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Professional Development

From the Halfpipe to the Boardroom: How Brittany Gilman Has Built an Agency From the Ground Up

Brittany Gilman’s journey from professional snowboarder to international entrepreneur has been anything but linear. 

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Brittany Gilman has taken what she learned on the field to succeed off of it. (Photo via Brittany Gilman)

 

Ever present on social media and always one to engage with her followers, Brittany Gilman filled her timeline on January 1, 2018, with a series of inspirational quotes, images, and well wishes directed towards her followers.

As someone who follows Brittany for updates on her company, BG Sports Enterprises, I was fortunate enough to come across those new year affirmations myself, during one of my daily Instagram scrolls. Yet, out of all the sentiments Gilman posted, there was one that stuck out to me, because I felt like it accurately, succinctly and eloquently summed up Gilman’s career in the sports and entertainment industry:

“Everything that you have gone through in your life, has prepared you for what is to come.”

Everything Gilman has gone through thus far in her life, a successful professional snowboarding career, a tenure as a Strength & Conditioning Coach at USC and Auburn, a Bachelor’s of Kinesiology and a Master’s of Biomechanics, a stint as a professional fitness model and about five or six other life-altering experiences has prepared her for the life that she’s currently living.

“I was always a multiple sport athlete. I ended up choosing snowboarding because it was more fun to me than any of the other sports. I have been an athlete my entire life. I come from an athletic family and a very driven family. At a young age, I had something in me that I couldn’t really describe and it was that drive that had me start snowboarding professionally when I was 17.”

During her snowboarding career, Gilman had to split her time and was essentially living two separate lives. On one hand, she was traveling all over the world as a member of the junior Olympic snowboarding team while on the other hand, she was pursuing a very intense Kinesiology Degree at the University of Colorado Boulder.

According to Gilman, the constant back and forth between school and snowboarding didn’t provide her with the opportunity to develop into the athlete she knew she could be. So when she was done with college, Gilman made the decision to snowboard full-time and moved to Mammoth Lakes, CA in pursuit of that dream.

However, Gilman’s life in Mammoth was not the life she had imagined. Upon her arrival in California, she switched sponsors and obtained an injury that drained her both personally and professionally. Wanting to take a break, Gilman realized that it was time to adjust her sails and move in a different direction.

As a result, Brittany took an opportunity to serve as an intern on the football strength and conditioning staff at the University of Southern California. That opportunity led her to Auburn, where she served as a strength and conditioning coach for a year, while she got her Master’s in Biomechanics. Gilman stayed at Auburn for a year before she decided to move back to California to pursue an internship opportunity with a sports marketing agency in the city. However, that opportunity wasn’t quite what Gilman had imagined for herself.

“The agency told me that they didn’t have work for me to do but if I wanted to show up and hang out in the office I could. I knew that there were better ways for me to use my time so I started brainstorming and that brainstorming lead me to start my own sports marketing agency in 2007.”

Although the opportunity to branch out on her own was exciting, Gilman admits that it wasn’t easy. So much so, that she even worked for free for the first three years of being in business.

“I would work with guys and assist with their marketing plans, but the guys I worked with at the time weren’t huge names so I couldn’t make a living off of that alone. As a result, I supplemented that work with different types of strength and conditioning / personal training jobs to get me through until I could sustain my life with my business alone. And now, here I am.”

Stacy Elliott, Brittany Gilman and Ezekiel Elliott at the ESPY Awards (Photo via Brittany Gilman)

And where Gilman is at now, is a fearless entrepreneur and the owner of a successful international sports marketing, PR and management agency, BG Sports Enterprises. The majority of BG Sports clients are NFL and Football (soccer) athletes; however, they cater to all sports, including NBA, MLB, boxing, track and field, and of course snowboarding. They also offer brand consulting to various companies as well.

Gilman sees her experience and unique approach as an advantage for her clients because unlike larger firms, BG Sports is able to provide its clients with the individualized attention that’s required to create ideal marketing strategies.

“We have a menu of services that we provide our clients and depending on our client’s objectives and needs, they pick and choose bits and pieces of the services we have in in our repertoire for their use.”

Brittany Gilman and Stacy Elliott at the NFL 2016 Draft (Photo via Brittany Gilman)

“I have been splitting my time between Los Angeles and London, 60/40, for the last year and a half. Prior to that, I made several trips to the UK and other places throughout Europe. I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time expanding my network, learning different cultures, exploring different industries and creating meaningful relationships. All of those relationships were developed with a lot of hard work.

The services that we implement most for our international clients are digital branding, digital monetization, international PR and brand development. These have come to fruition because of BG Sports’ dedication to providing continuous value and empowering our clients to live out their dreams.”

Up until a year and a half ago, Gilman’s company focused primarily on American Football players. However, she has now begun to turn her attention to the soccer players in the UK and has been employing innovative cross-marketing techniques to connect her NFL and NFL UK players.

“Last spring, we worked with the NFL UK and had Jarvis Landry come over and then we did a lot of stuff with the NFL UK. We visited Tottenham Football Club as well as Liverpool Football Club, and attended several other sporting events. Being able to work with the NFL UK has been quite the blessing. ”

This duality, between football and American football, has served Gilman well. She has been spending most of her time overseas and through her continued grace, resilience and some old-fashioned hard work, her clients and her company are starting to see the impact.

“We are growing really quickly as a company, which is quite the blessing. You can put a strategy in your head and think “this is what’s going to happen” with the company but rarely does it ever end up going in that way. But, in the interim, you have to be flexible and roll with the waves. And now the international component is growing very quickly and there’s so much opportunity there.”

And it’s that opportunity, coupled with her passion and her desire to give back and help empower athletes to lead their best lives and accomplish their dreams (both on and off the field), that keeps Gilman and her company moving forward.

“I see so many athletes that don’t have the ability to embrace and capitalize on the power and the potential that they have on and off the field. What really inspires and drives me is that I have the ability to educate them and give them the tools they can utilize for the rest of their lives.”

This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.

Chloe is a former DI Women's Basketball player turned entrepreneur, writer, advocate and Chicago Tribune Red Eye "Big Idea" Award Winner. She's also the Founder and CEO of Elle Grace Consulting, LLC, an athletics consulting firm that helps prepare ALL athletes for lives of thoughtful leadership and meaningful service beyond athletics. You can connect with Chloe at chloe@ellegraceconsulting.com.

Professional Development

White Sox Announcer Jason Benetti Uses Humor to Shed Light on Cerebral Palsy

The play-by-play announcer has cerebral palsy, but he has built a career in a field that hasn’t always been accessible to those with disabilities.

Bailey Knecht

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Photo via Ron Vesely, Chicago White Sox

When it comes to attaining success in the sports industry — and in life — Jason Benetti has created his own blueprint.

The ESPN and Chicago White Sox play-by-play announcer has cerebral palsy, but his ability to laugh at himself has allowed him to build a career in a field that hasn’t always been accessible to those with disabilities.

“If I were giving advice, it would be just absolutely have a sense of humor about yourself, and don’t take yourself so seriously,” he said. “I’m in an industry that cares about what you look like, in some regard. Not that it was a major impediment, but people sort of have to be convinced that you should be on TV. But it’s just a matter of navigating the perceptive feelings of others, and that usually goes away.”

Benetti’s cerebral palsy manifests itself in a way that gives him an “unconventional” appearance, but he has been able to thrive despite his diagnosis.

“The cool thing is, it doesn’t look great, but it gets me where I’m going,” he said. “There’s no pain in any way, and it’s really not something I have to manage at all. I’m pretty fortunate that there are no lingering effects, other than things that are perceived by others — like, someone sees me walking toward them, sort of staggering toward them — but there’s no pain or increasing severity. I just am what I am.”

READ MORE: 3 Predictions for Sports Digital Media in 2019

Recently, Benetti has taken on a venture apart from his sports career — one that capitalizes on his witty personality and dedication to disability awareness. With the help of the Cerebral Palsy Foundation (CPF), he has taken part in a campaign called “Awkward Moments.” The animated video series, written and voiced by Benetti, uses humor to chronicle awkward encounters between people with disabilities and the rest of the world.

“We decided to do something campaign-wise that hit on the dry, funny, observational part of having a disability because that’s the way I approach it,” Benetti said. “We talked for a long while and came upon this series. I love it, and I couldn’t love it more.”

“It holds a unique place where it addresses, head-on, the experiences that someone with disabilities has, and it tries to change the way people look at disabilities,” added Richard Ellenson, CEO of the CPF. “It’s our only animated campaign, the character has a terrific persona, and it’s a continuing series.”

As a former advertising creative director, Ellenson co-writes the series with Benetti, bringing his eye for sharp, witty commentary. He explained how the series fits into the CPF’s broader objective.

“Our mission is that we want to be a catalyst for creating new possibilities in the world of disabilities,” Ellenson said. “We look to amplify and communicate, and we are one of the strongest communicators in the field.”

The most recent episode of “Awkward Moments” detailed the uncomfortable exchanges that may occur in a museum, poking fun at the security guards who look on with apprehension as people with disabilities approach valuable artifacts.

The point of the series is not to shame people for their treatment of those with disabilities, though, but rather to inform, entertain and spread awareness.

“We’re not trying to tell people they’re bad for being awkward around us, because you’re not,” Benetti said. “You’re just experiencing something you haven’t experienced a lot. I’d rather explain to people. I find it hilarious.”

The response to the videos has been positive, from everyday people to well-known media members, according to Benetti.

“It’s pretty heartwarming,” he said. “Scott Van Pelt and David Axelrod were nice enough to tweet about it, so I guess this has touched them in a way that they’d want to send it out.”

Although the series takes on a lighthearted tone, Benetti mentioned that it hasn’t always been easy to remain upbeat in his career. Like many people who’ve had to overcome obstacles, he’s gone through his fair share of moments of doubt.

“The thing that’s insidious about being someone with a disability or in a minority group is that when you aren’t getting opportunities, it’ll float in your head that maybe it’s because of X, but some people legitimately don’t care,” he said. “You just kind of play with what you have. You don’t know if there are opportunities you would’ve gotten otherwise. All I have is this life and me. It’s hard to not roll around in your mind when stuff isn’t happening, but what does it do for you?”

He added that he has great respect for those who dedicate themselves to taking on the system and fighting the status quo, but that he takes an alternate approach.

“That’s not to criticize people who pioneer — it’s just a different view of the system,” he said. “I tend to believe over the course of time that people don’t mean to discriminate, even if they slightly are. If they treat me in a way I don’t think others would want to be treated, you can get to know them further or give up. I prefer to get to know them.”

Benetti maintains that first impressions can be overcome, particularly because those impressions stem from the initial look at someone’s appearance and don’t reflect skill or work ethic.

LISTEN: The Ringer’s Julie Phayer on Life as a Social Media Professional 

“If there’s something about you that you don’t think is exactly welcome to some people, it’s OK,” he said. “If you have a thing you think people can’t overcome perceptually, you’re probably wrong. I’ve been fortunate that the effects of my disability have not touched my speaking, and that’s kind of why I leaned into this job. There’s a place for everybody, and the first thing people think about you is generally wrong.”

Ellenson, who has gotten to know Benetti well since collaborating with him on CPF initiatives, said that Benetti’s self-assurance is the reason he succeeds as both an announcer and as a person.

He knows who he is,” Ellenson said. “He has a strong sense of identity — he’s open, yet strong, and he projects confidence, yet warmth. There’s an enthusiasm and warmth from his voice that is pretty unique in sportscasting, and it fills and illuminates the room.”

“He is one of those remarkable individuals who sort of walks through life embracing the complexity and joys around him,” he added. “He shares his passion for sports, life, and storytelling.”

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Professional Development

New Year, New You: 3 Ways to Jumpstart Your Personal Brand in 2019

With one week of 2019 in the books, it’s time to up your game and take your career to the next level. New year, new professional you.

Jarrod Barnes

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Photo credit: Unsplash

In the age of digital media, your personal brand could be the difference between “Who are you?” and “We’re glad you’re here” in your career. With approximately two billion social media users, the speed and scale at which information is being shared is growing exponentially each day.

Why should you care? In today’s world, perception is reality. The story you’re telling online can open or close doors before you even know they are there. In fact, 91 percent of executives use Linkedin as a source of content. With that in mind, it’s time to up your game and take your career to the next level. New year, new professional you.

Here are three easy ways to bust out of the gate with purpose in 2019 and jumpstart your personal brand.

Audit Your Current Brand

Before moving forward, you have to look back and evaluate where you are. Run a quick Google search on yourself and see what you find. Set up a Google alert for your name (www.google.com/alerts) to be notified when your name is being circulated.

READ MORE: Informational Interviews Can Be Crucial to Your Career Development

From an objective point of view, identify which consistent themes appear along with your name — that is your current brand identity. Don’t have a large social footprint? Start small by making sure you have an up-to-date professional headshot and list your most recent work experience on LinkedIn.

“Every decision that you make should revolve around your brand identity,” said Zach Swartz, director of creative media and post-production for Ohio State football.

Creating a “personal mission statement” or “brand positioning statement” are great ways to start identifying the who, what, and why of your personal brand.

Document Experiences and Updates

Have you just landed a new role or completed a professional certification? Make sure to share it with your network.

Facebook has said the Stories format “will soon replace the newsfeed as we know it.” Meanwhile, LinkedIn’s monthly active user base has eclipsed well over 260 million. Of those using the platform monthly, up to 40 percent are accessing it on a daily basis — and 40 million professionals are in high-level, decision-making positions.

Focus on delivering a concentrated message to those massive audiences that reflects what you want to be known for by distributing it on a platform that best suits your strengths. Do you like short bursts of information? Try Twitter. Looking for long-form blog posts and articles? Try Linkedin. Or maybe you feel more comfortable speaking than writing? Start a podcast. Research shows that 26 percent of people in the United States now listen to podcasts monthly, and the average listener tunes in to seven different podcasts each week.

Regardless of the medium, a concentrated and consistent message will allow your voice to stand out from the crowd. The best brands are known for that one thing.  

Have Authentic Interactions

“Authenticity doesn’t mean sharing everything about yourself, to everyone, all of the time,” said Justin Bariso, author of the book “EQ, Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence.”

READ MORE: How to Master the First Month of a New Job in Sports Business

“It does mean saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and sticking to your values and principles above all else.”

After all, you have no “brand” without a network of people who recognize it. So, make sure you take the time and effort necessary to invest in your network through meaningful conversation. Replying to comments and interacting in Twitter chats can go a long way.

Social media has the ability for you to create an incredible platform, but it’s up to you to take advantage of the opportunity. Make sure to capitalize in 2019. 

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Professional Development

Chicago Blackhawks Partner with Business Operations ‘Incubator’ to Provide Development Opportunities for Employees

The hockey MBA program focuses on professional development and seeks more NHL partnerships to help boost the economic results of professional organizations.

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The Business of Hockey Institute continues to establish itself as a premier organization for professional development in the sport.

The BHI recently announced a partnership with the Chicago Blackhawks, which includes a designated number of class registrations for Blackhawk employees within the institute’s curriculum.

Founded in 2015, the BHI partnered with Edmonton’s Athabasca University to offer the first MBA in hockey management as well as the standalone Certified Hockey Professional education program.

“The CHP is designed to be the ideal professional development program for business employees in hockey organizations,” said Brian Burke, BHI co-founder. “It would definitely benefit a lot of people working for NHL franchises. We are proud to have the Chicago Blackhawks as our first academic partner and look forward to working with their valued employees.”

SEE MORE: William Hill and Devils Bring Sports Lounge to the Prudential Center

The organization also awards honorary CHPs to established hockey executives, including the first presented to Blackhawks President and CEO John McDonough.

“We approached Mr. McDonough with a proposal to provide professional development opportunities to their employees and he was on board with it,” BHI Managing Director Manav Deol said.

The Blackhawks partnership has broadened the institute’s mission to include more professional development, and BHI intends on seeking out more NHL partnerships, Deol said. There’s also hope Blackhawks employees will impart peer-to-peer real-world experience and knowledge to other BHI students, as well as networking opportunities.

“BHI continues to innovate and grow the business side of hockey by providing professional development opportunities for those that are both currently working in hockey and those who strive to join this competitive industry,” McDonough said.

Students and hockey professionals alike can enroll in the CHP (for CAD $50,000) or take part in the entire MBA in hockey management (for CAD $80,000). Terms of the Blackhawks partnership were not disclosed.

SEE MORE: How the Golden Knights Landed Their Sportsbook Partnership With William Hill

“The costs can be flexible, depending on if a team enrolls an employee or employees enrolls on their own,” Deol said.

In Canada, hockey organization employees enrolled by teams can see the costs reduced to a third, thanks to the Canada Job Grant program. The BHI also offers scholarships starting at $5,000.

Courses at the BHI include Business of Hockey, Marketing Hockey Strategically, Integrated Marketing Communications for Hockey, Game Day Management & Marketing, Managing Franchises Strategically, and Hockey Operations. The courses are taught by sports management academics from universities across North America.

While most of the courses focus on the business side of hockey, Deol said it is important for many hockey organization employees to hold a foundational understanding of what goes on in hockey operations.

SEE MORE: Executive Buy-In Helps Propel Dallas Stars’ Digital Strategy 

Burke and Ritch Winter, a player agent, started BHI when they realized few sports management programs across the continent focused exclusively on hockey.

“We want to be the organization that the best hockey teams in the world come to train their business employees,” Deol said. “We also want to be the incubator that teams look to when they are searching for qualified candidates to join their business operations.”

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