As COVID-19 vaccinations became widely available and mask mandates began to loosen earlier this year, many began eyeing a return to normalcy and a near-end to the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
For college upperclassmen, such as myself, this would mean the opportunity to soon return to our college campuses after more than a year of remote learning from home, as well as hopefully the opportunity to obtain an internship with a company of our dreams and spend the summer working in a new city.
For me, this would have meant congregating in New York City with 400 plus aspiring marketing and communications professionals as part of the Multicultural Advertising Internship Program, as well as the opportunity to gain in-office experience in Midtown Manhattan interning for Publicis, one of the world’s largest advertising agencies.
As cases began to rise and vaccination rates began to plateau in the spring, many companies postponed return to office plans, dashing any dreams of an in-person internship for myself and many other college students.
However, despite not having the opportunity to experience a new city and a new professional experience from my summer internship, I was able to experience both due to the 2021 HBCU Career Accelerator Program, hosted by Octagon Sports and Entertainment.
Known as one of the world’s leading sports marketing and talent representation agencies, Octagon represents a range of athletes including NBA superstars Stephen Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo and world-class Olympians such as Simone Biles, as well as the sports and entertainment marketing responsibilities for leading brands such as Budweiser, BMW and PlayStation.
After creating a video pitch submission for an application, I was one of 16 HBCU students selected to participate in an intensive two-week virtual program from July 19-30 consisting of a week of networking and mentoring circles held by Octagon department leaders from marketing, client management, digital strategy, legal, accounting and more, followed by a weeklong team case study presentation built upon program learnings and a final in-person networking event held in Washington, D.C. with all expenses paid.
After a week of insightful conversations and presentations, participants were broken up into four teams of four, and given the case study challenge of applying our program learnings into a strategic pitch creating a new product to be endorsed by a fictional athlete from pop culture history.
Inspired by the newly passed Name, Image and Likeness law allowing college athletes to earn profits, my team and I selected high-school football star Spencer James from the hit Netflix show “All-American” as our client, and a line of performance and recovery supplements made from plant-based superfoods as the product line. Acting as head of marketing for my team’s start-up agency, Southeast Sports and Entertainment, I was responsible for a range of tasks including assessing our products’ fit in the market, developing target audience personas, creating a brand story and product value proposition, and finally, developing a creative strategy to reach our target audience along with key performance indicators to measure success.
On the final Thursday of the program, all teams, program leaders, guest speakers, and competition judges met on Zoom for the final campaign pitches along with Q&As, with the winner to be announced the next day, in-person at Nationals Park in Washington.
On the morning of the final event, feeling confident in my team’s pitch and excited to travel, I boarded a flight from Tallahassee to Washington. I landed at 9 a.m., leaving me with a full day for sightseeing before I met with my fellow program participants and Octagon executives at a rooftop networking mixer, with views of the D.C. skyline in the background and Nationals Park within walking distance.
As the group finished our networking mixer and journeyed to Nationals Park, it was time for the final surprise of the event. As we first found our seats in the stadium, we were quickly invited to join the players on the field as they warmed up, where the winner would be announced on the Jumbotron in front of the entire stadium.
While my team and I were not fortunate enough to come away with the competition’s grand prize, I was extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to gain insights into the worlds of sports marketing and talent representation, and to explore a new city this summer despite the COVID-19 pandemic.