The NFL Draft: Lessons in Building a Personal Brand

Tonight marks the beginning of the 2019 NFL Draft. A record 135 athletes registered early this year, hoping to find a home among the first round picks who will inevitably get more attention, larger salaries and signing bonuses. The competition is fierce, and every one wants to be at the top of the list, but how do these athletes stand out among their competitors? Sometimes, the difference between a top draft pick and a forgotten phenom falls on their ability to establish a personal brand early on so that pro teams stand up and take notice.

NFL teams make a true investment in their early draft picks. Take Baker Mayfield, for example. The walk-on turned transfer turned Heisman Trophy winner captured the attention of media early on. In 2018, the Cleveland Browns selected Mayfield before every other draft-eligible player in the world.

In his rookie season, Mayfield’s replica jersey was second in sales only to Khalil Mack (whose acquisition by the Chicago Bears was one of the best front office moves in history). Aside from his obvious natural talent, Mayfield brought a new crop of fans to the “Dawg Pound.” How did he do it? He knew how to build a following.

You probably don’t have to run a 40-yard-dash or throw footballs in your line of work, but these lessons from top athletes show who understand the importance of personal branding, both on and off the field:

His field: Baker Mayfield to two different Big 12 schools to ensure he had the proper platform to showcase his skills.

Your field: Know where your audience is. As a business, you must find the most advantageous market to impact. Making intelligent moves like acquiring the assistance of a PR agency can help you compete with the “big dogs.”

His field:  On the field, Mayfield was ferociously competitive. As an undersized quarterback, he played and exhibited lots of confidence. Fortunately for Mayfield, his game could back up his bombastic persona. Mayfield didn’t disappoint his fans as he threw for 131 touchdowns and ran in another 21 during his college career.

Your field: Authenticity in branding is a must. Without the evidence to support your messaging, your audience will quickly lose confidence and trust.

His field: Mayfield’s pro career hasn’t always been smooth. Critics weren’t happy about stunts he pulled on the field, and many considered him to be a showboat. However, when Mayfield made a mistake, he quickly responded. After planting his team’s flag in the sacred Ohio State Buckeyes logo after a victory, Mayfield composed and delivered a well-presented apology in a public press conference.

Your field: Nobody is perfect. But, it’s all in how you handle things after the fact. Hiring a crisis communications’ professional to properly media train and prepare clients on how to handle negative press can be the difference between salvaging a reputation and damaging one irreparably.

As you tune into this year’s draft, notice the fanfare surrounding the first round of draft picks compared to later rounds. Incredible players go undrafted every year, but it’s the personas who stand out beyond their stats who often become the top picks. Developing a strong personal brand early on is a powerful way to spread your influence and showcase your values, which can reap benefits for the long term.

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