Ben Harrison on Strategic Marketing and the NHL

By: Katie Abbott

Columbus Blue Jackets goalie blocking a puck

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Ben Harrison is the marketing manager for Ohio’s favorite NHL team, the Columbus Blue Jackets. Starting his career at Marshall University, Ben obtained a Bachelors in Sports Management and Marketing. He then continued his education at Georgetown University and earned his Masters in Sports Industry Management. Ben has always had a passion for the sports industry, which has lead him to his current position with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

I have recently become apart of the Columbus Blue Jackets Campus Captain team here at Ohio University. Our job is to promote, support, plan events and create excitement for the Blue Jackets fans on campus. I decided to interview Ben Harrison, who so kindly gave me the opportunity to be apart of the Campus Captain program, because I have learned so much from him as a mentor and coach.When the opportunity arose for me to interview an industry professional in marketing, I knew Ben would be the perfect choice!

Katie Abbott: What type of consumer research do you conduct before planning a social media campaign?

Ben Harrison: The only real campaigns I can think of would be for our corporate partners. Our corporate development team usually performs a “needs analysis” when first meeting with a potential corporate partner. If leveraging our social media followers is important to them, a certain amount of impressions will be promised in the contract. For instance, say we promised Tim Hortons x amount of impressions via social media for a sales promotion they were offering. Our social media campaign would promote their promotion accordingly. Sometimes we do a Facebook/Twitter ad buy where we invest say $500 with Facebook/Twitter to target a select demographic for a designated timeframe. Here, we’re paying Facebook/Twitter to reach this targeted audience for the client. So research prior to the campaign, would be the needs analysis with the client, and determining who they’re trying to reach.

KA: Would you explain some tools that you use to plan, implement, or evaluate social media campaigns?

BH: Best practices – what do other teams/companies do to generate impressions, likes, retweets, shares, etc.

Evaluate – Easy. Did a certain post generate impressions? If so, take note – and analyze why it may have worked. 10,000 retweets is more effective than 25 retweets.

KA: What people/organizations do you follow to stay up-to-date on social media trends and why?

BH: Me personally: The companies that I am interested in and care about the news they are relaying. I’m not going to follow V8 because I am not invested. I am going to follow SportsCenter because I am invested.

If other sports teams are known for having cutting edge social media, such as the LA Kings, Cavs, etc – it’s smart to give them a follow to see what all the hype is about.

KA: Can you describe a recent successful social media campaign conducted by CBJ and why you feel it was successful?

BH: We did a Snapchat takeover with our Ohio State campus captains. I gave one of our OSU campus captains the username/password for the CBJ Snapchat. One a game day, she posted snaps of having interest in attending a CBJ game, buying tickets through the app, taking the COTA bus from campus to the Arena District, stopping at RBar for a pregame drink, arriving at the arena, getting into the building, buying merchandise and concessions, meeting up with friends, celebrating CBJ goals, and leaving the arena after the game. I thought this was a success because our campus captains are really in the know pertaining to that form of social media and what speaks to their age group. The Snapchat story demonstrated how easy it is for a college student to buy tickets, get to the Arena District, and have fun. I think we’ll probably do this again before the season is over.

KA: What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring social media professional?

BH: Stay active on social media. Create your own accounts, follow people, post things yourself, and get involved. Soon enough, you’ll be a natural. Analyze who has the most interaction/followers, and determine their strategies. From there, perhaps mimic those in your own unique way.

KA: Are there any new and exciting campaigns CBJ has in the works that we should look out for?

BH: We always have campaigns for corporate partners. But usually our social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat) seem to come about very naturally. If something is planned out, it’s because we are contractually obligated to do so for Pepsi, Fox Sports Ohio, or xyz corporate partner. Our social media informs fans on what’s going on within the club (injuries, roster changes, opponent match ups, etc) first and foremost, but we’re allowed to have a lot of fun with it at the same time and not take ourselves too seriously. Companies whose social media is extremely cautious can be boring. Taking risks can have high rewards – you just have to be somewhat careful and use common sense.

I always enjoy hearing the wisdom of a true industry professional because real world experiences are shared that simply cannot be learned in a classroom. Ben shared a lot of great strategies and methods used everyday, not only by himself but by other professionals on his team. These methods and strategies are learned from trying different approaches, taking risks and just being in the field. Those insights are the most rewarding to me and to others as well.

I think everyone can learn a couple things from Ben’s insight. I know I did. For more information and to keep up with the Columbus Blue Jackets, visit their website or follow them on twitter @BlueJacketsNHL. Thank you Ben for teaching us all something today about marketing, social media, and the sports industry! What was your favorite part of the interview?

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