If you would have happened upon Sam Silverman and asked him what he wanted to do after he got done with his undergraduate studies at Ohio State, he would have most likely told you a “sneaker designer”.
For the industrial design major, Silverman admits that while he was good at art he didn’t quite know what he wanted to do with it after high school. A self-proclaimed “sneakerhead”, Silverman gravitated to the major in which he could combine both his proficiency in art with his love for sneakers.
While in school at Ohio State, Silverman fell in love with the storytelling aspect of not only sneakers and their design, but just design in general. It was this love, mixed with the skills he had built up over the course of his four years at OSU that led him to taking a role with the athletic department as a volunteer intern after graduating in 2012.
“I was working for free, doing some graphic design work, because, at the time, they wanted to revamp their marketing initiative through graphic design,” said Silverman. “They were really lacking in the area of how to promote the program through physical mailers or through social media.”
Not a graphic designer by trade, Silverman was able to use the early days with the athletic department to dive deeper into the process and learn more about the history of the industry and what made it tick.
“After that, my brain started clicking better with graphic design,” mentioned Silverman.
While making advances inside the world of graphic design, Silverman was also supporting and working for Launch Labs, the startup himself and a group of buddies founded. It was there while working on the brand of the startup as well as the clients that Silverman found a fascination in how to marry storytelling with imagery.
“I really enjoy figuring out what people’s stories are and how I can best communicate that to a target audience.” As I started working with more and more clients, everything started clicking and churning for me.”
Eventually, Silverman quit working with the startup and transitioned full-time to OSU. During the process, he had grown close to Braxton Miller, creating what would become the genesis for this newly implemented program.
“When I started working for OSU full-time I was close with Braxton Miller. One of my friends wanted a personalized logo. Something that represented him and what he wanted to accomplish. It was the relationship with him that sparked it all.” said Silverman.
“You have to ask yourself how you can make your name more valuable than just what happens on the field.”
This wasn’t the first time that Silverman had helped build a brand identity for a player. In 2014, he had been assigned the task of creating something that would separate OSU from others when it came to recruiting Myles Turner. Turner, who was from Texas, was heavily recruited out of high school. Silverman and the rest of the basketball recruiting staff knew they had to do something different to stand out from Turner’s home school of UT.
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“We were in a battle with Texas and he is from Texas. We were trying to swing as hard as we could to get him to come to Ohio State,” said Silverman. “We brainstormed what could be done to separate us from the rest and present it to him saying, ‘we are already thinking about your personal brand and how we can help build that while you are at Ohio State and have it become something you can take with you once you leave.’”
“Guys at Ohio State have a pretty large platform where people are listening to them because of who they are and where they are at.”
While Silverman wasn’t in the actual presentation, the idea had left an impact.
“I wasn’t in the actual presentation, but the coaches told me when they were presenting it to them his mom started crying which was incredible to hear.”
Silverman would continue to grow within the athletic department, taking on more responsibility and eventually transitioning away from his duties for the entire department and focusing fully on football.
Although the idea with Turner was a hit, Silverman had forgotten about it mostly until one of the football coaches approached him and asked him to help with blowing away a recruit they had coming.
“Coach Johnson asked what could we do that was different and I told him about what we did for Myles Turner and that we could replicate it for Taron Vincent,” said Silverman. “ We put together a logo and showed him how we could help build his personal brand during his time at Ohio State and how he could leverage that to add value to his name and make it more memorable.”
With multiple personal brands built and multiple recruiting pitches delivered, Silverman knew it was time to take what he had been doing to the next level. Given the success he had seen with it so far, he knew it could potentially set OSU apart from other programs.
“After I’d been giving these presentations and seeing the overwhelmingly positive results we were getting from the recruits and their families about them, it really made me think about how this could be something that makes us stand out. All big-time football programs nowadays have great facilities, great fanbases, and great stadiums. This was something really unique and really different from what they (players) were used to seeing.”
“I was really fortunate because of the leadership we have here at Ohio State to give me the ownership to run with this and think about how we could make it bigger and better.”
The skills were there, the support was there, the desire for the program was there, all they needed was to get it cleared by compliance and the conference and they were off to the races.
“I started thinking about it and, working alongside our compliance office, made sure we could do this as an in-house resource,” said Silverman. “We ran the idea by compliance and the Big Ten. We got the okay as long as the endeavor wasn’t for profit and the players weren’t profiting off of it while they were in school.”
“Two weeks ago, I was granted the opportunity to speak to the team. It was exhilarating. That was the biggest audience I had ever spoken in front of.”
Part of preparing for life after football for a student-athlete at Ohio State is building a personal brand. With #BrandU, our own @SammySilv & the Creative Media department is helping the Buckeyes start to develop that brand now.#GoBucks pic.twitter.com/3e333BAnRN
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) May 9, 2018
Now, in what Silverman called “Phase One”, he and other members of the team are meeting with players to help them work through the self-discovery process. During this process, they help guide the athletes through a series of questions and conversations that allow them to determine who they really are.
As Silverman puts it, “Phase One is really about self-discovery for these players. They figure out who they are because you can’t promote a brand if you don’t know who you are, what you stand for, and why you stand for it.”
Like anything in life, getting this kind of benefit is something earned and not given. In order to “unlock the next phases” of the program, players have to be in good academic standing, good standing with coaches, and good standing when it comes to their practice habits.
“Once all those boxes are checked and the coaches approve, then we move on to the additional phases,” said Silverman.
Although the program has just begun in football, the goal is to make it a department-wide curriculum and one that will set all of OSU’s student-athletes up for success after their athletic careers end. If the student-athletes choose to work with OSU after graduation, they are welcome to, but even if they don’t Silverman and his team knows they will leave the program more prepared than when they started.
“I want these student-athletes to come out of this program and workshop with what I’m calling a ‘personal brand toolkit’ that they can utilize. If they want to continue working with us great, but if not at least they have something that keeps them ready.”
Thanks to buy-in from the administration, ownership from Silverman and the desire to push the envelope when it comes to offerings for their student-athletes, Ohio State just set the standard for what is to come in college athletics.