UPDATE: I ended up sticking with the Academy team for seven months. Great folks, they are.

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.

If you own a company, there is a temptation to treat marketing the same way you buy office supplies. You find someone who has design software or you buy one yourself, and dial up a quick advertisement to tell people all about your products and services. Done. Box checked.

Not so fast. If you’re that focused on efficiency, you could have wasted money much easier by lighting it on fire. It’d be more entertaining anyway.

In fact, when it comes to marketing, there really must be a balance between “get it done” efficiency and “do it right” effectiveness. Most of the hard work happens before a designer ever touches a sketchbook or a mouse. Effectiveness thinking (versus efficiency thinking) requires a whole different set of questions:

– What defines us, and what are we trying to accomplish?
– What is our audience looking for?
– How many possible routes could we take to connect the dots?
– What unseen problems should we anticipate?
– Will our strategy still make sense a year or two down the road?

These questions and plenty more like them are the stuff of good business, which happens to be much of the same stuff that makes good marketing. They help you see your target, so when you’re ready to fire, you’re more likely to hit it.

The first step in a marketing strategy isn’t what your logo should look like, or how to start up a Facebook page. Set your social media strategy aside for the moment and focus on the message you need to convey, and why customers should care about you enough to stop what they are doing and give you their time, attention, and possibly their money.

Back in my art classes in high school, my sculpture teacher would always say “measure twice, cut once.” It’s a common saying, of course, but so easy to forget. If you take good measure of exactly what you are trying to accomplish, and what your real challenges are, you are much better positioned to get the results you are looking for. Maximum impact with minimal efforts. That, after all, is what being truly efficient is all about.