At Launch in 2016 we had $600K of social revenue and in 2020 it is 40% of Bleacher Report's total revenue at nearly $82 Million.
The biggest challenge in building a diverse and nimble social team from the ground up was establishing a voice that connected to our target demographic and developing buckets of content that we would fill on an "always on" basis while maintaining a deep rolodex of artists and freelancers who could contribute from the creative side in helping bring the vision to life. I was able to build and manage the creative side of this social team as well as develop libraries of resources for the creatives on our team to use. Once this infrastructure was built we were able to convert this team into one of the biggest revenue drivers at the company with various social products that led to us becoming one of the top publishers on the web.
My strategic social expertise, strong forethought on brand positioning and team building management skills have grown the Bleacher Report brand to be a leader in the sports media industry. Today, B/R is the No. 1 most engaged sports publisher in the world earning 3.5 billion engagements, reaching more than 200 million Gen Z and Millennial sports fans each month and 12 billion video views and growing. This social domination was accomplished while the B/R App topped 1 billion engagements with users opening the app an average of four times per day, with half of those being driven by social accounts that I was in charge of creating content and developing the voice and artistic development infrastructure for.
I am proud to have helped launch these accounts and grow them from the ground up with content strategies and creative infrastructure that allowed us to scale to a large scale operation that would win many Webby's and other social media awards for our coverage of the sports landscape. Bleacher Report became one of the preeminent social voices in sport during my tenure there and the development of the social moments team was perhaps the biggest factor in making that a reality. Bleacher Report is the leading social destination for team-specific sports content and real-time event coverage, and is one of the fastest growing social properties in both the UK and US. Its strategy to focus on shareable, entertaining and informative content distributed through multiple platforms is changing the sports media game.
Social Moments really became a way to build brand affinity and not just funnel people towards our app but give them a reason to trust it as a content curation source and see our voice as an important one in the crowded social space. The launch of our "Social Moments" team and our playbook of extremely effective social vehicles and risk taking new concepts which elevated the work of our standard social team to a new industry standard was a transformational moment in the company's history. Think of it as a Navy Seal team specifically built for producing high quality social content in a rapid or predictive manner as a way to supplement regular curation and news coverage. High level video edits like the Slim Reaper elevated highlight I created for the return of Kevin Durant would become our calling card amongst a host of other content vehicles and strategies that would shake up the sports media landscape.
My role at Bleacher Report as the multimedia director was to identify emerging sectors like our social team that were ripe for innovation, to come in and transform the way that we operate, and to scale and lead those teams to become integral parts of the overall company. Social went from being an afterthought when I first joined the company to becoming one of the driving forces in the market at the vanguard of the industry in terms of innovation creating award winning content that would drive almost half of all revenue for the company by the time I shifted responsibilities. I was able to build a talented team that redefined what social media content publishing meant in sports and became one of the most followed publishers on platforms.
These crazy follower numbers and building such a rabid fanbase were only possible by helping our audience follow the sports they love and engage with a community of like-minded people who share their passions. We give fans access to their players they love and the moments they cherish, because Bleacher Report is made for sports fans by sports fans. I firmly believe that we were able to position ourselves as different because we understand the culture that surrounds the game and therefore provide multiple touchpoints for fans of every stripe. To become a brand seen as a "massive" social media publisher you've got to add value and constantly be creating and curating content that your audience can identify with. The main goal for Bleacher Report is to make it as easy as possible to be a sports fan.
Growth on social was a huge area of focus that I was tasked with cracking the code for in my role from both a project management and a creative direction standpoint. I helped us do this by launching our social accounts on various platforms, helping us join Instagram and grow to millions of followers, launching both our regular Snapchat account which often featured behind the scenes content with the biggest stars in the game and our more motion graphics oriented news based Snapchat Discover channels in the US and UK that I helped get off the ground, and even our TikTok account and the rapid growth it has seen in 2020. I still remember pressing publish on the first post ever on our instagram profile, not knowing how integral it would become to the future of our business.
Each of the platforms we have launched on have a unique voice and content playbook that I have helped develop based on the audience and target demographic on each platform. I helped launch the brand on many of these platforms but more importantly was in charge of building out the content that would populate them and a menu of options for us to tackle different moments in sports with. This menu would become something we could take to market with our sales team and eventually led to huge revenue growth for the company along with shattering all of our user engagement metrics. We essentially treated it like a playbook, and I was in charge of designing the plays and building out a team that could handle the creation of those moments in an efficient yet playful manner.
One of the main directives I implemented was to stay away from volume and focuses on content that triggers social interaction. Decoding the social strategy, implementing it and building out a team, and then scaling the shit out of it. Utilizing new storytelling platforms like Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, Bleacher Report creates new fan experiences aimed at a young, socially-driven audience. The main directive of the Social Moments team as we were launching it was about focusing on quality storytelling experiences. Gone were the days young sports fans sit on their couch waiting for sports updates. Today, fans have access at their fingertips every moment of every hour and they expect a certain quality of content as well as a very competent cultural fluency from the accounts they follow.
This means that being omnipresent and consistent with a powerful yet varied and diverse message across all these different platforms is ultimately what informs a successful social growth strategy. This paired with my own artistic instincts and background in building out social based sports following such as Basketball Forever or Posterizes is what made me perfectly suited for this role and why Bleacher Report brought me in to completely transform their social offerings. I brought a skillset to build teams and to scale a social media creative playbook, that was my calling card. My role as the creative director on the team was to act as a high level architect, a glue guy who was on the ground in the trenches helping launch initial products and builds, and then to take more of a holistic role growing out the team and figuring out how to scale and monetize against the playbook thatI developed.
Throughout the entire time I helped build out the department the key question was always how do you give those fans a curated experience that mirrors the offering within our mobile app by surfacing only the best content and producing original content that matched fan sentiment. Each platform had its own distinct voice and type of content that would best fit on them and best suited to the type of audience that is consuming content on those apps and you almost have to treat each platform as it's own unique magazine with it's own point of view instead of taking one piece of content and copy/pasting the same approach on every place.
Twitter was great for articles and engaging conversation or debate around topics (Our stats graphics would always do well here) as well as live scores and reactions to games currently happening, meanwhile facebook was generally an older demographic and more suited to our longer form content and our articles, meanwhile our instagram was far more visual and image based with a far more irreverent meme based attitude as there was so much competitions on people's feeds and it paid to stand out and be funny, while our Snapchat and TikTok channel would be far more raw and behind the scenes or user generated content. Different platforms, different social touchpoints and brands all paired with stellar strategy and creative that I laid the groundwork for was the backbone of our moments team.
The social moments team helped Bleacher Report push a social-first agenda aimed to fill the gap of mainstream sports coverage with accessible and entertaining content young sports fans crave. Bleacher Report is the leading social destination for team-specific sports content and real-time event coverage, and is one of the fastest growing social properties in both the UK and US. Its strategy to focus on shareable, entertaining and informative content distributed through multiple platforms is changing sports media. I had the opportunity to help develop the different arms of this operation from an art direction and a voice perspective.
As the Multimedia Director as a part of the Social Moments team at Bleacher Report I was able to redefine the way sports content looks, feels, and is consumed. I helped build out one of the best social squads in the game and designed a playbook and asset library system with art direction guidelines to scale the scope of the program and brought in talented creators from around the web. I wouldn't call it hyperbole to call the opportunity to build out this social team that was at the forefront of the social media game a chance to assemble a set of social media Avengers, creators that were the best in the business at what they do and passionate about it. These were folks who were doing these type of things on their own, for free, without the funding ,structure, and creative guidance that we could provide to nurture these instincts and turn them into next level social creators.
Every person whom I interviewed and helped hire were tested on their vision to create innovative social content and were given the same training and infrastructure tools I built out to bring them up to speed and hit the ground running. In terms of the search process I would constantly be on the search for original content creators simply doing it out of passion on platforms like reddit or twitter and that is where we often found folks like RayRod or PJ Selzer who would become some of the teams most talented editors. On the graphics side, I leveraged my connections at Posterizes to help some of the team members who were active there such as Ryan Hurst or Matt Sanoian to join the team as interns and eventually come full time. I had an integral part in not just shaping our playbook, but hiring a team of top level talented employees and managing the creative vision for the department.
One of the leadership principles that I have always espoused is one that Steve Jobs often spoke about in that when you bring together a group of A players, they tend to be self policing because everyone holds each other accountable to a certain high standard of work that everyone shares. Think of it like the dream team in the NBA where because each player is an all-star they make each other better, steel sharpens steel as we like to say on the team. I felt that if we brought in high level creatives, it not only would improve the level all around, they would hold each other to a high standard and we would work together to collaboratively get better and give constructive and meaningful feedback. Perhaps more than anything, having informed and intelligent content conversations where everyone was speaking the same language was of utmost important.
The key factor that really was important about the social moments team is that it gave us a premium advertising agency like set of creatives who could tackle creative projects around a sports moment or trigger that just happened in a major game and then respond in a timely manner by creating high quality funny, epic or hyper relevant pop culture content around. This was essentially a brand new "product" for our sales team to go out to market with, and we were able to monetize the original content that the social moments team created since it was our original owned and operated media as opposed to curated content or pushing for CPM numbers on articles. This new revenue model allowed B/R to transform it's content offerings and grow into the integral part of the Turner Sports ecosystem that it is today.
When I first joined Bleacher Report as an intern back in the summer of 2013, I was excited to be a part of what was then considered our social team, primarily consisting of a group of programmers and content curators that posted simple in game photography to our social channels and used them more as a vehicle to drive traffic back to the site, rather than their own platforms for community to gather. This version of the social team, or Social 1.0 if you will was a far cry from what I helped build at Bleacher Report in our realtime Moments team which I was instrumental in helping bring off the ground and become one of the major revenue drivers across the entire company.
At this time when I had first joined the company, Bleacher Report only had a facebook, twitter, and youtube presence and primarily shared links to its articles on its social channels. The main idea was that social was merely a tool to drive eyeballs to the website. At the time I started the company had a grand total of 300,000 total aggregate followers across all social platforms. One of my main directives during my time there was to grow this presence and I was able to build our total aggregate audience to over 100 Million total across just these platforms, not even including the various other social accounts and profiles for associated brands that I helped launch along the way. It was from humble beginnings that we were able to establish Bleacher Report as one of the most reputable sports media publishers across a myriad of social platforms.
I had the opportunity to be a part of launching and developing Bleacher Report's social moments team as we established an industry-leading game plan to create and distribute social-first content that sparked unprecedented levels of engagement with our core young audience. Building the team from the ground up, and hiring the right group of designers, producers, and project managers along with developing a content playbook with a corresponding resource library changed the media landscape for sports publishers. I came in and established an industry-leading game plan to create and distribute elevated and well designed social-first content that sparked unprecedented levels of engagement with our core young and digitally savvy audience.
The award winning team set the bar as far as social media content on the internet and was the vanguard in the industry as far as experimentation and pushing the boundaries with innovative executions. I played an integral role in incubating the early version of this team, bringing on multiple team members, developing a content strategy and building out an asset library that would allow us to work in a nimble manner to respond to social sports moments effectively. Like many of my other projects at Bleacher Report, I was brought on to lay the ground work, build an infrastructure, and then scale the team as we monetized the whole process.
The rise of instagram as a social platform really drove the success of the social moments team but also offered opportunities for strategic investment in content strategies that would endear our voice to our audience. When I first began at Bleacher Report in 2013 the primary traffic driver was facebook newsfeed. The brand had slowly moved away from SEO driven slideshow articles and was moving into the social space similar to brands such as Buzzfeed or Huffington Post.
The first thing that I was tasked with doing when I joined the social team was to launch our instagram presence and to develop a voice for the platform. The first few images posted to the account were around the countdown to the NFL season of legendary players as we counted down by each jersey number, starting with Walter Payton. Over time, the account grew, and we even got larger buy in from Turner to promote the social accounts during linear broadcast games. With this firehose of attention, it was the social moments team's job to produce content that was worthy of this young, NBA savvy demographic that we were driving to become followers.
One of the keys that really caused the paradigm shift as we evolved the team from social 1.0 to social 2.0 was the realization that content creators should be going where the audience is to increase engagement. One of the biggest issues for any early web publisher was click through rates on articles and on people converting sales or advertisements based on cost per milli, and this would cause a lose lose situation where the engagement on social platforms was low when every piece of content was simply a link share, and publishers were losing out because of low click through rates and struggling to drive ad revenue on websites where they would have to further drive another click to an advertiser.
The paradigm of consumer interaction being shifted to a social medium completely changed the tone of the conversation. Plus, on top of all of this, consumers would lose out on engaged communities and the ability to fluidly share and talk about content on social in a meaningful way. Instagram and twitter, and later snapchat became fertile breeding ground for this type of organic social conversation to flourish, and Bleacher Report's investment in the social moments team was a key driver of this growth in the sports sector and something I am proud to have been able to contribute towards.
The social landscape could be seen as fragmented where publishers and social platforms weren't truly working in concert yet to optimize the social experience. As publishers began to embrace social platforms as places where you could natively monetize content, I knew that we could reposition Bleacher Report's social channels as a conduit to maximize on audience engagement. This would effectively tip the scales in everyone's favor; The social platforms got engagement on their platforms to go up significantly, publishers were able to get more eyeballs on their actual content when natively publishing on social (And not having to deal with the drop off due to click through rate), and the advertisers were able to get more value on their ad budget spend by getting detailed analytic reports and targeted content publishing.
This is where the brilliance of the social moments team that I helped launch alongside Jermaine Spradley and Bryan Graham comes into play as it was essentially taking our standard social team and instead filling it with a group of highly skilled specialized workers with an ear to the streets and a pulse on internet culture that could turn around content at a rapid pace based on social triggers. It was essentially a group of specialized SWAT soldiers trained to work more quickly and efficiently than standard military. This social moments team completely transformed the positioning of the company in the market and opened a ton of new doors for new opportunities.
What Bleacher Report did better than any other sports social media publisher was create content that was highly targeted towards capturing fan sentiment. For us, the biggest bet we were making is that the first generation of social media was about connecting you to "THE world" and that the second generation is about connecting you to "YOUR world." This level of personalization was at the soul of the social team that I helped build out. It was important to me that we spoke the same language as our fans so that we could create the content that would resonate with them the most.
While I was working as an art director and lead designer on our Media Lab Team (You can read some more about the elevated parallax web experiences I was primarily charged with producing while a part of this team) I was actually tasked with coming up with a reactive piece of content that was a bit different from the traditional elevated articles we were working on at the time. The project turned out to be a video edit that was triggered around LeBron James impending free agency decision. I came up with the idea to take the iconic "Kodak" pitch scene from the AMC award winning series Mad Men and to mix it up with images from Lebron's first stint in Cleveland as a call to his decision and the mending of bridges burned in 2010's messy breakup. This piece of content would effectively become our elevator pitch to develop a team like Social Moments as an offspring of the Media Lab experiments that I was doing.
This piece of content would essentially become a pilot project for the type of content our "Social Moments Team" would be tasked with creating. It featured a timely release right when he announced with Sports Illustrated that he was heading back to Cleveland, and it did numbers on our social platforms. This would become the basis for much of the type of work we would look to do as we elevated the social team to be more of a tactical squad who could tackle content problems. Although this project is quite old and relatively basic, the overall concept of taking pop culture and giving it a sports spin and then releasing that content at the perfect time is what sums up the goals of this team that we launched.The piece is still referenced often by our social team as a great combination of timing and storytelling released at the perfect moment.
One of the major differentiating factors that I felt was important for a visually based platform like Instagram was to hone in more as a brand play as opposed to Facebook where we were using it as a traffic play to send people to articles. However, it would be a while before BR decided to truly take the plunge in this direction and at first treated instagram similarly to it's other platforms, using it as a way to send audience to their "walled garden" where they could be monetized. Eventually this model would be flipped on its head in the coming years as social became a dominant fixture in our content programming plan. I had a chance to spearhead this transition and capitalize on the opportunity to grow our audience in new ways with innovative types of content.
Early momentum around our media lab department was feeding a growing appetite around original content for our social feeds as we had seen how well content would perform on these social platforms when created natively for it as opposed to sending them through a link clickthrough. You never want to be swimming upstream and by embracing these platforms, long term we could maximize engagement, brand affinity, and social growth if we played our cards right. I was tapped by Joe Yanarella, our editor in chief to spearhead some more of these experiments over the course of my time in the Lab department, before I would transition full time to grow and develop our emerging social media department as a multimedia director. My job was to take what I was doing on an individualized project by project basis for the Lab team, and scale that across our social department into larger executions that could be repeated and sold against.
I was tasked by our editor in chief with coming up with content pitches for a new initiative known as "Media Lab Daily" which would take the experimental long form and immersive content that our Lab team was producing and compartmentalize it to fit into bite size vehicles for social consumption. The first of these involved an idea that I had around the viral video of the eventual champion Golden State Warriors dancing in their team plane to the song "I'm in Love with the Coco" during an early season winning streak. Paired with some other early examples these Media Lab experiments were enough to get buy in from our executive team to go all in and make room for headcount around the Moments team. These small experiments were enough to get the go ahead to scale the department as even on such a small scale, the obvious value of engagement was there.
The goal of Media Lab Daily was to be used as a pilot project incubator to figure out where we could find new content opportunities to build a team around. Our content team was essentially trying to figure out how to create a robust offering of content "recipes" if you will, that would be something that we could develop into a proverbial social media cookbook that we could build a team of chefs, assistants, and infrastructure around. This cookbook of recipes would be what I was tasked with developing so that we had a good sense of the creative lift for these types of projects and the return on investment we could get if we were to monetize something like this department. Over time I was not only able to build outa robust set of recipes, but also hire a very capable team to execute against them in a very rapid newsworthy and relevant manner to serve our large but young and constantly hungry user demographic.
This ability to show that the department was viable early on was key in opening the doors from our leadership team to allow us the freedom to move quickly and break things. This is what allowed us to create content at such a rapid clip and what kept the ideas and concepts flowing, to keep the momentum going with regular hits on social that would get engagement levels super high and justify continual investment for the team. This was an important aspect in taking these individual projects and develop them into robust program offerings that could evolve into entire departments once honed in on and adapted to scale. My early experience in launching the instagram account was seen as an asset as that was the major area of growth and development for the company. It really became destination for these type of content experiments that would act as an accurate barometer of whether or not we were able to mirror fan sentiment.
It was like every hit that we made on social would become PR for us to get more internal budget to play with. As can be seen in this Hotline Zing project that I art directed, it is similarly concepted to the Splash Brothers video but scaled as a part of our predictive team, working with external talent instead of internal to expedite the process so that we could concurrently work on more content and still release it on the right trigger. This would become part the course as we got better at scaling this system to become an integral part of the "always on" content machine that I was helping to build. My role was key in scaling, building, developing, and curating the talent and content vehicles we would be producing while taking an overarching look at the direction and voice for the team while managing the design side of things.
I was also charged with leading the development of elevated and treated highlights for our social channels as a means of showcasing what we were capable of doing from a social content basis for the larger content ecosystem that Turner was developing. If House of Highlights was the user generated content hub for them to get access to authentic consumers submitting their own footage, and our animation department was responsible for Game of Zones and series of that ilk, then our social moments team would go on to become known for these kinds of edits that I spearheaded. The initial experiments were launched as a return for the NBA season "Ball is Back" campaign where the highlights were brought to life as shown in the "Splash Brother" inspired Steph Curry water based avatar inspired edit below.
As we built out the Social Moments team into an integral part of the larger Bleacher Report content ecosystem, there were a number of challenges that popped up throughout the process. I was tasked with leading teams of editors, designers to help shape the content voice to match our creative vision and fan sentiment while contributing ideas for day-to-day creation of content. This meant spending time working with illustrators, animators and other independent contractors to create engaging content for the most important moments in sports while compiling notes to guide content though the back end of production and coordinating with other branches of B/R’s social departments, sales, public relations, or marketing teams to execute against major tentpole events. Social became a huge part of the DNA of the company and was woven into pretty much any endeavor we undertook.
One of the first major tentpole events that allowed me and the team to test our creative chops was the 2016 All-Star game and the associated events. We had an inherent advantage due to our partnership with Turner which would allow us quick access to game footage that we could treat, so it felt like an ideal moment to implement the social moments playbook that we had been developing. We ended up getting one of the most viral dunk contests of all time and were able to maneuver to produce some viral content that would set the course of the social moments team. I played point guard that night making everything happen and laying the framework fro how we would execute against these moments as time moved forward. This event was really a pilot project for us in that context.
I was responsible for building out and turning out pieces like the above "Dunk is Back" project which leveraged that footage and I had prepared about 95% of the video before the actual dunk contest, as twitter was buzzing and the hype around social was growing that this was a historic contest I knew that I had something to work with. I quickly pulled footage of Lavine and Gordon's dunks and published the final piece within minutes of the actual dunk contest concluding. Speed to market, relevance, and the ability to stitch together all of this while the event was going on were what enabled this type of content creation cadence, and would become the template for what we would build out the team and department to do.
This meant while every other publisher was just getting around to publishing a photo of the winner, B/R had already published a high level mix that took historic footage and mashed it up with realtime highlights that just happened and publishing this mix set to an epic song at the perfect social moment while others are scrambling to even just get footage of the highlights of the dunks themselves. The video went super viral, specifically on facebook where it was shared over 100 Million times and the narrative that the dunk contest had officially made a comeback was accurately captured and shared amongst the community.
Although the Dunk is back piece was rapidly published as soon as the contest itself ended, I knew that our social programming team would be well on it's way to grabbing the broadcast footage and publishing replays of the epic dunks to social already, and therefore I focused on elevating the actual highlight of the Aaron Gordon dunk as soon as possible. Applying a quick motion graphics treatment where the dunk broke the glass on the screen and displaced the video footage and integrating in the intel 360 degree footage we had early access to. Pairing all of this with a currently trending remix of Justin Bieber's music I was able to create an elevated social moments video highlight experience in under 10 minutes and publish immediately to our social feeds to capitalize on interest. This project was essentially the one that sealed Social Moment's fate as one fo the most important departments at Bleacher Report as we grew out the company.
I kept pushing the leadership team to make the team a bigger investment and to give us more chances to take bigger swings. I felt that social was the future for Bleacher Report and pushed to not only be a part of the team but also for it to get more budget and chances to be at the forefront of social innovation. I always felt that if we built out a team to take on this challenge at scale, we could really be leaders in the industry if done right.The social moments team had potential to build a scalable framework that could really become a revenue driver for the company.
It was a space without a ton of competition and we were able to move quickly and gain experience. A great example of this was the jersey swap market, that I had heavy experience in at my time founding Posterizes, and was something I brought as a novel social content piece to Bleacher, and we scaled as we grew the team and it eventually led to a deal with American Express that drove millions of dollars of revenue for the team. Not only would we be known for how clean and realistic the team was able to produce these, often leading to athletes reposting or using them for their display photos, but because we really got speed to market down to a science as we would break the news on social and lead our app alerts with the jersey swaps.
Jersey swaps really were a staple food item in the diet of the social moments team. Bringing on talented graphic designers to the team who could execute quickly against these needs was of utmost importance, and so in tapping into my network of creators I had developed from my Posterizes days we were able to hire folks like Ryan Hurst, Matt Sanoian, Chad Gersky, Sean Riley, Akshay Ram, Brian Konnick and more on a freelance basis to help build out a team that could respond to this need on a day to day basis during the rolling sports calendar. We got so good at this that we were able to build out a stash of potential swaps to have ready as soon as a trade or free agency signing went down. If you think of the swap as a product, there was an immediate market need and desire for it, the only thing we really had to do is fulfill that need and build out a team to expand the offerings. Taking jersey swaps from something I was doing alone early on in the initial startup stages of the social moments department for the company to something that could be handed off to multiple designers and scaled to become something monetizable is the exact modus operandi of the team.
The idea was to progressively build out a 30-40 person team that could be grouped together in "pods" with different combinations of specialists (Designers, illustrators, producers, motion graphic editors) and assigned to various games to respond to. This would maximize our coverage, keep our ideas fresh and allow for a collaborative environment where ideas could be bounced back and forth and ultimately the content could become better. This spirit of constantly iterating and brainstorming was key to the whole process and took a team of dedicated creators. Here is our then Editor in Chief Joe Yanarella discussing the build out of the Social Moments team in a company All-Hands update that gives an idea of the plan (Along with a little shoutout to some of the work I did during our All-Star weekend blowout) -
Towards the end you can also hear the General Manager of House of Highlight and then the leader of our programing team efforts Doug Bernstein discuss the voice that we would look to develop on each platform and how this would be achieved. The social moments team was a big bet for Bleacher Report and I was tasked with building out tools to scale the team and to create a playbook that could be replicated by new hires and producers that we could bring on. Here's what Joe had to say about my work on the team - "Ishaan understands how to blend innovation and creativity into core audience habits and consumption as well as anyone I've ever worked with. Whether it's looking at highlight treatments through a different lens or modernizing a basic interview format by having someone interview their younger self, he works tirelessly to study audience and data and then present that to consumers in a unique way that approaches art." - Joe Yanarella
One specific moment I would love to call out is when I art directed a piece working with producer Spencer Oshman as B/R celebrated Chance the Rapper winning his second Grammy of the night in 2017 with a mashup of the Chicago-born rapper’s face on the iconic image of Michael Jordan holding his first championship trophy. The moment felt right as it captured what the fans of the city who were sports fans as well as Chance fans felt. Being a brand that crossed this divide was a big deal for us and so I pushed for us to make the piece of content even though we traditionally were pretty quiet on Grammy night as other more music centered accounts like Billboard, Genius, or Complex took the spotlight. However, we decided to zig when we normally zagged and post the image. Less than an hour later, Chance won his third Grammy of the night, prompting him to request that B/R add a third trophy in his arms, or “uno mas” while he was at the show.
The team and I happily obliged and lead a realtime social response and updated the graphic and responded to him with it as it became one of our most engaged moments on social of that year, and fell outside the scope of traditional sports coverage while encouraging social engagement and conversation on a night folks normally wouldn’t be engaging with our content. Plus, on top of all of this I was able to make sure from an art direction standpoint to work with a diverse local Chicago based minority artist, Conrad Javier who was super excited to collaborate on the project. From brainstorming the idea, to doing the research for the imagery, to the art direction throughout the project, and finally the ability to pivot and update in realtime were all manifested throughout the development of this idea. All these things coming together helped set a precedent where BR was seen as an approachable and modern brand that was capable of engaging with influencers at a higher level. You can see a breakdown of the art direction process below -
Not only did this perfectly illustrate the importance of treating social like a two way conversation with your audience as a living and breathing organism as opposed to a static announcement speaker talking at our audience with the monotonous drone of perfectly crafted PR announcement tidbits. It showed the importance of engaging with your audience in a way that made the brand feel accessible and giving audience the best experience, through the creation of hugely shareable content across social media at a rapid speed. And it would set a precedent where we would have these types of situations pop up with multiple athletes and celebrities interacting with the brand in positive ways across social platforms. This entire process was something that I wanted to really hammer home as we developed a project management and art direction template which focused on a waterfall methodology at first taking each thing step by step, and as the team became better suited became more of an agile pursuit.
In order to pull this off we had to cultivate an authentic voice, be prepared to launch the illustration by planning for it on the social calendar and collaborating across the country will creators to coordinate production of the creative assets, use an analytics driven approach to publish during the realtime conversation happening on twitter, and then responding and engaging with live updates to the content and having a real conversation with an athlete or celebrity on social in front of all of our fans. The first step in any art direction done for Social moments projects began with a brainstorming session amongst team members, both creators and producers and people who were well versed in the sport or platform. The idea was to figure out and test new concepts and brand vehicles that would act as conduits for the story that we were trying to tell while amplifying the current sports moment.
It is important to note that the brainstorming for the Chance project happened far prior to that moment, as the team knew that there were going to be opportunities to create something that mirrored that iconic image of Michael Jordan. This is really the distinct difference between the brainstorming and ideation phase, as the brainstorming can happen irrespective of time or moment as it comes down to finding vehicles and concept elements that will work regardless of the moment. Ideation relates specifically to a singular moment or game or player that you are trying to create against. Often times through brainstorming we would develop a stash of concepts that could be implemented quickly against specific ideas, thus further reducing that time to market we valued so much.
As a multimedia director, I approach creative work as a behaviorist in that I use storytelling and craft as tools to inspire action in consumers. I believe big ideas have to be big solutions; business solutions that are backed with data and connected directly to the brief. This type of approach requires constant progression and evolution as the idea and the storytelling comes into clearer view through the process. Brainstorming is a collaborative process that can take into consideration potential ideas from across the organization, however the ideation stage gets more specific and involves direct project stakeholders making realistic evaluations of what we could create now and what ideas are something worth banking for a later execution.
They key is to develop strategic frameworks that identify growth territories for our partners, and design and assemble best in class tools and methodologies to action against their needs. The ideation stage is really about taking the concepts discussed while brainstorming and turning those into concrete action items that can be executed against with the current personnel available. So for animations, making sure we are doing our due diligence on character design, sound design, storyboarding and all those steps. Or with illustrations and graphics making sure we are making mood boards and finding good image assets to build off of. In the case of videos and hype tapes this may mean commissioning voice over from the likes of Big Sean or creating custom music tracks to go behind the content. This added value would always be evident in the final product and was a point of pride for me.
The research stage is something that would become more and more important as we would continue to develop this artistic direction and production playbook as an infrastructure layout for leadership on the social moments team. Being able to find a good host of styles and artistic directions that would shape the developmental path of the content meant doing the work and examining the market to see inspiration and take from those sources to create something new and inspiring for our audience in a new context.
The research stage meant finding imagery, creating image boards, sketches, references, outlines, and providing the groundwork for larger ideas to come about through the creative process. By building out a framework we were able to get all the project stakeholders on the same page before moving forward with the same north star. In the moments team being deeply collaborative, this stage allowed for every member of the team to contribute in a distinct way as the resources all came together, with each one providing their own research elements that could be combined to make the process go smoother.
Collaboration was really what set the social moments directive apart from most of the other self contained in house social departments that did everything soup to nuts with a short staffed small team where people wore multiple hats. Our formula still tasked individuals with a diverse array of tasks to maintain that lightness on their feet, but also worked within a far deeper more collaborative ecosystem that would take these elements and put them through a project management and art direction framework that was meant to allow steel to sharpen steel and for the best ideas to rise to the top.
This meant that everyone got a chance to contribute their unique flavor to concepts and help shape it as we went through the creative process. For instance, the below Kevin Durant x Kanye West Famous illustration that we created for his free agency decision began originally as a photoshop idea of a screencap of the image from the music video, and then over time evolved to an illustration when we realized we wanted to include mascots and other icons.
Once the illustration was completed in a matter of a few hours after the release of the video, as we had our social producer Arman Walia reach out to an illustrator based in Korea the team decided to pause for a second and think about whether or not there were any ways to further elevate the piece. I decided that it was worth testing out to see how the piece would look as a video, if we added the same VHS distortion and camera zoom out that was present in the music video, with an original in house duplicate instrumental using samples from Sister Nancy’s ‘Bam Bam’ made by our very own Mikey Navarro to help take it over the top. The final post ended up being that version and did huge numbers on social for our audience size at the time, breaking engagement records and even getting mentioned in the next morning sports talk show circuit laughing at the absurdity of the piece, but it really is a great example of the research and collaboration stages as we finally got to the publishing stage.
For any piece of content that we publish, it is important for all aspect to work together, music, edit, length, moment, storytelling, fan sentiment and all the other constituent elements that will lead to making the hearts of our fans sing. Publishing content really was an art, and a data driven science at the same time. Working in conjunction with our data analytics team we would identify key factors like time of post, audience time zones, the schedule of national games, viral factors that were included in the content, down to even A/B testing various captions, and also understanding the nuances between platforms. Our social moments team was different than other parts of the content organization at the company as those teams would often hand off their content to the social programming teams to handle the post and the outreach, while we were encouraged to do it ourselves to better understand the dynamic between the platform and the content.
One of the major initiatives to come out of our social moments team was our emerging media department that focused on emerging social platforms or technology and finding ways to capitalize on growing audience in new places. This meant I got to be a part of launching our presence on Snapchat discover from a creative standpoint. I was in charge of developing the creative voice of the launch and helped hire a team of motion designers to handle the day to day creation of individual discover snap templates whose creative direction I oversaw. We hired some of the most talented and diverse designers who created assets on a daily basis based on the news cycle, producing content 7 days a week in a consistent yet engaging manner.
Initially, as can be seen in the launch video above I was responsible for singlehandedly running and launching our discover channel for our UK Bleacher Report Football brand, and then when it came time to launch in the USas well we built out a larger team. Upon the launch of our US arm, Drew and I would lead weekly creative sessions with our diverse team of motion designers Marcus Brown, Jessica Dorricott, Tiauana Smith, Lorrie Cartago, and Adam Powell to develop and produce new templates and looks and feels for our editions. We hit over 3 million subscribers in under a year of publishing. The way a team plays as a whole determines its success and I believe the best teams are built on trust and collaboration, and I truly believe these types of projects helped us embrace a positive and selfless attitude.
This iterative approach to content creation was something that served us well when the directive was to constantly be creating and the demand of the news cycle required such a grind when it came to a publishing standpoint. Adding snapchat into the fold meant taking so much of what we had developed in the day to day social moments team development and apply that to a new platform with it's own unique quirks and features. It was a natural evolution of the kind of work we were doing and a true progression that allowed us to really prepare as we launched on platforms like instagram stories and tiktok in the future. A sa team, we embrace change, constantly looking to reinvent ourselves and discover newness in our work. With this comes a distinct belief that our differences make us stronger and produce a richer, more well-rounded body of work.
Our content teams live and breathe social and video. We partner with producers, editors, content strategists and others to bring ideas to life quickly. It’s a fast-paced environment, with platforms and consumption habits constantly evolving. We embrace new forms of storytelling, provide our team with resources for inspiration and are not afraid to take risks. On this same token, we are always looking to surprise and delight our audience with new content experiences they can't get elsewhere—breaking the fourth wall visually, utilizing 3D models, original music loops, XR filters, animation and more. From the early stages, as can be seen in this Tim Duncan retirement piece, I was always interested in the social platforms and interfaces themselves and how we could play with them.
Breaking the fourth wall on social media is something that wasn't really being done in the social space and it was something that there was an acute opportunity and white space to come in and really show our audiences something new. For the 2017 NBA finals between the Cavs and Warriors with KD winning his first title and Steph getting revenge on LeBron fro the year prior, I helped create and art direct this piece below of the Instagram comments being shattered. Having an eye to the constant chatter of 3-1 jokes surrounding any content that we did centered around the Warriors that year, and then flipping that very trend on it's head with a piece like this was a great way to interact with our audience. The literal shattering of the comments and narrative was something that really engaged our audience and was one of our top performing pieces in the post championship celebration window.
These types of early innovations and experiments set the tone for what our audience would come to expect from us and the success of these initial experiments really pushed the bar on innovation and spurred company leadership to want to continue to try things out like this. Over time my role really began to center around these big swings and experimental content and we ended up publishing more content/interface executions. Using current NBA and NFL storylines, we worked with JVarta animation and blended hyper realistic 3D animations with a seamless decoy Instagram interface. The end result provides a surprising twist on what initially appears to be a routine piece of content, creating a power interplay between the user and the content. By creating fully rigged 3D characters who could interact with the interface, we were able to break the fourth wall on social and really push the boundaries of our content offerings.
As was true with any content vehicle, this innovation was developed and scaled to be applied to multiple verticals. The ability to articulate different characters while also interacting with our audience in a new way was something that was relevant, and really stopped users in their feeds as they were scrolling. In some ways, you can almost look at it as a magic trick, a bit of visual misdirection to draw in the gaze of our social audience and have them engage with our content as a they see the easter eggs in the comments or the audio. Covering topics like Kevin Durant's Free Agency Decision, the start of LeBron James' 17th NBA season, Joe Burrow getting Drafted, Lamar Jackson brazenly winning the NFL MVP award, the Lakers winning the bubble championship, BR Kicks naming the Air Jordan 1 "Dior" the Sneaker of the Year, or just fun content for TikTok. These type of innovative social executions were the calling card for the moments team and something I definitely was proud to have had a hand in shaping.
A major development to come out of the success of the social moments team was the division of our social channels into "Portfolio Brands" and I was given the opportunity to develop a brand playbook based on the learning from social moments and other initiatives such as BR Kicks as a guide to developing these other content verticals. The reasoning behind this move was to diversify touchpoint for our audience so that they could get curated and targeted content based on their preferences. The concept behind portfolio brands was to develop a more intimate connection with specific subsets of our core audience. This would allow us to grow a more diverse voice that expands the types of content that we could experiment around while creating sustaining innovations to build around our audience with new supplemental fans.
The first of these portfolio brands to truly become it's own thing was our UK based BR Football brand which I actually got to be a part of launching and I was able to travel to London to give the folks in that office a rundown of our Moments playbook and how to implement it for a sport like soccer. Once we got Champions League rights and the ability to manipulate soccer footage, all bets were off and we were able to produce some amazing social content. I helped launch the Bleacher Report Discover platform for the UK office as well and curated and ran their content for well over a year. I am glad I got to be involved with the BR Football team because the sport is so free flowing and graceful and offered the opportunity for many great pieces of content. Being able to experiment in new arenas and with new sports really transformed what our moments team and the playbook I helped shape and develop were in the big picture.
My role in facilitating the development and growth of these portfolio brands was in art directing and project managing initial content executions in the early stages of the team, so that we could chart a north star and set a bar for the level of production that would be needed to scale a team like the one I had helped develop in our new York and San Francisco offices. Building consistent brand guidelines and a playbook that included various menu items that the team could pick from and understand how to chef up win their own style with our recipies was the model that we looked to create as we grew and monetized these portfolio brands with sport specific brands and opportunities. For instance, the Heineken partnership below with FC Barcelona was facilitated by the playbook developed during our snapchat and instagram story experimentation and applied with my help as an art direction consultant to make sure that transition was carried out smoothly and up to the same standard that we had set.
When it came to producing content for BR Football, the same concepts applied where it was important to figure out what we could do without footage rights, that was until Turner broadcasting acquired the broadcast rights and we finally had a chance tp play with Champions league footage and assets and we really took things to the next level. But being able to sharpen our instincts was what originally helped create great opportunities to truly scale our playbook into a new sport. Working hand in hand with the talented folks in our UK offices like Sean Fay, Ryan O'leary and Lee Walker, I helped take the DNA of our media lab and moment s projects and helped them build out their own versions of these types of preview, or hype executions for soccer coverage.
Seeing an opportunity in American football coverage, Bleacher Report debuted our B/R Gridiron portfolio vertical next. The B/R Gridiron brand gave Bleacher Report’s professional football coverage an authentic, year-round voice quickly became the No. 1 digital sports publisher on NFL Sunday across all platforms earning 198 million total engagements - a growth of 41% in week over week engagements for the first season of coverage. I had a chance to take the same playbook and apply it to this new vertical with the help of portfolio brand specific producers who we would collaborate on to create specific tactical teams to handle sport specific duties. This meant ideas had to be tailed for the rights and restrictions of that sport. With NFl, knowing that we had highlight restrictions, I helped explore and popularize the use of rotoscoped highlights for instance with artists and creators like Mike McGrath and WalkerTK to help bridge this gap, even using it for BR Football goal highlights.
Over time, my role transformed to be less into the day to day posting of our main national social team, and more concerned with individual big swings or specific directives that would help us reach our goals of expansion and scale. This meant tackling individualized problems that our teams ran into as we were finding new roadblocks and hurdles in our way. The reliance on footage rights was something I have discussed, but another thing that was quite effective was the ability to spin pop culture narratives into sports, like how me and Ryan Hurst were able to design and animate this album cover from Young Thug as a piece for the Falcons victory to send them intot he playoffs. Not only was this content retweeted and reposted by Thugger himself but it brought us new follower growth from different sectors of the internet.
As a part of this more tactical role I also worked with Deep Sky Studios and our tactical producer Mikey Navarro to experiment with content executions like 3D computer animation, or more traditional executions to give us the type of NFL coverage that would differentiate us from everything else on the market. This ability to focus resources on a problem that would unlock new and creative solutions was a huge strength of mine and something that I felt the team really was able to get the hang of over time. These executions really stood by the north star of surprising and delighting our fans within the limits of our capabilities as content creators and still staying within a relevant posting window. B/R Gridiron really developed its own voice, which is what the portfolio brand initiative was meant to do as we diversified and scaled.
Similarly, Bleacher Report saw a gap in the coverage of sports betting, and debuted B/R Betting to provide a distinct, and entertaining voice in the space. Our biggest portfolio brand however, that took the social moments playbook and used it to make a similar transformation was a vertical I was deeply involved with in our BR Kicks stream. BR Kicks grew quickly using these original content techniques as I took the strategies we honed on moments and applied them to an entirely new audience. To read about how we built out and developed that brandand I had a hand in creating so many of the creative vehicles and projects that we launched under the BR Kicks initiative, I actually have a separate Kicks portfolio page that goes over just that story, a passion project for me and a deeply personal department to launch for a community I was myself a part of.
As my role evolved further and I was taken into more experimental opportunities and became more of a broad art director and creative director for the team on projects that needed supervision or an extra touch of elevation or creative thinking I had a chance to help launch and develop our Innovation team where we had a chance to work on groundbreaking new content vehicles that would tap into the same directives as our moments team, but give the portfolio brands executions and touch points as well in a scalable manner where individual new ideas or executions in the playbook could be taken on a roadshow to present to different teams and then execute against if the interest was there. This manifested itself as a new process to scale the team and turn it into even more of a machine. This meant getting a chance to work on fun projects like this Mamba day anime shown below or our BR Jump manga comic series with the likes of our talented producers like Jason Gomez, Starr Nathan, and Vince Chang.
Pushing the limits of these platforms was a common theme in any of the ideas that I helped bring to publish, and one of my favorite examples of that isa project that Bennett Spector, the Senior Vice President of Social and Programming at Bleacher Report called a perfect example of amazing storytelling meeting innovative packaging that broke our engagement records and was an example of what it means to create truly disruptive content. I am referring of course to my over 100,000 pixel collage that I built out researching, identifying, and using over 76,400 images from Kobe's career both on and off the court to tell a compelling visual story that encompassed his whole identity and impact of his career. Inspired by the likes of traditional long intricate tapestries like the iconic one at Bayeux, this was essentially a version of a digital tapestry, one that pushed the platform of instagram stories to the absolute limit.
I knew that 100 slides was the limit for how many stories you could post in 24 hours, and in wanting to test this limit, the tapestry was posted on 8/24 on Mamba day and proceeded to become one of our single most interacted with projects of all time. Not only did the intricate yet long story see a countless number of screenshots and people turning individual slides into their wallpapers, but we would normally see a pretty steep drop off rate for our snapchat and instagram stories. The completion rate for them would usually be pretty low as users would normally drop off after the first 4 or 5 slides, with an average completion rate for our stories athovering at around 10-20% on a regular day.This kobe story blew that out of the water with over 56% completion rate, which meant over 750,000 people scrolled until the end of the story and helped us hit an aggregate view count in the millions. This type of engagement was unprecedented and exactly the type of big swing content that I was charged with developing as my role evolved over time and we really scaled the team.
My final project at the company and perhaps one of my favorite was one that was done as a long standing vision came to life from my coworker Mikey Navarro who had been pitching a lofi remix for ages and it finally came to fruition. Inspired by the legendary ChilledCow, we collaborated with various musicians to produce 1:08:24 (Kobe Tribute) of original lo-fi basketball-themed music, commemorating basketball legends, moments and the game as a whole. The accompanying animation channeled the emotions of a young basketball fan quarantining during a global lockdown. A full-length version was published on YouTube, and a condensed one-minute version was made specifically for Instagram and TikTok. I had a chance to help art direct and creatively shape the project and it really is one of my favorite things to have had a chance to work on as it helped raise money for the Center for Policing Equity. This was a great example of a creative project that not only innovated, but did so for a good cause, and was something that our users continue to gravitate towards and return to. It is exactly the type of project that we thought would be possible when first launching this team and indicative of what the team was capable of over time as we scaled into a monetized social behemoth that had a huge impact on the sports social media space.
Overall I think that the social moments team was one of the most transformative initiatives that Bleacher Report has ever undertaken in terms of content capabilities and the cultivation of new monetization opportunities as a whole new market was unlocked for us and became a driving force in our revenue goals. Not only that, I also had a chance to help shape the culture and artistic vision of the team along with the consistently reused and updated playbook that held all of our secret recipes as a guide to help scale and cekeep that vision consistent across multiple content executions and a shifting landscape. The department was meant to evolve and grow and break things and really find ways to delight our audience nand I think that we nailed that. Bleacher Report became known for our social content and really a leader in the industry because of these projects and executions, challenging incumbent media publishers like ESPN or CBS sports.
My role really began in the trenches, working every day on new content executions that had that innovative media lab DNA and imbued it into regular reactive social content. Then it evolved over time to build out the team and playbook, finding new monetization packages and opportunities along the way. This meant hiring a team of talented individuals and collaborators while building out a vast network of artists and freelance independent creatives who shared in the vision and were willing to work with us on lofty sports centric storytelling concepts for our audience. Something I am proud to say we did well and really kept consistently setting engagement records with. There were times where the only account on twitter or facebook with more interactions than us was Donald Trump. W, which goes to show the level of social impact we were consistently having.
After hiring our team and building out that creative rolodex and setting the north star with those initial content explorations my focus came on two main things, scale and innovation. This revolved around developing a succinct playbook that could be expanded out into portfolio brand offering,s, and working with a small group of tactical creators to do one off "big swing" content that really made ripples. At the end of the day, I think what I did for the team really had a major impact in shaping our social voice and creative content capabilities across the organization while driving hundreds of millions of dollars in social revenue and a ton of new followers to boot. The social moments team was a huge part of what makes Bleacher Report, B/R and I am grateful to have a chance to have my fingerprints on such a project.
Key Collaborators: Kenny Dorset, Jermaine Spradley, Bryan Graham, Arman Walia, Dan Worthington, Spencer Oshman, PJ Selzer, Jerry Wang, Ray Rodriguez, Matt Sanoian, Eric Yeboah, Martell Pegues, Mikey Navarro, Vince Chang, Jason Gomez, Jeff Johnson, Adam Powell, Tiauna Smith, Lorrie Cartago, Jessica Dorricott, Jozen Cummings, Ryan Hurst, Chad Gersky, Bobby Bourhis, Danny Pedroza, Joey Merkel, Adena Jones, Mindy Kung, Luis Domingo, Drew Paterson, Kazeem Famuyide, Ryan Cole, Drew Corrigan, CJ Toledano, Isis Haywood, David Garcia, Brian Chen, Lance Fresh, Starr Nathan
Tools: Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, ToonBoom, Flash, Cinema 4D, Maya, Procreate
Deliverables: High Resolution Social Content (Videos, Illustrations, Augmented Reality Filters, Quote Cards, Jersey Swaps, Motion Graphics, Animations, Interactive games)
Category: Creative Direction, Producing, Art Direction, Motion Design, Project Management