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Finding Your North Star in Your Career and in Life

By: Adam White, @FOSAdam

Jeremy Darlow, Author of Brands Win Championships

Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Jeremy Darlow, Author of Brands Win Championships as well as Director of Brand Marketing of football and baseball for adidas. An Oregon State University alum, Jeremy knew early on that brand marketing was where he wanted to make his mark.

“Luckily when I was at Oregon State, I decided early on what I wanted to do. It was after I took a psychology class that I knew that it was something I wanted to pursue, but unfortunately there aren’t many jobs in psychology so I decided to combine business with psychology and I came out with marketing. From there, I fell in love with brand marketing, specifically.”

It wasn’t long after that that Jeremy had his sights set on his career goals.

“At that point, in the latter parts of my collegiate career, my goal was to be the head of brand marketing for football at either adidas or Nike.”

And did he ever deliver, but it wasn’t without cutting his teeth in multiple industries starting with an internship in the OSU athletic department.

“That internship was a big advantage for me because I was able to peel back the curtain and see into the machine that is college athletics and to find out where opportunities existed. I don’t believe a ton in textbooks. I don’t think you are going to learn a lot from them. Obviously you are going to learn theory and vernacular, but the reality is, you don’t know until you get there.”

For Jeremy, starting in an athletic department is something he recommends everyone experiences while they are at school due to nature of the industry and how important it is to see how an organization works.

“That is for me where getting into an athletic department as an intern or as a coordinator is so important. Being able to see the process and see what people are working on and see where they are failing and succeeding is invaluable.”

Although Jeremy knew sports and working on the sports side of brand marketing was his goal, he also knew how important it would be to get experience outside of the sports landscape.

No matter how much he wanted to stay in sports, in hindsight he knows that moving to get experience in the department store, video game and beer industry was the best possible thing he could have done at the time.

“I think those stops were some of the most important elements of my career. I put a lot of emphasis on the fact that I have been in multiple industries, because there is a benefit to that. The benefit primarily is that you come to know philosophy that works across multiple categories, industries and spaces that work across multiple channels whether it is social, PR or brand marketing. Just being in different spaces and talking to different consumers really brought to my attention the standard philosophies that can be applied to a multitude of different industries. You have seen some of the greatest marketing minds do this for the last 20–30 years and it is something that I try to do as well because of my vast background.”

“That has been one of the biggest learning points for me as I was able to start my career in a department store and then move to video games then to beer and now finally to sports. It has definitely been a huge benefit.”

After cutting his teeth in multiple industries right after college, Jeremy had the opportunity to move back to Portland and get another role in brand marketing. It was there that he finally ended up making the transition over to adidas and began his journey to where he is today.

“After graduation, I moved to San Francisco to get some experience in brand marketing roles there and then I moved back to Portland and landed another role in brand marketing. I made the transition over to adidas where I started out on the digital side of things. Knowing that’s where everything was heading, I knew it would be a great place to not only start my ascension, but to balance out my experiences that I had gained already.”

“From there, I moved into the Head of Brand Marketing for both the football and baseball divisions.”

Jeremy had accomplished his goal from college and even to this day can’t believe it sometimes.

“Knowing that I got to the place where I set out to get at the end of my college career is definitely surreal and sometimes I wonder if I am dreaming.”

In the end, it was about patience and vision for him. The patience to not jump on every opportunity to better himself and the vision to know that he had one goal and he wanted to make the right decisions to make sure he accomplished it.

“It was a long road, but I always tell people that it is going to be difficult to get where you want to go but don’t leave the track for an offer with more money or better title. If you stay the course and stay on track and are patient you are going to get to where you want to be and that payout is great when you get there.”

It has been over a year since Jeremy took over as Director of Brand Marketing for football and baseball and since then, adidas has made headlines and turned heads for their excellent strategies and content. For Jeremy, there isn’t a secret formula, rather just the focus on a consistent philosophy and approach within the confines of who you are as a brand and what you represent.

“The biggest thing for me and I preach this to everyone I come across is that it is all about consistency and frequency. You have to figure out early on exactly who you are and a great place to start with that is the positioning statement. That statement is so crucial for the long-term success of any campaign or brand. Without knowing what that North Star is, you have no idea how to get there. Establish who you are early because, it has to be real, authentic and genuine to the business and the brand.”

Without having that identity and that philosophy that you believe in, it is almost impossible to create consistent messages across all platforms.

“Once you figure that out, it becomes much easier to create a path to get there. From that point, it becomes crucial to be consistent and frequent with that message. The more times something is said, the more likely it is to be believed.”

Now more than ever, you have to tell stories, but not just generic stories, stories that are geared toward your audiences.

“You have to tell the story based on your audience. You have to know your audience, because each audience is going to react differently. Your football audience is going to react differently to something than your baseball audience and you have to recognize how to capitalize on that.”

One of the brands that Jeremy believes to be doing this the best and are having success because of it are Beats by Dr. Dre.

“One of the best brands in my opinion is Beats by Dr. Dre. The way they have been able to take a commodity, in headphones, and turn it into a fashion accessory and part of your style is incredible.”

“They again looked at something that was mundane to a degree and said let’s zig while everybody else is zagging and really carved out a strong place for themselves in the market. I look at them and the way they have established their niche in that area and how they have changed the game in that industry and it is just incredible. I admire what they have worked on and what they have done.”

Over the past 12 years, Jeremy has not only been working on building a successful career, but on Brands Win Championships, his widely acclaimed book on brand marketing and the impact it has on fans and properties.

“It started in college for me and the passion that I had in school for psychology and brand marketing and my fandom for OSU. Those two things somewhat combusted and melded together. My passion for the Beavers met my passion for brand marketing and when I was working in the athletic department I realized that we were not taking advantage of brand strategy either long term or short term.”

“While I was at OSU, I had actually written and published this long Jerry Maguire type diatribe on brand marketing on one of the message boards around what we were doing wrong and what we could to differentiate ourselves and I got some good responses. Those responses energized me and made me realize that there was an appetite for this kind of information.”

While he had started with this idea in college, he never put much thought into writing more and getting his thoughts out to people until he found himself in a meeting at his first corporate job in San Francisco.

“I remember moving to San Francisco for a job and being in a meeting with my boss and during the meeting I was sort of zoning out and recognizing that I didn’t want to do what she was doing. I realized that being in the chair that she was in was something I wasn’t passionate about.”

“This got me thinking, why not write down more of my thoughts and see what could happen and hopefully, one day, I could end up with a book in my hand.”

The process was long and life, like usual, finds ways to get in the way, but he eventually finished the book and was able to get it published.

“It took me 11 years to finish it as I was off and on as life got in the way, but 11 years later I was able to publish it and it has been amazing to see the response and see the feedback from people I respect throughout the process. It is a very surreal moment for me and still hard to believe.”

Along the journey to his current role, Jeremy had his fair share of success, but he also had his own failures as well, some failures that he believes made him better because of them.

“My first job at the department store was actually where I experienced some failure. I walked into that job thinking that I could lead by example and that everything would work itself out based on the quality of my work and the work ethic. I quickly recognized that by blending in, you lose that ability to differentiate yourself.”

“I remember that there was a transition in the company and everyone changed roles and everyone on my team got promoted and I didn’t. I was the newest person on the team, but it was pretty telling when I wasn’t taking the same leap that everyone else was.”

“I remember being in my review and I remember telling myself that I would never be quiet again and that I would never just blend in again.”

Jeremy was able to learn from his failure and as a result of that, he took his newfound knowledge of himself and never looked back.

A journey of a thousand miles, usually begins with a single step and for Jeremy, that single step led to the next step and the next step, but if it wasn’t for patience, he wouldn’t have made it to where he set out originally.

“You have to have patience. I moved out of state to get a job that wasn’t ideal but got my foot in the door, I moved to a video game company when I didn’t play video games, I moved to the beer industry when I didn’t drink beer. I was in three different industries that weren’t congruent with my own consumer habits and the way that I approached life.”

“You are going to get offers that are for more money and have better titles, but those offers could potentially take you off track from where you want to go. Once you know where you want to go, stay patient and recognize that the money and titles will come.”

“I wouldn’t be here without the struggle and without being in the industries that weren’t for me.”

With so much positives and excitement around adidas, Jeremy can’t wait to see what the future holds not only for his team, but also for the brand.

“We have a tight knit group and we have been doing this thing together now for seven years. We have been patient and have realized that things aren’t built overnight with brand marketing and we are starting to reap those benefits.”

“There are a lot of positives going on around what we are doing and it is a real testament to everyone’s efforts.”

A man who cut his teeth in three industries before getting where he wanted to go, trusted the process and believed in himself, because

“You have to believe in your philosophies and trust that they will get you to where you want to go.”

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