3 Tips to Solidify your Pro Athlete Endorsement

Finding the right athlete who stands above all the rest to endorse your product or brand can be a circuitous challenge if you do not have a proper strategy for aligning the right personality with the role. It’s important to have a clear outcome and goals defined first, before aligning an athlete with your brand. By creating a plan for your promotion strategy based on specific goals, a brand manager can use the Invizzible Ink Selection Model for choosing an athlete and be confident their project will produce a favorable return on investment. Setting goals may seem like an obvious statement, however marketers are sometimes captivated by the opportunity to work with an A-lister, that they miss their target audience. When this occurs, not only does the project result in an unfavorable outcome from an investment standpoint, but your brand suffers a set-back in a volatile economy. It makes far greater sense to understand your entire project and choose representation based on a desired outcome, not a desired athlete.

The Invizzible Ink Selection Model is a personalized and multifaceted marketing tool used by brands to ensure their goals are met. The foundation of the selection model was built on a number of essential marketing elements that have proven to increase brand awareness, resonance, and revenue. The formula itself is complex in its entirety, however many of the weights assigned to each variable are simply common sense understandings of the sports world and market. While experience has proven to be a leading variable for our brand, it’s not the only element with which we have to base our decisions. What we can share today are tips to consider when choosing the right athlete to be the ambassador of your brand. Remember: No strategy is aligned for success without a plan and specified goals…

1. Background Check… Not with the DMV either. Depending on your project, your brand may have a need for a grassroots ambassador, or a major Public Relations identity. In either case, its vital to the success of the campaign to have the right person in place. One way to ensure your brand has the right person in place is to do your homework. Researching candidate’s backgrounds, i.e. – college course of study, family, interests outside of sports are just a few criteria I research before recommending an athlete. For example, if your firm is looking for a sports figure to be the spokesperson for a national PR campaign, you probably don’t want someone uncomfortable in a public speaking role. Going to a search engine and doing some light stalking will produce a plethora of information valuable to gaining insight to a sports figure. An athlete with a communications degree, a broadcast journalism degree, or a similar course of study will position your brand with an interested and qualified athlete. When this happens, the believability of the athlete’s message is increased and brand resonance is attained. By putting the right people in the right places, as Jim Collins expalins in his book, Good to Great, a win-win scenerio is accomplished for both athlete and brand.

2. Does your Brand align with a foundation or charity? Many athletes today have their own foundation, 501 c3, or preferred charity and will align their interests or even passions with brands that support the same programs. Particularly to those brands or organizations looking to hire sports figures in your smaller markets, this bit of information may be a gold mine. If your organization can align itself with this type of athlete while being savvy and strategic, you may find yourself a partner as opposed to paying for a speaker.

3. Who are you getting? — A good teammate? Good in the locker room? Have they worked with other brands? — Brand managers in the sports industry need to know the answers to these questions before signing a deal. I’ve seen far too many examples of athletes showing up late or not showing up at all for an appearance on behalf of an organization or brand, that it literally ruined the event. Disappointed students at a school, fans holding jerseys to be signed at the mall, teams waiting in the locker room before taking the field… Seen it all and felt for all of them. At the end of the day, if your organization is going to align with an athletic figure… Remember, there is a person behind that figure. All-Pro linebackers do not equate to all-pro people. The kids at your local middle school would much rather meet a pro football player and hear his story of what it’s like to be a back-up and play special teams in the NFL, rather than be big-timed by the star and promised a reschedule.

Commitment Issues???

Recently friend and colleague Dr. Chris Stankovich wrote about athletic transferable skills an athlete learns from sports, and how those skills can be used in situations such as a classroom, a future career, and in life. Dr. Stankovich gave a few examples of these skills including: discipline, being a team player, motivation, goal setting, and I’d like to add commitment.

We’ve all been on some type of team in our life whether it be a sports team, a work team, a family, or just a group of friends. Think back to that team you were a part of and recall if there was a true sense of commitment not only to the team, but also to team excellence. Vince Lombardi said, “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of thier chosen field of endeavor.” Lombardi had a way with words that still echoes in every football coaches office in this country. Football coaches are notorious for one-liners and repeating slogans handed down from the generations… It’s not necessarily that current coaches do not have creativity or originality, rather the slogans and beliefs of the Vince Lombardi’s of the world were simple and believable, and maybe best described as motivational. I think Lombardi’s messages and certainly this particular quote resonates deeper than simply the locker room. The commitment that Lombardi is referring to is the same transferable skill Dr. Stankovich tells us we can learn from sports and use in other aspects of our lives.

After watching this video and listening to the greatest football coach of all time describe the game of football in his own words, I think we can relate to what Dr. Stankovich meant by a transferable skill. It doesn’t matter what field one is in, if you go about your work with the passion and conviction that Vince Lombardi did, you’re a winner. Vince Lombardi breathed, lived, and died football. Football was more than a part of him; football was in his soul. His voice still gives me goosebumps when I hear him talk about the game of football because for a long time, that was how I felt. Luckily I found another passion after football because I don’t know how a person can stop something they feel that strongly about.

Lombardi mentions twice in his speech the importance of having a commitment to excellence… He mentions this because it’s the right way to represent your family, the right way to coach and play sports, and it’s the right way to do our jobs. While I don’t believe I’m as good at sports marketing as Lombardi was at coaching football… (yet) I do believe having a commitment to excellence is a sure way of becoming the best at whatever it is any of us aspire to be. Whether it be a football coach, a marketer, a ditch digger, or a parent; listen to Coach Lombardi talk about the fulfillment and reward of working as a team to accomplish a goal and try to incorporate that same sense of unity in what it is that you do… Individual accomplishment is great, but “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi (1913-1970)

Broncos get Right Coach for the Job

The Denver Broncos recently hired a good friend and college teammate as the newest member of their coaching staff. Craig Aukerman was named defensive assistant coach after serving in the college ranks for ten years. I’m extremely proud of my friend and do not have a doubt in my mind that he will be an asset to their coaching staff. Craig has always displayed greatness on and off the field and I am confident that he will continue to be just that.

As we talked yesterday on the phone I asked him what he thought of the playbook and the sytem the Broncos exercise on defense… As I expected, he mentioned learning the extensive playbook would be his first challenge as a new coach in a new system. – Knowing Craig though, he will impress the coaching staff in Denver with his work ethic and football intelligence; and ultimately learn the playbook.Earlier today I read some cynical comments on Bronco blogs negatively portray the Bronco’s hire due to his small college experience at Western Kentucky, Miami (Ohio), and Kent State. I don’t want to bash the fans because they are the reason the NFL is what it is, but if you are hating on a guy because of where he learned to be a coach I have to ask the question… Are college athletes really that different in the MAC than they are in the Big 10 or the ACC or even the SEC? Does teaching a five-star collegiate athlete better suit a coach for the next level compared to teaching a three-star athlete? – I pose this rhetorical question because I don’t know the answer from a psychological perspective… From a physical ability standpoint I think generally we all agree that athletes are better equipped at Ohio State University than they are at Ohio Northern Universtiy but that’s the obvious.Here’s an example: Take a small college safety compared to a NFL safety reading the eyes of a quarterback from a cover-three zone. This means that the defensive player is watching the quarterback prepare to throw the ball and then breaking in the direction of the pass as soon as he believes he knows where the pass is going. A small college safety who runs a 4.6 second forty yard dash may have great instincts and as a result have many pass break ups and interceptions throughout the course of a season. The NFL safety who runs a 4.3 forty yd. dash may have decent instincts but not as many pass break ups or interceptions over the course of a season despite having more opportunity and more physical ability- Granted the quarterback play is much better at the NFL level so it’s not entirely an apples to apples comparison but it works for the sake of our discussion. Also assume the atheltes are similar in their preparation, intelligence, and reaction time; however, one is simply physically superior to the other. From a coaching perspective, if a coach is teaching the small college athlete what to look for in the quarterback’s progression and he is anticipating where the ball is going and is correct with his assumption, but he just isn’t fast enough to make a play on the ball; there’s not much else a coach can do or say to improve that athlete.While the athletes Aukerman coached at his previous assignments may not be capable of making plays in the NFL, I can assure the bloggers of Denver nation that they were well-coached and better men because of him. His ability and potential as a coach is part of the reason the Broncos hired him, but also measured by the Broncos organization is the quality of man becoming a part of their team and community. Don’t forget that building a TEAM takes more than talent sports fans. Jim Collins stresses in his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Other’s Don’t, the importance of having the right people in the right places to ensure your company, brand, or team’s success. Craig Aukerman might not be the powerful household name Bronco fans were expecting but either was Josh McDaniels when he came to town. The 33-year-old had a lot to prove in Denver and I look for the new 33-year-old Aukerman to do the same.

Mullet Branded Pro Bowl

Jared Allen knows how to get to the quarterback from his defensive end position in Minnesota. He did it 14.5 times during his All-Pro 2009/2010 season; second only to Elvis Dumervil from Denver who recorded 17 sacks. But no one; I mean NO ONE, did it quite like Jared Allen. Allen is memorable for his skills on the field but his fun-loving nature and original personality off the field is what tells the story.

He rocks a mullet, wears number 69 on the field, and cut off jorts with an overly zealous belt buckle in nearly every interview he does. Jared Allen signs autographs with Invizzable Ink and is definitely a brand I’m buying. Today, the Pro Bowl is being played in Miami, FL. In a game that matters only to those vacationing in South Florida and a few marketing sponsors, Jared Allen climbs to the top of my watch list today. Not because of his stellar defensive line play in a meaningless game; but because you never know what he’s going to do after a sack. The flowing mullet and original brand that is Jared Allen is worth watching anytime he is on the field. Today it’s not about the game, it’s about the games Jared Allen plays. He makes me laugh and that alone is worth tuning in today. Take a look at the video I grabbed from You Tube and if you don’t laugh, you just don’t get it.

Who Dat Havin all that Fun!?


A team that has never been to the big one is finally getting it’s chance to show the rest of the NFL what Who Dat is all about. This video exemplifies my theory of sport producing a greater good in a community. The fanatical comradery that has engulfed the New Orleans Saints Who Dat Nation is an excellent example of what can be overcome by a community that has something to believe in. Those in sports know the story of the New Orleans Saints following Hurricane Katrina and have seen the images captured of shelter-seeking New Orleaners flocking to the Superdome for help. But time changes, and time heals – and now those same once displaced New Orleaners are feeling the love from a city that may just have the next SuperBowl Champions.

There’s no doubt the unique vibe that makes Bourbon Street in New Orleans a must-experience city was in the air last night following the overtime thriller. What was also in the air though was euphoria. Look closely at the emotion of the faces of the Saints fans as Bourbon Street explodes with cheers. Fans are absolutely taken over with elation when they realize the kick was good and the Saints are going to the SuperBowl. (Just got goosebumps)

This is what professional sports should be about. A community and a team who support each other in bad times and good times, working together to elevate a community to be greater than the individuals that make it up. As a player, I would have loved to experience the euphoria and elation the Saints players, especially Garrett Hartley felt as the overtime field goal split the uprights to send them to the SuperBowl; but put me in the middle of Bourbon Street surrounded by the sights, smells, and electricity portrayed in this video and I think I would have been equally as happy.

You Win with People


My fist real mentor was my college strength coach. Cal Dietz helped me become the athlete I became on a number of platforms. The first platform was the wooden one I did power-cleans on in the University of Findlay weight room. I had no idea what I was doing and quite frankly I was lucky I didn’t hurt myself. But Cal saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. He coached me, encouraged me, and developed the self-confidence I was lacking that ultimately led me to the NFL.

I’ll never forget the embarrassing first day of college football. For those that don’t know what testing day is, it’s the first day of the season that coaches can see the progress an athlete made in the off-season by having the athletes demonstrate various tests of strength and explosiveness. Players are tested on various strength tests such as the bench press and vertical jump. My first day as a skinny college athlete I did the 225lb bench press test zero reps. Yup, dropped the weight on my chest and couldn’t lift it. Good thing I could catch a football because that was the only thing that was impressive about me as a freshman at the University of Findlay.

It wasn’t until the following off-season when Cal came to the University of Findlay that I aspired to be the best football player I could be. He started by teaching me how to eat. That’s right; brought me to the dining hall and filled my plate with whole grain bread, deli-style turkey piled high – and I mean high, lots of vegetables, and two glasses of milk. I followed in his shadow as he explained why he was putting the different foods on my tray. “When you finish this tray, go back through the line and get the same thing again. If you need some ice cream to fill in the cracks that’s ok.” –  I guess he wanted me to gain some weight. Which I did, the right way. Nutritious food with a little humor- I’ll always remember that moment as Cal’s first day of coaching me. From there it was all business in the weight room. I was always a good athlete because I was blessed with talent but Cal helped me become great.

I’ve had a lot of great coaches and teachers in my life but none quite like Cal. It takes a special person to find personal success in helping others achieve their goals. Cal certainly has his own goals, which is another skill I learned from him, but he always cared about his athletes reaching their full potential. In his mind, if his athletes weren’t reaching their full potential, he wasn’t doing his job to his fullest potential. He gave us everything he had everyday as our coach, and in return, we gave him everything we had. It was the epitome of team. And I loved being a part of it. He made me want to be better every time I was around him.

Cal will always be a dear friend and mentor. We talk about business ventures and philosophy when we have time and most recently we discussed the book Good to Great by Jim Collins. One of the themes in Collin’s book is having the right people in the right positions for your organization. Maybe it’s the competitive nature of the NFL in me that has influenced me, or possibly jaded me, but this philosophy is not just a suggestion for managers to consider. If we do not have the right people in the right positions, a company will never be great. Just as Cal was the right person to help me, corporations have to find the same “right” people to ensure greatness. People are every company’s greatest resource and I completely believe a happy employee is one whom is passionate. Find employees who have a passion for your business and listen to them. Develop them into what they want to be and they will give you everything they have for your business. You may not bench-press 420 lbs when its all over, but you will have won the right way, with the right people on your team. – Thanks Cal for inspiring me to be great.

Fuel Up to Play60

The new NFL logo went into use at the 2008 draft.

The new NFL logo went into use at the 2008 draft. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had the best day today. I met with a friend who works as a Physical Therapist for special needs students in a district near and much like my hometown.

For the past year the American Dairy Association has been after our goal of placing Fuel Up to Play60 kits in schools. A kit contains tools that a school can use as part of supporting a healthy lifestyle in their building. We accomplished our goal and have been a part of some wonderful events as a result. Somewhere in the hustle and balancing of grad school and work though, I lost touch with the part of my job that allows me to be a part of changing kid’s lives. I felt that emotion again today for the first time in a while and I was reminded again that God is good.

The topic of our conversation was Fuel Up to Play60, a program designed by the Dairy Council and the NFL to create healthy lifestyles in schools. A typical school meeting usually includes getting as many students as possible to sign the pledge and track their progress online because their school can win some great prizes if they win the competitions. But this meeting was different. This meeting was how the program could be used in a one-on-one teaching scenerio between my friend and the special kids she works with.

I’m proud of the success of Fuel Up to Play60 in Ohio but there is also something to be said for the people like my friend who are able to take this program and use it with special kids to improve their quality of life too. One of the boys my friend was telling me about was paralyzed in a car accident from his chest down but despite his challenges was still a pretty good athlete and a football fan. She believes he could compete in wheel chair sports if given the opportunity and feels the Fuel Up to Play60 program will be the ideal program to motivate him. I hope it is.

Our programs and brands can and will be talkable but the people who are talking about us is really what makes our programs and brands what they are. Consumers are the reasons we do what we do. They are ultimately the consumers of our passions. We owe it to them to be our best, to be honest, and to be what we say we are; even when the going gets tough. In return, we receive knowledge and understanding of who our consumers are, what they care about, and what they are passionate about. That seems like a pretty fair trade.