Kaden Smith: NFL Tight End & Co-founder of Marketing Agency Progage, On Sports Marketing
Kaden Smith, NFL Tight End and Co-Founder of Marketing Agency Progage, knows a lot about sports marketing between being part of brand partnerships himself and curating partnerships for other athletes. In 2021, he founded Progage with entrepreneur Kyle Fenner to help brands and athletes create partnerships routed in authenticity and strong storytelling. Today, he shares his experience becoming a brand ambassador for CogniFit and founding Progage.
About Kaden Smith
Dallas native Kaden Smith played Tight End at Stanford University and was drafted in the sixth round of the NFL draft in 2019 by the San Francisco 49ers. After training camp, he was cut but picked up by the New York Giants. He played for the last three seasons with the Giants until sustaining an injury, which he is currently recovering from.
During this time, Kaden finished his degree at Standford University and is now working with fellow entrepreneur Kyle Fenner to build Progage, a sports marketing agency focused on helping brands with social media marketing and creative storytelling.
What is Progage?
Progage is a sports marketing agency forming authentic partnerships between brands, universities, athletes, and collectives within the sports industry. They’ve served big-name brands like Samsung, Coca-Cola, BODYARMOR, The Bountiful Company, and more.
Kaden Smith shares, “As an athlete, I want to work with companies that I authentically enjoy. When I think of a successful partnership, I think of a genuine use of their product or solution. Companies want the same thing. In order to tell the most effective story using an athlete, it has to be believable. That doesn’t just come from reading a script. There has to be authenticity to it.”
One of the goals behind Progage’s development is to help brands connect with less-known athletes. Despite top players making millions of dollars in endorsement deals, over 90% of athletes never make substantial money from endorsements off the field.
However, there are a massive number of dedicated athletes with amazing stories and engaged audiences that many brands are missing out on because they lack the experience or bandwidth to create campaigns with smaller influencers. The Progage team addresses this issue by working alongside athletes and brands to develop authentic creative marketing campaigns and reduce the workload connecting to and working with athletes.
How Progage Helps Athletes
When Progage was founded in 2021, Kaden reached out to his network of athlete friends from his college and NFL days to build Progage’s roster and start helping athletes make money off the field.
Progage helps athletes by connecting them with authentic, reputable brands.
Kaden Smith shares, “As an athlete, it’s time-consuming to vet a company and evaluate the value of a partnership. Part of why I started Progage was to help athletes like myself maximize the opportunities that are out there, but also make sure I’m doing a good job of communicating the value of the brand or product I represent.”
Becoming a Brand Ambassador for CogniFit
CogniFit, a mental health and brain training company providing solutions for promoting and encouraging cognitive health, approached Kaden about promoting their software.
Kaden Smith shares, “It [the partnership] made sense to me. As an athlete, I’m very disciplined about training my body. CogniFit does the same thing for our brain- it allows them to exercise things like memory, reasoning, and attention.”
Unlike mindless scrolling online, Kaden explains that CogniFit is an engaging software that provides you with a brain workout in only ten minutes a day.
For this campaign, Kaden was filmed working out and then going home. At home, he is shown mindlessly scrolling through social media but opting to play on CogniFit for a while. The video campaign also encourages healthy habits like eating and working CogniFit into a busy schedule to improve your brain health.
Kaden’s Experience with Brand Campaigns
Another favorite brand campaign of Kaden’s was working with Fourlaps, a high-performance athletic apparel company helping athletes reach peak performance.
Kaden shares, “It’s extremely comfortable [clothing.] I work out in it almost every day. It’s good for warm weather and cold weather. They keep sending me packages, and I love them.”
Out of the various campaigns, he’s been a part of, Kaden shares that video projects are his favorite.
“Working together to create content that is engaging and impactful takes time, but it’s definitely worth it for both sides. I think video projects are the most fun and effective means of connecting with a brand’s audience personally. Taking an hour or two out of my day to film with a crew is a fun experience for me, and it allows me to tell my full story rather than just typing it out as a caption.”
He adds that mindless pictures and captions aren’t good for athletes or brands. He recommends that athletes and creators plan out their campaigns with brands and check when their followers are most active on the platform so that they are seeing your posts.
For example, an athlete could talk to the brand about a quick photo shoot or arrange for a friend to take photos of them in the park showing off the athletic apparel the brand sent them. Kaden shares that he isn’t naturally creative in front of the camera and asks his girlfriend to help with photos and videos because she has a good eye for it.
Having these photos allows the athlete to schedule them in advance so that they’re not trying to hurry them up at the last minute after a long day at practice, when many of their followers may not even be online. Working ahead can lead to less stress on the athlete and better results for the brand, a mutually beneficial setup.
When asked about the future of the creator marketplace, he shares, “These big-time influencers are getting a lot of action in the market and for money. I think down the road – I understand that companies are starting to do ambassador programs for links. I think that should be available for more everyday influencers… That’s what I’d like to see in the future, more opportunities for the everyday influencer.”
Kaden expands upon this by explaining that bigger followings don’t always mean a more loyal or engaged audience. In some cases, an influencer with 10,000 followers may have far more engagement than someone with 100,000 followers, making it essential for brands to let smaller influencers partake in ambassador programs.
Kaden ends by sharing that he is still working out and healing from his injury. He’s excited to get back on the field next year.