University of Houston
- I've actually had them submit to me a sports tech company that they would want to do a... Create a content calendar, content strategy. You know, create all this type of social media content for these sports tech start-ups. Once the project ends and I'm done reviewing, grading all of that stuff, then I'm going to actually reach out to every single one of those start-ups and show them, "Hey, this is what my student did for your company, and they would love the opportunity to interview with you if you had an internship." That right there will help separate them from from anybody, any other student across the country.
- Hey, everyone, thanks for tuning in to The Teacher's Lounge, HubSpot's podcast for the Education Partner Program. I'm your host, Isaac Moche. Today we're speaking with Ashley Dewalt, adjunct professor at Texas Southern, lecturer at University of Houston, and founder and CEO of Leverage Sports. Welcome, Ashley.
- How you doing, Isaac? Pleasure being on the show.
- Yeah, thanks for coming, thanks for taking the time to share your perspective. I'm pumped because you're on both sides of this employment story, both as a founder and CEO and lecturer at two schools. So I think you've got a great perspective to share.
- Absolutely, absolutely. Looking forward to sharing that insight.
- Yeah, can you, just to kick things off, share a little bit about yourself, what you teach, and then, of course, a bit of the story of Leverage Sports.
- Absolutely. So, over at Texas Southern, I actually teach a couple of courses. One consists of managerial sport communication and media relations. The other is sport entertainment management over at Texas Southern, based in Houston, Texas. And I also lecture a course, teach a course called Social Media Marketing in Sports over at the University of Houston. And I really enjoy it. You know, I have really, really great students, and they're very interested in all these different aspects of sports business. And so it's something that I find... You know, for me, it's very gratifying to know that I'm able to connect with these young minds and really inspire them to be in the industry. Like I said, my journey as far as an entrepreneur... I'll speak on that. I started when I was 21, and I started... I really was just breaking into building websites for pro athletes, and I realized that there was a market opportunity for that. You know, for me, I was a big fan of Reggie Miller, Tim Hardaway, Chris Muller. I know I'm really giving my age away, now. You know, those guys back in the day, the David Robinsons. You know, those guys, Scottie Pippen. They didn't have any type of official website, and what was funny was the fact that these guys played on the dream team, and they were international stars, right? But there was no way for them to really connect at that time with their fanbase. I really saw that opportunity, and that's kind of what led me to really throwing my hat into the lifestyle of being an entrepreneur and really taking that problem that I saw and building a solution for it, which was building these official websites, helping these guys to really monetize their brands across social media that would later come years down the line with MySpace. And I really sound like a dinosaur, now, but that's how long I've been doing this stuff, when we were just doing official websites and merchandise. And then when MySpace and Facebook and those guys came around, then that's when my company started to evolve, and that's when we started offering more services to these professional athletes and really helping them to maximize their brand and connect with their fan base, but, at the same time, monetizing their brands, too.
- You started that at 21. Do you think that gives you sympathy, or even empathy, for students that are just hungry to kickstart their careers? I think you said, "to put their career in the microwave."
-Exactly. It's one of those things I tell my students now. There's no excuse for not trying to build something. Or there's so many different resources online, now. And you know, for me, I tell them that it's not gonna happen overnight. No success happens overnight. And I think that I can really speak on that, because people see the things that I've done in the industry, and they see these... You know, I work with... I've worked and built brands for major collegiate programs like Texas A&M, TCU Horned Frog, University of Maryland, all these different athletic brands, collegiate athletic brands, but then I've also work with guys like Ray Lewis or Damien Thomlinson, highs who are building their brands as well, too. I mean, all of that stuff would've never happened if I didn't put in the time and the years and learning my craft and learning about digital marketing and all these different facets of branding and just general business. And I think a lot of students, now... Like I was saying, they kind of want the microwave approach on success, and I tell them it doesn't happen overnight, and they really have to become an expert. I think that now, in the age that we live in right now, with all these different tools... I mean, literally, I tell them, "Hey you should make Google... That should be your girlfriend or your boyfriend. Anything you want to find is on Google, so I think that with all the resources that they have now, I think it's able to put them on a fast track to success, compared to 15 years ago when I came in.
- I think what's so hard about that, though, is... So there are a couple of things at play. It has never been easier to start a business. It's never been easier to pretend like you're success has been effortless, because people show and articulate their success in a way with social and with blogging like, you know, they're a natural, or they're just... Its God-given gift to them, and so I think that's really hard for students to hear and see two different things, so how do you... I mean, does that resonate with you, one, and two, how do you you get that across to students, that taking and building a career really is a long-term process and that it takes time?
- You know, for me, that's something I've battled in the classroom. When I'm actually going over the different assignments and things that we do that's in my curriculum, I make it very clear to them that these projects that I have you do, it's totally different than you using social media for your personal uses. I'm going to teach you guys how to use social for business, how to grow any business. I don't care whether it's healthcare, whether it's sports, whether it's oil and gas. These principles that I teach in a classroom when it come to social media marketing, it can be applied across any type of industry. And what I've done in a classroom to really kind of get them on that fast track and really understand differentiation between the two... I have them doing different types of social media courses, like Facebook Blueprint, for example. It's a free course, you know? Twitter Flight School is a free course. I even have them taking you guys' HubSpot courses, and literally getting all of this training. But in addition, we have... In my classroom, we talk about different case... Different type of sports brands that are using social media to enhance their brand, to monetize their brand, to connect with different stakeholders. So we talk about real world type of brands, and we kinda talk about it, more or less in a case study type of format. Like right now, for example, I have been working on... One of the major projects is putting together a content calendar, putting together social media's content strategy, teaching what that looks like, putting together buyer personas. All these different things, a editorial calendar. I have them creating Instagram ads. I have them creating Facebook ads, things that that are going to be able to help them further along in their career path, and really kind of separate them themselves from the next student that's trying to apply for their job. Because honestly, if I can walk in any business, and I can tell you "Hey, I know about LinkedIn marketing. I know about Instagram marketing, Facebook Marketing. I know about all these different things. Oh, and by the way, I can help you build a CRM system..." All of these different skills that a student has, you can basically work anywhere. And you'll blow them away and really separate yourself.
- What are some of those other foundational baseline skills that you think students just need to make them those multidimensional people that can have an impact right out of the gate?
- So in my classes, personally, I have my students take courses that are Provided by Adobe Creative Cloud. So, you know, the Photoshop, the Illustrator, all those different design tools. I have them actually taking those courses, because it's one of those things... It just adds to the skills when you can actually design something, as well. And it doesn't have to be... And I don't require them to be this advanced graphic designer, but at least have some type of understanding what goes in the creative process when you're creating a different type of collateral. Whether it's social media graphics, whether it's motion animation. You know, gifs. All of those different type of content that you see nowadays on social. So, really kind of stressing to them that it's good to take those type of courses that Adobe offers. Play with it, do some tutorials on it. Learn some different skills about how to use that stuff in addition to the social media training.
- Yeah, and is that a shift for the students, to realize that the social that they're going to be doing, or that they're aspirationally wanting to do in their career is actually not engagement for engagement's sake, and that it's not just about the likes? Is that the big gap in making them understand that? Are there other things?
- Yes, that's a great point. So that's one of things that we talk about in class is that it's more than just... When we measure engagement, it's much more deeper than just likes and comments. We really look at analytics, and everything that my agency tries to do, we all try to do everything based upon data. And so when we make decisions based upon the content strategy, it's all based upon data. So I like to say we make data-driven decisions. More or less, and we're not just focusing on the likes or the comments. We're looking at so many other factors that show the increase in engagement. Beyond just impressions. So I'm glad you mentioned that, because I even had my students take a Google Analytics course just to give them a foundation of what analytics looks like through Google. So if you can understand a basic foundation of Google Analytics, I don't care what other analytics too is out there. You'll have some type of background knowledge how that works. I try to give them a utility belt, kind of like how Batman has. You know, that's what I'm trying to arm my students with is give them that utility belt that they can be able to pull out anything for any type of situation, whatever career path that they go in.
- How does that utility belt and the brands that you're having your students build in the course impact the way they get a job?
- The things that I'm teaching them in the classroom is going to heavily make an impact in any business that they work for or if they want to choose an entrepreneurship route, they can apply those same skill sets in that path. But I think that... It's one thing that I've seen is that the students are lacking a lot of these foundational skills, and I've noticed that... And that's been at both universities, but not just those guys. It's been at multiple universities that I've attended their career fairs. And it's one of the things that when I talk to students, they lack certain skills, and it's beyond just having a resume. You know, those days are over. In my opinion, you have to have an actual portfolio. So my students, I try to encourage them to, "Hey, if you want to do graphic design, you need to have a portfolio that showcases your work." And it doesn't even have to be for a client, because they're like, "Oh, well professor, we don't have any clients." Okay, well that's fine. You can create social media graphics for NBA players if you love the NBA or NFL, and you can just put a copyright disclaimer. "Hey, these are owned by the NBA," for example. I mean, it's a way for you to show your work. If you're a writer, you need to have a blog. So that way people can see what you write about and your writing skills. If you're a videographer, you need to have a YouTube account. So having these real living, breathing... Resumes, I call them. Is way more impactful, I believe, for an employer to look at and say, "Hey, this person has what I'm looking for at my business."
- It occurs to me that your two narratives here are very much tied together, which is that it's never been easier to start a business or learn something or acquire these foundational skills, but because of that, it's made the static resume obsolete, because anyone can publish, and anyone can learn these skills, and so what are you gonna do to differentiate yourself? And I think that really comes from your background as an employer. What else comes from that background where you can give students that insight? I think that's a huge thing that professors listening to this can take away, so I want to hear what else you tell your students, kind of with that background, to help them launch their careers.
- Yeah, sure. One of the things that I tell my students is besides that fact that you have to be very proactive, you have to really think about what value can you add to a business, whether it's... You know, you're really great at talking, so you can probably do sales. That would be very easy for someone like a student that loves to talk to people, that's a people person. So, when I talk to my students, I ask them, "Hey, what things can you add, as far as value, to a business? Because that is what makes them want to hire you." When you can tell me, "Hey, I have these certain skill sets," then sure, you can add value to my business. And maybe tenfold, by me nurturing and training you, developing you as a young student. That's one of the things, but then you know, at the same time I also share with my students that look, you have to be able to do the things that other people won't do, and you have to be able to just get in there and grind. You're not gonna always have your hand being held to go from A to Z. Sometimes you have to figure out how to get to M and O. You shouldn't have to always be told like a robot to do stuff, and I think that's a lotta times... With college students nowadays, they do not have the critical thinking skills. They lack that. Making yourself very versatile is something that I always encourage my students in the classroom to do. And to ask people... Ask people questions. If there's things that you want to... There may be certain jobs that you're potentially interested in. Send those people an email. Don't be scared to send them an email. Send them a note on LinkedIn. And when you send them a note on LinkedIn, don't just hit Connect button. Send them an actual note. Be very direct with your questioning. You know if you want to ask these different professionals in the industry, whatever industry you're in, if you want to ask them different questions, get a little bit of insight into what they're trying to do.
- Do you ever have students come to you and say, "Well, Professor DeWalt, I'm 21. I'm 20. I don't know what my contribution to the world is gonna be."
- To those students, I usually tell them, "Hey, it's okay. You don't have to figure it out right now, but while you're trying to figure it out, you can always start to increase your skillset. Because that skillset will take you anywhere." For me, being in their shoes back when I was 21 and I was in college, I can understand, and that's why, for me... I definitely show them some empathy, but I also let them know that, "Hey, I not gonna show too much, because, you know, you're going into the real world." And it's one of those things that if you can't bring something to the table, then, hey, it's so competitive out here. It's dog-eat-dog, and you have to separate yourself. You know, I've had students like that, that have have anxiety, and I tell them, "Hey, sometimes you need to just kinda take a deep breath, and you need to game plan. And you need to write down different goals that you wanna establish 30 days from now, 60 days from now, 90 days, and kinda take it in bite-sized chunks, as opposed to a lot of students... I've talked to students, and they haven't updated beer their career plan since they were a freshman, and they're juniors. And of course, so many things have changed over the course of a couple years. I like to encourage my students to have a game plan 30, 60, 90 days out, and then always go back every quarter and tweak that game plan, because things change. And I think they really appreciate it, because the students that have been in my class, they've gone on to be successful, getting internships. The great thing about it is, because the sports industry is so small, I've been blessed to... Over 15 years, I've been able to build very solid, meaningful relationships with people across the industry. So whenever my students have gone out to try to get internships and things like that, I've been fortunate enough to be able to call on their behalf, vouch for them, and they people that actually hire those students, they know how I am as a business person. They're like, "Okay, well, I know he doesn't play. He demands excellence. So, whatever he does... Anything his agency has always put out has been top-notch. He's worked with all these different brands, so I know he makes those students bring everything to the table."
- Reflecting on your role as an educator, you teach the topics; you stay up-to-date; you are serving as inspiration, a bit of a mentor, preparing students to do personal branding; and launching their careers. What do you think that says about the state of higher education? Is that a natural progression? Is it right? I don't know, I want to leave that open-ended. What do you think about that?
- I feel like these students, before I had them in my class, I felt like they were kind of living in this bubble, and they weren't really prepared. And I think that more professors that I know that I went to grad school with... I just got back from New York last week, and I was talking to a buddy of mine, Brandon Brown, who's a professor over at New York University, and we were talking, and he's a young guy like myself. And he was talking about some of the same issues that he had in the classroom was, some of the students... They're not as aggressive. They don't realize how competitive it is. But the thing is, and the great thing about it is, is that someone like Brandon and myself, we're having those conversations. We're talking about what can we do to get our kids up to speed with what's going on right now in the workplace?
- Is that fair for professors to have to take that career services role?
- You know what? That's a great question. I think that...
- And I guess the follow on before you dive in there is does that detract from the teaching? Are the students not potentially learning as much because you're taking part of the time, not a critique on you, because it's happening across the world, but what impact does that have on that on the educational component of this?
- I think that as a professor, you build these relationships up with your students, so I think naturally, everything that you know, you kinda wanna pass it on down, so they don't make those same mistakes that you made in college. For example, I tell a lot of students, "That's fine if you don't know what you want to do, but don't take too long, because it's costing you money." That's something that, as professors, we really shouldn't have to, but I think, naturally, it's just in our heart to want to be that go-to for career advice as well, in the classroom. And I'm very transparent in the classroom. I let my kids know that, "Hey, there's so much stuff that I've learned over the fifteen years that I've been an entrepreneur and I've been in the sports industry. And things that I've seen that I was to share with you guys, but I only have this semester. So, it's almost like I have to go into hyperdrive, and you guys are not gonna get everything. I can only teach you so much." I think it's definitely something that I struggle with, because I try to be mindful. Okay, what things can I teach them right now in this short amount of time that's going to give them the biggest bang for their buck? And really help them tenfold in whatever path that they choose. And I think it's definitely something I struggle with. I know what I've done with one of my classes is, and it's kinda going back to one of the major projects that I have is to help them to kind of fast track their career into industry and sports, I've actually had them literally submit to me a sports tech company that they would want to create a content calendar, content strategy, create all this type of social media content for these sports tech startups. So, what I'm actually going to do in my classroom is, once the project ends, and I'm done reviewing, grading, all of that stuff, then I'm going to actually reach out to every single one of those startups, those sports tech startups, and show them, "Hey, this is what my student did for your company. And they would love the opportunity to interview with you if you had an internship opportunity available at your startup." Because, to me, that's that hands-on, real world experience that is priceless. And if I can literally show those companies, those startups across the world, what my students are doing, that right there will help separate from anybody, any other student across the country.
- It's remarkable. That is one of the coolest ways I've heard of professors promoting their students' work and helping them launch their careers, and you know what? We'll add Recruiter and Networker to the list of things that you're doing as a professor, so I think your students are very lucky to have you.
- Yeah, I tell them all the time, "You guys would probably never meet a professor like me. I'm gonna ride your tail until the wheels fall off, but you'll thank me later." You know, "You'll thank me later." So a lot of them, they've done that, so that let's me know that I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, and that is very rewarding. To be able to give back in the classroom when I'm not working on scaling my business. And it's something I really enjoy doing. And yeah, to me, my passion is education and sports and technology, so I've been fortunate to be at these two great universities and be able to give back to these students.
- Wrapping up here, any final advice for professors on treating the enthusiasm and the passion and maybe even a little bit of the anxiety of their students and turning that into a positive in the classroom, rather than something to be afraid of?
- I would say my advice for professors is really to kind of go back to where what we talked about is meeting those students where they are. I think, as professors, a lot of times, we may get caught up in just knowing these students by their I.D. numbers. and not really taking the time to get to know them. And I think it's something that... I would advise professors to really get to know your students, and figure out what their goals are, and really how you can help them get on a fast track with that.
- It's great advice. Thanks again for taking the time, for sharing your perspective. I think a lot of folks will benefit from it.
- Awesome! Thank you so much, Isaac. I look forward to it, and definitely... You can reach out to me. I'm on LinkedIn. You can search for me, Ashley DeWalt, so any professors out there that interested in even doing that type of project, definitely willing to assist any way possible.
- Love it. So this has been The Teacher's Lounge, HubSpot's podcast for the Education Partner Program. Education Partner Program provided to colleges and university professors with everything they need to detweeting courses and marketing sales, entrepreneurship, and communications. That's software resources and a community of professors all for free. Until next time, folks.
Ashley DeWalt is the CEO and Founder of Leverage Sports (LVRG), a digital marketing agency that creates digital and social experiences for sports brands. Being an entrepreneur to the core and having a passion for sports, he started his first agency at twenty-one (21) years old while attending college and the rest is history.
As a 10+ year veteran marketer and branding expert in the sports industry, he’s consulted with many premier collegiate athletics and professional athlete brands such as Texas A&M University, TCU, University of Minnesota, Ray Lewis, Hines Ward, and LaDainian Tomlinson to develop and implement successful, multi-channel marketing strategies across digital and social.
His industry insights have been shared at leading institutions such as Louisiana State University, New York University and University of South Carolina, as well as industry events including the Sports Marketing Association conference.