The creative team behind the Houston Dynamo wants to tell a compelling story unique to their home city. Every element works together to tell one united story, from the team motto, H-Town Hold It Down, to photo shoot locations at Houston landmarks.
Now, Creative Director Juan Loya takes us behind the scenes in our new on-demand webinar, The Strategy Behind the Houston Dynamo’s Storytelling Off the Pitch. Watch now to learn:
- How this team powers storytelling outside of gameday
- Why highlighting the city and the people of Houston is key to Dynamo storytelling
- How the Dynamo has established a culture around its fans and the city of Houston
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All Your Questions Answered
Thank you to everyone who asked a question during the live webinar! Skim through Juan’s answers to some of your top questions below, and watch the on-demand webinar to access the full Q&A. Plus, tweet any lingering questions you might have @psforbrands.
Q: In telling your story, do you feel that photos or graphics do a better job?
Juan: My career has been as graphic designer, so you might think that I might have a bias towards graphics, but the truth is that I’m actually just a bigger fan of just great photos – storytelling. And it helps that we have talented photographers, the ones that we freelance with and the ones who work on staff. They are amazing visual storytellers on their own. So, my preference is just strong photos to tell a story. I think that they, especially when it comes to the Jersey photo shoots that I showed, they don’t need any other kind of embellishment when it comes to graphics. We just need to find a cool story to tell through photography, through the environments that we’re trying to take these photos in and that’s always been my preference.
Q: How do you separate yourself from other MLS teams?
Juan: Internally, we pay a lot of attention to what the other teams are doing because we’re fans of the game and fans of design and storytelling. And so, we want to see what the Galaxy are doing, we want to see what Atlanta United is doing and to be totally honest, a lot of teams, their intent in their approach is very similar to ours, which is celebrating the cities that they come from. But what’s great is that every city is unique and has its own different way of representing itself.
Houston is where I grew up. It’s the city I love, it’s the city that I want to represent, and so just finding unique ways to tell a story of Houston automatically is going to differentiate us from any other MLS team.
But then when it comes to visuals and graphics and video, I’m always trying to find inspiration outside of sports, outside of soccer. What can we bring to our story that doesn’t have anything to do with what other teams are doing? And I don’t think that’s unique to me. I think that’s what a lot of teams do. They try to find different sources of inspiration and sometimes there’s a little bit of overlap, but for the most part, every time we try to be unique to our city and our club. I think it’s always the best recipe for success.
Q: How do you get and keep everyone on the same page from multiple departments down to content creators, including freelancers?
Juan: In 2018, we didn’t have a ton of coordination between what the graphics department was going to do and what the rest of the organization was going to do. Obviously, we present our campaign and our brand ideas to the whole organization at the beginning of each year and getting that buy-in requires a lot of collaboration. And just candidly, it’s been a lot easier now the video team and graphics team or one creative entity.
And then when it comes to groups outside of that entity, the creative team, our digital team who does amazing work on social media, we work very closely because we’re in the same department and we all report up through marketing. But then you might have a team like the sponsorship team who doesn’t report to the same structure, but we still have to collaborate with them and tell them what our vision is for the season.
So, honestly, when it comes to the best practices or how you achieve that collaborative vision, it really is just communication. It’s letting people know from a very early stage what the creative vision is and what we’re going to be doing to tell a compelling story because at the end of the day, no matter what department you’re in, you want to be a part of a compelling story. You don’t want to be a part of something that’s boring or been done before, you want to be part of something unique.
So, for us, as a creative department communicating what our vision is at the beginning of the season or even earlier in the off-season, it’s a great way of just getting everybody on the same page.
Q: How do you balance the two teams – the Houston Dynamo and the Houston Dash – having unity with each other yet their own standalone identity?
Juan: That’s a good question because it’s something that we’ve had a lot of discussions about over the years. Since the Houston Dash came on board, it’s an ongoing conversation about whether they have their own identity or if it should be a more of a cohesive identity with the men’s team and to be totally honest, it’s gone back and forth over the years, but going back and forth gives you the opportunity to see what you prefer and what works best.
This season, it has been very tied together – the men’s team and the women’s team telling a cohesive story. And I think one of the reasons we landed there is because the larger story we were trying to tell was a story about the city of Houston. And so, we were trying to find ways to make that applicable to both the men’s team and the women’s team. It just made sense.
“Hold it Down” replaced “Forever Orange” as the Dynamo motto. They replaced “Dash On” as the Dash motto. So, both teams have the same messaging, they both have the same intent and visual narrative and to me, having done both approaches, that is a stronger, better way to communicate the identities of both teams because it does create a one-club mentality, which is just a really strong narrative.
Q: Are there any aspects you look back on from previous years or even this year that you would change or approach differently?
Juan: Since I’ve been doing this for a while, each year is definitely a learning experience for me, just as somebody in a creative endeavor. And so, I think the big one, some of those early campaigns were very, very heavy on just the visual ideas that we were trying to tell.
There was an earlier campaign that we had where we really, really leaned in on the idea of electricity because that’s what an actual dynamo produces. And so, we went really, really heavy and it’s funny to me when I see the stuff that the LA Chargers are doing now because it’s very similar to what we did back then, but it’s a lot of lightning bolts, it’s a lot of old iconography and we’re trying to tell a story, but without copy to match it or a tagline or something that can just really get embedded in somebody’s head beyond flashing images, it’s not as impactful.
And that was a big learning curve for me because to me, I love the visuals we create and I want to believe that everybody gets every reference we’re going for, but sometimes you really do have to be a lot more overt and that’s where that collaboration comes in because I’m not the best copywriter in the world, but we have a PR department, a digital team, we have people on staff who could tell a story that compliments our visuals. And so, that is something that I’ve learned over the years that is a really big component to this.
Q: What do you think of the level of storytelling at European soccer clubs? Is this an area where Europe is falling behind?
Juan: When I came on as a member of the Houston Dynamo organization, one of the places that I went to find inspiration was in European soccer and the stories that they were telling, because one of the things that really appealed to me about storytelling in Europe was when it comes to American baseball and American football, they’re very, very much rooted in the past and telling stories about legacies of sports achievement, which is great. There’s obviously really great content there, but what I love about soccer being a global sport that embraces art and design – it’s called the beautiful game – is … there are soccer clubs, football teams that have been around for centuries, but even though they have that legacy, European teams are constantly pushing the envelope and trying to stay new and modern.
So, balancing what that legacy of their team, but in a modern, fresh way, pushing the envelope and trying to be new and exciting, I found very inspiring and impactful and it just opened me up to the idea that we don’t have to rely on the past. The Dynamo is a much younger team, we’ve only been around for 15 seasons, but we have a legacy as well that is part of our story, but we want every season to feel like a reinvention, a new piece of the puzzle, a new piece of the story that we’re trying to tell.
Q: How has your marketing changed or how are you marketing this season in the coronavirus / COVID-19 era?
Juan: We’re in a holding pattern until we know if we’re going to be playing games later in the year. Our assumption is that at some point the season will resume in some way, but in the meantime, most of our content is relying on talking the story of our past championships. It’s doing a deep dive on who our players are as people and so a lot of our messaging is around finding out on a more personal level, the players who play for the Dynamo and the Dash, who they are as individuals and finding interesting stories to tell about them.
Some of it is just amplifying things that we did in a normal season anyway. We would always try to tell those human interest stories, but it’s just focusing more on trying to tell and develop stories off the pitch, which again, we would always do, but now it’s just more of the focus versus game to game training and tactics and things like that.
Q: Are you finding that this time has pushed you and your team to be more creative and innovative? And if so, how do you develop your ideas with your team?
Juan: Well, being separated physically is a huge challenge to overcome because ordinarily, we’re in an office together as one creative team and we can bounce ideas off of each other. Somebody can get the ball rolling on an idea and somebody else can pick it up and run with it. If it’s a video concept, we have a team of people who work together as a group to shoot, edit and produce a video and now that’s happening individually. So yeah, it’s definitely a challenge and as far as how we overcome those challenges. I think it definitely is trying to reorient ourselves to think about what stories are we trying to tell and how can we tell those stories with those limitations?
And so, when it comes to video, if we’re trying to tell a player’s story, obviously we can’t get them in the locker room and sit down with them and have them give an interview anymore. So, just trying to find creative ways to get them on camera. We’ve done some of that work with the recent Dynamo news and Dash. And then when it comes to graphics, a lot of that work is just trying to find different stories that we want to tell from over the years. And how do we as a group tell those stories in new ways? We’ve looked at everything from doing animation to doing different, more complex infographics than we’ve done before. Usually that isn’t an area that we’d spend a ton of time on, but something that is very time intensive now is the perfect time for us to try to do those projects because we have the time to do it now.