The need for creative content has never been greater in the world of athletics than it is right now. From traditional media that have been around for years like posters, ads, ticket stock and billboards, to the newer forms of creative output like social media graphics, recruiting graphics and the beloved animated gifs, the new truth is this: you need designers. The problem is, many athletic organizations don't have experience hiring for that position. And they don't have creative directors that leading a team of designers that they can lean on to head that up. No, many times it falls to sports information directors, sport operations managers or marketing directors to hire for a skill set they do not possess. They know what to look for when hiring a coach. They know what to look for when hiring marketing assistants or sports info assistants. But hiring designers is tough. Hiring designers with an eye for sports is nearly impossible.
I've spent nearly two decades in athletics creative and for the past 14 years, I've hired or been a part of the hiring of a lot of designers, editors, animators and other creatives to help Old Hat develop top notch creative for the more than 150 sports organizations we've worked with. We have a process and we know what to look for (and not look for) when identifying talented individuals that know how to produce for sports. So here are some tips and tricks that can help you in your search for someone that can churn out all those social media graphics on signing day.
1. There's no "Eye" in Team - I've seen hundreds of portfolios and interviewed countless designers. Some of them are extremely talented. But an eye for design doesn't always equate to an eye for sports design. Sports design is a different animal and to succeed in this industry, you have to look at design a little bit differently. Most of the design world operates on a "less is more" philosophy. But I've always said that sports subscribes to the "more is more" design philosophy. So one thing to make sure you look for is someone that knows sports and has an eye for sports design. Some will have examples of that in their portfolio but for those that do not...
2. This is a test - No matter how talented they appear to be or how many examples of amazing sports projects they have in their portfolio, always send them a test project. Primarily, this shows me what they can do with a project from scratch. For all I know, their portfolio is full of ads they resized from another designer's template. So send them your logo, a few photos of your athletes, tell them what to create and see what they send back. You'd be surprised by how many designers that have amazing portfolios send back test projects that fall completely flat. If you get something amazing back from them, you're on the right track. But there are other things to keep in mind, like...
3. It's about more than talent - Talent can get you far but the sports industry is a lot more fast-paced than most. Sometimes we have to produce things with quick turnaround. Actually, that happens more often than not. And great designers have a reputation for wanting to take their time to get it just right. You also want to know how well they follow instructions, how well the can stay on brand and what their attitude is like when you give them feedback. So as a part of your test project, make sure to give them basic instruction on the design, but specific instructions on content. You want to see how the operate with creative freedom but you also want to make sure they can follow instructions. Give them a specific deadline and if they don't meet it, mark them off the list (bonus points for sending it early). Then, if you really want to get a feel for 1) how they are to work with and 2) how much they want the job, send revisions. At this point, you'll know if they have an eye for sports design, you'll know how good they are and you'll know how fast they are. What else do you need to know about them?
4. For love of the game - They might be good, they might be fast and they might have great attention to detail. But do they love sports? You're going to get a lot more out of them if they do. You want someone that gets excited by what they're doing for you. I always ask, "If you could get a job designing for any industry, what would it be?" or "What's the most fun design project you've ever worked on?" If their answer is that they want to work in the fashion industry or that their favorite design project was their cousin's wedding invitation, they're not for you. That's not to say that you can't get good work out of someone that doesn't love sports but if they're not passionate about what they do, the long hours, tight deadlines and coaches that change their minds 12 times are going to wear on them and their time with your organization will be short-lived. If you can find someone that has an eye for sports design, nails the test project, follows instructions, meets deadlines and absolutely loves sports... HIRE THEM. However, if you want to take it one step further, there's one more thing you can look for that will get you the holy grail of sports designers...
5. What color do they bleed? - This one is easy because you don't have to even ask them the question to find out the answer. Look at their resumé and see where they went to school. If they attended the some other institution, that's fine. They're probably worth hiring anyway. But if they list your school as their alma mater, that's one more mark in the W column for them because I can assure you that they'll pour themselves into their jobs even more if they have a pride in the organization they're working for. This doesn't work, of course, if you're hiring for a professional organization. But you can solve this simply by asking who their favorite teams are. Or simply look at where they're from. If you're hiring for the Pittsburgh Steelers and your candidate grew up in Dallas, they might not have the passion for the Steelers you want them to have. But if you find someone that meets all the criteria for a great sports designer and they went to your school or grew up in your town, you have a winner.
We Hire, Train and Consult
One thing to keep in mind is that if you still don't feel comfortable facilitating the hiring process, or if you'd like to have someone to train that individual prior to them taking their seat within your organization, is that Old Hat offers creative staffing services as a part of our mission to help sports organizations drive attendance to their events. We believe strongly that great creative can help fill the stands and we want to help organizations achieve that goal in every way possible. Therefore, we developed a program where we serve as your proxy to hire your creative staff. Here's how it works:
1. We Identify Candidates - We tap our network of sports designers we know from coast-to-coast to see who may be interested in a job in your organization. We also post the job on multiple creative job boards to get as large a pool as possible that are interested in working for you.
2. We Test Them - Over many years we have developed a number of test projects depending upon the job description and we put the candidates through the rigors to figure out who best meets the requirements.
3. We Interview - We narrow the pool based on talent and we interview them to see who would be the best fit.
4. We Recommend - Based on our tests and interviews, we submit a list of qualified candidates to you. You are the final decision maker on who gets the job.
5. We Train - As a part of our program, we bring your new staff member to Old Hat HQ to spend 2-4 weeks training under our design staff. We put them through a crash course in file management, project management, how to field requests, design tips and tricks, photography, motion graphics and more to make sure they are ready to roll when they begin working for you.
6. We Consult - The hardest part about being a designer in a sports organization is that often times, you're on an island. You're not surrounded by other creatives that you can learn from, bounce ideas off of, etc. It's a lonely gig. Old Hat solves this by being on retainer to answer questions, provide input and allow your designer to submit their ideas for feedback.
If you're interested in finding out more about our creative hiring services, download this PDF, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (405) 310-2133 x118.
Have you ever heard of New Braunfels, Texas? Have you heard of Schlitterbahn? Since more people answer yes to the second question than the first, I sometimes find it easier to just tell people I am from Schlitterbahn. Seems foolish, but it’s the truth: people know the town because of the water and fun-in-the-sun options the town can provide.
Growing up, every summer job I had involved the water. I realize that you probably didn’t come here to read about my childhood or be tempted by a relaxing vacation on the water (but if you did, I can make some recommendations). But bear with me. The reason I brought it up is that living and working where I did taught me several lessons I still use today.
Lesson 1: You need a process.
Just about everything you do in life requires some sort of process. Whether you’re juggling a busy workload or just deciding where to meet a friend for dinner, having a process helps you stay organized and get things done.
This is something I learned in my first job as a “tube boy.” Yep, that was the actual title. My role was to give tubes out to people who had rented them for the river. We only had a certain number of tubes available, and unfortunately it was quite a challenge to keep drunk people from losing or destroying an inflatable tube. There were only two of us managing thousands of tube rentals per day. Without a process, we wouldn’t have survived. The first summer was a lesson in what could go wrong, but it allowed us to break down the issues and figure out ways to handle them. Tubes not surviving more than two trips? We changed our inflation technique to give new tubes several days to cure in the sun, which allowed many of our tubes to last a whole summer. Tubers losing the tubes before return? We came up with a unique brand for our tubes that we showed renters and that our drivers could identify from across the river. Everyone in town knew which tubes were ours. The job was not the most exciting or educational, but I learned how to come up processes to solve problems, increase efficiencies, and do my job better.
Lesson 2: You have to be able to deal with drama.
Alcohol? Drama. A day in the sun physically exerting yourself? Drama. Water activities? Drama. People? Drama.
The experience of floating on the rivers in New Braunfels or going to Schlitterbahn can be incredibly fun, whether you’re there for a family vacation or an afternoon out with your friends. It can be the most fun you have all summer, but it can also lead to drama. Working in sports is similar. Everyone comes to a game with hopes that it will be one of their greatest experiences, but that doesn’t always happen. You learn to keep an eye out for people who might cause trouble or situations that could lead to frustration for the fans. You learn to spot the idiots and predict the issues before they arise. Knowing how to anticipate drama and defuse it was part of working on the river, and it’s also part of working in the sports industry.
Lesson 3: Knowledge is power.
Working at the river, we would always tell people “Only bring things with you that you are willing to lose.” Did they listen? Not really. Keys, wedding rings, prescription glasses, pocket knives, driver’s licenses, and even “my grandmother’s favorite necklace” were lost on those rivers.
We tried to educate people about the risk of losing things on the river, but not everyone listened to what we had to say. For those who listened, knowledge was power – they left their valuables somewhere safe and had a great experience. Those who ignored our advice and lost something that mattered to them often got frustrated, even though we had tried to tell them not to take whatever it was they’d lost. However, in that situation our knowledge became power. We knew the river well enough that we could often recover the items our customers had lost. Finding those lost car keys or that missing engagement ring made us heroes and it gave us the power to turn one-time customers into families that returned every year.
Working in sports is similar. You have to know where, how, and why people will get frustrated. You have to understand where their mind is and what resolution will help them walk away with good memories. Having this knowledge gives you the power to make someone’s day.
Lesson 4: You need a good team.
This is something that should be apparent in any industry, but starting out working on those rivers really set this in my mind. We would have to load 1000 tubes, 150 rafts, and 300 ice chests into a truck for transport. They then had to be unloaded and inventoried for the next day. To get through something like this efficiently, you have to work as a team. It only takes being slapped in the face once by a rope that was tied to a tube to understand how much you rely on your teammates. If everybody isn’t working together every step of the way, it’s a lot harder to get things done and sometimes the experience can be painful.
Lesson 5: You have to analyze results.
The importance of analyzing results is apparent to me every day in my current role, but it’s something I originally learned working on those rivers. From determining how many tubes to buy for a season or how long to stay open in the fall once school started, analysis was an important part of running the tubing business successfully. We even spent time trying to figure out how much trash was brought in and how many times per week our team needed to do a river clean-up to counteract the tubers.
A lot of the blogs I write end up focusing on the importance of analyzing results. That’s because analyzing results can help you reach any type of goal, whether that goal is personal or professional. In order to improve your future, you have to know how things have gone in the past and take the time to analyze what happened, why it happened, and how it could happen differently. Data gives you that ability. Data helps you grow.
New Braunfels was a great place to grow up. I learned many lessons; some good, some bad. While I never would have thought this at the time, the first few jobs I had working on those rivers are still helping me in my job today. What lessons did you learn in your first job that you still rely on?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you’re probably familiar LaVar Ball, his newly-drafted-by-the-Lakers eldest son Lonzo, and the family’s Big Baller Brand. From Mr. Ball’s loudmouthed media presence to the family’s recent random appearance on WWE, the Balls have been hard to ignore. Whether you find them entertaining or repugnant, they’re an interesting case study from a marketing perspective.
$495 shoes? Really?
The price tag certainly seems exorbitant for a newly established brand entering the shoe market, especially since the shoe is associated with a player who hasn’t even made his NBA debut. But before you write the pricing decision off as a bad one, let’s talk about it for a minute. It’s a known marketing principle that if you want to be seen as a prestige brand, you price high. Tesla didn’t come into the market with cars priced to sell to the masses, and Rolex wouldn’t be as coveted if they charged half as much for their watches.
The whole point of premium pricing is to communicate that a brand isn’t for everyone and that it’s a status symbol. As LaVar Ball said on Twitter, “"If you can't afford the ZO2'S, you're NOT a BIG BALLER." Premium pricing creates a sense of scarcity and conveys that the product is exclusive and high-end, giving consumers a reason to covet and desire it. In addition, start-ups and niche brands often need to price high in order to try to cover their cost of production. As a market entry strategy, it’s a risky move because you limit your potential purchasers and you’re asking people to shell out a lot of money to try an unproven product. However, it’s easier to start priced high and then either lower your prices or introduce a lower-priced alternative later than it is to introduce yourself as a mass-market brand and try to move upward. Only time will tell whether premium pricing is the right move for the Big Baller Brand.
Is any publicity good publicity?
Phineas T. Barnum (as in Barnum & Bailey Circus) is often credited with saying that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. LaVar Ball has certainly created his own media circus with outrageous comments, like saying you can’t win a championship with three white guys because their foot speed is too slow or claiming that Lonzo is better than Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. He made headlines for his heated comments to Kristine Leahy of Fox Sports 1 when she asked how many pairs of shoes Big Baller Brand had sold. And on Twitter, #LaVarBallSays enjoyed a Chuck Norris-esque moment this spring as Twitter users shared their own outrageous statements.
For a start-up brand with little or no media budget, earned media is a smart way to market yourself. Big Baller Brand is trying to independently break into a saturated and competitive market space, and you can’t do that without building brand recognition. It would have taken a massive marketing budget to gain as much awareness for the Big Baller Brand in such a short period of time as LaVar Ball has been able to gain for free with his antics. However, the controversial nature of his comments and the brand’s current lack of depth make this a dangerous game. LaVar Ball has already turned many people off. He might say they’re the people he doesn’t want associated with his brand anyway, but he may find out the hard way that there really is such a thing as bad publicity.
Although the U.S. media delights in drama, this type of approach has a limited shelf life. If Lonzo’s NBA career takes off as the Balls hope, and if the two younger Ball sons deliver media-worthy sports performances of their own in the next year, that will bring greater recognition to the Big Baller Brand and give it something sustainable (and positive) to talk about. If that happens, using periodic obnoxious commentary to keep the brand in the news and interesting to consumers could be a viable strategy as long as LaVar Ball doesn’t overdo it. But if insults and inflated claims are the only thing LaVar Ball and his brand have to offer in the long run, he’ll likely end up losing the spotlight - and business - as consumers tire of his hot air. After all, willingness to pay high prices for a brand is rooted in wanting to be associated with what that brand stands for.
Even though Lonzo Ball was one of the stars of this year’s college basketball season and the number two pick in the NBA draft, his voice isn’t usually the one you hear thanks to his outspoken father. A lot of people have wondered whether LaVar’s cocky, overbearing approach benefits his son or will end up costing Lonzo millions of dollars. One of the best things Lonzo could have done for himself and the Big Baller Brand is exactly what he did: publicly make fun of his situation. The fact that he roasted his father on national TV in an ad for Foot Locker instantly made Lonzo a more sympathetic and likable figure. And after being subjected to so much of Ball Senior’s bluster, who among us wasn’t talking about this ad when it came out? It’s the perfect first step for Lonzo as he begins growing into his own public persona outside of his father’s shadow. Does the ad mean a possible future partnership between Foot Locker and the Big Baller Brand? Hard to say, and speculation on that point may be exactly what the Balls hoped to drive. Regardless, the spot is a win-win for Lonzo Ball and Foot Locker…and indirectly for the Big Baller Brand. I don’t know if LaVar Ball was behind it or had a hand in it, but whoever came up with the idea was pretty darn smart.