This feature is presented to you by the University of Nebraska — Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration.
*Following his interview with Front Office Sports, Jason Cook was named the new VP of Marketing/Communications and Chief Marketing Officer at Baylor University*
For Jason Cook, maroon has been a way of life. Currently the Senior Associate AD for External Affairs at Texas A&M* and being a graduate of Mississippi State, Cook’s career has taken him from one maroon to another. His journey from ‘Stark-Vegas’ to College Station has been one of strategic networking, hard work and continuous learning.
However, what if I told you not all sports business careers begin in the front office? Upon graduation from Mississippi State, Cook traded in his cowbell for a briefcase and took a job as an account executive for a paper company in Birmingham, Alabama. Although his move to Birmingham was partially fueled by a love interest (his future wife), Cook strategically took the account executive role knowing the clients he’d be calling on were corporations, ad agencies and PR firms — perfect for a recent public relations graduate.
“I thought that those connections would give me a great introduction into the greater communications and marketing community in Birmingham.”
After a few years, the opportunity presented itself to become a member of the 12th Man and join Texas A&M as the Director of Communications for the College of Agriculture. Throughout his time in College Station, Cook has assumed many different roles, but few more important than his influence in the Aggies’ move to the Southeastern Conference. The personal relationships formed with Commissioner Slive and the SEC staff during his wife’s 10 years at the SEC proved vital for the Aggies in a successful conference realignment.
Cook used his opportunity to have helped drive the Aggies’ move to the SEC as an example to emphasize the value of networking in sports.
“It’s never been about who you know, but rather what value can you bring to the relationship. Tangible work experience is an opportunity to grow your network. You’ve got to establish those connections early.”
Cook’s path to his current position has been one earned by establishing a foundation of hard-work. Fluctuating from a college intern, to a role outside of sports upon graduation and eventually back into the sports industry, hard-work and adaptation have permeated Cook’s career. It is this quality Cook sees in his most successful colleagues.
“It all boils down to hard-work. If you put in the hard-work and are willing to truly learn, I think the sky is the limit. The unfortunate thing is I see a lot of young professionals get out of the business right before they hit that first hurdle. If they could just stick through it a little while longer, it would open up additional doors to young sports business professionals.”
With that being said, what exactly is a Senior Associate AD for External Affairs?
“My duties in external affairs consist of working with our team on anything that impacts our fans, the brand and driving our communications/marketing efforts. The scope of an external affairs role is large so you have to roll up your sleeves and do a lot of different things.”
“My week is a large crescendo to game day. We have big picture meetings on Tuesday then it narrows down to finalizing last-minute details on Friday before the game. SEC game days are not about one person or one group. In Aggieland, we have tremendous university partners who work together to create that magical game day experience that Texas A&M is renowned for.”
It’s no surprise A&M turns out such a fantastic and gripping atmosphere as Cook is a dedicated member of the SEC Fan Experience Working Group. He dove into the all-encompassing nature of what we know as the fan experience:
“We try to treat every fan as if it’s their first experience at Kyle Field. People are trying to say fan experience is what is on the video boards or what kind of music you are playing. However, fan experience is so much more than that. The fan experience actually starts when families leave their garage in route to College Station and doesn’t end until they get home after the game. There are many different touch points and many different people who have responsibilities for fan experience across that spectrum.”
As important as the game day atmosphere might be, it is just a piece of a large puzzle that makes up a university’s brand.
“So many people think the brand is the logo on the side of football helmets or on the basketball jersey but the brand truly permeates everything that you do and everything that you’re about.”
What do people think when they see your logo? The logo signifies everything behind the brand. During Cook’s time at Texas A&M, he has spear-headed an effort to establish consistency of the Texas A&M logo across the entire university, not only the athletic department.
“The logo is the tangible manifestation of the brand. When people see that A&M logo on the helmet, we want them to know that Texas A&M is unique, develops leaders who are dedicated to service and that our brand is about respect and loyalty. We are competing for people’s attention in a highly cluttered media space so consistency of our logo is vitally important.”
Fortunately for the Aggies, the A&M brand was quickly thrust into the national spotlight during the 2012 football season. The Aggies sent a shockwave across college football with a win over the top-ranked Alabama thanks to the heroics of a scampering quarterback by the nickname of ‘Johnny Football.’ However, roller-coaster results on the football field since the Manziel era has hampered the Aggies initial media interest and the ‘honeymoon phase’ of their 2012 move to the SEC has begun to fade. So how do you continue to cultivate a brand that experienced so much early on attention?
“The move to the SEC was not about athletics, but rather, how can we increase the visibility of Texas A&M, both athletically and academically? It was about increasing our visibility more than anything else. The challenge that we’ve had since the 2012 season is trying to help people understand that this is a long-term branding effort that we’re on here. Our brand trajectory is still moving up and the challenge is helping people recognize the long-term versus short-term view.”
With branding being a key driver for Texas A&M’s move to the SEC, understanding the current landscape of collegiate athletics and recognizing its future direction will be key to a young professional’s success in this industry. Cook and his team are well aware of the transition and ready to lead the athletic department in the right direction.
“We are at a moment of significant change in college athletics in every aspect: governance, attendance, fan experience and media. College athletics is at a transition point where the areas of focus may have to change a little bit. Nonetheless, it is a great place to be and an exciting time.”
Front Office Sports would like to thank Mr. Cook for generously offering up his time to speak with us and good luck in his new endeavors at Baylor University!