Today we interview Kyle Bunch, of blogger note for his work on sites like TrojanWire and FanHouse, a driving force behind Nike's digital media exposure as a Senior Producer at R/GA. Kyle talks about his work in corporate digital media, as well as the role his blogging and publishing experience has played in it.
Name: Kyle Bunch
Position: Senior Producer
Organization: R/GA (CLIENT: NIKE)
College Major: Business Administration - USC
Prior Sports-Related Experience:
RxSN – Co-Founder/Publisher, since 2003 – publications/sites include:
- Kyle Bunch's Raw Feed
- Sports Bar Finder (alpha)
- Upper Management
- San Diego Sportswire
- The Listen
- Jose Canseco's Pool Party
- Jockocracy (launching soon)
- The Edge City Chronicle - now defunct
FanHouse – Blogger, since August 2006
SEOintelligence – Chief Experience Officer, since July 2007
R/GA is a premier ad agency that has a reputation for cross platform marketing and an ever willingness to embrace new technologies. You say you've worked in the "interactive realm" since 2000. What professional experience did you have prior to starting with R/GA in 07?
Prior to joining R/GA I worked at a boutique agency in Southern California called PINACOL for several years. Because it was a smaller company with a great, visionary founder, I got an opportunity to do a lot of different stuff (production, interaction design, a little bit of programming and visual work) and get some great mentoring along the way. That helped me to round out my digital experience by starting several of my own sites between 2001 and 2005, including the (now-defunct) Edge City Chronicle, TrojanWire and Blogebrity.
Is Nike your sole client or do you have others in your portfolio?
R/GA has a ton of clients (you can see a pretty complete list at http://rga.com), but I spend all of my time working on Nike projects.
What exactly are you responsible for as a Sr. Producer at R/GA? How much of your energy is divided between: 1. creative development; 2. production; 3. client relations?
Typically, it's probably about an even 3-way split over the course of any given week. Some days may require a lot more of one than the others – but over time, it tends to be a pretty equal mix of those three.
Do you primarily work alone or as part of a team. If the latter, what are some other roles on the team?
I work as part of several teams – each one has a variety of different stakeholders, typically including (a) Interaction Designers (sometimes called User Experience Design), (b) Visual Designers, (c) Copywriters, (d) Programmers, and (e) Quality Assurance experts. Depending on the project there might also be some members of our Digital Studio who specialize in video production rounding out the team.
I've blogged on this site before about Nike's recognition as one of the world's leading corporate innovators. Some of the initiatives I mentioned were Run Americas, Nike Women's Marathon, Nike+ Supersonic, NikeiD Studios, Nike ProPlayers and Top Nike Total 90 Laser. Have you worked on any of them?
I didn't work directly on any of those projects – but thanks to the sheer volume of R/GA's work output, I was fortunate enough to be part of a number of innovative initiatives -- from Hoopstalk to Signature Moves to the now-in-beta Ballers Network.
Can you take us through a typical day?
Show up, pour a glass of scotch and start chain smoking. Pretty much exactly what you see on Mad Men.
Which campaign at R/GA or in a previous position are you most proud of and why?
While I am immensely proud of all the work I've done at R/GA for Nike, and a number of the projects I worked on back at Pinacol, to this day I'm probably most proud of the initial work we did on the Blogebrity project. The site is still alive (barely) today as a quasi-dated directory of "famous" bloggers, but when we started it as a simple blog + hoax (we pretended that we were launching a "People Magazine for the blogosphere") back in 2005 for the Contagious Media Showdown, it went from an idea to execution to coverage in Time, Newsweek, CNN and throughout the blogosphere in a matter of about two weeks. I've worked on a number of successful campaigns, but the personal and professional ROI and the notoriety we attained for our work on that one is tough to beat.
What role has you affinity for sports played in pursuing a job like this, or were you more focused on the online marketing profession and happened to be lucky that your primary client was so embedded in the sports world?
I think it's probably more luck than anything. I know that my work on TrojanWire certainly didn't hurt in me getting the role I have now – but it was much more my online marketing experience that really landed me in the spot I find myself today.
You've been publishing TrojanWire since 2003. What major changes between then and now have you seen in sports blogging and fan-based sites - positive and negative?
Well, I know a lot of people point to the arrival of Deadspin in 2005 (a story that we actually broke on Blogebrity first) as the moment when the sports blogosphere really arrived. And while Deadspin may have brought sports blogging to a more mainstream audience, the fan sites – in the form of Scout and Rivals – were all over social media way before anybody started buzzing about Web 2.0 and the arrivals of MySpace, Facebook, or any of the other emergent trends of recent years. In fact, they remain some of the only social media sites who have pulled off the ultimate coup – charging for access to the content they produce.
Flash forward a few years, and there are obviously a lot more fan-based sites – some really good, many just contributing to the unfortunate echo chamber effect that seems to be pandemic in social media. That would really be the only negative I see – as any sector matures and people start to have success, there are inevitably going to people trying to dissect that success and reconstitute it into some sort of winning formula. And with that comes a lot of imitation and in the case of blogging, we lose a lot of what initially attracted people to the medium – the uniqueness of the voices and ideas expressed.
But I think things are still in early phases of development in this space, and there's still a lot of room to do new things and be rewarded with an audience. So I look forward to the next BIG thing that doesn't just throw in a twist on the existing formula, but completely turns it on its head. It's coming (and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't working on it myself).
How reputable has your site become with the athletic department at USC. Are you recognized as a legitimate aggregator of Trojan news by the school?
Legitimate is a tricky word when it comes to colleges and sports blogs, at least from what we've seen with TrojanWire. While the pro ranks seem to be embracing sports blogs a bit more, I think there's a lot of perceived risk by the administrators on the college side. The subjects you're covering are young kids without agents and managers and all the protective layers that your professional athletes can hide behind.
Now, this can be a bad thing (like those instances where a college athlete posts some ill-advised pictures on their Facebook profile, which then find their way to the sportsblogs), but I do believe it can be a great thing too. The best example of the positive that I can give is the Rey Maualuga experience we had a couple weeks ago.
A regular reader sent through a note from his young daughter, where she invited Rey, her favorite Trojan, to her 5th birthday party. We posted the note on the site, and after some back-and-forth between myself and Rey on Facebook, we wound up putting him in touch with the girl's dad, and they coordinated a birthday call from Rey – on a gameday no less – where he made the little girl's day by wishing her a happy birthday before his game vs. Arizona.
So I am hopeful that TrojanWire can continue to showcase all of the positives that we could bring to the University, and in doing so, increase our levels of legitimacy and access with the Athletic Department.
What's the secret for being able to sustain a quality site as long as you have, and still keep a day job in which you hold a lot of responsibility for direction of a multi-billion dollar company?
As I'm sure you can attest from your work on HHR, a lot of it has to do with not viewing your side projects as work, but as a way to spend more time working on the things you're passionate about. When they start to become a burden, that's when things start to unravel.
But another key I've found – when you have something good going, outside people want to get involved. And sometimes you can be overprotective and not as welcoming of that sort of outside contribution as possible. Try to quell that whenever you can. If you have people who want to get involved, do everything you can to give them a way to get involved. Whether it's just encouraging readers who leave intelligent/entertaining comments on your blog, or giving a young writer who wants to contribute an article a chance, you should always jump at the opportunity to bring people who share your passion on board.
Along those same lines, you seem to dabble in several sites (and several different types of sites). What is your ultimate goal with these? Many may be asking - why focus on them so much when you seem to have a fine primary gig?
Oh, I wish I could tell you why I spend so much time on so many different projects. Some of it probably has to be chalked up ADD…but I think a lot of it is just my own mechanism for keeping myself inspired creatively. There are days where the day job gives me all the fulfillment I could ask for, and others where having other outlets is the only thing that lets me maintain my sanity.
Does your work as a publisher and blogger influence your work with R/GA and vice versa? If so, how?
Yeah, it definitely has an impact. Obviously getting links from the right site can make a campaign…so taking advantage of my experiences and relationships in the blogosphere has proved invaluable on a number of different campaigns.
How much have you used your college major both professionally and in your side endeavors?
Since I'm still paying off my student loans, I really want to say that my college major was THE thing that helped make a lot of my successes possible. But if I was really pressed on it, I think I'd probably point to the relationships and experiences I got out of college as being the more valuable piece, as opposed to the fancy book learning I got from USC's Marshall School of Business.
Nature or nurture? Your job seems to be as much to do with creativity as it does academics. How much do you rely on academic experience as opposed to a creative sense?
I think it's mostly creative sense. The academic experience gives you the tools – which in many cases is just the ability to speak intelligently and confidently to clients, vendors and co-workers – but the creative sense is what guides most of your decision-making process.
What's the most rewarding part of your current job?
Working with such a diverse range of incredibly talented people. R/GA has people of every color, creed, size, age, etc. from every background imaginable, with a range of experiences that completely runs the gamut from veterans who have been working in technology since the days when it was ruled by Xerox and IBM to hotshot newcomers from the world's best schools to completely self-taught savants with mindblowing skills. There's no set template for employees at R/GA, and I think that has a lot to do with the creative brilliance that we're so consistently able to deliver.
Discounts on Nike shoes and apparel. Going out on shoots with the likes of LeBron, Kobe, Chris Paul, O.J. Mayo, Manu Ginobili, and a ton of other superstar athletes. There are plenty of other upsides (like spending 4th of July weekend in Akron, Ohio), but I don't want to make your whole audience blind with jealous rage.
Biggest hassles or obstacles?
As with anyone dealing with a client as massive and constantly in the spotlight as Nike, there's no slowing down. EVER. Which can actually be both a burden and a blessing, for someone as ADD as me.
Anything you would have changed during college to better prepare you? Relevant courses or internships you'd recommend?
I came through college at a point when digital/web technology was in its very early phases, and a lot of the computer science classes available at the time were focused on more software programming than core web development elements, which scared me off. Now that things have moved forward a bit, I've realized that the foundations of software development are more applicable on the web than I thought at the time…would love to go back and study computer science in greater detail.
What advice would you offer those looking to follow in your footsteps?
If your current day job or class schedule isn't giving you a good outlet for your passions, be they sports, movies, music or whatever, take advantage of the many tools available online today to create your own outlet for those passions. It'll help ensure that when the right opportunity comes up, you won't find yourself held prisoner by your resume.
And of course, live every week like it's Shark Week.
See all our "So You Want to Work in Sports?" Features Here.