduated so there weren’t any modules on it. So actually, it was a bit of a fresh slate really, to go in and kind of almost learn about social media management on my own. I did do a lot of googling, a lot of research on social media platforms that were in their infancy as well, but they were producing quite a lot of good content around creating a social media strategy, but then creating a social media strategy will be different for every single company out there. So there are little bits that you can take from those recommendations to bring in that will be helpful but really, I think I just went with it, I went with the flow and tried to piggyback off of existing marketing theories that I had learned about, which I probably can’t remember now anyway. But, yeah, I tried to create my own path a little bit.

Carlota Pico 9:27
Excellent. Okay. So spinning off of that response again. what have been some of the brands that you really admire during COVID-19? And what made them stand out?

Harriet Drudge 9:38
So this brand I admire, anyway, even pre COVID. And actually, it’s probably not going to be that helpful in terms of tips to give to everybody else, but Innocent Smoothies do an absolutely amazing job on social media in terms of their brand tone. They’re not always trying to push smoothies at you because obviously, their product is quite a limited thing. But they don’t limit themselves on the topics that they talk about on social media. Although, obviously, that won’t work for everybody I think they really did set a trend in the industry by trying something completely different to everybody else. Something that I’ve noticed this week that they’ve launched, they’ve actually launched out of home advertising that they then brought onto social media as well. So they’ve taken pictures of their ‘Do you remember this?’ and there’s a big arrow pointing to something. This is a restaurant, this is where you can go out for dinner and not have to do the dishes and things like that. And it’s just, they create constantly shareable things across their social media platforms that isn’t always directly related to smoothies, but then they bring it back at the end. So they do have a ‘this is an innocence smoothie, we think you should drink it’ kind of thing I’m paraphrasing. And, but I think they do a really good job of kind of following current events as well in their social media, and making sure that you know, they do strike the right tone. They’re not doing it for the likes, they’re doing it for a real reason. They’re making sure that they stay up to date and in the moment, but also they’re not scared of being a bit silly as well, which I think is really important. Especially during COVID-19, people have been looking for that outlet for something that’s not constantly depressing news. It’s just something a bit different.

Carlota Pico 11:41
Okay, so what do you think is the magic recipe behind their content? Why is it so relatable?

Harriet Drudge 11:47
I think keeping their finger on the pulse of current moods, what people are talking about already and putting a bit of an innocent smoothie slant on it. They make use of their employees quite well as well. They bring their character onto the platform and sometimes they just create their own moments as well, they’ll create a campaign, because they think it’ll do well, again, it’s not always to do with the smoothies. Sometimes it is, sometimes they do a campaign around the little hats that they used to put on on top of innocent smoothies, which everybody used to talk about. And so yeah, I think they are very, very good at staying up to date with current events, and kind of piggybacking on that. And also, they can afford now, because they’ve already set that tone, to not have to prioritize pushing the product all the time, which I think is a really fortunate position for them to be in. People follow them, not necessarily for the smoothies, and that’s a great kind of audience to have. Your potential reach there is outside of your target market sometimes or most of the time. But if people remember you, then they see your product in a store or online or when they’re doing the shopping, they might be more likely to buy it because they kind of feel an affinity with the brand.

Carlota Pico 13:22
Very interesting. Okay, so moving into your current role at The Athletic, how do you create an organic social media strategy in a pay to play world?

Harriet Drudge 13:34
Yeah, that’s a another brilliant question and one that I had to ask myself and I had to ask myself that question quite a lot when I was just starting the job. Given that social media is quite often a pay to play world in it itself, but also we’re a subscription service so obviously there’s that to consider as well. Organically, it’s actually relatively, I’m going to shy away from saying it’s relatively simple, but the content is already there for me. So I have an organic kind of content pot that I can dip into every single day because we have new articles going live every single day. So that kind of forms the basis of our organic social media strategy that we put out, you know, our best articles on Twitter, we also bring some of that content onto Instagram. And we’re also then pushing through to our our HQ Facebook account, which is encompassing of all sports that we cover, not just football/soccer, because we do cover NFL base for all of the American sports as well. So in that sense, the organic planning is relatively straightforward for me to start. But then it’s about breaking through the noise because we’re in a very, very competitive space with football, social media, football media in this country. So what we try to do is kind of create our own tone of voice on social, make sure that we’re consistent with that, we pitch ourselves as the place to go for in depth features, the most in depth features that you’re going to get about your football club. And that’s really important to maintain that tone throughout all of the social media posts as well. So we try and do different things, we don’t react, we don’t place an emphasis on being the first to a story. We want to tell you everything you need to know about a story. So if that takes a bit of time, then that takes a bit of time. So in that sense, that’s quite good for me, because I can then also plan around how our organic social is going to look. Am I going to make a Twitter card are we going to do a campaign, are we then going to put it through to paid social, and to see where it goes from there? So in that sense, that’s how we’re trying to make a bit of noise. We’re trying to adopt all of the different kinds of strategies that companies like zoom, have enabled us to live zooms on Twitter. So we did make use of that around the time at the Premier League restart, when there was a bit of stuff in there in the season. And then they came back, we had all of our premier league reporters do a mini season preview, coming in and out of zoom with some hosts. So we’re trying to keep our fingers on the buzzer there, as well in terms of trying different things, new things. And yeah, that was really successful. And it just goes to show that you can adopt these things at late notice as well and be quick in, you know, reactive in that way to come up with something that organically is going to work really, really well.

Carlota Pico 16:58
Yeah. So if you’re posting content on your social media channels, talk to me about the step that it requires your users to then subscribe to the app as well, like how does that work?

Harriet Drudge 17:14
Yeah, so we have a paywall, so if you click through to an article from Twitter, you will see the first couple of paragraphs as is standard across media if there is a subscription attached to that. We have regular offers that we promote on Twitter for subscribers and we also have a free trial either seven days or 30 days, depending on whereabouts we are in the year. And also what we did do when countries started going into lockdown and entertainment and your outlet, your escape was following your passion, whether that’s watching things on Netflix or reading different books or reading sports content, we wanted to give something back to our communities as well. So we made our free trial 90 days. So for that three months, given the indefinite nature of lockdown at that point, we wanted people to be able to enjoy our content. And given the instability of the financial situations for everybody, we were also conscious that, you know, we didn’t want to be charging people or promoting something that was a discount rather than a free trial. So we had that opportunity for potential new subscribers. And there is a function where if you’re already a subscriber, then the user journey there is you log in on one device, and then you should be able to get through each time to be able to access your subscription. We do often have campaigns that run where we put things above the paywall so that, again we want to be able to show people what we’re about. The only way that people really are going to get what we’re about is if they start reading our articles, and also enjoying our podcasts, all of our podcasts are free so you can access Athletic content for free through the podcasts. And obviously, there is kind of a cross promotion there because quite often, sometimes the podcasts will be talking about an article that we’ve written, and on that kind of topic, so you know, any transfers that have happened and things like that. Yeah, so that’s there’s lots of different entry points for potential subscribers. And there are also lots of offerings there for free.

Carlota Pico 19:46
Okay, excellent. So you’re posting snippets of your content across your channels. And those snippets are later used to attract new subscribers to the app.

Harriet Drudge 19:56
Yes, so going back to the promote, share and engage side of things that I’ve tried to take across all social media strategies with me. We promote our articles, that’s kind of the main thing, we promote our podcasts as well. So we’ll take a snippet, a quote, and we’ll make some video kind of audio cards as well for our podcasts to bring onto our social media channels. And what’s also then important is that we promote our writers, so we get our writers to be active on social media platforms as well. So they are posting their articles on the day of publication and then whenever it is relevant again to do so. Then we also bring a social only side hopefully, that’s the main end goal is to bring a social only aspect to what we’re promoting as well. So, for example, we had an article about the Community Shield at the weekend just gone and the title of it was, should the Community Shield be considered a trophy? Or how should we consider the Community Shield, does it matter? So that, in itself lent itself to a poll on Twitter, which nonsubscribers and our followers can all get involved with and engage with the brand that is The Athletic. So there’s lots of different threads to pull in terms of the content that we put out, that’s written, that’s audio. And then we want to be a place to go on social media for football fans, whether they subscribe or not. So that’s an overall aim for us. We want to be a big player in the football media social media space.

Carlota Pico 21:47
Harriet, you already mentioned a few tips that you use in order to attract more attention to your social channels by like posting polls, snippets of the content, but let’s say you have a very small social media budget. What would you invest it in and why?

Harriet Drudge 22:04
I think I’d go down the organic route first before deciding what to spend money on because I think you want to test out what works for your brands on social channels before you end up investing in it. Because as I said earlier, social media strategy will be different for every company, across the board, even if you’re in the same industry. So I’d probably say one thing, depending on what the company is, competitions and giveaways are a great way to build your audience. So if you can use those ideas to attract new customers, new people to your brand, do some giveaways, that way is a good way of building your audience and then I’d say engaging with people is really, really important. So, I’m from the Isle of Wight and there’s a company on the Isle of Wight which is a photography shop. Basically they print canvases, you know, bags, magnets, postcards, all of that kind of thing. And their social media, they don’t really use a budget at all. But I understand that this kind of company lends itself to social media sharing because their business is photos and amazing photos, but they do a giveaway every Sunday night. And what they do is they have two pictures, and they say, comment underneath here with which picture you would like to win, which is a great way of getting lots and lots of comments and also getting your brand, on Facebook, in the feeds of people who don’t yet follow you because depending on the algorithm and how it’s feeling that day, you might be then put into friends feeds that have commented on this particular post. So that’s a great way of doing that without actually having to spend any money. Then obviously, there is the capability to then boost that post to a specific audience if you want to do that. So I think there are definitely good ways of gaining traction and attention without spending money originally. But then when you’ve really honed in on what works for you, that’s where to put your budget. So I would always suggest trying something organically first before putting any budget behind it.

Carlota Pico 24:41
Wow, that’s really valuable advice, Harriet. Okay, well, to finish up this section of our interview, I’d like to ask you to zoom into a social media project or campaign that you’re particularly proud of, and, obviously talk a little bit about its purpose. What made it stand out, stuff like that.

Harriet Drudge 25:03
I think the one most recently that I’ve managed has been the Premier League restart. There was a lot of noise around football coming back, people were really keen. They’ve kind of gone through this few months without any football and we knew that that was going to be a big moment for us. It also was around about the time or approaching The Athletic UK’s first anniversary. So we wanted to make sure that we went big. So working with the editorial team at The Athletic about all the content that was coming. I then also developed marketing assets around our writers. So one of our unique selling points as The Athletic UK is that we have a reporter for every single Premier League club. We don’t just cover the big six of Liverpool, Man United, City. We also have our Burnley writer, our Sheffield United writer and we also do cover the championship. So we wanted to make sure that breadth of coverage was really reflected in our marketing throughout that week. So we came up with a kind of slogan, I guess, of ‘we care about your club’ and we made sure that we were marketing not just our content, but our writers as well, because people really relate to our writers, our writers are that fly on the wall, getting all the information that fans absolutely yearn for, they love it. So that was quite a big campaign for us, we had a whole week building up to the start of football where I packaged all of the club content into threats on Twitter in particular, where we had a ‘focus on’ and that was actually the title that we used. A ‘focus on’ Liverpool, ‘focus on’ Brighton and Hove Albion, where we had the kind of what’s coming up. What can we expect from the restart as the content and that was free. So anybody could access that subscriber or not. And then a thread of our best content, best ever green content that was still relevant. So we had podcasts included in that, we had interviews from earlier on in the year, and making sure that we really hammered home the fact that that is what we do. We are at every single Premier League club, we’re at some of the championship clubs as well. Give us time, hopefully we’ll expand to cover more clubs because one of the things that we do get questions about all the time is, oh, why don’t you cover this club? Why don’t you cover these clubs like, well, we’re kind of still in startup mode over here. So you know, give us time, keep supporting us and keep telling us what you want as well and we’ll do everything that we can, because what we want to do is put our subscribers first. And that was kind of a message that we wanted to get out during that week as well. And that all culminated in the the live zoom that I mentioned earlier on, where we got all of our writers and on that they were popping in and popping out and doing five minutes on their club. And that was really fun. I mean, I ended up having to be a product producer, where I was letting people in from the waiting room on Zoom and putting them out again. So that was a learning on the job situation and terrifying because I was absolutely terrified that the technology was going to go wrong or something. It would all be my fault, and it would look rubbish on our social channels, but thankfully it didn’t. And we’ve tried that again with some club specific things. So that marketing campaign where it wasn’t just focused on content, we also were bringing our writers and their personalities out on our social channels as well, which is really, really good because, again, they’re our influencers, they’re the names that were brought into the company because they’re the best at what they do. And we want to make a big deal out of that as well because we believe that we trust in them and they are the best at what they do.

Carlota Pico 29:23
That’s a nice little shout out to your writers. On that note, we are going to be moving into a rapid fire section of the interview, it’s your recommendation for our audience. To get the section started off, I’d like to ask you about your source of inspiration. So who inspires you, a professional role model or perhaps an influencer?

Harriet Drudge 29:43
Again that’s a really great question, because I’ve always wanted to work in football and football media, there are a lot of people that I could mention here but the main ones are the the real role models, founding members of the Women in Football support group, the network, and they came together to represent and champion women working in football, playing football and wanting to be involved in any kind of facet of football and one name in particular that, when I was growing up, I was hearing about because she was the first commentator on match the day was Jacqui Oatley, and so she yeah, she’s been a massive inspiration and then all of the other women in the industry that I’ve met since, so Jo Tounge who’s now an agent, she represents broadcasters in sport media and also female players. She’s just a force of nature as well. She’s just really, really good at what she does and also good at bringing through younger talent as well. And it would be remiss of me not to mention Lynsey Hooper and Kait Borsay who were the founders of The Offside Rule podcast, which is where I started my journey,which sounds abit deep. Yeah, my journey into social media marketing and management. So they were brilliant as well. I met them at university. Well, I met them whilst I was at university, they were already well established in the industry and I was their first volunteer on the social media team for The Offside Rule podcast and any kind of advice that I needed, they were always there. They still are always there on the phone. And what’s really nice now is that we’re able to work together again, and hopefully I can use my position now to elevate that podcast even further. So, yeah, it was the first of its kind in terms of being an all female fronted football podcast, the original title of it was ‘The Offside Rule, we get it’ because something that’s been thrown at women for however long is that we don’t understand the offside rule and that we don’t actually understand much about football at all. That is one question that all of us have experienced at some point in our careers like, Oh, so do you actually like football? Well, yeah, it’s kind of important to what we do day in, day out. So yeh, those two have been massively influential in my career and definitely inspirations for me.

Carlota Pico 32:35
Well, on that note, I do want to give a little shout out to the American woman soccer team who are the leaders in pushing for equal pay. Unfortunately, there’s a big gender gap when it comes to soccer or football depending on what region you’re in. And the American women team has just been really fighting for equal rights and equal pay. Okay, now moving into a resource that you’d like to recommend so for example, book a publication a community and events.

Harriet Drudge 33:09
I think the main source of kind of blogs and inspiration and learning for me throughout my career has been outlets like social chain. They’re an agency that was set up by Steve Bartlett, he saw a gap in the market for a social media first agency, they create loads of resources in terms of, the updates to all the platforms, given how many updates they make constantly, all the new emerging platforms where you should be as a brand if you’re thinking about this kind of content stream, all of that kind of stuff. So I’d probably say, social chain and also the platforms like Hootsuite and Sprout Social and all of those kinds of social management tools, they’re also now working quite a lot in content , creating their own content and tips that you don’t have to be a signed up member of any of these social tools, you can access those resources to help you build your social strategy. So I found those really helpful over the years. And also Hootsuite in particular in this country used to host some breakfast meetings where you could network with social media professionals and meet different people outside of your industry and get inspiration from them. Because again, like I said earlier, and I’ll keep saying, social media management, and strategy for every company is very, very different, but you can take inspiration from those outside of your industry as well. There’s lots of different ideas, everybody’s trying different things all the time as well. That’s one of the benefits of social media is that it’s quite free in a way, you have the freedom to try different things, be creative. And if it doesn’t work fine, move on. And as long as it stays within the right kind of tone and works with your brand, I’d say definitely give it a go.

Carlota Pico 35:14
Excellent. Okay, and what about your favorite app at the moment? What would that be? Besides The Athletic, obviously.

Harriet Drudge 35:20
Besides The Athletic obviously, which I’m on every day, I’d say one to de-stress is Calm App. I used the free version for a little while, just to kind of get a sense of what it was about and it’s a really good way to either drift off to sleep if you want to listen to something and you then also don’t have to have a screen on that blue light that we all read about so much that makes it really difficult to get to sleep. But it’s also really good for calming music if you need something during the day even to listen to to do a task, but you don’t want it to be pop music and the songs that you’re going to sing along to, there’s some really nice sound scapes on there that I really enjoy listening to.

Carlota Pico 36:07
Okay, excellent. I’m gonna throw a curveball at you as our final question of today’s interview area. Harriet, if you could do anything in this world, would it still be social media?

Harriet Drudge 36:21
Oh. I love my job. I really, really do love my job. I also enjoy working with the people that I work with. So I’d say at the moment, I am in the dream job. So I’m going to stick. I always thought when I was a bit younger that I wanted to be a football journalist, that I wanted to be a writer and I do dabble sometimes, I had an article that went live on The Athletic this week, which was a great, great experience. But I’ve really found that my skills and my organization in particular, it works in social media management and strategy. So yes, I would still do social media.

Carlota Pico 37:05
Okay, excellent. Well, Harriet thank you so much for joining us today on The Content Mix, it was awesome to meet you and to pick your brain on so many different subjects and to also talk more about The Athletic and football, which is a topic that I love.

Harriet Drudge 37:19
Great. Yeah. Thanks for having me. It’s been great.

Carlota Pico 37:21
The pleasure has been mine and to everybody listening in today, thank you for joining us on The Content Mix. For more perspectives on the content marketing industry in Europe, check out The Content Mix. We’ll be releasing interviews just like this one every day. So keep on tuning in and thanks again. Have a fabulous day and see you next time. Bye.

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