Creative and marketing leaders share their best ways to keep winning at MLC Connect 2017.
Year 4 of the Major Level Creative (MLC) Connect Conference is officially in the scorebook, and unsurprisingly this year’s show didn’t disappoint, bringing together some of the most talented creatives and marketers in sports for two days of relevant and engaging keynotes, conversations, breakouts, and more.
The list of attendees include a “who’s who” in the sports marketing and creative world, like Todd Radom, Jon Contino, Chin Wang, Joe Bosack, and even Martellus Bennett, Packers TE, who founded his own creative shop, The Imagination Agency.
When you get a mixture of professionals from similar disciplines but vastly different backgrounds, it’s always an opportunity for learning, both personally and professionally. Several themes stood out over the course of this year’s event, but I think two resonated with the audience more than others: collaboration and the idea of “getting started”.
Collaboration Breeds Success
Collaboration has become a major focal point in today’s industry, as more of the top sports brands move towards relying on creative talent in-house vs. continuing the tradition of external Agencies of Record. Joe Bosack, founder and creative director of Joe Bosack & Co., opened his presentation with a playful nod at this trend.
“20 years ago, we could’ve had this conference in the back of a Starbucks,” he said.
Bosack also made a fascinating point about the importance of opening yourself up to working with peers—or “synergy”—to maximize your knowledge and expand your career. Collaboration can be tough for many creatives, but building a network of trusted peers only opens more doors down the road, both personally and professionally.
External collaboration, like working with other business departments or clients on a variety of projects or initiatives, was spoken about much more. Chin Wang, Creative Director at ESPN Magazine, said this kind of collaboration is a vital part of her role, and something that has made the magazine stay relevant all these years.
Although opinions may differ between the talented members of her team and the other departments they collaborate with, according to Wang, it’s essential to be respectful of all different perspectives by trying to look at things from other people’s vantage point.
Ricardo Crespo, Chief Creative Officer at Th13teen, echoed something similar. His discussion about the journey he goes through with clients from start to finish was eye-opening to everyone in the room, showcasing just how much a true partner mentality is needed for effective client meetings and how much research and planning it takes to execute successful creative projects.
During one of the breakouts, a few questions from the audience sparked discussion around how to collaborate with your management team. There were a couple of thoughts given on this topic. First, it may be important to put Service Level Agreements (SLAs) in place with various business owners on how to request and approve work, how long certain projects can be expected to take, etc. If an organization is struggling to keep everyone rowing in the right direction with processes, then this could be a great first step to flex your muscles and enact change. Second, maintaining an open dialogue with your business departments is crucial—and in many cases, it takes nothing more than extending the “olive branch”. If those groups see that you want to have a better relationship and involve them in your process more, it only will make them want to get on board and be a part of making improvements instead of battling positive change.
The Hardest Step is the First One
The second major point reiterated throughout the weekend was around the idea of “getting started”. Many creatives and marketers struggle with how to begin learning new skills, branching out of their comfort zone, or launching personal passion projects, let alone how to start making improvements to the status quo at their organization—but several of the sessions at this year’s conference addressed those challenges. First, Jeremy Reiss, designer at Twitter, told the serendipitous story of how he got his current job. It all stemmed from a fun project he pitched to a client that ended up on the cutting room floor. He took that design and built on it, exposing it to the world without realizing it would get the level of publicity it did. From there, it happened into an old mentor’s hands and the rest, they say, is history!
Martellus Bennett, founder of The Imagination Agency and Tight End for the Green Bay Packers, also gave a passionate speech about knowing who you are and going for it. Martellus had always been creative, but it wasn’t until he embraced that side of himself and went “all in” that his life began to have true meaning. From starting a creative studio to authoring children’s books, today Bennett is paving a legacy that he intends to last well after he’s hung up his football cleats.
“People will try to put you in various buckets,” he said. “But it’s important to break out and find your own truth.”
Finally, former MLB Rookie of the Year Ron Kittle led an inspiring talk about never giving up when the world is trying to keep you down. After an early career-threatening injury, Kittle defied all odds and got back into the majors by believing in himself and his ability. When his career was coming to a close, he again relied on his strong sense of self. Finding new drive from his love for making things with his hands, Kittle started a new journey that he could share with everyone, making hand-craft benches from baseball bats and balls. Kittle’s message was simple, but highly applicable to marketers and creatives struggling to put what they care about to action: There’s no telling where life will take you, but if you embrace your passions and seek new opportunities (even ones that may seem difficult at first), doors may open that you could’ve never imagined. You just have to get started.
It’s amazing to see where MLC Connect has come in four years, and like most of this year’s attendees, I’m excited to see its continuing growth as we head into year five. With a couple keynote speakers already booked for next summer, the game clock has started and the planning process is underway for what we all know will be another epic event for creatives and marketers in sports.
Brian Ondrako is Regional Sales Manager at inMotionNow. Since joining the company in 2014, Brian has worked with tons of creative and marketing teams to improve their efficiency and collaboration by streamlining workflow. Follow him on Twitter at @ondrakogolf.