Craig Annis, who promotes the U.S. Golf Association’s image, says the U.S. Women’s Open initiative is only the start for women’s golf
It has been a U.S. Women’s Open unlike any other, but stemming from the final major championship of 2020 was a content-driven awareness campaign focusing on women’s golf and its stars.
And the past week at Champions Golf Club in Houston was just the beginning.
Craig Annis, the chief brand officer of the U.S. Golf Association – an organization he joined in 2017 – fielded a few questions from Morning Read about the USGA’s “Women Worth Watching” hashtag, awareness campaign, and overall messaging strategy for women’s golf.
An exciting first step, Annis said, for continued growth of the women’s game.
Adam Stanley: Was this campaign something that was ready to go in June, or was it something that came about with the event pivoting to December?
Craig Annis: We were ready to launch this at the U.S. Women’s Open on its original date, but obviously once it got moved, we adjusted our plans. But, we did find a way to launch the initial advertisement with Michelle Wie in September (during the U.S. Open) when we had our single-largest viewing audience. We did the initial TV ad that week. Most of the activity and most of the initiatives were planned to be built around this championship, so we shifted them to December.
But this goes back to last year. We joined the SheIs Sports Collective, which has worked to galvanize industries, leagues, governing bodies, (and) allied associations to support the cause. And the cause is to draw more attention to the women’s game and women’s sports in general either through getting more people to tune in or getting more people to come and cheer them on. Obviously the “come and cheer them on” has been sidelined by COVID-19, so a lot of our focus has been on tune-in and following on social. It’s been a long time in planning, but we’ve adjusted the plan given the change in schedule.
AS: What were the measurable objectives for this week? Were they mostly wrapped on clicks, social engagement, and awareness?
CA: Exactly. Fundamentally we’re trying to drive tune-in to Golf Channel, NBC, Peacock … we’re trying to drive readership, viewership, and get more people talking, writing, and posting. There’s the hashtag #WomenWorthWatching. We’ve created this great shirt that says, “She Is/They Are Worth Watching,” and in the background is an image of Mickey Wright. This is our 75th Women’s Open, and we’re celebrating that this week. We’ve named the (winners’) gold medal after Mickey Wright. We’ve got that T-shirt out. There’s been a lot of use of that hashtag. You’ve seen male professional golfers, other athletes, actors, influencers, industry leaders … we’ve done a whole host of things in and around it. We hosted a panel with three women who have been named by Adweek by the most powerful women in sports – Molly Solomon (Emmy-winning TV producer), Cathy Engelbert (the commissioner of the WNBA and a nominee for the USGA board), and Erika Nardini (the CEO of Barstool Sports). There was a whole host of activities this week as well as with what we’re doing on social and on television.
AS: Barstool is a bit of a unique partnership for promotion and content. How did that relationship come to be?
CA: Through their Fore Play podcast, they’ve been covering our events for the last three years or so. This was their real first foray into covering a women’s major championship. Erika has her own podcast called Token CEO, and she had our champion, Michelle Wie, on it talking about golf and this week. Riggs (Sam “Riggs” Bozoian) and his group on Foreplay had Michelle Wie, Jaye Marie Green, and Maria Fassi talking about this week. They’ve done a lot of social posts. They have a massive following. They tap into audiences that aren’t traditional but are golf fans. When Riggs posts a picture of Maria Fassi on the range warming up and talks about how amazing her swing is, it gets 100,000-200,000 views. That’s really important. We’re appreciative of the effort they’ve made, and they’re committed to doing more in women’s golf, which is great.
AS: So overall, how have things gone for you and your team at the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open?
CA: We feel gratified as an organization that we’ve latched on to the support and a cause and so many people have rallied around it. But what’s more important is the impact it’s had on (the players). They reference it in their media interviews, they put it on social.… What I’ve heard from them is that it feels really great to have that kind of support. Clearly it shows, for us, that when you have a higher purpose, it’s a fantastic way to galvanize people behind the effort and bring more attention, through our championships, to these phenomenal athletes. We feel great about how it’s gone. NBC has been great. We’ve added broadcast hours, and we’ve got great content.
We feel really fortunate that because we have the support of Rolex, which lets us show this championship uninterrupted (on TV), one of the differences is that without traditional TV commercials there is a big opportunity for more content. What we know and through the SheIs Collective is that the more we can tell these rich stories about the obstacles (the golfers) have overcome, the things they’ve faced and worked through, the triumph and glory they’ve achieved, when you bring those stories out and people can see it, they make a strong connection. When you have limited broadcast time, you don’t have the opportunity to do that as much. But with NBC/Golf Channel, thanks to Rolex, we’re able to do that. We’re really happy with the content pieces that show both the personal side of the players (and) the lighter side of the players, so that’s really gratifying to see that come to life and put it together. They’re just amazing stories to tell and easy to do, but we’re just happy to have the space to do it.
AS: It sounds like, then, this is just the first step for this campaign?
CA: Absolutely. We really believe the U.S. Women’s Open can be a beacon of equity. We can be the championship that elevates the women’s game and tries to bring as much attention to it as possible. And by the way, as we’ve shown, we’ll use the U.S. Open on the men’s side as a supporting platform. Not only did we launch the Michelle Wie ad during the U.S. Open when we had maximum viewers, but what we’ve done this week with the U.S. Open’s social media is … they’ve played the role of hype-man/cheerleader. Hundreds of thousands of followers of the U.S. Open on the men’s side are now getting lots of content and encouragement to follow the women’s side. That’s another important lever that we’ve been pulling as well, to make sure we’re putting all our efforts behind that.
Obviously, there is also a big piece of partnering with the LPGA. (commissioner) Mike Whan was here earlier this week and they’ve been fantastic to help us promote it as well.
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