At this time last year, Gritty was just an orange twinkle in the eyes of the Flyers marketing team. He didn’t have a shape or a name, but the team knew birthing him in a city like Philadelphia wouldn’t be easy.
Mascot guru Dave Raymond, the first Philly Phanatic and the person who helped create Gritty, told the Flyers that people might hate on the new mascot for up to two months — and that was before they even knew what he would look like.
To get through that period, the marketing team decided it would lean on social media, where they could emphasize Gritty’s Philly attitude and “defend the city,” said Joe Heller, vice president of marketing and communications for the Flyers.
And so, within 24 hours of Gritty’s reveal, the city of Philadelphia started defending him.
On Thursday, Heller and the six-member Flyers marketing crew spoke about Gritty’s viral success at a Philly Tech Week panel.
“I’m still personally floored that this is even happening,” Heller said.
Gritty even appeared at the event, crashing his brain trust’s panel and quickly turning the techies in the audience into selfie-seeking fanboys and fangirls. He tried to sit quietly in the front row but ended up proposing marriage, demanding hand kisses, and performing CPR.
Here are the five best secrets we learned at Philly Tech Week’s Gritty panel.
While Gritty was in development, the marketing team didn’t know what kind of man or beast they were going to get, so the code name to refer to the mascot was “pigeon.”
“There’s really no animal that can define what a Flyer is, and we really didn’t want to go into the aviation space ... so the placeholder all along was a pigeon,” Heller said. “We’d always joke that it was going to be a pigeon because the pigeon is the animal that represents Philadelphia.”
Cult of personality
Gritty’s first tweet, “It me #Gritty," coincided with his reveal at the Please Touch Museum in September. But the tweet that first endeared him to Philadelphians came later that day, when the Pittsburgh Penguins responded to Gritty’s reveal photo with “lol ok.”
Gritty’s response: “Sleep with one eye open tonight, bird.”
Marketing communications coordinator Lauren Capone told the story behind what she called Gritty’s “first personality tweet.”
After Gritty’s launch event, the marketing team scrolled through Twitter backstage.
“The amount of tweets that were coming in were astronomical, and we were all glued to our phones,” Capone said. “There were people calling for all of our jobs, calling for all of our heads. ... It was so absurd and so much more than we expected.”
When the team saw the Penguins tweet, they knew they had to seize the moment. Digital media coordinator Lauren Robins came up with the phrasing, Capone said.
“It was sort of that first splash of, OK, this is a Flyers mascot, it’s our brand to be tough and to do our thing. It was the initial push of his personality into the world,” she said.
Gritty’s Men in Black
Following the event, we asked Sarah Schwab, the Flyers’ director of marketing and the emcee for Thursday’s panel, about the security guards who are always tailing Gritty at his appearances.
Schwab said Gritty’s guards serve a purpose — he needs handlers to help him get around. And the black suits? Those are just a fun touch.
One secret Schwab refused to reveal: Why does Gritty’s belly button change colors?
Six heads, one phone
While all six members of the Flyers marketing team have a hand in writing Gritty’s tweets, they only go out through one phone to make sure “we’re staying on his brand and staying in his voice," said Christine Mina, manager of digital media.
Mina said the team also keeps a running dossier of everything they’ve built into Gritty’s story and personality so they can “keep him true to who he is.”
“He’s a person, and he has likes and dislikes and a story like all of us, so it’s very important for us to stay true to that,” she said. “That’s part of what makes it so fun for everyone. They’re learning his story as we are.”
That’s all, folks
In an early version of Gritty’s costume, he was Porky Pig-ing it and totally pantsless.
But the performer who plays Gritty is taller than the design team anticipated, which caused Gritty to look like he had chicken legs. So they gave him pants.
And for that, we all give our thanks.