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ESPN marketing director Shields says social is a tactic, not a strategy

This week, sports journalists and enthusiasts flooded Northwestern’s campus to see high-profile sport personalities as part of the annual Beyond the Box Score Series of sports journalism lectures and panels. Hosted by the Sports Immersion Program and Northwestern University Department of Athletics and Recreation, the event gave the Medill community a wonderful opportunity to reminisce about the past and discuss how fast the world of sports is changing.

On Monday, May 5, Medill welcomed ESPN social media guru Ben Shields to talk about the power of hashtags and snapchats with sports journalists. The Director of Social Media and Marketing is a triple-threat, receiving a bachelors, masters and PH.D. from the School of Communication at Northwestern.

“At ESPN, we deliver a brand promise of sports with authority and personality,” Shields said. “Social media isn’t just about a Facebook post or Twitter feed, but to live up to that brand promise.”

Ben Shields ESPN marketing director

Shields said that people have incorrectly pegged social media as a strategy when, in fact, it’s a tactic used at its best to accomplish business objectives.

“To be effective in social, you need to have a brand voice that uses [your company’s] personality,” Shields said. “We document sports journeys by creating a story and rewarding viewers with incredible images on Instagram, for example. We create shareable moments for sports fans, and they engage, increasing our ROI.”

Ben Shields ESPN marketing director

Director of Student Affairs and Sports Journalism Professor Charles Whitaker believed bringing Shields to campus helped spark debate about reporting on athletics today and what skills students need to be competitive in the job market.

“This was a great way for us to have a conversation about sports and journalism that was meaningful and highlighted the way in which Medill community comes together and show their school spirit and pride,” Whitaker said. “Also highly important is its relevance for journalism students to hear about the industry from those working to grow with it.”

Read more about Shield’s comments on The Daily Northwestern.