By Ken Thomas
When Cole Pepper moved to Jacksonville in the late 1990’s he knew he had found a permanent home, a place where he could settle into his career as a sports radio broadcaster. After all, Jacksonville was now in the elite group of cities that are a part of the National Football League. The Jacksonville Jaguars were the most recent franchise of the NFL and Pepper was just hitting the prime of his young broadcasting career and perfect timing as he quickly became a member of the Jaguars radio broadcast team. Pepper’s relationship with the Jaguars became an integral part of his identity in Jacksonville as Pepper established himself as a valued member of the community as a guest speaker at numerous functions in the city and guest spots as a Television sports anchor when needed. Pepper has used his broadcast exposure to develop quite a following on social media while at the same time he continued to build relationships on behalf of the Jaguars broadcast team.
In April of this year, that all changed as Pepper was abruptly dropped from the Jaguars broadcasting department, without warning, and faced the reality of being out of a job after a 15-year association with the Jaguars.
The overnight reality put Pepper into a tough spot because it caught him off guard, but he wasn’t unprepared for such an event. Pepper, who grew up surrounded by the marketing profession, had learned a lot about the marketing industry through his father. Pepper’s dad owned a marketing and public relations firm in Kansas City and is currently a faculty member at Kansas University. It only took Pepper a short time to establish a plan of action and set it into motion after just a few months on the sidelines of broadcasting.
Pepper had used his broadcasting exposure to lay the foundation for his own brand, one rich in marketing and social media. During his broadcasting career in Jacksonville, Pepper collaborated with a local BBQ restaurant to create a BBQ sauce, which he marketed in specialty stores and at the restaurant. When the restaurant shut down, Pepper’s sauce was still in demand so he turned to social media, and began using those platforms to marketing and distributes the sauce to his customers. When Pepper lost his job earlier this year, he once again turned to social media as a means to continue marketing the sauce under his brand. Using his experience and connections in the community, Pepper established a blog (www.colepepper.com) as the primary platform for his insight into the Jacksonville sports scene, which included the Jaguars. He also used the site to highlight the BBQ sauce and everything BBQ in another blog.
Throughout the last five years, Pepper has kept an eye on developing his own brand and his key to success in developing a personal brand was simple, opportunity and exposure to a customer base.
“I think as you develop your brand you need to convince people you are an expert of two things you can claim to be an expert in. Mine is sports and BBQ and I think that the biggest parts of creating a brand are opportunity and audience, do you have the opportunity to tell your story somewhere and is the audience the right audience for what you are trying to do.” Pepper said.
Throughout the transition from broadcasting to blogger, Pepper has presented a positive outlook on life no matter what the situation even in the face of instability or failure. Pepper has some advice for folks who might find themselves in a similar situation that he was in, be nice and listen to your customers.
“Be nice to people no matter what circumstance you are in, I’m more aware of the effects of not being nice than a few years ago, be objective and listen to your audience and give them what they want but don’t pander to them but address the topics your audiences are interested in.” Pepper said.
Of course, just listening to your audience isn’t the only key to success for a blogger and as Pepper has quickly found out, making a living as a blogger is quite different from a broadcaster. As a broadcaster, he was somewhat isolated from the advertising and sponsor side of the business, but as a blogger, he said it has become the backbone of his business model. Pepper has leveraged the relationships he built during his broadcasting days to embrace and engage his audience and sponsors to ensure financial stability, at least for now, though he knows there’s a lot of work ahead to sustain an income from his blog.
“An engaged audience is much more powerful than one that isn’t and it comes down to money and you need that engagement to showcase to your sponsors and that’s where the money comes from.” The number one fear sponsors have is that they will spend money their business will not recoup and if you can use your other sponsors, which is part of your audience as well and the best clients are the best advocates for your brand, it’s a little easier to prove competency in your brand and the money will follow.” Pepper said.
In the meantime, Pepper has ventured into the sports marketing world by cultivating another relationship with Client Focused Media (www.cfmedia.net) a marketing, advertising and design firm based in Jacksonville. He has partnered with the company and its president, Mike White, to form White Pepper Sports Marketing, the newest division of marketing for CFM. For Pepper, the timing was right to fulfill a need he came face to face with many times, sharing business ideas with a new audience.
“We help businesses tell their stories to sports fans, which make up a portion of their perspective customers. There’s a company I’m working with right now that has a corporate sponsor with the Jaguars just to get their name out there, but they don’t do anything else because they don’t have a full-time marketing person. So I can bridge that gap, and fill that void to leverage their more traditional advertising agency duties, ad buys, graphic artwork, etc. and tell their stories to the audience they want. That’s where my skill set comes into play as partner in White Pepper Sports Marketing.” Pepper said.
While White Pepper helped create a more stable financial situation for Pepper, it wasn’t the only incentive behind its development. It was just another piece of the puzzle for supplementing his other endeavors.
“White Pepper is not just a content approach to my blog; it’s a PR/Marketing approach to expand it.” Pepper said.
If you’re interested reading Pepper’s blogs or finding more information on the former broadcaster, you can find him at http://www.colepepper.com, http://www.whiteandpepper.com, facebook.com/imcolepepper or on twitter @colepepper.