Shrimpin’ ain’t easy

“Communications internally is huge,” said Marco LaNave, the media and public relations manager for the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp which was rebranded from the Jacksonville Suns in November 2016 after the first year of ownership by Fast Forward Sports Group.

“To equip everyone in the organization to be an ambassador for you is extremely valuable.”

LaNave spoke in October to the Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA) Gainesville Chapter about best practices on communicating the rebranding of this top selling baseball franchise in the Southern League. When an organization rebrands, it is a turning point in that organization’s history. The how and why needs to be effectively communicated both internally and externally.

“The Jacksonville Suns were a great tradition, and we wanted to build on that. We wanted to begin a new era of affordable family fun and needed to convey to the city and to the community that we were also beginning a new chapter in the story of Jacksonville baseball,” said LaNave. “We wanted the fans to care, be interested and be curious.”

Team Owner Ken Babby bought the Jacksonville Club in 2015 and spent time weighing the decision to rebrand. When Babby took over at the end of the 2015 season, he hired new staff members and that is when LaNave came onboard.

“We took the next season to learn the city, the community and the ballpark,” said LaNave. “Management spoke with fans, members of the community and city leaders to gain a further understanding of what was unique to Jacksonville.”

Working with Brandiose, who specializes in branding minor and major baseball teams, the organization began creating a new brand which was strategically released to the employees first and then to the community.

“You have to get your staff onboard and get their buy in first to get everything rolling in the same direction,” said LaNave. Coming out of the 2016 season, the organization held their annual staff retreat to look ahead to the next year and brainstorm. “That is when our general manager and owner presented the new identity, told us the story and what tied it to Jacksonville.”

Employees were not allowed to bring cell phones to the meeting and were asked to sign confidentiality agreements. The organization wanted to keep the new brand under wraps until the final reveal to the public and there was a lot of work to be done before that happened.

“Announcing this to employees at the retreat gave everyone an opportunity to ask questions, share ideas and start working through how we were going to move forward as an organization,” said LaNave. “It was a big risk but very thoughtfully planned out and engaged us in the process. We knew this wasn’t going to be easy, and we needed to come together to make it work.”

Employees were given talking points so that they could communicate consistently about the rebranding when they interacted with fans and in the community.

“Our employees were going out to social events, to their church, their children’s school and those around them knew they worked for the team. For employees to be able to tell the story and be on the same page is monumental.”

Over the next six weeks before the public announcement and press conference, the organization had to do many things very quickly. “We wanted it to be a total transformation at the moment when we announced. We thought of every question and how we were going to respond while emphasizing to staff that fans needed to be heard and listened to.”

The night before the announcement, Ken Babby gave an exclusive to one media outlet. This resulted in media buzz that morning on social media and other traditional media leading up to the relaunch event.  The announcement was held away from the ballpark while employees could make changes to Bragan Field at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.

“We knew there was going to be so much reaction that we couldn’t respond to it. We also wanted to give the public a chance to express themselves. We wanted to ensure that fans and the community felt that they were listened to and had a voice. Stimulating conversation is how we grow as an organization.”

And as the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, the organization has began to do just that. “We hit opening day with everything we had.” There was new merchandise, new menu items offered at the ballpark, a new mascot who would be later named by fans as well as new contests and prizes to engage the fans. During the 2017 season, the organization added a Jumbo Shrimp neck pillow to their merchandise after receiving the suggestion from a fan on social media. The final addition to their roster in during the 2017 was the signing of Sgt. Scampi from K9s for Warriors as the team’s bat dog for a designated half inning at each Friday home game.

Employees are about to go to their next retreat and start talking about the 2018 season.

“Jacksonville is such a big city and we haven’t reached everyone with our story yet,” said LaNave who emphasizes both internal and external communications as the keys to the organization’s successful rebranding process. “Do everything you can to understand the public feedback. The fans put their trust in us, so we do everything we can to be open and be engaging.”

By Patricia Vernon

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