"I really f*ck with what you guys are doing at B/R Kicks." - Kyrie Irving
The biggest challenge for me in helping launch Bleacher Report Kicks was developing a consistent audience around a new portfolio brand. My role in building this audience was essentially at all levels from curating and posting content to the social channels, developing original content, doing the creative direction for our video series, and art direction for our editorial projects. The Kicks brand was essentially a startup within the larger Bleacher Report ecosystem and required on a small team working on it as a passion project outside of the day to day responsibilities to our primary titles. Over time I was able to help develop a consistent social voice for the account that was both informative yet inclusive of sneaker culture. Furthermore, we developed a stable group of artists with whom we created original content. This would end up being some of our highest performing content and played into our overall social strategy. I also helped launch and produce some of our video series featuring surprise sneaker giveaway show "Sneaker Shock" and our athletes "Unboxed" series (And evolution of our previous "Freshly Unboxed" series).
I had the opportunity to build the BR Kicks sub brand from the ground up, from it's very first instagram post on social to over 1 Million followers on the platform. Along the way I got to work on a number of social projects, series and shoots, animations, illustrations, motion design projects, and unboxing videos. Seeing the brand grow from what it what it once was, a passion project started by myself and a group of other sneaker heads to a viable portfolio brand with multiple monetization opportunities and experimental activations was an extremely enriching experience.
While developing the Team Stream app the main model to create a community was to develop an individualized stream for content specific to a team or fandom. As we worked on expanding the topics that users could follow on the stream, we developed a Kicks stream. Initially we were curating content around Kicks from the internet and other publishers. Slowly we began aggregating more of this content and developing basic news coverage around releases and sneaker moments in sports. This Kicks stream in our app grew exponentially to become on of the most subscribed amongst even all of the team and sports streams. Users from all around the globe and fans of different sports had a common interest in sneaker culture. This informed our decisions that there was a high amount of overlap amongst folks who wanted to see kicks not just on the court, field, and pitch, but also off of it. Subsequently we saw an opportunity to begin a new vertical where we could produce original content for an audience that was hungry for it.
The initiative began as an editorial play where we wanted to bring value and storytelling to our core audience. One of the first projects we worked on as a part of launching BR Kicks, and the first social post on the freshly launched instagram account was a timeline on the "Rise of Adidas" which was a part of our Media Lab immersive articles project. In creating original content which featured unique storytelling, compelling artwork featuring paper crafted diorama's visualizing the key moments throught the history of the brand, we were able to connect with the audience that we had built up in a new manner. The story was one of our most read published editorials for that month and gave us the fuel needed to take this vertical more seriously. Realizing the power of original content in the sneaker space, I set out to take my learnings from the Media Lab initiative and my early work on our app and social media profiles to develop more projects for BR Kicks. Another story I had an opportunity to design and collaborate with my colleague C.J. Toledano on was a parallax article on the Nike "Air Mag" which similarly to the Adidas piece saw renewed interest in the Kicks topic and bolstered our confidence in further exploring avenues for growth. Using the editorial CMS I had built out as a member of the Media Lab
Taking the role of producer, art director, and designer I was able to develop original concepts with the assitance of our small but nimble Kicks team. One of the first video series we developed was a Sneaker Unboxing show. The "Freshly Unboxed" concept was a production we had to create with a small budget and few resources. With the help of the talented Lance Fresh who was a host at the company and helped bring about the name and concept, I refined the look and feel of this unboxing series over the years. Early experiments such as the "Kyrie Wheaties" or this "Kobe Protro" unboxing were shot on cellphones and quickly turned around edit wise. I had the opportunity to be both behind the camera directing these features and editing the look and feel and in front of the camera from time to time such as was the case for the unveiling of the Chocolate Yeezy 750's.
Then as we got more equipment such as a DLSR our small but nimble team began to try more angles and edits such as in this "Paul George PS4" unboxing, or our "Off White Converse" unboxing, or even Over time we built up a visual style and elevated treatment that was unique to Bleacher Report. The key metric for us was to improve with every unboxing we did. As can be seen in this example with the Damian Lillard 4 below or our Nike Vapormax Branded Content unboxing, we added elements such as sound design and title graphics that differentiated our unboxing content from the rest of the stuff being done in the market.
As the Kicks brand grew, we were able to develop our unboxings into more of a cohesive series featuring athletes unboxing new editions of their signatures shoes. The benefit of a series like this was that fans could get closer to the athletes they love and hear firsthand the details of the sneakers that were coming out. One of the first ones we did featured Donovan Mitchell and we subsequently got to shoot some great episodes with All Star players like Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Paul George, Steph Curry, and Anthony Davis. The series was actually picked up by Facebook Watch as an exclusive streaming show after the first two episodes we launched. I had the opportunity to help develop the look and feel of this series and the overall question and answer feel of it from a creative direction and production standpoint along with art directing the motion graphics from the initial episodes with Kyrie and Donovan. The Kyrie episode ended up being our most impactful episode as the interest around the Spongebob collection, which was a collaboration between Nike and Nickelodeon, was through the roof.
As can be seen in the behind the scenes video below, these shoots involved multiple cameras and were much bigger productions than our initial unboxing experiments. BR Kicks is a brand that I am proud to say I helped build from the ground up, and the ability for it to become a legitimate community in the sneaker space with engaged fans who interact with the content but also a feasible business model for monetization in a crowded market is a testament to the efficacy of the storytelling and the relatability of the content. Going from shooting on cellphones to having a multi camera setup allowed for so much more freedom in the types of shots we wanted to get, and the level of detail we wanted to do, but at the same time it allowed for moments of levity and improvisation in the same manner as the smaller shoots we would do on our own in the office as can be seen in the behind the scenes clip below.
A video series that I helped creative direct, produce, shoot, edit and develop was our 72 Hours concept that was kicked off with our initial experiment on ground at All Star Los Angeles in 2018. I came up with this concept as a way to tie together disparate content experiences on the ground at events like All Star. This way, we would be able to cover a full weekend of events and turn it into a series that could be repeated at future experiential executions. The evolution of this concept led to my putting together a video with Jaylen Brown with the Boston Celtics attending Paris Fashion week while attending some of the biggest shows from Rick Owens to Valentino. These types of videos were a sneak peek behind the curtain for our core audience and provided a perfect middle ground between talent access and our core demographic voice.
Another aspect of BR Kicks original content that I was tasked with developing was taking the learning that I had developed as a content strategist and producer as well as an art director in launching our Social Moments team and applying those to the Kicks vertical. This meant coming up with social strategy around content that we could produce quickly in response to conversations happening within the space, such as the photoshops of athletes wearing Supreme sleeves I worked on to engage our audience in a realtime manner. Finding visuals that would key in on relatable cultural touchstones that our audience would resonate with and engage with was the main guiding light as far as content strategy was concerned. This intersection between sports and culture allowed for a great amount of room to conceptualize new ways to excite our fans.
Furthermore, I worked to develop a regular rotation of talented artists across the world, tapping into similar experiences from my time launching Posterizes, so that we would have a varied rolodex of illustrators, animators, designers, and even performers to help us create content in a nimble manner. These projects were some of our highest performing pieces of content whether they were released for holidays like Father's Day, Birthdays, Thanksgiving, or Black Friday or around individual Sneaker drops or releases and tentpole events such as Air Max Day the Draft Lottery or NBA playoffs and even Movie and Album releases. Working as the creative director on many of these projects, my role was to ideate with the team around these key moments and work on concepts that were cohesive and engaging that could be turned around in collaboration with illustrators or animators to produce.
The process to produce this type of social first content would involve coming up with creative concepts and pairing that with a creator who could bring that idea to life with solid art direction and feedback. Personally one of my major directives was finding a diverse range of creators and mediums from everything from watercolors, rotoscoping , and even comic book artists. The majority of the time I would also provide graphic design support from a typography or formatting standpoint or take assets delivered from artists and elevate it for our platforms by adding motion or integrating it together into larger executions. The experience I had from launching an artist collective like Posterizes translated extremely well in this context as I was able to leverage my own existing relationships and network to parlay new collaborations for BR Kicks.
These illustrations and pieces of original content were often tied to big moments on our content calendars and helped amplify sneaker and sports storylines relevant on social. This lead to a number of content buckets that were filled using these art directed pieces of content. One example is our "Roster Illustrations" like Team 3 Stripes or Jordan Squad which featured a cast of athletes who are signed to a specific brand lined up wearing different outfits and sneakers. Similarly, much of the success of these pieces of content was finding the intersection between sports culture, sneaker culture, and pop culture which included instances such as our TV show inspired Kyrie pack, or our "What If" Kyrie Cereal pack illustrations. One of our most successful projects was one featuring Kobe Bryant sitting at the head of a table in a "Last Supper" inspired multi slide illustration featuring his different sneaker disciples. This piece had such high engagement that we actually had the head of Body Armour request a framed version of it to be hung up in their headquarters.
Similar to the Kobe Last Supper Project, we have had athletes reach out to get framed prints of our original artwork and comissions for their homes or other places as well. One notable instance of this was in our extremely unique execution that was originally explored as a part of our Art of Kobe project that I had the pleasure to art direct and contribute to while a part of our Media Lab department. In collaboration with a Greek artist, Charis Tsevis, we created portraits of Kobe Bryant and PJ Tucker out of sneakers. This time consuming process required an insane amount of research on my end, as I essentially had to build a full color palette out of sneakers before selecting the right images to create the sneaker portraits out of. Both images are some of our highest performing pieces of original content, and PJ even requested a framed copy to hang up in his new Sneaker store opening in Houston, Texas.
Outside of standard sneaker unboxing, one of the things I really wanted to focus on was quickly consumable social video content in the Kicks space that we could program cross platform. These type of videos would be inherently meant for social consumption and usually be 60 seconds long or shorter. As far as the overall sneaker content space and industry, this was a major white space that I felt BR Kicks could really own. Many of the other accounts in the space were focused on two main types of content, actual unboxing and first looks, and curated sneaker imagery from the pitch or on court and I wanted our video content to set us apart.
This included taking our social moments playbook and working with creators on our team like SelzerFX or Jerry Wang to integrate sneakers into animated shows like Spongebob or movies like Space Jam or even Television show clips like Friends. Finding opportunities to bring pop culture into the equation, whether that was creating motion graphics like this Stranger Things crossover or our Pokemon "Name that Sneaker" IG story game or was a big part of it as well along with sneaker hype tapes. However there were also other concepts that our audience really enjoyed including ways to creatively present sneaker releases, or to give our fans a peak into Antonio Brown or Kelly Oubre or even Kendall Jenner's closets. This type of accessible content led to partnerships such as "What's in my Bag" featuring Russell Westbrook.
Perhaps more important was the effect that this type of content had on the overall voice of the brand. Sneaker culture is often viewed as traditionally more of an insider thing where knowledge of brands and color ways and makes and models are what gives you credibility. However, one of the main goals of BR Kicks and the content that I both created and produced for the brand was to lean into more of an irreverent voice that was far more relatable in so many ways. This made the actual base of fans that were able to engage and interact with the content much wider, and with a larger pool to pull from more fans were able to feel like they were a part of the conversation. In an idustry that is often defined by exclusivity, the voice was catering towards universal experiences and embracing the idea of not always being the cool kid, but sometimes just being the folks who can laugh at a joke or share in the pain of losing out to some bots or hype beasts on a sneaker release. Balancing this more comedic angle of the brand with the intrinsic informational aspect that older sneaker heads crave was a difficult thing to balance, but also ultimately what allowed for BR Kicks to thrive in the long run.
However some of our most impactful content was based around sneaker histories. Some of the ones I had the pleasure to work on included the Evolution of the Ultraboost, A History of Flight, Mamba Moments, and my personal favorite Kobe's Nike Sneaker history where I got to play the role of creative director, sound designer, motion graphics designer, and producer. These projects required a heavy amount of research and planning along with high level execution and our audience noticed as much. In terms of watch time and viewer retention, these videos ranked atop all of our content, often getting multiple rewatches and being evergreen enough to repost again on anniversaries or other key dates. This type of content was integral in creating a content calendar that produced key moments throughout the week between all the different offerings that we had available. Kicks on court was something we could always count on during the season, and the quote cards would come from time to time, original animations and memes and the more comedic content would be dictated by bigger releases and this allowed us to fill some of the remaining white space on the calendars.
One of the biggest days on teh NBA calendar and on the Sneaker calendar is Christmas day, and it would go on to become one of BR Kicks highest engaged moments of the year. As such, one of the main directives was the create a dearth of highly engaging content experiements for our audience to interact with while they sat at home watching NBA action all day long. In different years we did different executions such as a sneaker unboxing of iconic animated show moments, or a more social news style video going through iconic kicks on court worn on Christmas day. We even ran back our sneaker mashups formula with a holiday color way twist. However one of the main videos I was able to produce and art direct was a historical look back at the Kobe 6 Grinch, perhaps the most iconic sneaker to drop on Christmas day. From writing the script to working on the motion graphics with Kasper Nyman to coordinating the music and voice over and doing the sound design, the project was completed just prior to Christmas morning and was one of our highest engaged and most "saved" instagram posts of all time.
One of the initiatives that was developed to integrate BR Kicks into Turner's live sports coverage was the concept of the BR Kicks cam. These segments featured shoes that players were wearing to games and on court as a way to highlight unique stories around sneaker culture. It was a distinct example of incorporating the BR Kicks brand and voice into the larger Turner Sports ecosystem, as it gives the digital brand an extension to a broader NBA audience while simultaneously giving the TNT broadcast credibility in the sneaker culture space through it's association with BR Kicks. Much like our social media accounts and Game of Zones promotions on linear these promotions saw an increase of thousands of new eyeballs to our social accounts. My role in these was around coming up with overall aesthetics and art direction around these features before it was handed off to our design team and Turner for execution.
The BR Kicks brand voice evolved over time to fall in a unique space that cradled the worlds of lifestyle, sports, and pop culture while appealing to a broad range of people. Differentiating the brand voice while being able to appeal to our target demographic was key. From a social engagement perspective, this positioning allows for flexibility, taking the clothes and sneakers that surround the game on the floor and in the tunnel, and the players that play the game and pairing it with the culture of the stars and rappers that they hang out with after the game. Balancing this juxtaposition of the field or court and the red carpet was a key aspect of growing the brand. From a programming standpoint running the social accounts, while posting this was a key aspect in every single decision to publish content.
Another prime example of integrating BR Kicks into the broader Turner's Sports ecosystem was the NBA Awards where our team was responsible for the "Sneaker King Award" at the 2019 Award show in Los Angeles. For a project as unique as this I had the opportunity to design and art direct the actual trophy that we presented to PJ Tucker at the award show. Collaborating with a ceramic artist based out of LA named Brock DeBoer. The process involved art directing and concepting what the award would look like and then creating molds of the sneakers. We went with the Air Jordan 1 silhouette as it is one of the most iconic ones in kicks history but was also actually the first shoe that PJ recieved as a kid. The sculpture was then dipped in gold and placed on a reflective base before being presented to PJ at the Red Carpet in Los Angeles.
Another aspect that I spearheaded was the animated promotional video featuring mixed media of PJ on the court, images of him arriving kicks in hand, and an illustrated breakdown of the most iconic sneakers he wore that season. This type of content was a staple of BR Kicks as well and an evolution of the sneaker history projects done earlier. It brought together many of the successful elements of other reciepes. This type of content was a natural next iteration from the initial sneaker evolution videos that I had a chance to spearhead.
The concept of the Sneaker King award was an interesting moment as it led to a deeper appetite internally for more Kicks content where there was no script and we could create moments around more organic conversations around sneaker culture as a way to humanize the members of the community. This allowed us to reinforce that ethos of everyone being a sneaker head by bringing athletes and icons in the speaker space down to the level of the consumer and allow them to be imminently accessible. Leveraging features such as Instagram Live we were able to showcase different closets, sneaker color ways, and have conversations with athletes like Kevin Durant or designers like Sean Wotherspoon where the six degrees of separation between the influencer and the audience was minimal.
Outside of unboxing sneakers, one of the major things that BR Kicks was lacking was talent centric video series that actually looked into the sneaker industry and spoke with the creators who were making their mark in the Kicks space. One of the major directives as BR Kicks grew to more than just a social presence the team and I wanted to develop more formalized episodic series that could focus on individuals within the community. The initial experiment which kicked this type of content off was our Preheat series which I helped produce with the rest of our Kicks team and focused on the come up of artist Joshua Vides who we had apply his signature style to a pair of Off White Jordan 1's. These type of intimate profiles allowed us to distill the backgrounds of these sneaker influencers into bite size pieces of content that could be consumed in an informative manner and thereby making our audience smarter sneaker customers.
Another show I helped develop and conceptualize for the BR Kicks team was Sneaker Shock, which was a Shorty Award nominated series where we surprised unsuspecting fans with sneakers and gave them away. The show included branded content opportunities with the likes of Under Armour in San Francisco, Showtime in Chicago, and Brand Jordan in Paris. This type of show was indicitave of the entire brand voice of BR Kicks which looked to make sneaker culture accessible to everyday kids and allowed everyone to be a part of the conversation. By making random fans who were simply buying some ice cream, taking a stroll down the park, or buying some new shoes for their kids and surprising them with the top shelf kicks that are normally reserved for the who's who of the industry really flipped the conversation. By dipping our toe in original programming, I had a chance to test out my skills as a creative executive and producer who helped coordinate the overall look and feel of the show while also helping on the production side in terms of camera angles, shot blocking, set design, and sound. The show would go on to be a staple in our decks we would take out to market to work with sneaker brands and was exemplary in showing what BR Kicks really stood for.
One of the other ways that I helped develop a strategy for BR Kicks was a social + app integration for original content and releases. This meant building a full ecosystem that housed our content whether it was aggregated news and imagery of on court Kicks, or original video and illustration, and even branded content projects and developing a cohesive programming strategy around key moments in the sneaker industry. Using our app and notification system as a pipeline and our social channels as an amplifying force, we were effectively about to build hype around sneaker releases and develop deep engagement across multiple channels. This way we were able to provide a constantly updated calendar of releases and compelling content at every touchpoint that we were interacting with our consumers. I helped build the connective tissue between our creative assets, and our programming and app teams to smoothly be able to drive eyeballs to our best content. This give and take allowed us to have multiple touchpoint with our audience and build a deeper connection with them through the entire consumer journey.
A series that is a great example of encouraging our audience to engage deeper with our content is in the realm of our What If Series which was a take off on the Nike LeBronWatch series where they would drop new color ways of the LeBron 15 sneakers that were inspired by previous sneakers. This series was some of our highest engaged content and we were able to spin it off repeatedly in different formats. Initially igan with LeBron's playoff run and capitalizing on some of his big game winners and moments including his Raptors playoff sweep and even him signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, and then evolved to include other sneakers, and inspirec some sneaker customizers to create some of these creations as well. These type of social executions were the perfect intersection between moving quickly to produce engaging social content and capitalizing on the conversation happening organically within our target audience.
One of the biggest value propositions for BR Kicks as a brand was an ethos of inclusivity, we wanted to set ourselves apart from other publishers by encouraging our audience to engage in conversations around sneaker culture rather than it just being a one way relationship where we tell them the news or the dates that things are dropping. As such, I wanted to make sure we build a robust plan for content that would encourage comments and deep engagement. For instance, taking a page from our slideshow era, one of our most engaged pieces of content were our NFL and NBA power rankings. I spearheaded a Kicks on Court weekly power rankings initiative that drew comments from top players such as LeBron, Kyrie, and Montrezz Harell as they debated with fans which shoe deserved to be on the list. One of the best ways to do this was through consistent quote card coverage that looked at sneakers from a more holistic and cultural impact perspective. Furthermore, one of the things that was unique that BR Kicks was providing was stats and information related to the sneaker industry.
From an editorial standpoint, I also had the chance to be involved in a number of longform and tentopole features around the sneaker space from our yearly sneaker of the year roundups to more specific stories on individual releases. This included articles such as an Illustrated guide to Kobe Bryant's sneaker journey which I had a chance to write, research, and art direct for Mamba day. Or things like our Air Max Day photography feature, and even smaller projects around the NFL. From an art direction standpoint I worked on our Carmelo Anthony feature, another Kobe deep dive and many other editorial articles throughout my time contributing to the Kicks team. On our sneaker of the year projects, I was able to art direct the imagery we used for the different sneakers, and even got to do a limited edition 100 print run of giant posters that we giveaway to our fans as well.
From an experiential side, I had a part in planning some of BR Kicks first and most impactful events to directly interact with our customers. Our first insatance of this was our BR99 Pop Up Shop experience in SoHo New York as a partnership with streetwear Brand Kith. I helped curate some of the look and feel, build up the promotional content, and was in charge of developing a one of it's kind "Lab" experience where folks wcould get their photos taken on a greenscreen and be placed into one of our iconic basketball memes released through social. Furthermore I also worked on developing Bleacher Report Kicks presence at multiple sneakercons where we had showcases of different sneakers as well as interactive 3D photo booths and march such as sneaker pins or hoodies that I designerd and helped produce.
As this evolved and the Kicks brand grew, our flagship winter sneaker culture event was developed under the banner of "The Drop Up" where I worked in conjunction with our marketing team to develop the look and feel and the branding of the event along with the promotional videos and invites as well as the art direction for various exhibits and things like the background visuals for our musical guest Sheck Wes. Setting up events like these were the culmination of the journey that I had been on starting BR Kicks and giving it a voice and developing a distinct look and feel for the brand through the years.
Having a chance to shape the voice and editorial attitude of BR Kicks while developing multiple creative projects and really setting up the brand to be a game changer in the space was one of the most fulfilling things I had the pleasure to work on at my time at Bleacher Report. Ultimately the success and growth of the brand came down to two main things; a strong and resilient nimble team of eager sneakerheads who turned a passion into a viable business model, and an attention to detail for creating content whose voice resonated across a broad swath of consumers. As the brand continues to grow and leave it's mark on the industry, I am proud to say I was a part of the team that started it and one of the loudest voices in the room when it came to producing authentic and groundbreaking visual content that would stop people scrolling through their feeds to indulge in the machinations of a crazy sneaker head.