How This Founder Saw An Opportunity To Start A Company During The Pandemic
Rashida Gayle, founder of Twenty Six Marketing Agency, has utilized her network and prior experience to turn a downsize into an opportunity. Through her six-plus years in the sports industry, mainly managing NFL players, she has developed relationships and strategies that have allowed her to maximize clients’ brands, exposure, income and creating culturally meaningful brand collaborations. Her roster includes athletes N’Keal Harry (New England Patriots), Josef Martinez (Atlanta United) and players from Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens.
“My decision to focus full-time on Twenty Six was serendipitous, and frankly my knee-jerk reaction to a pandemic that’s uprooted millions worldwide,” Gayle states. “Sports aren’t essential businesses and all the lights went out. My former company saw itself impacted by the crisis and succumbed to dissolving its NFL division. Despite the change, 90% of my clients were able to stay on board with me. I took a week off, tapped into my social circle and emotional support to help me strategize and shape Twenty Six Marketing Agency. Though it sounds easy, it was emotionally and psychologically taxing to go from feeling at peace when you put your head on your pillow, to using that pillow to cushion a soft landing.”
Her career in sports began during college in the Athletics marketing department. In her last year of college, she asked one of the university’s football players if she could be his personal assistant and help him build out his brand. She then moved to Atlanta, where she served as Devonta Freeman’s manager once he was drafted into the NFL by the Atlanta Falcons. Additionally, she worked with a couple of other players from the team as well.
“After his rookie season,” Gayle explains, “we put an emphasis on marketing and branding. Although he wasn’t a starter at this time, and he was fairly new in the NFL, I still thought there was an opportunity to make an impact in his hometown. We set up a couple of different interviews and appearances. I was able to generate revenue for him off the field for marketing. I really realized this is something I can definitely do. I can create opportunities for players that have nothing to do with their on-field contracts.”
The marketing campaigns Gayle created during Freeman’s rookie season prepared her for his second and third season when he became popular throughout the NFL. She handled his brand image as he became a two-time Pro Bowl player and played in the Super Bowl. “Because of his on-field performance,” she explains, “and because of the past experience we had with doing marketing, I started doing pitches and started reaching out. It put us in a position where It was a light switch, we were ready to go when he started playing really well. That success allowed me to go out and do my job well, which was create marketing opportunities for him off the field. Ultimately, we brought in millions of dollars on the marketing side.”
That experience opened an opportunity for her at GSE Worldwide where she served as a director of talent marketing. Initially, she was brought in to work with and recruit NFL players. Gradually, she started diversifying her portfolio and began recruiting players from MLS (Major League Soccer). “Recruiting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Gayle states. “It is so difficult. It is so competitive. Everyone wants to represent the best player. I remember January of 2019, being on a flight headed back to Atlanta and being pretty much depressed. I didn’t sign any of the guys that I was trying to sign. I felt like I just wasn’t good at this. I think there are times in your career where you have these bumps on the road where you start to doubt yourself and how good you are. Flexibility is key in order to pivot and create new opportunities for yourself.”
Through her unique and diverse roster, she became known throughout the industry as the first black woman representing NFL and MLS players independently. “I do not work with a contract agent in order to represent players,” Gayle explains. “I represent them on my own. We do not do contract work; we only do sports marketing. We’re responsible for all endorsements, appearances, philanthropy, brand building, etc. We work on that separately independently.”
As Gayle continues to transition within her career and her new company, she focuses on the following essential steps:
- Be flexible. It opens you up to new opportunities that will catapult your career and allow you to expand your network.
- Create a strategy. Research and put thought into it. A strategy will help you remain focused.
- Set attainable goals. Accomplishing the smaller goals will ultimately help you create the bigger picture.
“The most important lesson here is one I’ve always stressed: leverage,” Gayle concludes. “My ability to pivot wasn’t luck or being financially stable, but years of strategy in place. I prioritize talent representation and relationship building in our sports marketing community.”