The Catalyze podcast: Andrew Patterson ’06 of Greenfly, Inc., on growing online communities through brand ambassadors in sports, politics, and business
Andrew Patterson ’06 is the vice president of partnerships and strategy at Greenfly, Inc., a software platform that helps organizations build their communities through brand advocacy.
Andrew shares about Greenfly’s role in connecting major sports leagues to fans through more authentic and personalized game coverage; successful strategies that the Biden campaign and 2020 Democratic National Convention Committee implemented through the technology; and what any organization can do to empower their communities to be co-creators and ambassadors.
Before joining Greenfly, Andrew was the senior director of new media at MLB.
Connect with a mentor
Andrew is also currently a Morehead-Cain Mentor. The Morehead-Cain Mentoring Program is designed to leverage the power of the Morehead-Cain network by cultivating connections between scholars and alumni, and providing structure and support to these relationships so they can develop based on shared values and interests. All rising juniors and seniors are eligible to participate.
How to listen
Catalyze is hosted and produced by Sarah O’Carroll for the Morehead-Cain Foundation, home of the first merit scholarship program in the United States and located at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You can let us know what you thought of the episode by finding us on Twitter or Instagram at @moreheadcain or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The intro music is by Scott Hallyburton ’22, guitarist of the band South of the Soul.
Andrew, thanks for joining us.
Thanks for having me.
So, you work at Greenfly, a software platform that helps organizations build their communities through brand advocacy. And one of the main sectors that Greenfly focuses on is the sports industry. Share with us how the platform works and how teams use the technology to get the action from the field to the fans.
At its core, Greenfly is a technology company that enables organizations to empower individuals at scale. By that, what I mean is that we really effectively manage content workflows to allow organizations to spread their message and their content more easily.
To give you an example, for the NBA, MLB, what Greenfly does is we have an app-based solution where 300-plus players from the NBA, 800 players from Major League Baseball will download the Greenfly app.
What the NBA or MLB will do is they will use the Greenfly platform to distribute photos after a game or videos or graphics or marketing messages, such that, when a player, Cobe White, gets off the floor after a Bulls game on his phone, he has every photo from that game. If he wants to share it to Instagram or TikTok or Snapchat, he’s very easily able to do so.
Then from a scaling perspective, it means that the NBA or the marketing team or the photographer is not sending text messages or sending Dropbox links or sending emails of content, but there’s a very easy way for the first guy and the 15th guy on the bench, all to get their content at the same time and for it to be a process where you don’t add more people, but you use technology to amplify how you send content out.
Greenfly also has worked with political campaigns, most recently the Biden campaign. What can you tell us about their strategies and the role Greenfly played in making that team so successful?
For the Biden campaign and for the DNC, we effectively did the same thing on a different scale. When you look at the Democratic convention from this past year, obviously you didn’t have everybody in person. Where people might be taking pictures and they might be posting things, that wasn’t possible. What Greenfly allowed the DNC to do was to create a platform where every delegate, every celebrity influencer, every politician, Democratic politician, who wanted to access content would be able to get access to that content at the same time. It allowed us to put two- or three-thousand people from a Democratic convention all on the platform at the same time.
The cool part about it was that from a content perspective, it actually helped. So as opposed to having someone in the nosebleed seat who’s taking a picture from President Obama speaking, you can actually send everybody a video of a close-up with text underneath of it as soon as it happens.
You start to get this effect where everybody is looking at the best view of the best content and able to share it in real time. You actually have a lot more people sharing a lot more content, so the social footprint that you’re actually able to get by organizing, that becomes a lot broader.
Also, just from an organization standpoint, I think that a lot of organizations look to their social handles and accounts as a way to get out their message. But the truth is that, when you look at the total reach of all the people who are connected to you . . . however many people are following the DNC Twitter handle, if you take every delegate, every Democratic politician, every celebrity influencer, and you look at the collective reach out of all of them, they very much dwarf the reach of just the DNC Twitter handle.
If you give content to all those people, you actually have a much easier and a much better way of distributing that content and getting that message out more widely, because each of those individual people will reach the individual on a personal level, people that would never be reached by that main account. It’s a way to actually take that advocacy and the marketing of your brand and actually extend it out immensely in a real-time way to a lot of people.
This kind of business just didn’t exist a decade ago, and who knows what the next decade will bring. So how does the company consider itself in terms of longevity and what becomes the next phase of Greenfly? How do you talk and think about how it could morph and evolve into the next iteration of services?
I’d say there are a lot of people with a lot of content, and the question that people most often ask, I think, is how do we create more content? And I don’t think it’s necessarily just about creating more content; it’s about creating it more efficiently.
I think there are two sides. One is a creative question of what more content we create and the other really becomes a data question of how can we be more efficient in the content we distribute. From the efficiency standpoint, it’s how do we automate this?
One of the things that we work with is, take the Morehead[-Cain] Foundation. If you were to take . . . senior dinner, you have a lot of photos from that. How do you get all those photos into a system to share? You could share a Dropbox link with people, or you could post them in email or you could post them and people could download them if you were going to use Greenfly to do it.
How could we make it more efficient? Well, we could connect to Dropbox and we could sink a folder so that all that content flows automatically. In the case of the NBA, we synch to Getty Images. The 20,000 NBA images that are taken on a nightly basis, we have a way to automatically route them, so each individual player gets all his specific images just to him. So using metadata and using technology in there to make that system in that process more efficient.
If we’re showing someone 100 images, what are the first 20 images we should show? If you’re doing things just for the NBA, if the first 20 images are all practice and warm-up shots, that’s probably not what people want to see. They want shots from the game. They want game-winning shots. So out of those 100 images, how do we find the best images to give to people? And then like what we talked about with the Biden campaign, how do we scale to larger and larger groups of advocates?
Originally, we started off in sports. It’s great to have 900 players from the NBA, a hundred players from Major League Baseball on the platform, or 300-plus players from the NBA. How do we do 3,000 people from the Biden campaign, how do we expand to even larger and larger groups? And I think as you start to expand to larger and larger groups, the technology questions that you start to get to start to become different and you have to solve new and very different problems.
As we scale out the communities that we work with, the types of people that we work with, what politics needs may be different from what a retailer needs and what an entertainment company does may be different from what a financial services company needs. So how do you create a platform that satisfies the needs of those many groups and the different things that they do without making it a complicated experience for the end user or the people using the platform?
That’s interesting. And how do you think about hedging against competition, other companies replicating the technology or consolidation and the risk of getting bought out, for instance, as has happened with so many tech companies?
You have to play your game. I would say that we know there will be competition in different sectors. We have different competitive companies that may do similar things to what we do. But to the point of the technology, I think technology is your IP and your competitive advantage. As you solve these problems at scale, for anyone else who wants to do it, they’re going to have to come in. There’s a lot of work to be done. While the platform works, we’re constantly running into new issues and new things and solving them.
As we solve those issues, at the end of the day, the choice is on the consumer or the client. If you offer the best product, other people may offer other products as well, but if you focus on making sure that you offer the best product, the best platform, and the best experience for your clients, I think over time, you’ll win out.
The way I think about it, as well as just more broadly, from a technology standpoint, I may be dating myself somewhat, but when I think about the streaming, the, you know, the music wars, you used to have where you had a Napster or a line wire where people would illegally download content and people said, you know, “People won’t pay for it. I don’t know why people would do it.” You had iTunes that said, “Hey, if I build a better way for people to consume content, I think that I can get people to pay for it.”
You have Spotify doing the same thing. What you found was that, when people build a better product, it was a better experience. People said, “OK, I will pay for that.” No one’s talking about who’s illegally downloading or illegally streaming music. Most people get a Spotify account, an iTunes account, and that’s how they receive their content.
I think you see the same thing in the so-called “streaming wars” where you can go to Reddit and you can illegally download content.
Before I was at Greenfly, I was at Major League Baseball, and people always have the ability to do it, but one of our core products was At Bat, which was a baseball streaming service. As we created a great way for people to consume that content, what you found is that there may be people who decide to download it illegally, but the vast majority of people just want an easy experience. They want to be able to do it effectively. If you provide a great product for doing that, I think over the long term you’ll win out.
So, this is a selfish question, but what would you say any organization of any size can do to effectively implement the sort of tactics you’ve spoken about today, even without Greenfly?
You want to leverage moments that people are already creating. It’s much easier to ask someone to share something that is an existing behavior than to create a whole new behavior. Take for example, the Dodgers. If the Dodgers asked fans after a home run was hit, a grand slam was hit, to win a regular season game, “Send us your photos of where you were when this grand slam was hit.”
You’re not going to get 3500 pieces of content. You know when that final out is happening and you’re about to win the game, you know everyone has their phones out. People are going to have that content already. They’re already creating it, and so when they ask fans to send in that moment, they were more so leveraging the existing behavior of fan then trying to create a new one. Every one of those fans who sent it wasn’t sending in that content because they knew the Dodgers were going to ask for it. They were sending and they were taking that content because it’s something that they wanted, and the Dodgers were able to tap into an existing behavior. So that’s where you find the biggest benefit, the biggest push on this content.
What we know for sports, why does it work for sports? What I know, from my time in baseball and now, is that the content that for any one of these athletes, the biggest content is going to be game footage. If you’re a basketball player and you have 10 million followers on Instagram, most of them are following you because you’re a basketball player. You might be an amateur chef. You might like fishing. You might like a lot of things. But what most people are following you for is because you’re a basketball player and because that’s the content they want to see.
When we go and we talk to these organizations about what they’re doing, we try to provide the content that is working. Once you know that’s working, it lines up everything where people want to get onto the platform because they know they’re going to get content they want. They know that content is going to be things that their followers want and everything works together.
I’d say the first step for a lot of organizations is that you produce a lot of content, you look at a lot of content, you want to distribute content, but what content is really working for you? And really taking a an analytical approach to lining up the content, how much content we send out, how many likes do we get? How many comments do we get? Actually, I’d say that even from a social standpoint, looking more at the number of comments you get, so where are we generating conversation. If we’re generating conversation, we’re providing a real benefit.
What are people sharing the most from us, not just what gets the most likes? Or when do people share the most? Because if they’re sharing that content, that’s probably content that we could provide to people. Once you start looking at it that way, you start narrowing down the content you have, and you start focusing on what really is mattering and what’s making the biggest difference.
Once you have that all lined up, it’s easy to go out to people and be like, “Hey, do you want this content? Is this something that’s helpful?” And if you’ve done the work beforehand to look at what works best for you, you’ll be in a much better position to provide people content that they use. You may not provide a gallery with 50 pieces of content, but the three pieces of content you might give to someone, you have a much higher likelihood of people using that content, sharing that content.
If they share, it means that as you provide them more content, they’re more willing and they’re more likely to come back and to really create that relationship where they’re looking to you to provide content or you’re looking to create content for you because it’s things that they want to do or that makes sense.
We’ll be right back. Stay with us.
Today we’ve been hearing from Andrew Patterson, Class of ’06, and a Morehead-Cain Mentor. The mentoring program is designed to leverage the power of the Morehead-Cain network by cultivating connections between scholars and alumni and providing structure and support to these relationships so they can develop based on shared values and interests. All rising juniors and seniors are eligible to participate.
You mentioned a few times your work at MLB, where you worked for quite a few years. When did you know it was time to make the switch to Greenfly?
I didn’t. I didn’t know it was time to make a switch. I just decided to take a risk and chance. I think MLB. professionally for me, was the greatest and the coolest experience, obviously, beyond being at Greenfly right now. But to work for a league, not only in doing media, but to be a rights holder, it was for me, again, didn’t go to business school, but that was business school for me. To be able to work on it and to learn.
I think every year at Major League Baseball was a new challenge, a new learning opportunity. As it progressed towards the end of my time in MLB, it became more comfortable. I wasn’t uncomfortable. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew what our long-term plan was, the short-term plan, the ways to look at it. I just wanted a new challenge and a different challenge.
When I moved to Greenfly, it’s one thing to work at Major League Baseball, but when you work with PSG as a client or you work with the NBA as a client, you’ll see a lot of the same things, but in different ways.
When we work with Getty, we’re not only working with MLB, but a whole host of folks. That excitement, I think that’s probably what it was. It was the excitement of the new opportunity, of the new challenges, and quite frankly, being a little scared about making the jump. You know, is this right? You know, does this make sense? Can I do it? And to ask those questions.
Then at the end of the day, to look at a platform and a technology, and say, I don’t know what it’s going to end up like but it’s exciting. That challenge is exciting. As I built, and I learned more, and I talked to our CEO and our co-founders, I got more and more excited not only about the business, but how I might be able to leverage all that I learned at MLB in a new setting and do something new and different. At that time, I pulled the cord and jumped, and I didn’t know how it’d end up.
But looking back, hindsight is 20/20. It was exactly the right time and was exactly the right decision. At the time I did it, I don’t know if I was as 100 percent sure. I felt good about it, but baseball was fantastic. I didn’t know if it would necessarily equal it, but I was willing to take the risk of the chance and I think it worked out.
What I’m hearing is that it sounds like your mind was nudging you in that direction because it seemed like you were ready for the next mountain to climb, even if your emotions hadn’t quite caught up with you. It made it a smart move, irrespective of the fact that things were still very much going well at MLB.
Yep. I mean, that’s 100 percent. I think, interestingly enough, one of the best advices I’ve ever heard on career was probably from Chuck, who said that there were three things you look for in a job or in your working career: a place you like living, people you like and respect working for, and a job you like doing.
At Major League Baseball, I had all three. I loved the people that I worked with. I worked with some of the smartest people in the sports industry, some of the smartest people in the media industry. A lot of my job was being able to ask questions of really smart people to have them challenge what you think is correct, to go back to the drawing board and refactor it to get that consensus and build it up. That was a learning experience.
I loved the people that I work with. I loved the job that I was doing. You know, I wasn’t necessarily a big baseball fan before I started, but working at baseball, I loved all those things about it.
Those things were things that I would miss. You’re not going to get the same people at any new job. You’ll find new people. But the relationship that I built over eight-and-a-half years with the folks at baseball was something that meant a lot to me. The job and being able to look over eight years and see how things had grown were really impressive. You’re proud of the work that you do.
You take some ownership. As we talked about before, when you see someone using your content or talking about your product or talking about your platforms, it’s extremely gratifying to know that the work that you do makes a difference or people care about it or people like it.
I knew what that was at baseball and it felt good. Those were the hardest things to give up. I didn’t know what I’d get on the other side. Now it’s not the same people necessarily, but they’re different people with different challenges and different things to teach me. I found that to be extremely helpful in a new way to grow as well.
You are, of course, a Morehead-Cain Mentor and you’ve just shared some great mentoring advice you’ve received from Chuck in the past. Is there any advice you often also pass down to your mentees in terms of how to navigate these big career switches and in charting out your own path?
I think the biggest thing is asking questions. One of the most fun parts of my job is having interns during the summer just because they’re completely new to the business. It’s a chance to help someone understand what their career, their future will be. I would say that by-and-large, the folks that I work with on an interim basis, I don’t expect them to be in the career or the role that I have. But if you can show people all of the opportunities that might exist out there, it’ll give them a chance to find what they like and what makes them happy.
I’d say where I’ve been most fortunate in my job is that I love what I do. It makes the days easy. It makes the projects fun. When you’re sitting there and you’re racking your brain about it or you’re driving in the car and there’s a thought that pops in your head, it’s fun for me, it’s what I want to spend my days doing.
But it’s also very personal. In my career, you have to be willing to try new things and just be different. When I first started, I worked in finance and then I worked at an ad network, then I worked at an advertising agency and I did a startup between there. Then I worked at Major League Baseball doing product and social media. Now I do technology and business development. Those jobs, while different from each other, there are threads that you learn from each of them.
From every job, I think there are two things that you can take away, things that you like and the things that you don’t. It’s important on both sides. Like how big of a group do you want to work with? What do you want your day to be like? And if you find the things that you like, pursue them and if you find the things that you don’t like as you look for new opportunities, don’t necessarily avoid them, but understand what makes you most efficient as a person, what makes you happiest to work.
Because when you bring that passion to the work that you do, I find that it really helps drive you forward where everything is pushing in the same direction.
Andrew, great talking with you. Thanks so much for your time.
Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure.