Recruiting Millennials: How Oregon Got It Right

[Posted on LinkedIn 12/31/14]

Today is the eve of the first ever College Football Playoff. The inaugural four-team playoff includes Ohio State, Alabama, Florida State, and Oregon. I must be up front and let you, the readers, know that I have an unwavering allegiance to The Ohio State University, as I grew up three miles from The Shoe and was born into the madness that is Buckeye Country. With that said, another team in the Playoff has changed the game of college football with the help of Nike.


In the late 90s, Oregon was not a perennial Top 25 football team. Being a west coast team, Oregon rarely got prime-time games and if New York wasn’t watching the games, fans and prospective players weren’t seeing the Oregon brand. Understanding that the Ducks could not change the orbital pattern around the sun or physically move the time zone lines, how were they going to become more visible and national title contenders? Brand it.

What Nike and Oregon teamed up to do with their swag continues to be a formula to attract high profile football recruits and offers organizations insight into what Millennials are looking for in an employer (even if we aren’t a 6’6” 250lb. linebacker with 4.40, 40-yard dash speed).

Step 1: Know What Freakishly Good Looks Like:

What gets it done today in college football? Being sleek, fast, and light on your feet, as if you’re gliding on top of the turf. The team who scores 40+ points with athletes who can outrun their opponents more often than not, comes out on top. At the time, Oregon didn’t have these players, but hoped that by making their brand fit this type of recruit, they could get one step closer to getting future Marcus Mariotas.

Do you know what being freakishly good means for your company? Define what this is for your organization and individual positions. By the way, this definition doesn’t include years of experience or knowledge of PowerPoint. For Oregon, being freakishly good involved four words: Leadership, Dynamic, Irreverence, and Innovation.

Step 2: Advocate for Change, Set the Culture:

No one wore neon until the Ducks sported Lightning Yellow and had audiences wondering if they should have sunglasses on to watch the game. No one had chrome helmets or facemasks until the Ducks made it possible. What about matte helmets? Sure. Oregon and Nike set the culture. And now, teams and other apparel partners are mimicking the duo’s creation. Why? Because it works.

Football recruits want to wear loud colored socks? Let’s do it. Millennials want a fresh, green Adidas jacket after they’ve worked for Groupon for a year? Let’s do it. If no one else is doing it, fantastic, let’s show them how it’s done. These don’t have to be earth-shattering discoveries; the little things set a culture.

Step 3: Recruiting Never Stops:

It’s all well and good to complete steps one and two, but those alone don’t lock in a championship. An elite program cannot stand on one wave of freshmen… To get Oregon where they are today took a decade of freshmen classes. And guess what? Today looks pretty good. Oregon has their first ever Heisman Trophy Winner and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Not bad.

Organizations have to sustain their competence in recruiting Millennials. One day it’s working flexible hours and the next it’s wearing a hoodie to the office. Take your first batch of kids and show your future millennial hires that not only is it cool to work at your organization, but you’re also pretty damn good at what you do.

So who will be the number one team in the nation this year? My rational side wants Oregon to win to reinforce what I’ve written above. However, my irrational sports fan gene, that my father so graciously passed on to me, will be in full force tomorrow as the Buckeyes take on the Crimson Tide.

Merry 2015. Happy Millennial Hunting. Until Next Year. Go Bucks.


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