This interview is presented to you by the University of Nebraska – Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration.
By: Joe Londergan, @Joehio_
Move forward. Stay positive. Be yourself.
Everyone hears those things growing up. For the subject of today’s interview, sticking to those principles has led to a highly successful career in the world of digital media. Ross Sheingold is currently the Chief Innovation Officer of Laundry Service, a social media agency, and Cycle, a media company that happily marries the world’s loves of sports and pop culture. If that job title is not self-explanatory in your mind, Ross can provide a vivid description of what the position entails.
“My job is to make sure that we’re leveraging technology efficiently – whether internally for our employees, externally for our clients, or as it relates to new business models for Laundry Service and Cycle. With technology advancing so rapidly, it is really important to have someone dedicated to vetting things and understanding when it makes sense to do something rather than just jumping on the latest and greatest.”
In other words, Sheingold is passionate about making sure that clients and employees alike enjoy a simplified, modern experience through Laundry Service and Cycle. Like a literal laundry service, the company wants the results of their work to be, “timely, crisp, and fresh.”
“As an agency, we are passionate about producing the best user experience possible.”
And that goes beyond creating content native to the different social platforms on behalf of clients
“We want to make sure that everyone here at Laundry Service and Cycle has a seamless user experience with whatever we are doing. Whether that’s proprietary tech tools that we build internally or systems that we roll out that we use to share internal knowledge, my job is to be sure that we are not ever one of these agencies where you see the technology go backwards. That’s the kind of slow thinking that I’d never want to be a part of.”
A New York City native, Sheingold graduated from Penn State University with a degree in communications in 2004. After college, he worked in media research for nearly three years and later at CBS Sports, which gave him the opportunity to watch childhood acquaintance Joakim Noah and the Florida gators win the NCAA Basketball championship in-person. He also furthered his love of the sports world as the purveyor of NYY Stadium Insider, a blog dedicated to the Yankee Stadium fan experience and Sheingold’s beloved New York Yankees.
On the PR side, he spent 4 years as a digital producer at Clinique Global Communications before making the jump in 2011 to the still developing world of social media agencies.
“I made a decision that a lot of people don’t make. I left a job with a steady income to pursue the unknown. But I made that decision and it ended up being one of the greatest decisions of my life, because I shifted into the emerging world of social media. I spent a couple of years at Big Fuel Communications as one of the leads on major account. Then, I met Jason Stein, the founder of Laundry Service, and the rest is history.”
Positive results from significant life changes like this are the result of being open to expanding personal horizons and hard work, in Sheingold’s eyes.
“The biggest moments of transition and the biggest decisions that I made were just being open to trying new things and to dabble in new things and not to feel like because I’m doing one thing, I need to stay with that. I really felt like it was important for me to get a good understanding of the entire communications landscape while I was still in my 20’s and young enough to really grind at it.”
With the creation of Cycle in 2015, Sheingold had the opportunity to return to his sports roots. Cycle’s social feeds, Medium publication and podcast are essentially a one-stop shop to see where sports and popular culture come together.
“Everybody that works at the company is a huge sports fans and we have made it our mission to celebrate popular culture. You’ll never see a negative take or negative criticism on Cycle, two things that sort of run rampant in the sports world."
According to Sheingold, in today’s complex media environment, it is important to keep people engaged through various forms of media content. That’s why on Cycle, you’ll see everything from documentaries to GIFs to over-the-top photoshops on subjects like where to find quality throwback jerseys in New York City, power rankings of Game of Thrones characters, and comparisons of the Kevin Durant move to Golden State to movie plot lines.
“A great way to keep people entertained is through short-form, ‘snackable’ content. Sometimes it’s through GIFs, sometimes it’s through short videos. At the end of the day, we’re trying to have fun, and we know that content is the type of stuff that will make people smile, give them a little extra pep in their step for the day. It’s a great way to get people’s attention, keep them engaged and celebrate what’s going on out there rather than taking a negative take. People might initially find out about Cycle via a video that spreads virally, but we have observed that they also stick around for the longer form content that we’ve created already and that’s coming down the line.”
If you want to see a great example of Cycle’s long form content, give a listen to the latest episode of Cycle’s BJ x Bucher podcast, where journalist Ric Bucher and former Chicago Bull BJ Armstrong discuss Michael Jordan’s recent statements on social justice, among other basketball topics.
Cycle regularly works with athletes like Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm and Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans to produce documentary style content. At times, they even break news. The publication made a splash during the recent NBA Free Agency period when they partnered with former NBA MVP, Derrick Rose to address the news that he had been traded from Chicago to the New York Knicks on the Cycle.
“The distribution method played a huge role in that. One of the things that makes Cycle special is the close relationship that we have with athletes and the support that we provide. Across our media properties, athletes such as Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis, Breanna Stewart, Sydney Leroux and many, many more have an owned platform in addition to their social media channels to speak their mind directly – without middle men. “
Whether empowering athletes to tell their own story, or combining the best of TV, movies, sports, and pop culture into humorous social content, the group makes it its mission to stick to appreciation rather than fault-finding and critical judgment. This approach combined with the variety of subject matter covered makes it easier to avoid media burnout.
“It becomes less of a slog or a grind and it becomes ‘let’s tap into what is moving culture right now and how do we celebrate that in a way that is authentic to us?’ I think naturally, you’re less likely to get burnt out when you’re just celebrating the things that people are already enjoying anyway rather than overanalyzing and criticizing.”
At the same time, they are not afraid to point out the divisiveness that certain topics can cause among fans.
“We’re not above analysis from the fan’s point of view. We recently published a piece by a Knicks fan about Phil Jackson’s tenure as Knicks GM thus far. He perfectly captures the split emotions that many Knicks fans are currently feeling. They want so badly to believe that he is awesome and has the Knicks on the right path, but the franchise’s front-office ineptitude is still very much on their mind."
A prime example of something that Cycle, Laundry Service, and Sheingold actively celebrated is the booming popularity of Pokémon GO. While plenty in the social space have complained about people and brands embracing the game, all the while telling people to get off their metaphorical lawn, Sheingold notes the undeniable cultural positives the virtual monster hunt has created for the tech space, the business world, and humanity as a whole.
“The app Cardiogram put out a really great little graph showing the heart rates since Pokémon GO came out because people are walking so much more. All the stories of people getting together and spending time outside together, from a human culture standpoint is a beautiful thing. Especially after all the tragedy of the past few months or so. With the continuous bad news of hatred and crime and violence…we really needed something like this."
"When you look at a company like Niantic, which came out of Google, and gained access to a really huge intellectual property in Pokémon, you can see that all the pieces were there for this to be a huge thing."
Brands trying to capitalize on the game may be acting out of FOMO (fear of missing out), but that doesn’t necessarily mean the game should be ignored or panned either. As Sheingold explains it, the key to celebrating something like Pokémon GO the right way is authenticity.
“There are going to be eye roll moments if you don’t take advantage of it authentically. If a brand jumps on it in a way that is not authentic, it comes across as cheesy and falls flat because it is not coming from a real place of appreciation. It’s just coming from a place of wanting to capitalize on the moment. On the other side, there are some businesses out there that give discounts if you’ve brought a certain Pokemon to a certain level, businesses were putting out lures to attract customers - that kind of stuff is fun! It is a way of letting people know that you understand something they are enjoying, which will build loyalty and trust with your customer.”
Front Office Sports thanks Ross for his time and for the reminder that a little positivity goes a long way in the digital space. We asked Ross for one piece of parting wisdom before wrapping up the conversation.
It’s a familiar song in the social media age, but growing and maintaining personal and professional connections with people has significantly changed for the better. This goes for all industries. If done properly, a quality, authentic social media presence can even earn you a job alongside the likes of Ross Sheingold.
“Building relationships should be easier than ever before because of the various forms of social media. Most of our executives at Laundry Service were recruited via Twitter by building relationships over Twitter with Jason Stein and myself. We found like-minded people by having authentic conversations. That kind of thing applies to nearly any industry that people want to get into. For example, if you want to be a rocket scientist, you have the ability to go on twitter and converse with Elon Musk. He responds to people. He’s changing the world and you can connect with him without any friction because of things like Twitter. If you have a passion for anything, don’t be shy and reach out to people and show them why you’re interesting and worth talking to.”