In today’s world, college athletes looking to turn their talents into a professional career need more than raw ability. In order to remain relevant and profitable off the field or court, athletes need to develop a personal brand that makes them memorable with fans and future employers. Unfortunately, this is something that many athletes don’t consider before pursuing a professional career.
This is where LW Branding comes in.
A former Purdue University cheerleader, Lauren Walsh graduated from college in 2010. After graduation, she worked with Purdue football as a mentor for student-athletes. It was during that time that Walsh saw a need for athletes to have someone in their corner who was helping them to maximize all their capabilities off the field.
“While working at Purdue,” Walsh remembers, “I realized that a lot of these guys had spent their entire lives focused on football and missed out on some of the general life things that some of us may take for granted. It was basically at that point in time that helping athletes maximize their potential off the field became a passion of mine and something that I new I would continue to pursue.”
Walsh continued to work with the Purdue football team until 2012 before returning home to Chicago, gaining additional experience in the corporate world, and then making the leap to start LW Branding in 2015.
Based on her observations at Purdue along with her personal experience of watching friends navigate their way through their own NBA and NFL careers, she determined that there was not enough being done to close the gap and educate athletes on how to build their personal brand outside their sport.
Walsh and her team take a very strategic approach toward working with each client. “We really dig deep into who our clients are,” Walsh states. “One of the areas that most people miss the mark on when building a brand is that they focus on what they think everyone else around them wants them to be.
When the reality is that to build a strong personal brand that can convert to opportunities, you must understand who you are and then bring that to life. We spend a lot of time getting to know our clients as humans, understanding what their why is, their core values, goals, and non-negotiables. We then we leverage that to build a platform with them.”
This personalized approach and attention to detail is why LW Branding has grown their portfolio by 150 percent in the last nine months.
They have been featured in the national spotlight by outlets like the Associated Press, MSN, and the Huffington Post, while also continuing to receive client referrals, some even coming from agencies like Siam Sports and OTG Sports Management.
Walsh and her team help their clients build out a social media presence that allows them to convert their followers to dollars, while also enhancing their overall media footprint, including press opportunities. But perhaps the most important thing that LW Branding does for their clients is get people to not only know who these athletes are, but care who they are.
“There are a lot of players who think that just because you get drafted that you have a brand. It’s a huge misconception,” Walsh says. The reality is that just because you play on a professional team does not mean that you’re guaranteed to make money off the field or off the court. Prior to attempting to engage with any brands or endorsement opportunities, we work closely with our clients to increase their exposure as much as possible.”
On top of helping players with creation of original social content, they also encourage players to engage in the content that their teams are producing, while also ensuring that they have a philanthropic footprint, leveraging their platform to give back. In particular, the agency encourages players to create behind the scenes content, which allows them to “humanize” themselves and create a personal connection with fans.
“Fans want to feel like they can relate to a player,” Walsh says. “If a Chicago fan sees that their favorite player on the Bears loves the same restaurant that they like, all of a sudden this fan now feels like they have a connection to this player. It happens all the time. I encourage my clients to lend as much insight into their life, but of course, only as much as much as they’re comfortable sharing.”
LW Branding’s growth can also be contributed to Walsh and the team’s admirable hustle over the last several years.
“Our current state as a company is a culmination of years of hard work,” Walsh states. “The reality is that I spent the first three years or so just grinding…working 16 hour days, being at every event I could, every single draft, combine, and All-Star Weekend just shaking hands and trying to get my name out there. Then for the clients that we did have, we were consistently going above and beyond. Our clients were our best marketing tools. We also did a comprehensive rebrand of our own mission, values, website and social accounts recently. It’s been a long process and three years of ups and downs, tons of failures, and personal sacrifice to get here.”
After achieving the success that she has through all this hard work, Walsh advises any aspiring sports-industry entrepreneurs to be prepared for a similar path that will not always be easy, but certainly worth it.
In the new year, Walsh and her team will be busy spending time managing client engagements and networking at events like the Super Bowl, NFL Combine, NFL Draft, and Spring Training. LW Branding recently broke into the world of professional baseball, partnering with SSG Baseball, an industry leader with clients like Matt Carpenter and Jon Duplantier.
Now with names on their roster that many fans know like Kirk Cousins, Darius Philon, Uchenna Nwosu, Lance Lenoir, and ESPN’s Olivia Dekker, LW Branding is poised for even more success and growth in 2019.