The first of August marked NCAA football’s official “Offer Letter Day” — the first time schools are allowed to send out their scholarship offers to potential recruits. The day itself typically draws a fair amount of attention as social media gets inundated with offer letter graphics, while lucky recipients post pictures of the creative images schools put together to woo their potential players.
This year, Purdue’s football program put on a masterclass in how to execute branding and recruiting more effectively. Sent to prospects, offer letters typically entail some sort of graphic from the school for the teens to share on Twitter and Instagram, as well as a corresponding letter in the mail. While some of the digital graphics can be cool to post online, the offer letters themselves that prospective players receive are typically pretty bland and boring — think, snail mail.
That’s where Purdue Director of Player Personnel Eron Hodges recognized an area rife with opportunity for his program to separate itself from all the other schools flooding mailboxes of talented athletes around the nation with scholarship offer letters.
Hodges wanted Purdue’s letters to stand out from the pack.
Coming to Purdue from football powerhouse Ohio State, Hodges is quite familiar with what goes into recruiting the top talent in the country, and how a program like OSU executes in that process. Of course, there’s the reputation and prestige of the school’s football team itself, but there’s more to it than that.
“We had creativity meetings, like, every single day, to the point that we wanted to gouge our eyes out,” Hodges said of his time at Ohio State. As originally a strength and conditioning coach and recruiting analyst with the team, this drove Hodges crazy; yet the importance of such efforts were certainly not lost on him as he transitioned to his second role as the Buckeyes’ assistant director of player personnel.
Hodges started working under Director of Player Personnel Mark Pantoni, who he credits for helping develop his football career. “Going out for jobs, I wouldn’t get hired because I was ‘just a coach,’ and programs wanted the next ‘NFL GM’ for the roles I applied for,” Hodges mentioned.
Under Pantoni, Hodges fleshed out the off-the-field skills required to succeed in the sports industry today. “We had creativity sessions, and every week you got graded on a scale of 1-10. Out of the 12 months we did it, I may have only lost, like, twice. I became the most creative person on staff for Ohio State football.”
He brought that skillset and attitude over to Purdue, enabling Purdue football Graphic Designer Ashley McCaffrey to do some unique, exciting things with the offer letters this year. What started as Hodges basically “commissioning” McCaffrey to put some graphics together for social media as a way to get the Boilermaker brand out there on offer letter day became much more. McCaffrey’s creative juices started flowing and an idea kicked in.
“The one that gets sent to the house, I want to do something a little different. Something cool and different that really stands out,” she told the director. After that, Hodges got out of the way and McCaffrey took over.
Upon brainstorming with her team, they decided on making the physical offer letters sent out to recruits into paper footballs. Yes, paper footballs.
“We reached the awesome idea of making paper footballs. It was a cool idea to make the offer letter interactive and hopefully catch the attention of recruits outside of the normal social media graphics and letters in the mail that they all receive,” McCaffrey explained.
— Eron Hodges (@EronHodges) August 1, 2018
The final product ended up being offer letters folded up like paper footballs, with an exterior designed to look like an actual football with leather and laces on one side, and “Official Offer” written on the other. As the recruit opens the letter — er, football — each panel features a different picture of the player, with a note from Purdue coach Jeff Brohm appearing on the side.
“We thought it would be a cool way to showcase photos of the recruit and help them envision their potential future at Purdue as they started reading their offer letter from the school,” McCaffrey mentioned.
It also transformed an otherwise routine experience into something fun and engaging.
“This adds a personal touch, where it’s arts, crafts, and something recruits can interact and engage with,” Hodges stated. That’s particularly important in the competitive recruiting atmosphere proliferating NCAA football today. As Hodges noted, “people don’t put forth effort anymore. This shows a personal touch, and kids equate investing time and energy with someone loving you, so this shows that here at Purdue, we really love you.”
By going that extra mile, Purdue uses its offer letters as an opportunity to differentiate itself — not just to the recruits, but also to college football fans and future prospects nationwide.