Duke Men's Basketball fans are used to seeing great basketball, and thanks to our partnership with Duke Athletics over the past 4 years on Countdown to Craziness, their fans are also used to seeing an epic floor projection show to kick off the basketball season.

Every year we work with Duke Athletics to come up with something that's bigger and better than what was done the year before. This year was no exception. Months of planning and discussions happen before we even begin the video production process. This is necessary so that we can determine a theme and concept that the show centers around.

The concept behind this year's Countdown to Craziness Court Projection was bringing Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium back to life. The basketball court had been dormant since its last game in March and it just needed the electrical switch flipped to charge it back up to full craziness. Deep in the inner-depths of Cameron is the storied program's history. The heart of Cameron. This is where you'll find all of the buzzer-beaters, dunks, blocks, hustle plays, and hugs. This is where you'll find the banners and trophies. As each highlight continues to build the electricity goes into a complete frenzy. Once you step on Coach K Court you BECOME a part of it all. See for yourself!

 
 
 

Have you ever played the game “would you rather” with friends?

It’s a great conversation starter. Since we know a lot of credit union marketers want to start more conversations with Millennials and Gen Z – and that sometimes looking at research is exhausting when your day is already full of tasks and reports – we’ve put together a game of marketing “would you rather” for you. It’s the easiest game you’ll ever play, because we’ve provided answers based on statistics from 9GAG and GFK on consumers aged 18-34.

1. Would you rather have an easy job working for someone else OR work for yourself but work incredibly hard?

53% of those polled said they rather work for themselves but work incredibly hard. Millennials have taken some flak for being lazy, but they’re actually pretty entrepreneurial. Twenty years ago it was much harder to launch a business because you needed a brick-and-mortar location or at least a distribution channel, plus marketing yourself often meant pounding the pavement. Today, e-commerce gives Millennials greater opportunity to test the waters of self-employment and many of them are jumping in.

2. Would you rather be a smart person who’s never appreciated OR be an average person who gets all the praise in the world?

63% said they would rather be a smart person who’s never appreciated. These generations have grown up with unprecedented access to information at their fingertips. They’re used to finding answers quickly and learning on the fly. While they’d willingly give up recognition in favor of actual smarts, you can’t afford not to recognize them for who they are. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating them or talking down to them.

3. Would you rather gain 10 friends in real life OR gain 10,000 friends on Instagram/Twitter?

With 95% of those polled preferring to gain 10 friends in real life, we are seeing a shift in how the younger generations are interacting. Despite what older generations may think, Millennials and Gen Z see real value in face to face communication.

4. Would you rather lose the right to say anything on social media OR lose your right to vote in an election?

Younger generations want their voices to be heard, but you might be surprised to know that 67% felt the right to vote in an election was more important than being able to say whatever they want on social media. With all the recent attention on fake news in social media, there’s a growing recognition among Millennials that the real way to get their voices heard is by participating in politics and putting action behind their opinions.

5. Would you rather lose all your money and valuables OR lose all the selfies you have ever taken?

There’s no doubt that the 34-and-under crowd loves their selfies, but they’re also smart enough to realize that selfies don’t pay the bills for most people. A whopping 98% said they’d rather sacrifice their selfies than lose all of their money and valuables. So, you know money is valuable to them. How can you help them make more of what they have?

To build a stronger marketing strategy sometimes you need to have a little fun and get into the minds of those you are targeting. While some of these statistics might not be crucial to your marketing efforts, hopefully they’ve helped you get a better sense of what’s important to Millennials and the leading edge of Gen Z.

When you’re selling tickets, one of the main groups you need to appeal to is the millennial generation: the 18-34(ish) year old group of current students, recent grads, and local sports fanatics.

And guess what?

They’re broke.

Not just college-student-eating-ramen broke or first-job-small-salary broke, but seriously broke.

In 2016, there were more households in poverty headed by a Millennial than by a member of an older generation. Massive student loan is partially to blame: borrowers under the age of 39 are on the hook for 2/3 of the nation’s $1 trillion in student loan debt. Older generations often talk smack about lack of millennial responsibility and how they’re waiting longer to get married, buy a home, etc. but part of the reason this generation is lagging behind is because they simply can’t afford those “grown up” expenses.

Even though this group doesn’t have much money today and probably only makes up 25%-30% of your current revenue base, you shouldn’t write them off. Millennials are the biggest generation this country has ever spawned and they aren’t going to be broke forever. Just about the time Baby Boomers are dying off, Millennials will be hitting more solid financial ground and will represent the majority of your target audience.

So how do you get this strapped-for-cash group to spend money on tickets today?

Focus on the experience.

According to an Eventbrite report, Millennials are more likely to spend money on attending events than on material goods. They’re all about having experiences and creating memories. More than ¾ of Millennials credit an event or live experience with creating their best memories, and they’re eager to make more. When they come to a game, they’re there for more than just the game itself – they view it as an opportunity to hang out with friends or family and feel like they’re part of the action. They’re also driven by FOMO, so if you make your game the place to be they’ll want to be the one showing up and sharing it on social media.

Make it affordable.

Millennials love discounts and getting a good deal. What are you doing to put tickets within reach for this group? Think beyond simply offering discounted tickets for students and get creative. Have you tried a buy-one-get-one promotion to encourage greater attendance? Extended payment options for ticket packages? Geo-targeted digital ads that include a special offer in the days leading up to the game? According to a NACDA report, just over half of Millennials say they’d share their location in return for a relevant coupon or promotional deal, especially if it means better access at events. What about special discounts on game day? TodayTix (think Uber for ticket sales) did some research, and they found that men are 30% more likely than women to take advantage of last-minute sales. That’s an another insight worth keeping in mind as you design day-of-game discount promotions targeted at this group.

Even though the bad news is that Millennials don’t have much money to spend on tickets, the good news is that they’re more likely to spend their limited dough on experiences and events. Your challenge is to make your games both affordable and engaging. While this might not be your core fan base today, the more of a relationship you can form with Millennials, the more likely they’ll be to continue to support your program in the future when they’ve got some money to burn.

Collegiate athletics marketing is all about activating fan affinity. We pour painstaking effort into producing visually dynamic schedule posters with die-cuts, custom photography, stellar taglines and whatever the latest printing technique is so we can slap our fans in the face and get them excited about the upcoming season. We post social media graphics to let all of our followers know there's a game coming up or tell them about the game we just won. I could sit here and list out the hundreds of things we do, as an industry, that are aimed at activating the affinity that exists within our fans so they'll want to attend our events.

But that's where the problem lies. Read that statement again: ...activating the affinity that exists within our fans... If you think about it, most of what we do is focused on existing affinity. And we're just trying to activate it.

But what happens when there is no affinity to activate? What happens when you've run out of fans to activate affinity within? 

During the course of a recent research engagement, we discovered something very important about a particular university's market: the alumni base in that area is extremely small. Additionally, the alumni from this school are quite wealthy and their attention isn't just being pulled by other local entertainment options, it's being pulled by far-off, exotic weekend getaways. Even if we overcame the things that were pulling fans away and activated fan affinity in every member of the university's core local audience, we still wouldn't be able to fill the football stadium because the pool of people with an existing affinity is so small. 

The other mistake many programs make is assuming that alumni and/or fans that used to have affinity for their athletic programs still have affinity to be activated. We all like to think that because someone went to our university or used to come to our games, all we have to do is figure out how to activate that thing inside of them that will make them want to come back. But for a multitude of reasons, sometimes that's just not the case. Sometimes alumni don't care. Sometimes with former fans, it's too late.

Whether you're reaching out to people who have no ties to your athletic programs, alumni with little existing affinity for your programs or former fans that have grown apathetic, we must change the conversation from one of trying to activate fan affinity to one of creating fan affinity. It can be done, trust me. You see brands all over the world that go from non-existent to having extremely loyal "fans." They do this by creating affinity for their brands. 

Okay, great. Stop activating. Start creating. Where do we start? 

Research.

A coach wouldn't develop a strategy to win a game without first scouting the opponent. In the same way, you must scout your opponent. Your opponent is apathy toward your program.

1. Who are THEY?

First things first: figure out who is in your market and speak their language. Time and time again, I've seen athletic organizations invest in a marketing plan targeted at individuals that may not even exist. The prospect group you envision is probably out there, but you have to make sure there are enough of those people in your market to move the revenue needle if you reach them and convert them. For instance, if you think the people most likely to attend your events are single men and you target your message to them, you're going to have a problem if your market is actually full of 35-year-old mothers of two. If you know your market is full of PhDs, your message will be different than if you think it's full of factory workers. 

2. Who are YOU?

Now that you know who you're trying to reach, you have to figure out a way to position yourselves in a way that is appealing to those most likely to come to your events. What makes what you have to offer better than what is competing for your potential fans' time? Remember, we're creating affinity here. We're trying to appeal to potential fans that have no feelings one way or another toward our programs. Is your gameday experience family-friendly? Are you priced well? Are you a Power 5 school with big name opponents coming in? There's no right or wrong answer. You just have to figure out why what you're offering is better than whatever you're competing with.

3. Find Compatibility

Now that you know who your potential fans are and you've done a deep dive into figuring out who you are, you have to find common ground. If 35-year-old mothers are making decisions about what to do with their young children on Saturday afternoons, the hard-hitting action of top name opponents probably isn't what is going to appeal to them the most. At the same time, if big hairy men are your target, talking up the hard-hitting action may be the way to go. We may be perpetuating stereotypes here, but marketing is based largely on understanding the typical characteristics and preferences of big groups of people and tapping into those likes and needs in order to make a connection and influence a decision. It works for every other industry in the world. It will work for you. Think of it like having a conversation with your father-in-law... if he's a mechanic and you're in marketing, you're not going to insist on talking about marketing or he'll check out. You do some research and figure out that he's really into competitive duck-herding. OMG, you're into competitive duck-herding! Now you have something to talk about at Thanksgiving. Find out what you and your fan base have in common. Then connect over it.

 The reality is this: die-hard fans are coming to your games no matter how amazing your poster and social media graphics are. So marketing to them is like paying for the free mints at the end of a meal. And that's exactly who you're marketing to with the die-cut, 3D, pop-up, scratch-n-sniff schedule posters and animated gifs of Jimmy hitting that three-pointer. Don't get us wrong: there's a place for that when it comes to maintaining your fan base. But if you want to actually grow your fan base, you need to create affinity for your athletic programs. Do some research or engage someone to help you do some research. If you figure out who your potential fans are and then figure out who you are, you have what you need to drive attendance.

 

If you have worked in any industry that has physical locations, you have probably at least heard of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance. When most people think of ADA compliance, they think of things like wheelchair accessibility and other facilities requirements. It’s natural to include ADA considerations in your $100 million stadium project, but have you ever thought about ADA compliance when it comes to your website? 

ADA compliance for websites is a convoluted and sometimes difficult thing to understand, but let's take a look at what you need to know.  

There a few groups of businesses that must adhere to ADA compliance law:  

  • Businesses with 15 or more employees
  • State and local agencies
  • Businesses with public accommodations and commercial facilities

The last one is where most organizations are covered, which is Title III of ADA law. 

“...the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of "public accommodation" by any person who owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation. Public accommodations include most places of lodging (such as inns and hotels), recreation, transportation, education, and dining, along with stores, care providers, and places of public displays.”

Although ADA law was written for physical facilities, recent court cases show that it is now being applied to the digital world. For example, supermarket chain Winn-Dixie was recently ruled to have violated a blind man's rights because the coupons presented on their site were only images and could not be read by a screen reader. As a result of this case, Winn-Dixie was required to update their site to make all of their content screen reader friendly.

The ADA standards for websites are still in development (with a tentative release date in 2018), so the judge in this case made his ruling based on WCAG 2.0 (WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). These guidelines were created by the World Wide Web Consortium and updated in 2008. They’re currently the standard by which sites are measured for accessibility.  

The WCAG 2.0 guidelines have four basic principles:

Principle 1 – Perceivable. Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.

Principle 2 – Operable. User interface components and navigation must be operable.

Principle 3 – Understandable. Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.

Principle 4 – Robust. Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

See the full breakdown here

The bottom line is that people need to be able to consume your content and take advantage of what you offer online, regardless of their disability.  

WCAG 2.0 is also broken down to different levels of conformance. 

A. This is the lowest level of conformity. The goal here is to make the site accessible (readable) to most browser and screen readers. While this is an improvement to a lot of websites, it is not at a level that would that provide a lot of benefit for impaired users and is not at a level that the court cases have mandated sites (in those cases) achieve.  

AA. This makes a site considerably more accessible. It will not change the look of a site completely, but will put it in a much safer place in terms of compliance. It includes guidance on errors and even some on color contrast. Most businesses will be fine achieving this level of compliance and it seems this is the level the courts are pushing on the sites. AA is also recommended by the WCAG themselves. 

AAA. This level is considerably more robust and typically requires significant changes on most sites. It does make the site accessible to the widest range of disabilities. Site design would be heavily impacted by this level.  

Each of these guidelines is broken down in more detail on the WCAG website, but for most people the AA guidelines should be the aim.  

So how does this affect you? It depends on your website. There are a lot of tools out there that can check your site for compliance. There are also several firms that will offer you services to do the same. 

Here are a few key things to keep in mind. First, ADA compliance starts with programming. Make sure the people who are building your site know what they are doing and are following WCAG protocols. They should be educated about ADA compliance and be able to answer your questions. Second, think about the purpose of your site. Is it an extension of a physical location? If so, what services are offered at the physical location and can those be offered on the website? ADA compliance is all about accessibility and equal access. Having a phone number or a live chat option on your site can go a long way toward enhancing accessibility, especially if those resources are available 24/7.   

While a lack of web-specific ADA law makes compliance a little challenging, following the WCAG guidelines and keeping accessibility in mind will help you offer people an online experience that is as accessible to them as an in-person experience at your physical location.

YouTube is the social media channel for all things video, from self-promotion to how-to lessons to crazy cat antics. It’s the place where brands go to connect with a variety of audiences, where consumers go for information and entertainment, and where social influencers can make a living.

In August, Adweek published an article about what’s hot on YouTube now based on research that Zefr conducted on Gen Z and their YouTube habits. It’s no surprise that right now, back-to-school is top of mind for this generation, as many will be headed to college this fall. Here are the four main types of back-to-school videos they are watching.

1. DIY - 341 million views - Buzzfeed has turned this category upside down by inspiring brands to post their tips and tricks, and clearly it’s resonating. If members of Gen Z want to know how to do something, this is their first stop.

2. Essentials - 286 million views - Essentials feature what’s new in school supplies, clothing, tech and dorm reviews. Gen Z loves to research, so don’t expect them to buy a name brand product if it has received negative reviews. Word of mouth is king, and YouTube is one of Gen Z’s most trusted resources.

3. Commentary - 198 million views - When members of Gen Z need to find the answer to anything, they go to YouTube. It’s also where they like to share their opinions. In this category, you will find vlogs, skits, plus college comparisons and reviews.

4. Regimens - 132 million views - This is a pretty broad category that includes meal prep, hairstyle tutorials and getting ready routines. Gen Z is looking for ways to make their days more efficient.

If you’re marketing to Gen Z, here are three ways you can connect with this audience through YouTube.

1. Post back-to-school related content.  Think about what information Gen Z fans might find relevant or useful right now.  Topics like how to become a member of the student section, where to find game schedules and promotions, and how to easily attend games and events. If you want to be top of mind, you need to find ways to make your brand more relevant in their eyes. Become a friend, not just another business.

2. Place digital ads in back-to-school videos. The great thing about digital marketing is you can tailor your content to be presented in certain types of videos. If you are targeting this younger demographic, this is where they are. The numbers don’t lie: with a 100% YOY (year over year) increase in back-to-school video views on YouTube, this trend is not going away anytime soon. It’s the right place and the right time for digital advertising if you want to communicate with this audience.

3. Bring on an influencer. Research shows that Generation Z looks at social media influencers as bigger stars than TV and movie personalities. This is great for brands because it gives you an affordable and natural way to engage this audience. Social media influencers create their own content, so that’s less work your staff has to do on social media. Do some research, find an influencer who’s the right fit for your brand, and let them help you engage Gen Z.

For as long as I've been working in athletics, this industry has always focused heavily on project work. Meaning, it is rare that you find an athletic department that engages a firm or a designer to be a strategic partner. Most of the time, it's more about finding a designer or firm that can quickly churn out random projects. While that type of partner may meet your short-term needs from an efficiency (time-to-market) standpoint when you need last minute help, it’s not a partnership that’s going to help you move the needle in a meaningful way.

Here’s why treating the external designer or creative agency you work with as a strategic partner helps you get the most bang out of your marketing buck.

1. They’re able to think strategically on your behalf. When your partner understands your strategic plan, they’re going to be a lot more successful in designing projects that help you achieve your goals. That’s because they’ll be more likely to ask critical questions (like why you’re doing the project, why a certain message is your priority, and why certain media channels have been selected) or already know the answers to those types of questions. This knowledge translates into work that delivers meaningful impact.

2. They’re more likely to get it right the first time. When you hand a designer or creative agency a random project, they often won’t be aware of what has worked for you in the past or the nuances of your brand. That makes it a lot harder for them to come back to you with something that really resonates with you and your fans or donors. When a designer or firm is familiar with your brand and your strategy, they’re better able to deliver something that meets or exceeds your expectations without needing a lot of edits.

3. Your brand will be more consistent. Even if you’ve used a particular individual or firm before, there will be a gap in their brand familiarity if you only rely on them in a pinch. That increases the risk that they’ll design something that isn’t entirely on brand. Inconsistent messaging disrupts brand momentum and degrades the trust of both your staff and your fans. When your firm or designer is regularly part of conversations about your brand and its evolution, they’re able to help you deliver the right message to the right people through the right channels.

Treating your external designer or creative agency as a strategic partner enables us to do what we do best: discover how to connect the department’s objectives to fans’ needs. It means marketing decisions are made based on the strategic plan and with attention to brand values and positioning, not just on a “how quickly can we get this out there” basis. These practices help to create a stable, trusted brand in the minds of staff, fans and the community.

It's safe to say that fans attend the same sporting event for many different reasons. Some go strictly for the game itself. They grab a program upon entry to the stadium and intensely keep stats throughout. Some go for a more social experience. They may have no idea who's even playing that day, but it's a great environment to hang out with some buddies. If you're like me, you may go for a mix of reasons. I love the overall experience, while still paying attention to the game itself, but my absolute favorite part is everything in between. 

While growing up, my dad would take us to games, but he would make us get there TWO hours early. I don't know if he was worried about Dallas traffic or what, but sometimes we were there before the gates opened. As a young child, it seemed like we would have to wait FOR-EV-ER for anything to start happening...you know...players warming up, people filling the stands, seeing anything at all on the jumbotron. But, because of his compulsion to be early to absolutely everything, I learned to love what we call the "fan experience" parts of the game.

Nowadays, I find myself wanting to arrive to a game early enough to be sure I don't miss the pre-game activities. I love when it's lights out and the intro video plays. #goosebumps everytime. I love timeouts/in between plays to see what fun things will happen. Who will they show on the video board? What race can I "bet" against my friends and possibly win something (even if just pride)? Whose life will instantly change when they make that million dollar half court shot? 

My absolute favorite part of Texas Rangers games growing up was watching The Dot Race. What's so special about a red, green, and blue dot running in circles around a pixely baseball diamond on screen? No idea, but I loved it. The race takes place in the 6th inning or so, and around the 4th, they would hand out the coupons. Sitting through those two innings seemed to go in slow motion for me...gosh, I couldn't wait. And what was the winning prize? A bottle of OZARKA WATER! You'd think I could win a new car with how excited I was. 

So, why did I bring up the Dots? Because, while some sponsor elements or "fan experience" things may seem silly, people love them! And they want to interact. They want to dance crazy on the dance cam and become an internet sensation. They want to flex their muscles and lift their kid up like Simba in the Lion King. They want to brag to their friends that they picked the right hotdog or president to win the race. It's all part of the game. Live sports and fan entertainment have become so much more intertwined that it is more expected than an "extra" benefit to attending the game. Remember when the New York Knicks went silent? No one knew how to handle that. 

We want to help you first and foremost drive attendance to your events, but also give your fans the best experience possible. Sponsors are looking for more than a PA announcement and static logo these days. They want people to be talking about them long after they leave the game. Luckily, we have some ideas.

People love bobbleheads. Or, at least my mom does. She times her Rangers game attendance for the bobblehead giveaways. So, why not give away a bobblehead and also feature that on the video board for a shuffle game? Have you seen this?

We can shuffle other things as well. Recently, for the New Orleans Babycakes, we shuffled King Cakes behind their logo.

Speaking of races, we have something for that too. Design a Derby with your most beloved players/coaches, or even fans to get the crowd going wild. One of our all time favorites is this one we did for North Texas a few years ago. It featured the football coach at the time, and he even provided audio clips for us to use. We also had the play-by-play announcer, who just so happens to be a prominent sports radio guy in Dallas, provide some voice overs as well.  

 Okay, so what if you want to get people up and dancing? Who wouldn't want to dance after seeing something like this?

There's plenty more where that came from. Give us a shout if you have the next crazy "cam" idea or obscure object you want to see racing on your screen. Let's make it happen.

Everyone seems to be talking about Snapchat as the hot new social media platform. Actually, it really isn’t that new. Snapchat first made an appearance in 2011. Let’s put some perspective around that. Remember the hit song “Friday” by Rebecca Black? What about the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton? The final installment of Harry Potter was released. Yeah, Snapchat has been out that long! 

The platform has made some major strides the past year that have contributed to its growth. Here’s what you need to know about how Snapchat is growing up. 

1. Millennials and Gen Z have gotten on board.

If you want to connect with younger generations, Snapchat is where it’s at. The platform is basically a glorified emoji creator, so it really resonates with consumers who have embraced the emoji trend.

 

Millennials and Gen Z use the platform to communicate with their friends in fun creative photos. If your brand wants to reach users via Snapchat, keep that in mind. Snapchatters want to be entertained, not sold to. If you decide to add Snapchat to your marketing mix, do it with content that leans into the fun, quirky aspect of the platform.

2. It’s not permanent.

Snapchat deletes all content after a 24 hour period. With social media being so prominent, a lot of users try to keep their channels clean and concise. The fact that Snapchat does the work for them has contributed to the platform’s popularity.

As a marketer this can be confusing. How do you maintain a channel that doesn’t have content on it? They key with Snapchat is maintaining a consistent presence and voice. NASCAR is a brand that currently does this well. They have a staff member who controls their Snapchat and is constantly adding new content.

3. Geofilters.

Snapchat users love a fun, interactive geofilter because it’s a way of being in the moment in a particular location.

As a marketer you can log into the backend of Snapchat and draw a geofence around the area you want the geofilter to be placed. This gives marketers full control of the area in which the filter will be seen. You have to pay for geofilters, but they’re relatively inexpensive. Snapchat has adjusted its pricing to offer an annual plan that allows you to maintain a geofenced area and swap out your creative filter as often as you like.

4. Snapmap

If you have been hiding under a rock the past couple of weeks you might have missed Snapchats biggest update, the Snap Map. This new feature allows users to share their location on an interactive map.

Think of it as a way for users to find their friends and join in on their activities. Well, that is how Snapchat is selling it. With the initial launch there has been a lot of fear in “strangers” finding users. This is is not 100% verified because the map will only show your friends. So a random user will not be able to find you.

As a marketer this new feature doesn’t lend itself to you. There is no advertising you can do in this and we don’t see that happening anytime soon. What you as a marketer can do with this feature is see what hot events are happening around you. If you want to do some event marketing and be where a lot of users are, check the map and see the live hot spots. If a sporting event is happening you will see a red spot on the map, and if you click on that red spot you will start seeing snapstories. Don’t worry it doesn’t share Snapchat usernames, just the content you are sharing. This is your time to send staff to these locations to do some guerilla marketing.

Overall the platform is still focusing on the user and not marketers. That could change in the near future because Snapchat is now open to investors and with dropping numbers the platform will need to start pulling in more dollars. For now, enjoy the platform and don’t stress about being perfect with it.

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 zac@oldhatcreative.com or call (405) 310-2133 x118.

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