At Marketing Trends we are discovering what drives Australia's top marketers. The NRL and all sporting codes have undergone incredible change as a result of the pandemic. Despite the challenges, the NRL's pivot was seen as the blueprint for success across sport globally, adapting to the changes to keep the season running against all odds. NRL's Marketing Manager Taryn Tyler gives us great insight on how the league was able to continue its activities while adapting their marketing strategy in an ever-changing landscape.
Read her interview here. Enjoy!
Career & professional background
Taryn, how did your career start?
My career had an interesting start. I was actually the first one in my family to finish Year 12 and the first one to go to Uni. I ended up doing a degree in Marketing and PR at the University of Notre Dame Australia.
I fell in love straight away with marketing, PR and event management. During my last year, I wanted to gain experience, so I applied to work at a small marketing agency that specialises in experiential marketing and events.
I took a job there as a receptionist to get my foot in the door while I was studying. Only four weeks later they offered me a full-time coordination role which I accepted. By my last year of Uni, I was working full-time and studying part-time.
I learned a lot of skills there, particularly regarding organisation, time management and executing run sheets, which has proven useful as I moved forward with my career. I also very much enjoyed doing creative brand activations and bringing ideas to life.
I later moved overseas to London for a year and when I came back to Sydney, I briefly joined my former agency again, although I moved on to Unilever shortly after.
At Unilever, I worked on their Woolworth’s account, activating brands within the stores, and I was there for a little while but I realised that maybe that wasn’t the career path I wanted to pursue.
So I took the time to stop and think what I wanted from a professional point of view. I always loved sports; I very much enjoyed playing touch footy and netball with my two older brothers, who actually played local AFL, so I had an “aha moment” and realised that's the field I wanted to work in.
I started looking for roles and I was very fortunate that South Sydney Rabbitohs, a rugby league club based in Redfern, was hiring a sponsorship account manager. I had never worked in the sports sponsorship area, but I'd done a lot of sponsorship contracts through my time.
I guess they took a bit of a leap of faith, hired me and I couldn't believe it. It was like a dream come true!
Before that, I had not worked in Digital. It wasn't even a part of the curriculum when I was at Uni, so I basically learned Digital by working in that role. Yet, towards the end of my first year, I told my manager I really wanted to take a one-week intensive digital marketing course at General Assembly.
Just before I started it, my bosses called me to tell me they were planning on hiring a digital commercialisation manager and were considering offering it to me. So after I took the course and up-skilled myself in digital marketing, I was happy to accept it.
After two years, a role came up at the National Rugby League… and that’s how I found myself working here! It is a bit surreal sometimes and I feel very lucky.
If you hadn’t pursued a career in marketing, in which other industry do you think you might be?
I would still remain in sports, even if it wasn't in marketing. The more I work in sports, the more I find myself interested in them.
There's a lot of commercial contracts and PR involved in the sports industry: venues & stadiums agreements, financial agreements, negotiations and state government relationships. I definitely see myself getting more involved in this PR side of things.
Marketing & Industry Trends
What type of impact has COVID- 19 had on the NRL?
COVID had a really big impact on the NRL. I guess sports in general was one of the industries that was hit the hardest. It was unknown to everybody and we weren't ready for it. So when the pandemic had its outbreak, it took everyone a bit of time to find out how we could actually provide a safe environment and keep our athletes safe; which was everyone's number one priority.
This was an important moment for the state government relationships I mentioned. Each state has different regulations, health authorities and ways of dealing with the pandemic.
Our team did a very good job in liaising with the different states and finding out what we needed to deliver for the NRL to continue to play.
From a marketing point of view, what became hard was changing our focus. The original focus for us was always selling tickets, increasing our membership numbers and improving our merchandising sales. With COVID, that focus ceased to exist.
Moreover, the experience for people watching a broadcast game from home was different, because watching empty stadiums took a bit of the overall experience of what the NRL is all about.
So we had to pivot our strategy, even with simple actions, like by printing out life-size photos of our members and putting them on the stands. It was actually pretty funny, people were sending us pictures of their dogs so at one point we had a cute little Pomeranian in the front row at a game!
The challenge for us now is that there are no rules anymore. We not only have to think differently, we need to think differently with multiple backup plans. This means being extremely flexible and versatile.
On a positive note, this really strengthened our relationships with our stakeholders- partners, clubs, States, audience and members. It seems like we are all more united now, everybody is very understanding of the circumstances.
And another positive note, it’s that the pandemic made us look into new ways to diversify our revenue streams.
What is the most exciting trend or innovation happening in your field in terms of growth?
There was always a trend moving towards improving the digital experience for our fans. After all, not everyone is in the stands watching the game. COVID accelerated that trend for us and Digital Experience went from being a secondary priority to being a top one.
This is a very positive thing, since the importance of digital connection is becoming more crucial every day. Younger generations want to interact when it suits them, in a way that suits them and through a platform that suits them.
Tools, recommendations & sources of inspiration
What brands do you take inspiration from?
We do take inspiration from the big brands in the industry: the NBA, the NFL or Nike. They do really cool stuff - especially, the NBA. Yet, all the inspiration we might get, we make sure we own it and that it's still authentic to the NRL.
I also take a lot of inspiration from ads in general. Recently, a friend of mine who doesn’t work in marketing, shared with me an Airbnb ad that she loved. As a marketer, I recognise that that is when a brand has done a GREAT job: when people that are not in the industry share the content with their friends.
My husband laughs and always tells me that I don’t pay much attention to a show we might be watching on TV, but I certainly tune in when the ads come up.
Software and tools recommendations: what is the one software you can’t work without and why?
We use Slack as a messaging tool, which I find super useful for communication between different departments when we need to move fast.
For example, if we are working on the NRL finals, the ticketing team informs us how many tickets are left before they are sold out and we need to coordinate the communication almost instantly.
So Slack is very efficient, especially now we've got flexible working arrangements, and we can't rely on people seeing their emails in real time.
Do you work with agencies or do you do everything in-house?
We do most of our work in-house: paid social, graphic design, social media. Yet, we do work with a media agency that helps us with our media buys for all the many other activities and enterprises.
At the NRL we do the Telstra Premiership season, which is the week-to-week games between clubs. Then, we have the major events, which are the State of Origin series, finals and grand finals as well as test matches and all-star matches.
We also have the corporate hospitality business; merchandising shops; and Community and Participation.
Community involves all the activities we do in the community, such as the State of Mind mental health campaign, in alignment with the State of Origin series and Participation is a related effort to get people to apply and to consider enrolling their kids in rugby league, touch or tag.
So the media agency helps us with these activities and a few other creative agencies help the ideation process behind the campaigns.
Which resources would you recommend for anyone working in your field?
- AdNews, The Drum and B&T to keep a finger on the pulse in the industry.
- Marketing School - This top of the line podcast series helps you to recalibrate where you're at. Sometimes I find that working in marketing can be very focused on one aspect, so listening to this podcast helps me focus on other areas and gain perspective of the big picture. I like to listen to it on my short walk to work.