From the glitz and glamour of the launch parties to the tropical perfection of the location shoots, there are countless reasons to want to land your dream job as a creative in the sports industry. With the hottest brands and agencies, the best jobs are snapped up in nanoseconds and demand always far exceeds supply. Drawing on his wealth of experience, and baring all of this firmly in mind, Brandwave Art Director, Rich Nicklen looks at what it takes to make it as a creative designer in our industry and offers up his top tips for securing that illusive role.
So you want to make your mark as a creative designer in the sport industry? If you’re a professional creative with a love of all things sporty, then welcome to paradise my friend. It can be the kind of job that dreams are made of but getting there isn’t always a walk in the park. Securing a creative role in this industry takes more than a penchant for arty typography treatments and the ability to memorise a Pantone book from cover to cover. When it comes to the majority of leading sports brands and niche sports creative agencies; if you’re not authentic, you’re not coming in.
During my tenure as Art Director for one of Europe’s leading sports creative agencies, I’ve experienced first hand what it takes to succeed as a creative designer in this industry. Having also had the pleasure of interviewing dozens of budding designers over the years, I’ve seen the full spectrum of do’s and don’ts from both seasoned senior creatives, and fresh-faced university graduates alike.
As a designer, it’s an interesting experience being on the other side of the interview table. This is why I’ve taken it upon myself to compile a few words of advice for creative designers who want to break into the glamorous world of sports marketing, and avoid the interview no no’s that others have made.
1. Be authentic – It sounds obvious, but to succeed as a creative in the sports industry, it really helps to know as much as possible about the industry that you’re working in. That’s not to say you need to be a pro athlete or a walking encyclopedia on every sport known to man, but if you’re applying for, say, an in-house graphic design role at a bike company, it would be a good idea to know your Yeti ARCs from your elbow.
This includes being up to speed on basic industry lingo (and no, saying stuff like ‘radical wipeout dude’ does not qualify). Industry knowledge comes much easier if there’s a genuine interest behind it, and it’s not something that can be easily faked.
2. Want it bad – Straight off the bat, ask yourself “Am I serious about working with these guys?” Have you even looked where the company is located? You wouldn’t believe how many designers have applied for an interview here and then turn around and say they “didn’t realise” that we were based at the opposite end of the country, or even that we “weren’t based in Michigan”.
If you didn’t fail geography at school and know the location of your new potential employer is a bit too far to commute from Michigan each day, have you considered whether you are willing to relocate? If you leave it until after you’ve been offered the job to consider these types of questions, then you’re just wasting your and more importantly, your potential employer’s valuable time.
3. Know your stuff – Make no mistake, you’re about to walk into an interview for what could be your dream job, so take the time beforehand to read up on your potential new employer. If it’s a creative agency, get yourself up to speed with their portfolio, their clients, their history, and any industry awards they’ve won etc… If you’re applying for an in-house role with a brand, then become an expert on their product, competitors, marketing campaigns past and present, their team riders etc…
Demonstrating a genuine, well-researched interest in a company shows that you’re serious about working there and that they’re not just another name on your long list of job applications. Reconnaissance is never wasted.
4. Ask some questions – Show that you’re interested, ask questions about how they see the company developing over the next 5 years, what internal and external training programs they have in place, how their work flow is structured, etc… Remember, an interview works both ways; you’re also there to decide if this is the right job for you.
5. Have an opinion – During an interview, you may be asked to give your opinion on current design trends, the state of the industry, or a particular piece of design, so be prepared to share your viewpoint. Keep yourself up to date with what’s going on, both in the world of design and within the sports industry.
6. Be passionate – Love what you do? Show it. Talk enthusiastically about your love of design and your belief in your work. Creativity is all about passion, and that will shine through even the worst interview nerves! Be positive when talking about your work, avoid downplaying it, even if it was “just” a uni project or a freebie for a mate. If you’re proud of it and deem it worthy enough to include it in your portfolio, then it deserves the same attention and enthusiasm as everything else. That said, always ensure you…
7. Keep your feet on the ground– There are few things more off-putting than a cocky creative designer. Remember, design is subjective; you may think you’re the greatest designer since Massimo Vignelli, but others may not necessarily agree with every design choice you make. So stay grounded, keep an open mind, be humble, and let your work do all of the bragging.
8. Prepare your portfolio – It goes without saying, but ultimately what you’re being judged on is the strength of your work and a strong portfolio will speak for itself. Keep your portfolio to your best and most high profile work. Always favor quality over quantity. Try to show some range in the work that you present and consider tailoring it slightly to work that’s more applicable to the company.
Always give consideration to how your portfolio is going to be presented. If you’re presenting from a tablet, make sure it’s charged up and pre-loaded with all your relevant work… don’t be faffing around trying to connect to their wifi when you should be making a killer first impression.
9. Talk it through – Take a little time to practice talking through your portfolio, perhaps in front of a couple of friends if you’re nervous. Get a good idea of what you want to say about each piece of work so when it’s interview time you can talk your way through your portfolio with effortless authority. Talk a little about the client, their brief for the project, the challenges, the end result, and your involvement. If you felt that the end result was somehow compromised then don’t be afraid to say so but remember to keep it on a positive note; “what I’d really loved to have done here was this…”
Each and every project has its own little story worth telling. Remember, nobody in the room knows more about your work than you do. That said…
10. Be honest – It’s all well and good to be able to talk fluently about a project in your portfolio but if all you did on that particular project was to move a logo 2mm to the left, then maybe think twice about including it. Instead, focus more on the projects where you had some real creative input.
11. Lose the tie – You’re applying for a design role at a sports creative agency or brand, not at a bank. Your appearance says a lot about you as an individual so dress smart but casual.
So there you have it, 11 little pearls of questionable wisdom to help you on your way to landing your dream creative role in the sport industry. If you’ve got the talent and the will to succeed, stick with it… it will be worth all the effort.