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Following on from our insightful discussion with the Head of Digital at Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club, we’re now switching the sporting theme from football to rugby. This feature is quite apt for our agency, with our digital agency situated right in the heart of Rugby town centre; home-place of the sport back in 1823!

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Who better to learn about how the digital function operates in the game of rugby than to speak to Ben Fox, Head of Digital at Rugby Europe. Rugby Europe was formed in 1999 and is the administrative body for rugby union in Europe.

1. Please introduce us to yourself Ben. Can you explain a little about your role and responsibilities at Rugby Europe?

I joined Rugby Europe back in March 2020, arriving in Paris a couple of weeks before the initial lockdown before retreating back to Scotland where I worked remotely (in between another couple of attempts to move back to Paris unsuccessfully..) until January 2021 when I finally managed to settle. My role is basically anything to do with digital – website development and editing, content creation, social posting, video editing and copywriting.  It’s also a key part of my role to work with the unions to help provide any support and guidance when possible. We live stream all our games so our role here is to also make sure that it runs smoothly, we have commenters well briefed, the stream works etc. 

2. How have you adjusted to moving from Edinburgh to Paris? 

Thankfully I’m finally getting into the French way of life, as there was so much back and forth, not really having a proper place to call home, it wasn’t exactly your usual way of starting a new job. Paris isn’t too different from Edinburgh, as you can walk most places, feel pretty safe around the city and both have ridiculous views and landmarks. The food here is incredible, so different compared to back home, but you just don’t seem to get a bad meal anywhere (or wine) but they need to up their craft beer game a bit…


3. How big is your digital team and are you all exclusively in-house?

In terms of actual employee’s there are two of us who work in the ‘comms department’ but we work with a wide-range of freelancers and external suppliers and agencies to try and lighten the load. 

4. Has the pandemic impacted the digital team’s workload and in what way?

It did initially, especially as travel is a big requirement of the job and that obviously wasn’t possible until 2021, but now things in Europe have eased off a bit travelling has been back to normal and I’ve been fortunate to go some incredible places over the last 12 months (Tbilisi, Kaliningrad, Coimbra, Valladolid are all highly recommended).

5. Are there any digital products or tools that you would advocate for use beyond Google Analytics that have proved useful to Rugby Europe in understanding engagement and their experience through your digital platforms?

Hmm, well in terms of basic tools, I’d say Tweetdeck is invaluable for sifting through content that just isn’t usually easy to find with the key word searches, particularly when budgets are tight. 

The free version of Hotjar i’ve also found pretty useful for just seeing the simple user journeys and identifying things that might not have been obvious to the naked eye. I think working in sport it can be easy to fall into the trap of ‘well I can see it so it must be clear’ and I was surprised that it didn’t always work out like that.

6. With the increasing need for remote collaboration, have there been any tools or apps that your team have found particularly useful as a result?

Again, I know it’s fairly obvious but Sharepoint is something we’ve utilised internally pretty well, particularly when documents are ‘live’ so you are able to see constant changes.

7. It’s fairly clear when comparing the websites of the 6 nations vs the other European countries on the Rugby Europe site, that some are fairly behind with their digital properties. With the game growing rapidly and emerging nations such as Georgia over recent years, do you think their digital efforts will follow suit?

The difference in digital assets with our unions that we work closely with on a regular basis has seen huge improvement, even since I’ve started. We have seen real investment now being made by unions, with Georgia and Russia in particular, online and social would compete with some of the 6 Nations output in recent times. You have to also take into account that my previous employers, Scottish Rugby, have 6 times the amount of bodies compared to many unions (and us) across comms, digital and commercial. It’s clear there has been great progress and one of the things I love about this job is seeing the gap between ‘Tier 1’ and ‘Tier 2 unions close. Below our Championship there has also been great success stories in their grasp on digital such as Lithuania, Poland and Czech Republic to name a few. 

8. What are the key changes you’ve noticed over recent years in the way Rugby nations use social media to engage fans?

I’d actually say rugby is still a fair bit behind in terms of embracing different types of technology, especially coming from cricket originally, but social use has improved. Behind the scenes ‘Neflix-style’ content is becoming more and more popular with the 02 England documentary series and the British and Irish Lions leading the way. 

9. What would you deem the most important and influential channels to be?

We launched a new website last year and that is undoubtedly our most key channel, everything we put there is constantly consumed, especially as we live stream all our games from all divisions. Twitter is big for us socially, just to ensure the narrative of what we do is being told, while we get more engagement with our FB page also key aimed towards an older audience.. It’s clear that Instagram has the best growth for us so we try and keep that regularly updated with content, reels for us on this platform also brings in huge numbers in comparison.


10. What are your top tips for anyone working in digital to looking to work overseas?

I’d say the biggest thing I’d say from my time abroad is learning to have a thick skin and say what you want to say – people appreciate that perhaps more than the UK culture. Working in digital means you usually are behind the scenes, but when it comes to your personal life, take yourself out of your comfort zone and do things you wouldn’t usually do. Ok, so my French isn’t quite where I would like it to be, but everyday if you make the effort to learn and try to speak the language it goes a long way. Also when you are away on trips, a few basics of where you are going gets you good will (and when it’s very wrong it’s also a good ice breaker). 

11. Finally, have you ever been to Rugby town and if so, how do you think it could improve as the home of Rugby (the sport)?

I’ve never been to Rugby town, but I have spent a bit of time in Warwickshire watching the cricket there, it’s one of the best for country cricket and a day in Hollies Stand is well worth a day out! 

Many thanks for the insights Ben. You can engage with the Rugby Europe website here.

Stay tuned for part 3 in our Q&A series!

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