Our latest Industry Insider sees us venture into the world of cycling and beyond as we chat with Steven Blyth about his career, the events he’s worked on and more!
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
I’m a 37-year-old digital professional and I’ve been working in creative, digital and social media roles for the best part of 15 years across a number of different sectors and industries – not all what you would assume as a typical pathway into sport.
My first role in digital came in the Scottish Civil Service with Historic Scotland where I worked initially as a Digital Media Officer. Eventually I ended up as Digital Manager during a complete overhaul of the organisation where I helped lead the redevelopment of their digital platforms.
Since then I’ve worked as Digital, Social and Content manager at the Scottish Parliament, engaging new audiences in democracy, before I lead digital at Holyrood Distillery in Edinburgh.
After setting up as a freelancer during the Covid-19 pandemic I got my break in sport as Digital and Social Manager with the team at Hillside Outside who deliver one of the best closed-road sportives not just in Scotland but in the UK and beyond, Tour o’ the Borders.
Ultimately this led me to the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships – widely tipped as the biggest cycling event ever held!
What do you do in your current role?
At the 2023 UCI Cycling Worlds I was Digital, Social and CRM lead – which pretty much means I covered three broad areas; Digital platforms (including our website), social media and community management, as well responsibility for the organisation’s data and email marketing.
To give some examples of what I’ve been working on – last year I lead the development of our website alongside our digital agency Storm ID based in Edinburgh, from scoping to delivery and ongoing development which has been one of my proudest achievements to date.
As a brand-new event driving awareness has been one of our key goals, and wrapped up in this has been growing our key channels – we’ve managed to go from around 2-3k followers/subscribers to well over 155k in a short space of time.
Key to our success has also been growing our email subscribers – one of the main ways we communicated news from the Championships – developing this strategy, and gathering data has been something that’s been challenging but rewarding!
“Normal” isn’t a thing in sport so what does an “average” week look like for you
It’s true, the only thing normal about a week in sport, and particularly a major event seems to be, if something seems like a normal week, I’m doing something wrong!#
An example of a normal week from just a month or so ago:
- Designing a new feature for our homepage to help users locate key information during the Championships
- Creating graphics for our social channels
- Planning out our content for the Championships
- Writing copy for our newsletters
- Recruiting a small group of digital and social experts for our Championships team
- Analysing our performance across various digital campaigns and presenting the results
- Planning our individual team responsibilities during the Championships
- Preparing toolkits for our partners
Things are so varied, and there’s always a chance to get your hands dirty as well as step back and do some strategic thinking! I think that’s one of the best things, as it allows you to keep those practical skills tight.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
The big moment for me in my digital career was when I decided that I wanted to create something in whatever my 9-5 role was. Up until then I’d been working in jobs that didn’t interest me and I felt quite stifled creatively.
I had visited Berlin in 2007 with my brother and took an “alternative” tour of the city and was amazed by all the art of the streets. A little while later I set up a blog (urbankulturblog.com) as my creative outlet, documenting graffiti/street art and eventually also hosting a DJ mix series. It eventually won a few awards, something I am still really proud of, but most importantly it allowed me to get the break in Digital at Historic Scotland.
I’ve always loved sport. I cycled, skateboarded (badly), played tennis, badminton, snooker, football, squash and many others growing up and as long as I can remember sport has played a big part in my life. My partner is amazed by how much sport I can watch on TV!
However, I never really knew how I’d ever make the transition into sport for work.
I spotted that Hillside Outside (who organise the amazing Tweedlove Bike Festival in Peebles) were hiring for Social Media help while I was on furlough during the pandemic and got in touch with Neil Dalgleish. After a chat and presenting a campaign idea, he gave me a chance – I think the fact I’d cycled the event before probably helped me!
I owe a huge amount to Neil and the team for that opportunity.
Since then, I’ve worked for the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships, Warner Brothers Discovery on the UCI Track Champions League, and also now volunteer my time for League 2 side Forfar Athletic FC as a Graphic Designer.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
I’m definitely one of those people that’s their own biggest critic – as many people are!
I’m always trying to do my very best, and ultimately the measure of that is results and being able to demonstrate the impact I, and our team, have had through the work we’ve done.
At the Championships we reached 28 million people, with 20+million views of our video content over the course of 12 days of competition – I think this surpassed all of our expectations, and is a result I’m particularly proud of.
Can you tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
During my time at the 2023 UCI Cycling Worlds we ran some early social campaigns to bolster ticket sales, but we found that some of the ads we were running were not converting as well as we might have hoped. These ads were to be a key tool in selling out our event. So this was disappointing, particularly as we felt we had a strong and unique product to sell – who wouldn’t want a ticket to the biggest cycling event ever held, right?
In digital it’s all about learning and adapting quickly. I reviewed our targeting which was focusing on fans of cycling more broadly in key areas of Scotland and England – as you might imagine a fairly wide audience, which on the face of it seemed like a good approach.
I made some changes to how we targeted, we now broke the campaign into smaller campaigns let by individual disciplines, and narrowed the geographic range of these ads drastically. We were targeting a much smaller group of individuals, but I felt that those we were reaching were far more likely to engage with our ads, and buy tickets.
Our conversion rates rose almost instantly, and the volume of ticket purchases followed suit – contributing in the end to the sell out event!
So my key learning was, when it comes to getting value from ads, avoid the temptation to spread your message as wide as possible and refine your audience more than you feel is necessary. I suppose it could be summed up by “less is more”!
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
There’s so much going on it’s hard to pick just one thing!
For me right now the digital presence of clubs, teams, leagues and championships has never been more important. And the way that we consume sport online is changing rapidly – I still remember being at university when the idea of watching a game of football on your phone seemed like like something from Tomorrow’s World! Now it’s one of the primary ways we watch our teams.
Over the next few years how fans can engage with their sports and the players/riders is hugely exciting and I can’t wait to see how this develops.
If you could change one thing about your Industry, what would you change?
I think giving young digital and social professionals who are passionate about sport a pathway into it is really important. I kind of stumbled into it by chance, and wasn’t immediately aware of how best to get a break.
So one thing that would be great is some way of allowing younger digital and social professionals to gain that valuable experience in sport and take the next step into paid work.
It’s a highly competitive industry, and those who have the experience are highly sought after, which means once you’re in, you’re in. But ensuring that others get their chance would be something worthwhile looking at.
Sport is a hectic industry, what do you do to switch off?
Is it stupid to say “watch sport”?!
I follow my local football team, Heart of Midlothian, which can often add to the stress! I also do some illustration and graphic design from time to time when I get the chance. I like to ride my bikes (road and BMX) primarily – something that takes your full and undivided attention I find helps.
As the father of a 4 month old, spending time as a family with him is the perfect way to switch off from work entirely, if not always the most relaxing!
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Don’t underestimate the power of doing something for nothing, be it volunteering, or setting up your own passion project.
Without having started my own blog as a way to learn about digital and social media, I wouldn’t have had any paid experience to demonstrate I was capable of working in that sector.
Create your own experience, if you can, and your passion for sport and the industry you’re looking to break into will shine through to any hiring managers out there.
How to connect with Steven Blyth…
You can check out some of my artwork at: In off the post – art (@inoffthepostart) • Instagram photos and videos – which is updated whenever I get some free time, which right now isn’t that often!
Check out the Tweedlove Bike Festival at TweedLove – A festival of events, bike riding and good times in The Tweed Valley, Scotland.
The Tour o the Borders is on a hiatus right now, but when it’s back I’d recommend it, it really is one of the best sportives I’ve cycled and cracking pies too! Home – Tour o the Borders 2023 : Tour o the Borders 2023
Finally you can connect with me on LinkedIn – Steven Blyth | LinkedIn