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Digital Business Podcast #001 – Lee Kenny, Halifax Panthers Rebrand

Digital Business Podcast – hosted by Haroon Rashid (Managing Director, Digital Renovators web agency based in Halifax West Yorkshire UK).

Episode #001 – In this first episode, Haroon talks with Lee Kenny about the rebrand of the Halifax Rugby League FC to the Halifax Panthers in Dec 2020.

About Our Guest – Lee Kenny

As well as being the Media and Marketing Director for the Halifax Panthers, Lee Kenny is the CEO of the Snowflake Media Group based in Halifax West Yorkshire boasting companies such as:

Digital Renovators – web design company in Halifax

Digital Jumpsuit – marketing agency in Halifax

Snowflake Media – design and branding company based in Halifax

In this episode, Lee talks about:

The Digital Business Podcast is sponsored by The Snowflake Media Group, who provide awesome branding and innovating marketing campaigns for companies & individuals around the world. For more information visit https://snowflakemedia.co.uk/

VIDEO TRANSCRIPTION:

[TRANSCRIPT] Digital Business Podcast – 001

HAROON:

Hey, digital fans and welcome to the very first episode of the Digital Renovators podcast. I’m your host Haroon Rashid, Managing Director of Digital Renovators where we believe that websites should take days, not months. Today, we have a fantastic episode for you where we’re going to be talking about the massive rebrand that happened around the Halifax rugby club, where they became the Halifax Panthers.

And it’s only right that we should kick off today’s show with the CEO and founder of the Snowflake Media Group, the head home show himself, Mr. Lee Kenny. How you doing Lee? 

LEE:

Oh, good morning. I ruin and, uh, hello to everybody watching really well. Thank you. Yeah, really well. 

HAROON:

Good stuff. And, uh, you know, we’ve just filmed this just after Christmas.

And, uh, I think we both had food comas and all the rest of it, but we’re going to have a great time today. So the Digital Renovators podcast is sponsored by the Snowflake Media Group who provide all some branding and innovating marketing campaigns for companies and individuals around the world. For more information visit snowflake media.co.uk. 

So Lee, I wanted to talk to you because you were a part of the team, uh, this, this task force that was put together to sort out this rebrand of the Halifax rugby club into the Halifax pump. That is, and I think probably for the audience, why don’t we just get a bit of background? Uh, so first of all, how did you get involved with the rugby club?

LEE:

So, um, yeah. Good question. So I’m from Halifax, uh, despite living overseas a couple of times, including that in Australia and Switzerland and America, but I’m really from Halifax. And I remember going as a fan probably back in, gosh, late seventies, early eighties, that kind of debts me, uh, right now, uh, to throw them whole, and I’ve been an interested fan over the, over the years, but.

A sports fan, as opposed to just necessarily a rugby league fan. So I believe a strong sports, uh, organisations, clubs, whatever you want to call them, both at community level. And, you know, at the elite level, which is what Halifax Panthers are, uh, is really vital for our town. So I’ve been trying to do something with the club for probably about three years.

Uh, and it was last year that we finally managed to, uh, start a sponsorship. Which we did with both the football club in Halifax. They have see Halifax town, uh, as well as, uh, the Halifax. What was rugby league football club back then? So, uh, started that as a sponsor. Then we looked at how we could help them through the beginning of COVID times, you know, particularly the tougher areas.

So we, we ran a project called the Halifax SOS, which raised, I think, 12,000 pounds for, um, the rugby club, as well as community and junior sports. Uh, and that really started the dialogue talking, uh, with the rugby club. Uh, about, gosh, I want to say about three months ago, maybe just a little over, uh, they invited me to join the board, uh, as their marketing deck, uh, and, uh, yeah, fast forward to kind of hear, uh, lots of synergies.

HAROON:

Fantastic. So a rebrand, particularly for a big club and it sounded like Halifax is a big deal. It’s a big tense. So when you joined, what were the kind of key goals for you as a part of this rebrand? And what did good look like for those goals? 

LEE:

Yeah. Yeah. So I should say that the Panthers, uh, thing, if you like, the name has been around for a few years, uh, banded back and forth between fans, fans, groups, the board, and really the first task I’ve given is listen, we’ve, we’ve decided we want to rebrand this Panthers.

Do you think it’s a good idea? Uh, so I can’t claim any credit for coming up with the name. Obviously I wanted to dig deeper. Why Panthers? You know, what, what does Panther’s got to do with Halifax? And actually when you go really far back to the very beginning, we were a founding member of the Ruby league.

And before that, I can’t quite remember the name, but it was a, there was a league before the league. Uh, but we took our place at that table. And actually the very first mascot we ever had was this black cat. So actually. Understanding that and what the aims were. Uh, what does good look like? And that’s a question to ask, uh, quite often.

Well, good was. Can we appeal to a brand new audience without alienating the existing crowd, because you know, sometimes especially in social media or, you know, people are all about the new, and actually you’ve got to really look after the existing people. So, you know, the fans that are already here they’re vital to any part of success.

So could we get something that basically would, uh, not please everybody. Cause I don’t think that’s good marketing. I don’t think pleasing. Absolutely. Everybody is necessarily good marketing, but could we please, the majority who could get on board with the mission of updating the club, starting to prepare for super league, which is an ambition of both ours, mine, the board, you know, the fans.

Could we do that in a way that would capture some eyeballs and understanding that if we want to do something a little bit different. And the club has been stagnating a little bit in their own words, in terms of bumping along at certain audience levels, we wanted something different. Then we had to do something different.

And I think we kind of check the boxes and we have quite a, quite a lot of cooperation from the press from major tourist companies, such as, you know, Dean Clough, The Piece Hall. So we we’re really, we’re really blessed to have good partnerships there, which. We built up probably over time with this Snowflake Media Group and Digital Renovators.

HAROON:

Well, that kind of lends really nicely to the next question. Um, so there were these big sightings of, uh, uh, the big black cat. No, nobody knew what this was and, uh, it caused quite a stair online. And, uh, I think it probably is fair to say it’s surpassed everybody’s expectations about how, how viral this thing went. So do you just want to tell people that what I’m referring to? Uh, but also where did the idea of the big cat sightings come from? 

LEE:

So I think one of the good things that the existing board, so I’ll, I’ll take myself out of that cause I joined after, uh, one of the things that they did, uh, at the very beginning, we said, let’s create a little bit of a panel, a four person team, uh, somebody from the marketing team, which was a young man called Jamie.

Uh, who had been quite passionate about a rebrand and has been through the supporters club, et cetera, a fan and a sponsor in terms of, uh, we used a guy called Richard Durgan, who’s a head of Zenith wealth management, uh, long-term fan, you know, local chapter as well. Somebody on a creative side, which is actually Rich’s brother, Johnny, who is unbelievable from a creative brand.

Um, and then myself kind of joined on there. So we had a vision of what can we do with an unlimited budget and. Thanks to Johnny’s, uh, contacts. We managed to, uh, uh, encourage coerce, uh, not quite beg steal or borrow, but we managed to get a really good production company who will able to come and do this corporate type video, not corporate as in Stephan stared, but you know, a true blue branding and the vision was.

Using a player to come through the woods of which we’re blessed in Halifax. I’ve in a lot of great nature, you know, coming through and then turning that into morphing into the stadium. And, and while our, you know, we’d have drones, we have this, we’d have, you know, all these types of things from a really high level production company.

And in one of our calls we were talking about this is really great. It’s going to be an amazing piece of production, but will it help us Breck out? Into a new crowd. So undoubtedly rubbed before could go. Yeah, that’s a really great quality video is that, but when you understand that that was a team of five plus project management for myself and a couple other guys over two and a half days of physical time.

So that’s what, 15 hours to satisfy that 75 hours. Plus then to go in the studio or post to do all the effects. I mean, you’re talking, you know, hundreds of man hours for a 32nd commercial. And it was like, we got to go a little deeper. We got to do something. So it was like, okay, well, what else? And well, on zoom as we are now four or five people, and you said, do you think we could get away with this?

What if we have these back caps? Side and is where we go back to, uh, smell the cat back a hundred plus years ago. But then actually about 30 years ago, we had a really unfortunate named cat beast, which was all over the career because it was quite a serious black, big cat sightings in the Shibden Valley.

You know, that that really was not a positive connotation, but it stuck and it made the nationals. So said, wouldn’t it be great if we could make the nationals again? How about, and of course, all of, so I sat down with Stephen Bullock, who’s the CEO down at, um, uh, and said, how would you feel out as taking a CGI graphic of black cat spotted in the middle of the night?

Actually 12 or four? Cause we wanted to launch this on the 4th of December. Yep. 1204. We’ll have this black guy soon. It will only work if the partner does, in other words, releases it because if we just released something on the rugby that said, Oh, this is a strange thing at peace, or it wouldn’t make any sense.

And then Johnny said, Hey, what about the cloth? So he talked to a really great person down there called bath water too. Again, instantly. Got it. All sort of said, Hey, we can’t have, you know, people afraid. So we had to come up with little nuances that let half the people go. Now this is not real nowhere look.

And, you know, they can play a much, a detective whilst the other half were like, well, now it kind of looks real. And so we did that and then we had to involve, um, we’ve been really blessed with the sponsors, her room. If I, if I tell you that the year that sport has had. As just being the queen said years ago, annus horribilis well, multiply that by five in sport, no fans, no games, you know, it’s been terrible.

And yet we still have expenses. We still as a club. So, um, uh, Steve Lambert, Dave Grayson, you know, the team down at the club, they, you know, they worked really well with the sponsors this year. And a lot of the sponsors said, you know what? We’re happy to donate the money. Yup. We want the club to survive. And then we said, what can we do?

And one of the biggest supporters of that, the people who probably do deepest in their pocket was a company called eclipse energy and Mark banister. And the team there have been very supportive. They’re the key shirt sponsor. They’re not the only ones, but they’re key and spend the most, and. Without a heartbeat.

You just said, no, I’m totally in and I’ll commit to next year. So the third site in was actually outside their offices and interest in there was the one that made the daily star. So I’m not saying it was an aspiration to be in the daily star. However, it was good that it was kind of included. Well, it’s bad to be in that.

The not having it. Cause that just shows that you were talking about earlier about doing something that’s kind of break out. Something that’s going to be different, I guess, for the audience. 

HAROON:

Um, I have to say, I saw the video in the Piece Hall and I was like, wow, that looks really, really good. It’s just, you know, to kind of make it look like, Ooh, is that real? Or is this just like a marketing thing? But it got people talking, which kind of brings me on to the next thing, which was – In terms of the numbers around, um, you know, your, uh, the pressures or conversations or real world press and all that. What were some of those numbers that you got from this campaign?

LEE:

So we split it out into a couple. So one of the challenges when you work with partners is that they have the data, you know, so, you know, but the trade off there is that you also get a brand new audience. So the early numbers that we saw with the Courier and the peace, or were well over, I think a quarter of a million people saw the hashtag and the post, uh, of Halifax, big cat.

So we generated a. Uh, something for the pre-launch activity as well as then something for the post-launch. So the first hashtag was, uh, I think, uh, Halifax, big cat. And of course it was on 50 shades. It was on Facebook groups. People were saying it was on yeah, big cat size tin groups in America. They’re saying, Hey, this one has just been seen in England and do you have to get real?

And, Oh, I think it’s a, this, and I think it’s that. And of course, half the people were saying. What it just floated off the second floor balcony, you know, when it came across. But you know, again, that’s part of the joy. Once we launched, we did a press conference invited four or five. Uh, I thought we were about six or seven key people in the press.

Um, and then we used a hashtag called, uh, #PanthersAreInTown. Uh, and again, that is really lended itself, long-term too, this is not just a rugby player. We want people and businesses in the town to become real partners of the club. So that means if you’re choosing to get a coffee, go to the place that’s Panther friendly.

Yeah. You know, go to, if you want, you know, clothes from independent retailer, you want, you know, shopping, you know, we want to build those relationships so that, that will stand the test of time. And, and I’ve got to say I was blown away by the amount of Twitter. Traffic’s a Twitter on its own her room. 712 million million impressions.

So again, I could, could not be happier. 

HAROON:

So how many was that again? 

LEE:

700 million. Not thousand, not a hundred thousand, not quite billion, but three quarters of a billion Twitter impressions. Now impressions, obviously don’t pay the bills. They don’t put bums on seats, but what it does do is start to get you a little bit of momentum and chatter.

Well, absolutely. I mean, three quarters of a billion, I’d say all free as well. Not, not a single paid, you know, there was no paid elements of this campaign. This was all, uh, and I hate to use the word viral, but it was viral. And the reason I had to use it is because whenever as a marketing company, you try and do anything viral. It falls flat on its face, but people really got behind it. 

HAROON:

Absolutely. Well, the next part I wanted to talk about was as, as part of the rebrand, there was the website. Now you engage ourselves at Digital Renovators. It’s called to give ourselves a plug – Digital Renovators, because if you need a website, 

LEE:

Is that dot com?

HAROON:

Dot com. 01422 646060 Thank you. So, uh, when you were thinking about the website, What was important to you for the rebrand of the website and how did you approach that? Just talk us through all that stuff. 

LEE:

Yeah. Good, good question. And obviously I wear multiple hats. So for people watching there may or may not know I was the original founder of digital renovators among part of the group.

So I had a very clear vision of the two or three types of websites that we would ever consider building. So one is the things that can be done in less than a day. So this is the entrepreneur that just decides there. They just need a presence. They don’t, they just need it. So if they have a conversation, somebody checks it four or five pages done.

Thank you very much. Second was that small business startup who is, I’ve got to put a lot of time and energy in, but I need something that looks very high tech, but actually is quite low attack to use from the back end. And again, taking the best of WordPress so that people could just use the best of the templates, customize it to themselves.

Three, four days later, they’re online in business and then they’re actually. Spending money on marketing as opposed to spend in huge sums. And then the third was these marquee type websites that had the potential to go huge. And again, that’s where the Halifax Panthers came in. And obviously, you know, I did, I did a look around, you know, we could have used other companies, but it makes sense to, uh, to use you and Danny and is, Hey, everybody has to look.

However, however, I was, uh, uh, you know, I was very happy with the expertise and skills inside. So starting on it was really a blank piece of paper. Um, the one thing that I know about a lot of rugby league sites is they’re not very good, and I included our own original site with that. So unfortunately, there wasn’t a polishing job to be doing it.

Wasn’t a case of just take off the logo, put another logo, have a Labrador, you know, uh, polish around the edges. It just really wasn’t. It wasn’t well thought of by fans. It wasn’t well thought of by the club, there wasn’t anybody who was, was attached to it. And that was a very similar story when you talk to lots of other people.

So there’s three or four companies that do the majority of the rugby league websites, and it’s kind a just nobody’s that kind of happy. It’s not, there’s a, there’s an old story about, uh, you know, a man in America and he’s on the porch, you know, it’s early evening and the dog is laying on the thing and he’s whimpering a little bit.

And, you know, they asked the guy where, or what’s the matter with the dog. And he says, Oh, it’s sitting on a nail. And it’s like, why doesn’t it move? And he said, it doesn’t hurt that much. And that’s how a lot of people felt about their website. It’s not, not painful enough to be able to start and do a different one.

So we had a real blank canvas. So you’re going to like that one out yourself. It’s not my story. Um, so we, we kind of said it, where do we want to start? Well, we want to start with the end in mind. So the end in mind is. Currently the se the, the, the, the organisation is a mid table, second division or championship as we call it rebellion team.

So the positive is it’s not in the big league, but it’s only one promotion away from being in effectively the best league in the country, one of the best in the world. So if we started with the end in mind, we want to be super league. So we need a site that’s worthy and can grow. That looks the business.

And again, Reflects the fact that 70% of people who go onto the website do so on their mobile phone. So they do it on the mobile. They do it, do it on a desktop. So I have to just be rethought. Um, and that’s how we started. So that was the, uh, does that answer, I’m still thinking about the dog, but no, no, no, no, it does.

HAROON:

It does answer it. I mean, what’s so let’s do it this way. So we’ve, we’ve done the website, uh, for the club. Uh, it was a huge project. And what has the reaction been from the website from your side? 

LEE:

So really good. Yeah. I think in terms of, um, and it is difficult because it’s a whole ball wrapped up, you’ve got to rebrand, you’ve got press conferences, you’ve got external activity.

So the website, you know, there’s a lot of pressure on that. And I think there’s probably still some tweaks to be made. Don’t get me wrong, but actually the feedback has been terrific. Easy to use, uh, confidence, uh, from the staff that, you know, for example, where we have a club shop down at the stadium that opens part time, but in an organisation this size, you’re not dealing with hundreds of thousands of garments.

So you don’t have 200 pairs of these and 500 pairs of those. So normally you would split out e-commerce into your stores. So we had to figure out where that they could co-exist so that if somebody bought from the side, That actually would deplete the stock levels so that you didn’t sell the same thing, same item twice.

So again, and that takes confidence because again, yeah, a lot of rugby clubs they’re volunteer, led organisations. The dog is just about to start barking. I think it should PSAT sat here stuff. The joys of working at zoom, the joys of being at home, Hey, my mind is yakking upstairs. So, you know, If not the dogs, you know, walk we’re working from home.

This is the new norm. So just deal with it. I apologise. That that kind of continues. Yeah. So with these volunteers, they have to have confidence cause tech isn’t their thing. So being able to use the site, so. We’ve had, you know, already exceeded, exceeded the season’s expectations. Birdman was selling pretty seasoned, the seasons expectations for season tickets.

And the store really is. I mean, it’s S and Nate and their comparison. So, uh, yeah, very, very positive. I think fans have liked it. Board have liked it. Um, I really think, you know, what we’ve done, uh, is. Is deliver pretty much. I don’t think this is renovate strapline, but you know, delivering something that looks like it costs 10 times more, you know, and that’s the key, you know, that’s really the key.

It’s how we wanted to start it. Nobody wants a cheap website. Nobody wants a value. You know, they don’t want to pay over the odds, but actually when they get it, they want to say. Grasp somebody has given me the wrong website here. This looks too good for what we’ve paid. And again, I think, you know, working with the team, um, and that’s both with you, with Danny with, with a team of developers.

HAROON:

Uh, I think everybody really got behind it and could see what we were trying to do. I think also shows that, uh, you know, there was a real buy-in from the team to actually get this done. And it was a, it was a huge job, but you know, we, we did it and it’s amazing what you can do. When you have a team with one common goal and all the rest of it. So, one thing I want to pick up on though, is that you talked about how other clubs have, um, um, I don’t know, to use the dog with the nail analogy and what kind of lessons do you think? All the clothes, not just rugby clubs, but other sports clubs, or even amateur clubs can take, um, what lessons can they check from this experience here or this rebrand in terms of the website?

LEE:

Oh, good question. And it’s not for me to, you know, as the new boy in rugby to tell other rugby clubs, you know, how they should run their business. What I did look at is saying, okay, where would we start? You know, which of the clubs is doing it incredibly well. And we think their website template, their website style is just everything we would want.

And without plagiarising, how would we take the best of, and then work? And one of the challenges was that just really wasn’t any brilliant sites, because a lot of them were very desktop first. So for those that maybe do no, it means that it was optimized when somebody is looking at it on a laptop or a PC mainly, and that’s all care.

But if they were built five years ago, six years ago, seven years ago, what it actually meant is that when you transfer that to a tablet or an iPad or a phone, it just doesn’t look very good. It’s not very intuitive. Um, It’s squished down. So I think, you know, first of all, you know, w we then had to look outside to, to places like, you know, man United for example, was, uh, you know, not a big aspiration of mine from a football sense.

Uh, however, you know, what they are is one of the leading companies, companies in the world, uh, in, in sports in terms of fan base and audience. So actually looking at how they did the little things, as well as some of the big things that really helped us take the first step. So yeah. What could other rugby clubs do?

I think, first of all, definitely modernize. Yep. If you [email protected] site versus any rugby, I think it certainly stands out there as one of, if not the best in terms of aesthetically looking. And after all, it’s quite tough. We’re still in off season. So there’s not like we don’t have games without photos from games.

We’ve got COVID, we’ve got all these sorts of things not happening, and yet it still looks great, you know, in, in the moment. Um, and then that mobile first, I think again, you know, understanding how people need to, um, you know, to view the content, you know, so relatively simple, excellent. In terms of the whole rebrand and the whole project.

HAROON:

Uh, what were the key lessons that you took away? Okay. Uh, I’m terrible at delegating properly. Uh, everything takes twice as long as even a ax. Actually, everything takes five times longer than I think it’s ex, uh, but twice as long as everybody else does. Um, no, I think, uh, the big lessons, so the brand inside of things, um, I’ve got to say, I think buying in with partners.

And actually having a very unified goal that it wasn’t, the everybody had to love the Panthers because actually there’s a number of fans do it like the panels as name, but what they do get is they absolutely get the need for change. So they might want to call it something different, but very few people were, why do we have to do it this way?

So I think when you’ve got, uh, uh, An ability to, to get the buy-in. So doing the big cats to first that allowed people who were kind of in the know say no. Well, this definitely means that rugby is going to be called the Panthers. It let them vent that pre-launch. So, and there weren’t many when I’m talking to a handful, but a handful, it, it got them out there and people starting to defend it.

So by the time it came on, that was one less objection, uh, to is understanding where you know, who we’re trying to reach. Um, you know, because that, again, really determined. So I mentioned we don’t want to . 50 60, 70, 80 year old fans. Totally not. But at the same time, we have to figure out how to attract the, you know, the eight year olds, the 10 year olds to 12 year olds.

Yeah. Also then the students, you know, you might think, Oh, why do we want to track the students? Because if we can get a few thousand more people through the gate, the game, it’s not immaterial because we want people to love the game of rugby, but. If the pre requirement is that you already love rugby before you come, then that’s a diminishing pool.

Yeah. It’s a decreasing pool. And I know you have time at Bradford bowl. So you’ve been through this bowl, mania and all that sort of thing. Um, another acronym, I don’t know what, whatever they all were, but you get the picture if you don’t bring people through. So there’s a tendency in rugby to say, you know, let’s bring a kid for a quid.

You know, there’s nothing wrong with that, but actually I want the kids bring in their parents and their grandparents because that’s where the pester power is. So the pester power there is actually just flipping it completely on its head. Um, in terms of the website, I think, you know, uh, having a very, very clear strategic, brief, you know, on what needs doing.

On what can be ditched, what can be kept, what other things we’re trying to do. I just think keeping that dialogue, uh, going is, is really, really key. 

HAROON:

Absolutely. And the last question then is what was your favorite part of this whole experience? 

LEE:

Um, gosh, favorite part? Um, That’s a really, really good question.

I, I think the reception from the fans, um, um, and that was probably, uh, personified solidified, whatever you want to call it in. The day that we opened. So we had the launch, the Panthers on the 2nd of December, the rebrand, so to the world. And then we said on the 4th of December, we’re going to be launching the new kit, which nobody had seen up until that second.

We’re going to be opening up the club shop and to see queues outside there and to see a mixture of young and old fans looking happy to stand in the red. I mean, ha I mean, Halifax, we’re not always the most chipper bunch. Yeah. We have a great sense of humor and Halifax, but you know, typically you make a standout in the rain for five minutes, you know, there, you’re not going to be very popular.

The glee, the glee on the people’s face is saying, when has this ever happened before? And to be thrilled. So I think that probably was, was probably the most satisfying. 

HAROON:

That’s awesome. Well, we, if people want to find out more about Snowflake Media or what you do on a day-to-day basis, where can people find you online?

LEE:

Probably @socialsnowflake is the handle. So across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, uh, or of course they can go and have a look at snowflakemedia.co.uk. 

HAROON:

Thanks a lot Lee for joining us. And thank you guys for watching. This has been episode one of the Digital Renovator podcast. We’ll see you next time. And until then stay safe sports fans.

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