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As The Sports Media World Evolves, Coastal Plain League’s Shelby Hilliard Continues To Learn And Adapt

Shelby Hilliard | Director of Media & Content Development | Coastal Plain League

There is so much more I can learn to better provide our fans with the content they crave and acknowledging that is what I hope will allow me to continue to adapt to these changes.

Shelby Hilliard

Director of Media & Content Development

Coastal Plain League

× The interview with Shelby Hilliard was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

Tell us about your role as the Director of Media & Content Development for the Coastal Plain League. What does a typical day look like for you?

As most in media would probably say, that’s a tricky question to answer as this medium is so fluid it’s truly hard to know what each day will bring. Which in the end, as someone who lives in that creative headspace, is what drew myself to the field. Having said that, during the actual season due to our long hours I do have a few major constants to keep things organized so we can deal with the unexpected issues as they arise in between.

I get to the office about 9 a.m. each day and begin each morning by responding to any emails, social media comments and/or social media messages from fans, news, etc. The moment they feel ignored, I have already lost them.

I update what we call our media tracking sheet that helps us gauge how impactful our posts, stories, etc. within social, digital and print media have been. I also do the same for our game stream numbers each day to track those as well. In this same process, I make sure all of that day’s games are properly scheduled and linked on our website and on our streaming platform cplbaseball.tv to avoid any issues come game time.

I then move on to creating that day’s graphics. These include our game schedule, final score and Line of the Night graphics that I will use later in the day into the evening to promote our players and games that night. With hours in between, I will begin preparations for our weekly infographic that will be sent out Monday each week to highlight the previous week of games.

The rest of the day in the office itself until a little after 5 p.m. I am working on a myriad of things. At the top of that list is monitoring our social media as well as each of our franchises throughout the day to highlight any stories that are worthy of such. Additionally, I will work to set up any interview requests for our commissioner or players within the league, make sure any scouts that plan to attend games that night have the proper rosters and spend time overseeing our league office interns as well as our multimedia interns who work on-site at each of our franchise locations to help us gather further content.

Then the fun begins at 7 p.m. when games start-up. I do my best to have all of the broadcasts rolling on my screen throughout the night or on nights where we have a full slate, I hop around periodically. The goal is to promote the games with live content and drive fans to start watching the game live, while also promoting the exceptional feats of the players themselves. I will crop highlight-reel catches to post to our own outlets as well as send out nationally for top plays of the night. When players hit a home run, I will clip the home run and pair it with data from our partner, TrackMan Baseball, to post online. It’s that type of interactive data fans really crave. So on and so forth, anything worth being seen we try to clip out and share with fans – even if that’s a really fun in-between inning promotion that was caught on camera.

Additionally, I am overseeing our multimedia staff’s posts from games as they are posting live to our Instagram story throughout to further give fans a behind-the-scenes look of what is going on at ballparks around our league each night. Something you won’t really see out of any other league in the country, professional or otherwise, to the extent we do it, which our fans have really reacted well to since its inception in 2017.

Finally, once games have wrapped for the night I update the final score graphic and send it out before then choosing our offensive and pitching Line of the Night performances that will be included in their own graphics to cap off that night’s coverage.

The next day, it all begins again.

Please tell us how your work has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began. With the CPL being back at play now, how has your content strategy changed? How are you engaging fans and other stakeholders in new ways?

Like most organizations, we were at the mercy of the virus when this all began and we spent the first few months planning for every possible contingency plan so we would be ready if and when able to play in any of our markets.

While there were a number of operational hurdles that we had to overcome, most of all being implementing safety measures, from a media standpoint I also spent the time creating different media action plans. One for every scenario imaginable. What if we can’t play at all, how can we use this time for growth? What if our season is pushed to July? What if this, what if that – I ran through every scenario and broke down a media plan for each. 

How can we keep our fans engaged without the normal influx of content that a season brings? That was the main question and we had a number of projects planned for if our season was lost altogether. This included ideas such as creating our own virtual All-Star week and replaying the past few years of All-Star footage during what should have been our 2020 All-Star break. I had hopes to incorporate live interviews with these past players, many in professional baseball now, and a number of other ideas to engage with fans through this. 

We began planning zoom seminars to bring in speakers from all facets of baseball (media, operations, marketing, coaching, etc.) to engage with our team media staff, general managers, coaches and everything in between. This is actually an idea we hope to swing back around to in the offseason. 

So on and so forth, there were numerous ideas ready to go for all scenarios. Ultimately, it became clear we would begin our season on July 1 in some capacity so the job then became, how can we keep our fans engaged in the month of June? Our main initiative was launching a Top Plays Showdown bracket on what was supposed to be our Opening Day, May 28. Utilizing Twitter’s conversational polling feature as well as polling options on Facebook and Instagram, we ran this campaign through the entirety of June. Every other day we released a new matchup before ultimately crowning the Top Play Showdown champion during the first week of July. This allowed us to put out content on a daily basis that was similar to what we would do during a normal season.

Using our media number tracking sheet I was able to compare our overall reach, impressions and engagement with past seasons. While we were naturally slightly lower than years in which our season was fully active, overall our numbers from June this year allowed us to stay on track to ultimately hit our yearly goal numbers by the end of 2020. 

What are some big creative challenges you face with content creation? How do you brainstorm new ideas, find inspiration and overcome challenges that may arise?

Content, content, content. If you don’t have content to pull from constantly you are very limited in what you can do on a day-to-day basis in this digital world. With that in mind, when I first joined the Coastal Plain League my biggest challenge was building a content database. While there were some pictures of players, it wasn’t an overly accessible or sortable database that could be quickly accessed as needed.

To combat this, in 2017, we began our Multimedia Internship program in which we hire an intern for each of our franchises that works as the league office staffer, but lives in the city of the team they will cover for us. They post to the league’s social media accounts and most of all capture video and pictures of every player from the season that we house in our online content database.

Their work has been invaluable, and many have used this experience to go on to obtain great jobs in the sports media field. Because of their work, we now have a database of pictures and video we can pull from at any moment to create graphics or make engaging posts online. This content is also used during the MLB Draft television broadcasts as our player’s move on to be drafted and further down the road as they make their Major League debuts we have an abundance of content to use to promote these feats.

Additionally, in 2018 we began streaming all of our games via our cplbaseball.tv platform. That further allowed a wealth of content we can crop and pull from at any time.

As far as inspiration for the future, I am always paying attention to what fans are engaging with online and additionally what other professionals in the industry are doing as there is brilliance posted daily by so many across sports media. There are so many ideas we come up with that never see the light of day for one reason or another and that is fine, it’s all a part of the process. Additionally, some of the ideas that do make it out, may not stick but in the end, some will and that’s what matters.

What are three essential skills you believe someone needs to succeed in Sports Media?

  1. Creativity/Never Settle – Always try new things, every season should feel new. As soon as you start to master something, there is most likely another technique or idea that has become more relevant and is now worth learning. To combat this every shifting landscape, each offseason I do my best to learn a new skill, master a new design program or take a new online marketing class. There are so many avenues out there online to learn and the offseason is the perfect time to do so. If not our content quickly becomes stale and fans will move on to something more engaging.
  2. Survive AND Thrive – I had a supervisor when I was at university that hammered this concept into us and I’m forever grateful she did. A large contingent of people fall into either the category of being someone who can be thrown to the wolves and survive but then struggles when the battle is over and it’s time to prepare for the next, OR they are someone who can thrive in the preparation stages but struggle as soon as a battle arises. Depending on the situation, both are great skills to have in employees, but for me at least when we are looking to hire we seek out those that can both survive and thrive. We have to be able to survive in the moments of uncertainty and unexpected chaos that will always arise; but, when the drama and excitement of that calms down to really succeed and grow, we have to be able to thrive in the calm as well. Those are the people I want on our team. Otherwise, all we are doing is surviving and that’s no way to live, much less become the best.
  3. Moral Compass/Brand Awareness – I hope this is something all humans have but in media, it’s needed more than ever in today’s climate. Everything we post reflects the brand, my main job is to promote and protect the CPL’s brand and each of our team’s brands. While one outlet may have great success with a certain type of “humor” it’s not something that will work for every brand. Many may disagree with this but I don’t believe going “viral” is always a good thing when the content itself is a poor reflection of your brand. Establish the moral compass of your organization and stick to that, whatever those standards or pillars may be. Mold these “viral” moments so that when they happen they represent your organization in a manner you can be proud of.

What do you see as the future in the growing world of Sports Media as the industry continues to change and evolve? How are you positioning yourself to adapt to the constant changes?

This goes back to the previous question’s response, never settle. Celebrate success sure, but be ready to move on to the next challenge just as quickly or you’ll lose all the momentum once gained. That’s the fun of it really, working in this type of ever-changing landscape that forces us to constantly challenge ourself to grow. There is so much more I can learn to better provide our fans with the content they crave and acknowledging that is what I hope will allow me to continue to adapt to these changes.

I keep a running word document that grows daily with ideas, 90% of them probably won’t ever be used but the thought that 10% will one-day become possible with the advances of the industry and our league is what keeps me coming back for more every day.

Hayley Michie Hayley's Final Thoughts

Being in a role in Sports Media, Shelby Hilliard has to constantly push content out to the fans of the Coastal Plain League as their Director of Media & Content Development. To do so, she has to brainstorm ideas, some of which may never see the light of day. In order to continue in providing the CPL with successful content, Shelby keeps a document that she updates daily with ideas. Shelby expressed that you should never settle as a sports media professional. Whether it’s keeping a list of ideas, learning a new skill, or mastering a new design program, Shelby Hilliard is right. Constant learning and adapting is one of the keys to success for working in sport.

Connect With Shelby Hilliard