I want to start this off clean. I’m in sales. And if you are in sales and you’ve been around for a while you tend to have an inherent distrust of marketers and “brand” people. Sales is where the rubber meets the road. If you’ve got a good product it sells, marketing be damned. I you’ve got a bad product (or it’s overpriced), no amount of marketing (now called “activation”), and no amount of branding (No matter how clever or authentic it is) is going to make that pig move.
So forgive me if I am a little skeptical going into this, even if, yes, on the surface I get the concept of Pitt Football hiring a brand consultant to help it’s young men develop a coherent personal brand strategy.
The good news is that a number of Pitt players do have a good product. Jaylen Twyman is an All-American. Good product. Pitt’s defensive line combined to be top-10 in sacks. Good product. Patrick Jones is poised to be a first round draft pick if he lives up to his potential this year. Good product. Paris Ford and Damar Hamlin are arguably the best safety tandem in the country. Good product. Jimmy Morrissey is a former walk-on turned all-conference player. Good product.
So yea, there is some talent to work with, but the question, remains, is this Darlow guy legit? The world is full of fly-by-night marketers who ride on in and take your money without actually adding value.
And so, as a 20 year veteran of corporate america, who currently holds a position in a fortune 500 company that is roughly the same in responsibility as Darlow’s Director-level corporate credential, I’m going to give you my assessment.
First the credentials. Darlow was Director of Marketing for Adidas right before he ostensibly quit after his book deal. I a half-notch below that in title, but I manage a $100 million dollar business, that is part of a $1 Billion division of an $8 Billion company, and I go toe-to-toe with marketing directors every single week.
I wanted to get a feel for how Darlow got where he is today, so I looked at his Linked In profile. I’ve pasted it below, so you can judge his career path for yourself (I included only his corporate career, because you can read about his publishing and coaching exploits just about anywhere.) I’ve also added some commentary in case you just want to take my judgments instead of forming your own.
My thoughts on this? Solid. His early experience was probably just an “I need a job” play given his sports marketing background. But you know what? Retail teaches you a lot about business (and branding for that matter). He also did a nice job of leveraging his retail store experience into retail branding experience, an then working towards his career goals. Smart guy.
So he does an internship in retail – Nordstrom- in the store. And then leverages that into a corporate marketing position in a lower-tier retailer (Meryvn’s), but at least he’s doing the job he went to school for. Then he moves over to software (Ubisoft) and to be clear – GAMING software – which for most in my generation is a dream job. Again, he moves up the value chain – Now he’s an associate brand manager – but if I had to read between the lines, video games aren’t his passion, and he’s out in two years, and moves into the beer business. Well I’m never going to fault anyone for going into the beer business, even if they don’t stay there that long (1 year), because it tells me that this guy likes beer, and I think we can all agree there is nothing wrong with that. Of course he may have also left the beer business because he landed the crown jewel…a foot in the door at Adidas. This had to be a double bonus for Darlow, not only was it a marketing position for a major sportswear company, but it’s a direct competitor to his Alma Mater’s (Oregon State) benefactor, Nike. Well played Mr. Darlow, well played.
Darlow advanced quickly at Adidas, putting in two-to-three years before promotion. (The rule in my company is a minimum of 18 months in position, and two-three years before a major promotion is good progress). Getting to Director in just less than six years, with little prior major sportswear company experience tells us that Darlow is either a) really talented, or b) really good at playing the game. I would guess that he is little bit of both.
And at the end of the day, playing the game is what sports marketing and branding is really about. You can be the most talented dude (or dudet) on the team in a corporate environment but if you don’t know how to navigate the waters above and below you, craft your message and burnish your internal brand (mind you, you ALWAYS have to deliver no matter how good a story teller you are) you’re just not going to advance.
So that gave me some confidence in Darlow as a teacher and mentor to the members of our football team.
But I still wanted to know more.
So I dug a little deeper.
And I turned up this podcast:
You have to skip to about 17 mins in to get to the Darlow interview (16:55 to be exact). You should give it a listen, but here are some things that stood out for me:
- The average NFL career is 3.5 years. 78% of NFL players go bankrupt in their first two years out of the league. “The reality is we care about you while you’re playing sport, and in most cases you are forgotten after, and I just think that is unfair, and it is a bit of a travesty”
- “My hope is that athletes can take the lessons from the book and they can see that there is a massive opportunity to use the platform that they have while they are playing sports in order to build equity into another area”
- [after question about Peyton Manning and Phil Mickelson who have never gotten on to social media] “If i’m honest i’m not writing this book for Peyton Manning or Phil Mickelson. The point for me is to help those 98% of athletes that don’t make it to the pro level. That’s the stat that’s so staggering that I don’ think we understand as fans…and I think athletes think the same way. They don’t recognize that only 2% of them are going to make the pro level, so for me the book is about
- “The crux of everything that I’ve done and everything that I continue to do from a brand perspective starts and stops with a positioning statement.”
- “At the very least, if you’re not going to read the book, think about what makes yourself different, and think about what’s authentic to you and build against that and be consistent with a message that people will start to identify with”
There is more, and you can listen to it all, especially since you are probably housebound. My impressions were that Darlow came across as extremely authentic, and he is certainly focusing on an under-served niche. If you think about Pitt Football’s brand positioning…High Academic APR. Smart players, who develop and earn what they get on the field, Darlow’s message makes sense. Add in Pitt’s best-in-class life skills department, and well, Pitt’s partnership with Darlow could end up being greater than the sum of the parts. Can West Virginia (who also works / has worked with Darlow) say the same? So yea, did I want to end this as a rah-rah good job Pitt? No not really, but in all honestly, it looks like Narduzzi and co. have added to the program.
Hail to Pitt
PS: FWIW here is the WVU puff piece about Darlow that was published about two weeks ago: https://www.wvillustrated.com/wvu-football/wvu-footballs-new-partner-jeremy-darlow-aims-to-give-mountaineer-student-athletes-off-field-success/
He also works with Clemson and Louisville I believe.
Again, Pitt’s life skills advantage should help Darlow do more at Pitt than anywhere else.
One criticism: His most recent book has 45 five-star reviews on Amazon and no four-or-three star reviews. Call me skeptical but this smacks of review-seeding. As a brand expert and former digital marketing guru you’d think he’d let a few four star reviews into the mix to add to the authenticity. (Heck I know that much just from listening in on the eCommerce conversations at my company)
Still a good pickup for Pitt though. H2P. MM