HbD Interviews: Mark Majewski
If you’ve been reading the blog for a few years, or if you’re a Boston Bruins fan, you’re probably already familiar with the name Mark Majewski, or at least familiar with his work. Mark was previously a guest contributor on the site, having ranked all 60 (yes, sixty) uniform sets in division 1 hockey, and before this season, he was acquired the Boston Bruins to be their new creative director.
• More: College Hockey Uniform Rankings
In between juggling the many creative needs of the Bruins and TD Garden, Mark was kind enough to give us some insight into his work, career path, and what leading the creative vision for an Original Six franchise in one of America’s toughest sports markets is like.
Interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Tell us a little bit about your career path prior to your current position with the Bruins.
Man… if I were to do that, this would be the entire story.
It’s a bit of a twisted one. I had myself too much fun in college and got a bit of a late start on the professional side of things. Luckily for me, my first real opportunity came in the form of a marketing internship with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, then based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
I quickly found that marketing wasn’t my strong suit, but luckily the role was more focused on the PR-side of things. I enjoyed the promotional aspects of the players and the events, and having to have a sharp, keen eye for details others might not pick up on. After working at USA Hockey, I took on many other PR duties in athletics, but I always had a knack for the aesthetics of athletics.
When my first full-time role as the PR / SID for the Northeastern University men’s hockey program rolled around in 2009, the dawn of social media started to seep into communication plans, and my love of visual storytelling took a much higher priority than your traditional game recap / player of the week release.
Getting my feet wet on that end helped lead me to Boston College, Clemson and now back home to Causeway Street as the Creative Director with the Bruins.
Not having come from a traditional design background, what inspired you to start getting into design, and how did you go about building your skills?
I had to put up a good fight early on, that’s for sure.
When I was working as an intern with the Syracuse women’s hockey program in its inaugural season, I loved putting these preview graphics up. My boss, a very traditional SID-type, berated me because no one else was doing that, but it resonated with fans and student-athletes, and I saw a real opportunity. I also realized I was much better at getting my point across through imagery and visuals than the written word. That was what inspired me early on.
“WHOA. There’s some really, really cool shit out there, and I want to be a part of it.”
Once I started to see what the creative world had to offer, both on the collegiate and professional side of things, once the curtain got peeled back a bit, I was like, whoa. There’s some really, really cool shit out there, and I want to be a part of it.
Practice might not make perfect yet, but it motivates me to learn something new every day.
What surprised you most about making the transition from a SID role to a design role?
I think you see how different, and possibly how much larger your audience is. When you’re in a creative role, you have a chance to captivate folks that might not have any interest in your program, student-athletes, etc. The only people who are really invested in traditional PR work are the local media, which is quickly fading, and the parents of those student-athletes.
I think I realized you’re able to make a much deeper and profound impact in a design role, and that motivates me to keep making those relationships, both personally and professionally.
What do you feel are the biggest differences between designing for college sports and professional, both aesthetically and strategically?
The biggest difference between collegiate and professional athletics, certainly depending on where you are, is that you’re probably granted a bit more freedom across the board on the collegiate level. Not saying that you have no wiggle room in the professional ranks, but a good amount of your collateral can be dictated by sponsorships and things that pay the bills.
Even though I think professional organizations across the board are starting to latch on to this notion, a good amount of the brand perception is shaped digitally in the college game because most of your audience is that younger demographic, particularly recruits.
The Bruins have a pretty well established brand –– not something you want to get too cute with. Creative? Of course, but an Original Six gritty team in Boston is what it is; you’re never changing that. But there are many collegiate programs that have done an incredible job building a persona from the ground up to make their programs and campuses attractive to not just potential student-athletes, but potential students as a whole.
What does a typical day look like in your role as the Bruins’ creative director?
LOL. Borderline impossible to answer, in a good way. No day is like the other.
A lot of the routine stuff is making sure your roster cards are ready to be printed for the next home game, or that your graphics are built and ready to be posted by our digital and communications teams. Things that kind of remain status quo as the season goes on.
But I’m not just dealing with the Bruins… there’s a lot that goes into the TD Garden side, whether it’s making back of the house signage for a Michael Buble concert, or talking to our programmers of how we want to animate the opening screen for our new app, and things like that. It’s almost hard to quantify how many different things come up in a day.
With the fast pace of the sports and entertainment industry, how do you approach balancing the quick turnaround times of reactive work and the more strategic holistic parts of being a creative director?
Preparation. Preparation. Preparation.
You can never be too prepared, because the moments that you never saw coming are certainly more prevalent than your everyday expectations. And you might be thrown off kilter because something went awry at 11:17am, but that doesn’t mean you can just mail in everything else. The game will still be played, and everything that goes along with that still needs your attention. Having a plan of attack early on and sticking to those processes helps minimize the inevitable fires that sprout up every day.
BERGY FOR THE WINNNN!!!! 🚨 pic.twitter.com/Rpu9W6NJPR— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) January 12, 2020
Designing for sports is so different from any other industry. NHL CMO Heidi Browning discussed on the Executive Suite podcast the challenge of marketing hockey in a way that is welcoming and approachable to new fans, while still catering to and embracing the old. Is that something you think about in your work, and if so, how do you tackle the challenge?
It’s a great point made by Heidi. I so badly want to dig into our archives and build our branding off of old assets that I know would be a lay-up and resonate with our fan base, but that’s not that current team or product on the ice.
“If you’re able to be creative with some of the historic assets, you’re able to touch upon a good amount of nostalgia, excitement, passion and everything in between.”
I think balancing the good ol’ days of the Boston Garden and the fast-paced action of the 2019-20 Boston Bruins team is something that will never find full harmony, but we’re lucky that we have a rich history with a successful product as we speak. *knocks on wood*
I think if you’re able to be creative with some of the historic assets, you’re able to touch upon a good amount of nostalgia, excitement, passion and everything in between. Especially in a game like hockey where nostalgia is so important and beautiful.
How have you changed your approach with each team you’ve worked with to balance your aesthetic with the team’s identity?
I think the approach has to change based on the cards you’re dealt. My design approach had always been based on being able to convey information quickly, especially as a someone who was trying to post a good amount of collateral with stats and information in my SID days, so I feel my “style” could be based off of that. But I think wherever you are, you have to promote the things that make that program, institution, etc. stand out from everyone else.
Clemson? That one was easy. Winning. It gets a little more difficult what that’s not the case, but luckily, I’ve been fortunate. When I was at Boston College, I had the privilege of promoting Johnny Gaudreau’s Hobey Baker campaign and was able to do a lot of artwork around that. Here with the Bruins, it’s been trying to take a gritty, tough Original Six brand and maintain that presence while also keeping up with what’s what.
A lot goes into it but it’s all part of what makes it fun.
Do you find it challenging to work in sports while also being a sports fan? Or does being a fan make the job easier/more enjoyable?
I often find that wherever it is you work, you end up seeing how the sausage is made. And sometimes, that can be an unfortunate turn of events.
There are some really, really amazing perks of working in sports but sometimes, you become numb to it all. After all, it is work. You have to pause and remind yourself that these things can’t be taken for granted. So many times, the hustle bustle of everything numbs your senses to how incredible your job and its perks can be at times.
What has been the biggest surprise for you so far during your first few months in this role?
I think just how different the professional side of things is versus college, and how the targets and prerogatives are very different. I could probably write a book on how different they are, but it might not be fair because I have a lot more experience on the collegiate side.
It’s been very interesting to see how each department works with each other and communicates differently in professional sports vs. college. In my current role, there are a lot more checks & balances. Sponsorship, in some instances, is king; a lot more cooks in the kitchen, if you will. That sounds like a negative, but it’s not. It’s just how things are structured.
I’m excited to see how the rest of the season unfolds and how much more there is to learn!
What advice would you give to someone looking to start or grow a career in sports?
Know. What. You’re. Getting. Yourself. Into. This is brash, but working for sports isn’t for everyone. It’s very difficult to strike a good work-life balance, if that’s something that’s important to you. You may have a “dream job” in your head, but often times you’ll find that those scenarios are few and far between.
Just understand that when you work in sports, you’re working with a lot of folks whose livelihood depends on wins and losses, and that causes a lot of stress throughout the organization. When you’re on the right side of things, it can be amazing (but also, stressful in its own right). When you’re on the wrong side of things, it can become a toxic environment that’s not fun for anyone.
“It’s not all glitz and glamour, but the times that are? Make sure to stop and savor them.”
All in all, it’s a great thing to be a part of because ultimately, you’re working in the entertainment industry. It’s just important to keep in mind that it’s not all glitz and glamour, but the times that are? Make sure to stop and savor them.