How to Break Into a Career as a Creative Storyteller

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Careers - Creative - Sports
Photo by Kaique Rocha from Pexels

Here are three facts few people would argue against: Attention spans are shortening, more and more brands are competing for that attention, and how we are consuming mobile media is expanding.

The sports creative and digital media industry, meanwhile, is booming with individuals and teams challenging the standard views of fan engagement, marketing and recruitment through digital storytelling.

Entrepreneur and marketing guru Seth Godin summed up the industry as a whole by saying, “People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories, and magic.”

So, how does one land a role in the sports creative and digital content field in these ever-changing times? We gathered some important advice from three sports creatives.

Become a Problem-Solver

“Design and creativity is all about problem solving,” stated Jeff Kallin, director of creative solutions for Clemson Athletics. “It could be traffic patterns, wall space, screens, you name it. It’s all about breaking things down into their parts and creating solutions to fill gaps.”

Kallin was formerly in sports information and public relations — and had no formal training as a creative. “I spent tons of time on YouTube learning from tutorials and approaching problems from a different angle,” he said.

Kallin would frequently ask himself, ‘What is a different way that I could do this?’

But on the same token, Kallin and the Clemson Athletics creative team are known for their speed of execution, as well as scaling video, images, and written word at a rapid pace. Kallin advised creatives to “know when you need to take the backroads versus the highway on a certain project. You can get bogged down into things that you don’t even realize you’re getting bogged down in.”

READ MORE: 4 Ways to Making Breaking Into the #SportsBiz Much Easier

While a majority of the creative industry is measured in revenue generation, recruiting, and fan engagement, success can also be measured in non-financial goals.

“Design is communicating a story,” said Kallin, who focuses on reaching the intended audience — even if it may not have the most views, likes, or shares.

For example, he helped tell the story of Clemson football’s Will Swinney (son of head coach Dabo Swinney) scoring his first career touchdown as a Clemson Tiger with the intention of creating a moment for the Swinney family. Kallin mentioned, “you can always add value to other people. You just have to let them know how. Solutions can scale through content.”

Slow Down to Speed Up

Hustle, persistence, and constantly seeking opportunity are all aspects of landing a career as a sports creative. But in order to fully understand a certain project or content strategy, you have to see the big picture.

“In college, I was on-the-go at all times, constantly moving and working. Here at the NCAA, I’m learning how to slow down and understand how everything works and comes together,” stated Olivia Garrison, a digital communications and social media strategy postgraduate intern for the NCAA.

READ MORE: Mastering Twitter: Personal Branding Tips for Sports Business Professionals

Listening and discovering the hidden details of a story is a skill that can be developed. While a student, Garrison worked with ESPN U’s Campus Connection, and reflected upon how special the storytelling process is following an interview with an athlete, by stating, “I could really see and hear the emotion in her eyes and voice. I got to tell that story. This is so important and what I get to do.”

But opportunity doesn’t come to those who wait.

Garrison encourages students and early career professionals to “tell people what you want to do because they are willing to help. Networking is one thing; it’s about continually investing in the relationship and having meaningful conversations. Hearing the word ‘no’ is inevitable. It’s about how you get past the ‘no’ and find your next big opportunity.”

Be a Team Player

Surf Melendez, managing director of content and creative for the Miami Dolphins, depicted what it truly means to be a member of a creative team.

“Be comfortable and confident enough to let people come up with their own ideas that may be better than your own,” he said. “It’s a humbling experience, but so exciting.”

When thinking of breaking into the sports creative industry, understanding your specific skill set will allow you to better understand your potential role.

“Everyone has a different inner creative language,” Melendez said. “The creative process works best when keeping the mind moving.”

Christopher Arena, head of identity, outfitting, and equipment for the NBA, said to continually “show activity. Any place, anywhere, any time. Internships, self-starter projects, grade school, high school, staff of your school newspaper, college — you name it. Make sure you’re involved at all levels and are contributing and utilizing your skills.

Looking to get your start as a creative? Don’t wait. Carve out an extra 30 minutes a day and research how to use the Adobe Creative Suite or attend a Major Level Creative Conference. Want to listen on the go? Check out the The Sports Creatives Podcast by Jay F. Hicks, which is filled with great interviews and insight.

The industry is constantly growing and evolving.

Are you?