I am excited to announce that, beginning next Monday, I will be serving a two to three month stint as Senior Designer at Academy Sports + Outdoors.

Headquartered in Katy, Texas, Academy has grown to 185 stores in 15 states over the course of its 70+ year history. In 2011, the company was purchased from its founding family, and a substantial re-brand is underway to position one of America’s largest sporting goods retailers for an even stronger future.

Every company must periodically evaluate itself for weaknesses and strengths in its brand and strategy. That is the kind of work I am passionate about. Launching a trendy website is a matter of paying the right price to the right team, and a good marketing strategy can boost short-term sales, but what I am interested in teasing out the who, what, why, and how of brand fundamentals. Without clarity on identity and goals—and why they matter—a company’s culture and communication efforts simply carry the brand wherever the wind blows.

In recent months, and years, Academy has been on a roll recruiting exceptional talent for its in-house team, and I expect to learn a tremendous amount from them. I am very interested to understand how a national retailer operates behind-the-scenes—especially when I get to play some small role in shaping the brand experience inside and out.

Despite this great news, I must keep the search going for a more permanent position. The Academy position is slated to conclude by August, but I can accept another opportunity at any time. I am looking for a full-time role in design, marketing, and/or brand strategy. If anyone you know may have an available opportunity please send them to my resume page here.

In the last couple of weeks since I started my job search, I’ve realized that finding a new role is a lot like one of the first games I ever played—the one where you have to fit the square peg in the square hole, and the octagon peg in the octagon hole.

But life isn’t geometric.

Square Peg in a Round Hole_0565

I suspect others can relate to my story. My professional career has been all over the map. As a musician I released two albums and gained national recognition. As a writer, I’ve contributed to one of the most influential research institutes in Washington DC, helping to transform the discussion around a values-based understanding of business, markets, and policy. I’ve designed websites and painted murals, developed marketing plans and branding strategies, led worship teams and creative professionals, and—to shore up my bona fides as an artsy intellectual type—paid my dues as a Starbucks barista.

I worked as a graphic designer to pay my way through college, but before I could finish my PhD in political science, I realized that I had become more valuable as a creative and strategic thinker in the marketing and branding space than I could ever be in academia alone. And ultimately, the prospects in that profession seemed too limiting. I finished up my MA and decided to focus more on what I could do to make businesses, non-profits, and other projects more successful.

The greatest challenge so far has been identifying where exactly I fit in a typical corporate structure. My previous role lacked that clarity of function, which did allow flexibility and a broader set of experiences, but had its drawbacks. I’ll let you in on my “dream job.” It would involve sitting down with CEOs to evaluate the challenges and the opportunities to position their companies for growth. That means (1) great products that people love, (2) a sound business model that actually makes money, (3) a healthy company structure and culture that is conducive to growth, (4) a brand that establishes a sense of purpose and value that people can get behind, (5) a marketing plan that reaches and engages audiences, and (6) creative material that manages to communicate all of these pieces effectively.

That would probably put me in the management consulting category, but with an emphasis on comprehensive brand and marketing strategy. The problem today is that while my experience is broad enough to give me the necessary macro-level view, it is perhaps too shallow in several areas. In other words, I may need a few more years—and few more successful clients—to be competitive for that kind of role.

I need an interim step. On which piece of the puzzle should I focus? Marketing? Brand strategy? Advertising? Content management? Creative direction? I could do any of them very well, but some will put me on a better track than others. Further research, hard thinking, and some prayer is in order—and the wisdom of friends is always welcome.

This is the stage where I have to refine my short-term goals, and somehow make the peg fit, regardless of what shape it takes in the future.

Check out this short video featuring colorblind individuals who are able to see colors for the first time. It’s a feel-good piece, but more than that, it’s a great example of effective content marketing by Valspar paints.

Content marketing has become a buzzword that brands have latched onto as the age of Google and social media have flipped the traditional advertising model. Where brand communication was once a one-way megaphone through which they could reach customers, they must now also position themselves to be found by them.

The two-pronged strategic response to this change is:

1) Strengthen your SEO (search engine optimization)practices that help consumers literally find you

2) Create content that will be be liked and shared by your target audience.

Some brands have checked their content marketing box by hosting a blog and keeping their Facebook and Twitter feeds active. But the days of easy gains from social media are over. If you want to stand out from the cacophony of brands vying for attention, you have to raise the bar on creativity and quality. Brands have to think about what really makes people care.

Valspar nailed it with this project. Instead of telling you all about their paint products, they’ve partnered with EnChroma, a company that creates lenses to correct colorblindness. They’ve told a story about people who have been given a new way to see the world because of color. This demonstrates a company that understands its brand and its relevance in the lives of people.

The video is extremely sharable, regardless of whether I have any vested interest in paint. They’ve created what feels like a non-profit advocacy campaign within a for-profit business. It even has its own website.

The goal here isn’t necessarily to drive visitors to the Valspar site—though it surely will. The real goal is to increase the brand’s name awareness and engage audiences in a story brought to you by Valspar. Next time you are preparing to lay a new coat on your bedroom wall, you’ll already have a distant emotional connection with the brand.

This project took time. They had a strategy, planned it out, and executed excellently. It’s impact will be worth a thousand blog posts. Bravo, Valspar!