Trading card exec's advice to students is a keepsake

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

The Upper Deck Company makes sports trading cards. That, quite naturally, attracts sports fanatics.

But when Jodi Wasserman, Director of Marketing and Events for Upper Deck, spoke to a gathering of Colangelo School of Sports Business students Wednesday at Grand Canyon University, she was fanatical about something else that’s equally important in getting a job in the sports industry.

Jodi Wasserman, Director of Marketing and Events for The Upper Deck Company, had lots of good advice for students Wednesday -- including what to bring (portfolio, ideas, etc.) and what not to bring (your trading cards) to an interview.

Students need to differentiate themselves to stand out in a crowded field – because being a sports fan is only part of it and actually can be a detriment. How does Wasserman know? She wasn’t a sports fan at all when she joined Upper Deck 12 years ago.

“I told people, ‘Everything about that job is perfect and exactly what I do except for the sports part of it.’ So I wasn’t going to apply,” she said after her hourlong talk in the Colangelo College of Business building. “Finally, my friends said, ‘You know what? You’re being so picky, you need the practice, why don’t you just go ahead and apply?’”

And so she did, but with a differentiator: She included a coolly designed flip-flop with her resume and said she’d bring the other piece of footwear if she was invited for a visit. And then at the interview, when the inevitable question – “How are you going to overcome not being a big sports fan?” – came up, she was ready with this answer:

“It seems to me that it might be a benefit if I’m not that huge of a fan because I know plenty of people who, if they were in a room with (former New York Yankees shortstop) Derek Jeter, probably wouldn’t be able to have a conversation with him and manage the work they’re supposed to be doing. I’m not going to have that issue. I can look at them and respect that they’re an amazing athlete, but I’m not going to be star-struck or not be able to focus on what I need to focus on.”

Wasserman, who had been working for a software company, got the job and quickly became a big fan of Upper Deck. “I didn’t realize how much fun I wasn’t having,” she said.

One of her first Upper Deck events was a baseball clinic that featured Jeter, and Wasserman was struck by the 8-year-olds saying, “This is the best day of my life!” It showed her how much sports means to people – and that it really makes a difference in their lives.

But therein lies another challenge for students who want to work in the sports industry: Everyone wants to do it.

So she began her talk with pointed pointers about what to do – and, just as important, what not to do. Case in point: If you’re interviewing at a trading card company, do not bring your collection. That won’t get you the job. In fact, it almost certainly will prevent you from getting the job.

Instead, she told the students, your to-do list should include:

  • Include something catchy (such as that flip-flop) with your application that will get you noticed.
  • Build a portfolio, even if it’s just school projects.
  • Be prepared for tough questions, such as this one: “If you had $100,000 to spend on a Super Bowl party, what would you do?” (Inviting all your friends and ordering more shrimp isn’t the right answer – it needs to be about the company.)
  • Get killer references.
  • Use your connections, utilizing family, friends, professors and LinkedIn.

Then there’s the issue of dressing for success. Wasserman told of how one candidate showed up in a T-shirt and jeans … with his resumé folded into his back pocket. She wanted to end the interview right then.

She also warned the students to not expect to get a top-level creative role right away. No matter where they go in the industry, they’re almost certainly going to start in customer service.

Wasserman spent considerable time talking with students after her talk.

Wasserman spent the rest of her talk sharing some fascinating insights into what Upper Deck does. Hint: It doesn’t just make trading cards. Far from it.

Marketing those cards is done in a variety of ways, such as putting fans’ photos on trading cards for a nominal fee. It’s something that fits nicely in a wallet.

As time has gone on, the company has gotten increasingly creative. Wasserman cited a famous quote from former hockey star Wayne Gretzky – “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take” – but reminded her audience that all that creativity must come back to one thing:

“People get caught up in all these exciting and different things you can do, and then I say, ‘How is that helping us sell cards, at the end of the day?’”

Selling cards, she said, means engaging fans, not catering to collectors. The company takes great pains to authenticate its cards with a patented five-step process, but in recent years it has become just as passionate about something far more important, something that matches CCOB’s “Conscious Capitalism” credo.

Wasserman spent a considerable amount of time addressing Upper Deck’s “Heroic Inspirations” campaign, in which it produces cards for special individuals, such as children battling cancer, and donates the proceeds to charity. The money can be used by the family to pay off medical bills.

The campaign began when an ESPN feature on Jack Hoffman, a 7-year-old in Nebraska with brain cancer, caught the attention of Chris Carlin, Upper Deck’s Senior Marketing and Social Media Manager. Now, Wasserman said, Carlin spends about 20 percent of his time on the campaign, which also has featured Liam Fitzgerald, Sam Tageson and Daniel Alexander.

“Using your marketing powers to do good – who can’t get behind that?” Wasserman said.

And here’s another reason for students to want to work for a company like this: With every paycheck, Upper Deck employees get a pack of trading cards.

No wonder it’s yet another company in the sports industry that has far more applicants than open positions. “There’s so much competition,” Wasserman said. “People want to love what they do.”

It goes hand in hand with being a fanatic. But applying that knowledge properly is the name of the game.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


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