Storytelling in the 21st Century

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Patty Hubbard is hoping to redefine how athletes build their brands.

Patty Hubbard, Co-founder and Managing Director of BrandForward (image via Patty Hubbard)

Storyteller is not a job title posting you would see on TeamWork Online or any job posting for athletics, but that’s exactly what Patty Hubbard’s job is.

She is the Co-founder and Managing Director for BrandForward, a company that helps current and retired athletes translate their skills and passions into a brand.

Her mission?

To help every athlete understand that a strong personal brand can help them not only develop more meaningful professional opportunities off the field, but also, a platform from which they can realize their long-term goals.

Her inspiration for working in sports is partly due to her upbringing in Connecticut. She grew up in the late 1970’s and 80’s in a region where ESPN was launching as a cable network and the Big East was developing into a premiere college sports conference.

ESPN’s early content featured many of the great Big East college basketball rivalries during that era and watching Billy Donovan play on the 1987 Final Four Providence College basketball team was a big reason she chose to attend college there.

Hubbard grew up an athlete and she herself competed for Providence College, playing left wing on the field hockey team that won the Big East tournament in 1989 and 1991. She feels that the sport taught her how to be calm under pressure, work in a team and how to balance everything — lessons that have been a tremendous value to the work she does now with helping athletes.

“Throughout my career, I’ve been able to find opportunities that align with my passions.”

During her senior year of college, she secured her first internship as an assistant ticket manager for the Providence Bruins, a minor league hockey team. She then was hired on full-time for two more seasons.

“I often suggest to students coming out of college go work for minor league teams because you get to wear a lot of different hats,” said Hubbard. “Of course, you work a lot of long hours, but it doesn’t feel like a job. You’re a part of a team and you feel like you’re working towards something even though you’re not one of the athletes.”

After working in minor league hockey, she then transitioned to working in marketing, entertainment and branding for the next 20 years at companies such as LiveNation and MKTG.

She knew she wanted to keep growing and tap into her entrepreneurial side so about a year ago, she and Stephanie Martin co-founded BrandForward.

Hubbard has worked all over the nation, from New York to Atlanta to now living in San Francisco.

“Looking back, moving across the country multiple times seems like I was taking risks but at the time it felt organic,” said Hubbard. “By moving, it presented opportunities for me to be promoted and take on a challenge.”

Over the two decades that Hubbard and Martin have worked doing brand strategy for large companies and big events, they found that there were ample resources for companies looking to develop their brand, but there wasn’t as many resources for individuals and, in particular, athletes.

They are looking to change that.

One of the first steps to the process they developed is an audit of the athlete’s brand, looking at things such as engagement of fans through social media and market perception to help set a baseline for how the athlete’s brand is being perceived as well as opportunities for the future.

Next, they go into a one-on-one discovery process with the athlete where they share insights learned from the brand audit and then work together to discover that individual’s passions, motivations and values, and ultimately, what the athlete wants to stand for.

With this knowledge in hand, the BrandForward team can create a customized game plan with recommended strategies on how to build the athlete’s brand effectively. They also create a personalized, step-by-step playbook to help the athlete bring his or her brand to life, in a way that is manageable and focused on long-term brand building.

One important way an athlete can tell their brand story is through their digital presence. Hubbard shared that part of the BrandForward playbook process is recommending which online platforms to use and how to best use them with the goal of growing and strengthening the athlete’s individual brand.

“It’s all about quality over quantity: athletes shouldn’t feel they need to use all forms of social media unless it helps reach their brand goals.”

The approach to brand building is a deliberate one, and takes in many factors, such as where the athlete is in his or her playing career, whether a rookie, nearing retirement or onto their next career. As part of their process, the BrandForward team helps athletes determine where want to be in one, five and 10 years out, and then help them map out a supporting brand strategy.

“Some of our clients come to us interested in specific areas, such as their content strategy, dialing in their messaging, building their website or identifying speaking opportunities for example, but once we put into the context of a greater strategy for their personal brand and where they want to take it, they see that their potential is limitless.”

One mistake many athletes make is thinking that brand means promotion or publicity, and that brand building is not something everyone should pursue.

“We strive to give our clients the confidence to believe that their story has tremendous value and it should be shared. As athletes, they have a tremendous platform from which to make impact, so we work with them to tap into that power. ”

Another mistake made by many athletes is not investing the time or resources necessary to build a sustaining brand.

“Building a brand is challenging work. It’s a muscle you must use every day to get stronger. When Nike launched as a company, they weren’t a brand immediately. It took years to build their brand to where it is today. We work to demystify the process and make it accessible so our clients can see how their investment in themselves will pay off for the long-term.”

She suggests students who want to work in brand strategy take some courses in psychology and/or sociology.

“That’s part of the foundation of branding. It’s not just marketing and branding experience, but learning as much as you can about people. You have to learn what makes them tick.”

As an active member of Women in Sports and Events (WISE) and the person who founded the chapter in the San Francisco Bay Area 12 years ago, mentoring has become her favorite part of her career. She loves how her experiences as an athlete and in the business world can help athletes on such a personal level.

“Through BrandForward, it’s my goal to help athletes discover their passions and purpose outside of sports, and get excited about what they’re going to do next. Many have spent their entire lives working towards a singular goal — becoming the best athlete they can be –so I want them to understand that so many of those skills are transferable to the business world. Ultimately, it’s all about giving them the confidence to pursue a new set of dreams.”

This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.

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