A Student-Athlete’s Guide to Selecting a Marketing Agent

A Student-Athlete’s Guide to Selecting a Marketing Agent

After years of debate, collegiate student-athletes are now on the cusp of being able to profit from their name, image, and likeness. With seven states preparing to enact NIL legislation on July 1, 2021, a buzz is growing in the worlds of sports and business that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. 

With this new era comes an exciting variety of brand growth and revenue-generating opportunities for student-athletes. So too comes potential short- and long-term brand, financial, and legal risks. 

To help illuminate a path, I wanted to provide athletes and their parents or caregivers with a resource to better understand the process of working with a marketing agent or agency. 

What is a marketing agent?

A marketing agent, publicist, or brand manager can be an individual or agency that provides student-athletes with counsel, strategy, and creative support for traditional and digital marketing, public relations, and events efforts—to help them grow, manage, and protect their personal brands.  

What’s the difference between a marketing agent and a sports agent? 

A sports agent or manager promotes an athlete’s career and plays a crucial role in developing and negotiating their playing contract. While a sports agent will occasionally act as a player’s spokesperson or creative lead, developing and deploying the strategy and creative assets to grow a player’s brand and protect their reputation is the marketing agent’s sole function. 

Does a student-athlete need a marketing agent? 

Hiring a marketing agent will depend on what the athlete is trying to accomplish with their personal brand. If the athlete simply wants education or wants to manage their own brand, they should check with their athletic department, as many have created courses to assist with this. 

If the athlete has access to online platforms like Opendorse or INFLCR, they still may benefit from additional marketing and public relations support. If they’re interested in expanding their brand but don’t know where to start or what they need, having an initial consultation with their parents and a marketing professional is a smart first step.

What services does a marketing agent provide? 

A marketing agent or agency, publicist, or brand manager may provide the following services: 

  • General marketing and public relations consultation and education
  • Marketing, public relations, and events strategy
  • Creative services, i.e., writing/editing, photography, videography, web development, graphic design, app development 
  • Media representation, crisis communication, and reputation management services
  • Daily social media strategy and maintenance 
  • Develop, coordinate, and distribute merchandise
  • Event creation and management
  • Small business or nonprofit creation and management

How much does a marketing agent cost? 

The cost for marketing, public relations, and event services varies depending on the project’s labor hours and out-of-pocket costs. Hourly rates will vary depending on the vendor but can range from $15 to more than $300 per hour. Some agents or agencies require a monthly retainer rather than providing an hourly or per-project rate. 

Before signing any contract, be sure you fully understand how and when a marketing agent will bill you. Once you enter into a contract, you’re financially responsible for any work conducted on your behalf by a marketing agency, agent, publicist, or brand manager. 

Can a student-athlete enter into a contract with a marketing agent without parental consent? 

Laws vary from state to state, but in an overwhelming majority, persons under 18 cannot enter into a contract with anyone without parental consent. When in doubt, contact an attorney or your athletic department’s compliance officer. 

Can a marketing agent provide a student-athlete with a financial advance? 

Federal and some state laws prohibit marketing agents from providing student-athletes with a financial advance. 

What NIL activity does a student-athlete have to report to their athletic department? 

What needs to be reported, when it needs to be reported, and to whom will vary. If unsure, consult with your athletic department’s compliance officer. 

How much money could a student-athlete potentially earn? 

No marketing or public relations professional has a crystal ball to foretell the future. While there’s information and tools available to help professionals make estimates regarding how much a marketing or public relations initiative may yield, nothing in a free market system is ever guaranteed. 

What should a student-athlete expect from their marketing agent?

A marketing agent’s roles and responsibilities to you as a client will depend on your project specifications. When entering into a contract, be sure that you’re clear on what they should be doing for you and what you can expect from them, i.e., how often they communicate with you, what deliverables they’ll provide, deadlines, costs, expected outcomes, etc. 

To maintain a healthy and productive working relationship, athletes and their parents or caregivers should be open and transparent with their marketing agent. Be involved, responsive, and proactive. After all, it’s your brand. 

We’re here to help! Feel free to contact me anytime if you have questions or are seeking assistance with your #athletebrand. 

4 Tips for Student-Athletes to Grow Their Brand

With comprehensive, division-wide guidance regarding name, image, and likeness (NIL) likely still months away, many student-athletes are left wondering what they can do to prep their brand for whatever lies ahead. 

Here are four simple ways to prep your brand for future monetization, the job market, or both. 

Clean it up: One way student-athletes get themselves into digital hot water is by failing to clean up their unflattering social media posts. Take a quiet Sunday afternoon to remove any unflattering or distasteful posts or images. Apps like TweetDelete do all the heavy lifting for you. Remember, if you leave it, you mean it. 

Have a brand plan: As an athlete, when have you ever started a game or match without a game plan? Never! Creating a brand strategy is challenging but an essential element to overall brand success. What’s your end goal? Who’s your audience? How do you plan to reach them? What do you plan to say? These are all critical questions you should answer if you want to achieve long-term brand success. 

Ramp up engagement: When it comes to engagement, make sure you’re always following the two Cs: consistency and community. As active student-athletes, I realize that consistently posting content isn’t top of mind. But if you want to monetize, it a must-do. Additionally, don’t post and roll out. Stick around and like, share, and comment on other people’s content. Being a good community member helps your visibility, too. 

Show us what else you’ve got: It’s easy to post pics from games, practices, and marketing department photoshoots, but that’s not all there is to know about you. What about your classes, hobbies, volunteer activities, and time with family and friends? A crucial piece of brand monetization is connecting with multiple audiences, so be sure to create content that shows all of your passions or activities — allowing you to engage followers who might not even be interested in your sport. 

Just like learning a new position or skill, brand acceleration doesn’t happen overnight. Student-athletes interested in growing their brand should use this time while we wait for NIL to get themselves into good brand-building habits. 

NCAA vs Alston: What that means for name, image, and likeness

Today, March 31, 2021, the Supreme Court will finally hear the arguments in the antitrust case of NCAA vs. Alston. For those who are unaware, back in January, the NCAA voted to indefinitely delay providing guidance regarding how student-athletes could profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL) citing concerns prompted by a letter from the Department of Justice related to the possible antitrust implications of changing its rules.

Knowing what we know, what can those in the collegiate sports and sports marketing communities expect in the short- and long-term following today’s arguments:

The reality is, for current DI student-athletes or those in the recruitment process, it’s unlikely we’ll see significant division-wide change to NIL policies within the next six months to a year.

Regardless of the immediate outcomes, all DI programs should commit to providing student-athletes with access to equitable education and support services to help create, build, and manage their brands for life-long success.

Stop by my blog next week as I provide student-athletes with multiple ways they can tuneup their brand to prepare for whatever is to come. 





Building a Foundation: An Athlete’s Guide to Launching a Charity

Athletes and coaches most typically launch what’s known as a private foundation, a nonprofit formed, funded, and controlled by a small group of individuals. Private foundations are subject to several operating restrictions not applicable to public charities. They must donate at least 5% of their assets’ fair market value each year to permissible recipients. Private foundations typically use their funds to make grants or gifts to public charities for charitable, religious, educational, or other causes that help the public. Some public charities act like foundations by making grants to other public charities.

Below is a brief overview of the steps required to take a private foundation from conception to implementation:

Pinpoint the Need

Are you interested in helping kids in your hometown? Or maybe you’d like to bring awareness to a national issue? The first step to creating a charitable organization is to select the audience you plan to serve and define how your assistance to that group is different from other charities.

Create a Brand

Once you know who you’re serving, the next step is to develop your charity’s name, tagline, and logo. It’s vital that you conduct research to ensure your potential brand doesn’t infringe on the trademark of another organization.

Establish the Mission

Your charity’s mission should be a concrete description of purpose and intent. It’s a clear and concise expression of the organization’s primary purpose: what it does, for whom, and the basic service it offers. Missions should be complemented with specific, measurable, achievable, and challenging goals.

Arguably the most crucial step in developing your charity is completing all legal and financial requirements to establish the organization. Failure to do so could be costly down the road.

Building a Team

If you intend to hire staff or utilize volunteers, their recruitment and selection should be completed before you officially launch. Additionally, you should select an advisory board or board of directors to help implement and guide the charity in the right direction.

Creating Buzz

Before launching, you should create your organization’s website, establish its social media platforms, and have a plan for continual content creation. It would be best if you had also had a plan for the charity’s official launch. Who needs to know you exist and why? What’s the best way to reach these stakeholders?

Have a Fundraising Plan

Fundraising is the lifeblood of charitable organizations. Before launching, it’s best to have a plan to ensure that the organization is raising funds to achieve and maintain its mission.

Athletes and coaches have a tremendous ability to make lasting change in the lives and communities of those around them. If built and managed correctly, a charitable organization can have a long-lasting and positive impact on the individual’s legacy and brand. Contact us if you have additional questions about how to build or maintain your charitable foundation.

Brand Tips for Professional Athlete Charities

Launching a charitable organization is an effective way for an athlete to grow their personal brand and give back to the greater good. If run effectively, the charity has the ability to amplify and extend an athlete’s legacy well beyond their chosen sport.

Based on my almost 20 years of working with nonprofits, I want to provide some key strategic marketing and public relations tactics to help athletes and their support staff get the most out of their charitable organization.

Have a 365 Plan – Mission-driven activities throughout the year are vital for any charitable organization to achieve long-term growth. Many athletes will host one or two events per year, leaving their mission dormant for months at a time. To avoid brand recession, athlete-led philanthropies should make sure to have a physical or virtual touchpoint for stakeholders at least once every quarter.

Be Consistent With Content – To avoid brand recession and diminishing fundraising efforts, athlete-led philanthropies should regularly develop and deploy content. Images, video, and third-party content like news articles should be deployed consistently via social media and the charity’s website and other owned assets to deepen and reinforce the organization’s mission.

Don’t Neglect Public Relations – Many times, athlete-led philanthropies will forgo earned media because they don’t have the expertise on staff or desire to take it on. Not leveraging the media throughout the year will have an adverse effect on the organization’s growth. If not doing media outreach consistently, organizations should at least make sure they’re engaging the press for their cornerstone events.

Survive Without the Star – The namesake athlete should always remain the face of their charity. That said, the charity’s brand should evolve to the point where the athlete doesn’t need to be physically present at every event or in every advertisement. Having consistent events and overall visibility—and the public support of the organization’s staff and Board of Directors—plays a crucial role in achieving this goal.

A huge misconception is that marketing and public relations has to be all or nothing. Firestarter collaborates with athlete-led philanthropies on a part-time, contract, or project basis to help them plan and execute their marketing, public relations, and events. Before your organization begins its 2021 planning, connect with me to discuss possibilities.





Building a Better Transfer Bio

As teams and conferences began to announce a cancellation or delay of the 2020 football season, I received many messages asking how to craft an effective transfer bio. After consulting with 25 DI head and assistant coaches, I’ve developed tips to help an athlete catch a new team’s eye.

Image – We all know you play football. We can read that in the bio. When possible, use a profile image that clearly shows your face. It helps all stakeholders trying to engage with you confirm who you are.

Name – Don’t forget to have your full name and any nickname you go by in your bio! Neglecting to do so makes finding you tedious for coaches, scouts, media, etc.

Playing Stats and Eligibility – Every coach agreed that including how many reps you’ve taken and your remaining eligibility helps speed up the decision-making process. Many players may feel reluctant to share this info because they fear it may disqualify them, but many coaches agreed that’s not entirely true.

Academics – Every coach agreed that seeing where you stand academically saves everyone a lot of time and energy. If your grades or ACT/SAT scores are lower than desired, it’s best a team know that upfront. Transparency doesn’t always mean disqualification.

Miscellaneous – Use the remaining characters in your bio to give viewers a glimpse into who you are as a person, i.e. other hobbies, awards, your hometown. Emojis are acceptable to use.

Video – Don’t forget to include a link to most of your recent highlight reel. If you’re a freshman or haven’t seen much playing time, using your Hudl account is also acceptable.

Pro Tip #1: Before declaring your intent to transfer, audit your accounts to ensure you don’t have any unflattering images or messages that might hurt your chances to play with a new team.

Pro Tip #2: Work with a professional or have someone review any farewell messages you post to ensure there’s no grammatical errors. If working with a graphic designer, make sure your text is readable, i.e. font is a decent size, text color isn’t too light for the background, and the files are sized correctly for the platform.

Pro Tip #3: If interviewed by the media, take your time and be thoughtful with your responses. Also, make sure the journalist has your social media handles. Finally, share the article across all your social media platforms when it goes live or is published.

Brand Building for the Introvert Athlete

Mastering personal brand building is challenging. For those who are introverted or don’t prefer the spotlight, brand building can feel like their own personal Everest. As I’ve frequently noted, for collegiate and professional athletes, coaches, and administrators, it’s vital to capitalize on their short-term visibility to achieve long-term gains.

For some introverts, how and why to get started can be a sticking point. For others, finding the daily inspiration and energy to constantly create content can be downright exhausting.

Below are tips to help introverts tackle the unique brand building challenges they face:

Have a strategy. Nothing zaps your energy and focus faster than having to reinvent the wheel every day. Creating short- and long-term strategies for your brand content is a lot of work upfront but can save your sanity in the end. This is key for everyone, but especially for introverts. The journey starts with knowing who you want to reach and where to reach them.

Let a reporter help you out. Leveraging earned media is an effective way to get someone else to do the heavy lifting for you. Just about everyone has an interesting story. With so many athlete-focused media platforms emerging, there’s never been a better time to pitch your story to traditional and digital outlets.

Acquire an extrovert. We extroverts are useful for many things. For one, we’re happy to create content and include you in it. Second, we usually have an idea where and when to be seen. Third, it’s our personal pleasure to get you out of your comfort zone. If you don’t have a designated extroverted brand buddy – I highly recommend acquiring one.

Get vulnerable. Carefully manicured personal brands are boring. We know you’re a real person, so let your real-life be part of your daily content—the good, bad, and even the ugly. How ugly will depend on your comfort level, but there’s a direct correlation between authenticity and higher engagement rates.

Give to get. Launching a charity or actively engaging in one allows you to be part of something bigger than yourself. It also provides you with year-round content without you being the main focus. Launching a charity is an involved endeavor. If mismanaged, it could damage your brand. Make sure you know the risks and rewards before getting started. If you decide to forgo launching a charity of your own, there’s plenty of reputable nonprofits who’d welcome your support.

Hand it off. There’s nothing wrong with engaging a professional to assist you with your personal brand. That’s the reason people like me exist! If this whole personal branding concept feels too overwhelming, an expert can collaborate with you to create a plan, develop content, or both.

As an athlete, coach, or sports administrator, your brand is one of your most valuable professional assets. Every day it’s left unmanaged or mismanaged can leave you further behind—and potentially out a lot of money.


Pivoting Your Brand – The old you vs. the new you

The coronavirus pandemic has forced pretty much everyone to rethink or completely redesign their lives. For some, it’s meant finding a new or altered way to do business or stay relevant. For others, it’s meant ending a career and starting all over.

Throughout the past four months, one question I’ve frequently received from all my various stakeholders—athletes, coaches, corporate and association executives alike— is: How do I pivot my personal brand to my new reality?

Like everything else happening in 2020, there are no real guidelines for pivoting your personal brand. But allow me to provide you with a few questions that will help you find your way.

Q1. Who is the new you? The new you might actually look a lot more like the old you than you realize. Work smarter not harder I always say. Examine the characteristics and goals of your new endeavor—I’m willing to bet that for most of you the target audience is still the same.

Q2. What resources do you need? The old you may have had access to resources the new you doesn’t, i.e. a child-free work environment, an assistant, marketing staff, etc. Building your personal brand takes time, effort and a constant flow of content. Do you have the resources around you to be successful? If not, what’s the plan to help get you what you need?

Q3. What tasks have you been avoiding? The old you may have not had to work hard to get people to notice you or your achievements. As a result, you bypassed things like building an effective LinkedIn account, leveraging your network or learning how to engage with the media. The new you will likely need to address these items. And so, I refer you back to Q2.

Q4. Is it time to learn new tricks? The new you might really benefit from things the old you avoided, i.e. learning to create effective video content, trying new social media platforms or giving speeches. If this pandemic has been good for anything, it’s been the optimal time to learn something new or step out of your comfort zone.

Many of us are concerned about what the immediate future is going to bring. The good news is your personal brand isn’t written in stone. You can, and should, continually adjust it until it’s producing your desired return on investment. Should the next year hand you another curveball, you now have the peace of mind to know how to pivot your brand accordingly.

The importance of teaming up with the right partner

“Towson’s coaches and athletes do amazing things every day and I’ll create any opportunity I can to make sure the world knows about it,” said Tim Leonard, Athletic Director at Towson University. “Thanks to the hard work of my Sports Information Directors and social media staff, much of what my coaches, staff, and athletes do on game day gets the spotlight it deserves, but I wanted more.”

Leonard, in his seventh year as Towson’s athletic director, has always sought innovative ways to guide and grow the University’s athletic program. He’s reinvigorated partnerships with neighboring HBCU Morgan State and has made out-of-the-box hires like the addition of women’s basketball head coach Diane Richardson.

In late 2019, Leonard sought out the services of a professional who could help him and his staff bring Towson University Athletics’ unique stories to a national stage. His search brought him to Firestarter. Quickly the firm was able to bring greater attention to head basketball coach Pat Skerry’s efforts to increase autism awareness. Additionally, the firm was able to bring awareness to senior gymnast Olivia Lubarsky’s efforts to help her fellow student athletes manage their mental health.

What started as a way for Towson University Athletics to receive outside public relations support and content strategy has blossomed into something far more valuable to Leonard.

Name, image, and likeness

The topic of student athletes and the ability to profit from their own name, image, and likeness or NIL isn’t new. It’s a power struggle that has been circling around collegiate sports for decades. While the NCAA’s final policies and procedures won’t be known until late 2020, Leonard didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

“I wanted to tap into everything Frances knows on the subject. I wanted to make sure I understood all the blind spots before and after this policy goes into effect. Additionally, I wanted to proactively brainstorm ways to educate myself, my staff, and most importantly, our athletes, so that Towson is fully prepared to manage this topic moving forward.”


Since the COVID-19 pandemic took shape in the United States in early March, colleges and universities have had to rethink their entire structure—and that certainly includes collegiate sports. This unprecedented turn of events has left every single athletic director having to recreate every facet of their day-to-day operations.

“It’s been invaluable to have an advisor with insight to what’s happening on a larger scale who’s also able to help me process how I need to communicate internally and externally to all of Towson’s various stakeholders. Never has there been a time when what those of us in leadership positions say and do matters more. I want to take every opportunity to do it right.”

Branding in an Age of Panic

We are currently living in unprecedented times, so it’s understandable that people are feeling a little insecure about the future. Ever the optimist, I believe we’ll get through this moment in time a little wiser, stronger, and more grateful for what we have.

As a marketing and public relations professional for almost 20 years, I’ve seen my share of client panic. Certainly nothing of this scale, but I’ve definitely led clients and teams through drastic highs and lows.

One thing I know for sure is that your brand or outreach campaigns should never be altered while you’re in a state of fear or boredom. If you’re sitting at home and putting your personal or organizational brand or its corresponding outreach campaigns under the microscope, allow me to provide some perspective and guidance.

  • Just because a brand or campaign isn’t landing with people right now, doesn’t mean it won’t. We are in uncharted waters. We are thinking, consuming, and engaging in ways never seen before. Depending on your message or target audience, now just might not be the right time for your message. Just sit tight.
  • The pandemic will absolutely alter the way we consume, engage, and donate. We will all absolutely take a financial hit—that’s to be expected. How much of a hit and for how long is still to be determined. But that doesn’t mean you should throw the baby out with the bathwater.
  • Rethinking your strategy is never a bad thing. Just make sure you’re doing so with data and thinking that will apply beyond the next six months or longer.

We really don’t know what the next two weeks to two months are going to bring. Does that mean we stop creating and deploying our brands – absolutely not. Just be sure that what your distributing isn’t tone deaf to the current situation. What I am strongly encouraging is that you don’t sink time and money into trying to predict the unknown. Stay the course for now and reassess with a clear head once life is somewhat or completely back to normal.

In closing, I want you to know you can always count on me and the Firestarter team for support—and wish you, your colleagues and loved ones continued health and safety during this very challenging time.