Former Paladin golfer Christina Harrell ’98 is making a living through sports – but not the way she had expected to.
Harrell played professional golf for five years on the Symetra Tour, the official LPGA developmental tour. Now, she owns Jack Porter, a Greenville firm that specializes in experiential branding for college athletic programs. The firm, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this month, lists some of the nation’s most successful Division 1 college athletic programs among its clients – Clemson, Miami, Notre Dame, Georgia, Ohio State, Florida State and, of course, Furman. Jack Porter worked on projects for Furman’s football, basketball and lacrosse programs.
As college athletic programs invest millions of dollars in new facilities, Harrell said it’s vital that they tell their story within the built environment.
“In college sports, it’s huge. It’s all about not just recruiting the top athletes, but the right athletes. The last thing you want to do is recruit a great athlete who will not be a great fit for your program,” she said. “Some programs have a more defined vision of what that is than others.”
Last year, Jack Porter worked with the University of Notre Dame and the University of Miami. Notre Dame has an incredible history and rich tradition but must make that tradition resonate with 16- and 17-year-olds, Harrell said. Miami is South Beach swagger and a dynamic NFL history.
“You couldn’t have two more different stories,” said Harrell.
The language of athletics
Seldom does a program have a facility that says nothing about it, she said. But often there’s a gap between what it is saying and what the program wants it to say, Harrell said.
“It’s our job is to find out what they want to communicate and help them do that,” she said.
For Miami, Jack Porter came up with a mural of Sebastian, Miami’s mascot, made from Adidas canvas. It also commissioned a street artist to do a graffiti painting. “This connection to South Beach and that cool swagger they have makes them unique. Would it make sense at Furman? No,” she said. “It wouldn’t even make sense at Clemson. But it makes sense for the University of Miami.”
Harrell knows the importance of an athletic program telling its story.
She transferred from the University of Arizona to Furman for her senior year. While at Arizona, she was a member of the 1996 women’s golf national championship team and played in the U.S. Open.
“I was certain I would be a professional golfer,” said Harrell, who majored in business administration and philosophy at Furman.
While on the Symetra Tour she made it once to the finals of Qualifying School, the primary way golfers qualify for the LPGA tour. During this time she asked her friend and now Clemson University assistant golf coach Heather Bowie Young how they would know when it was time to stop playing. Young told her they would just know.
For Harrell, that moment came when somebody asked if a job as a financial planner would interest her.
“I contemplated whether that would be a better life than the one I was living,” she said. “I realized the job wasn’t for me, but once I had mentally gone through that door, I really couldn’t play professional golf anymore. I realized I was done playing golf.”
She interviewed with B2B Media, a company whose core business was putting digitally printed vinyl graphics on vehicles. A portion of its business included doing murals, letters and banners for college athletics. She told them she was a Division 1 college athlete who knew many people and could help them expand that business. She realized the company needed to expand its offerings to compete in that market.
After five years, Harrell started Jack Porter in 2010 with her business partner Danny Stemann.
“I knew it could be bigger. I wanted to do things differently,” she said. “I wanted to do things my way.”
Besides sports branding projects, Jack Porter is moving into the academic and corporate office space markets. It worked on the University of South Carolina Alumni Center.
Plans to grow
While the coronavirus has slowed some academic projects, athletic projects are still progressing.
“About 90 percent to 95 percent of our jobs are still trucking,” she said. She said the company was hiring before quarantine and stay-at-home orders were commonplace. Jack Porter currently has 17 employees; Harrell wants to have 20 by the end of this year.
She credits Furman for giving her a solid foundation that has allowed her to succeed in business and life.
“Furman places a heavy emphasis on reading, writing and being able to make a well-formatted argument,” she said. “I can’t tell you how much in life and business that being able to read, to write and to think, to put together a well-reasoned argument, sometimes quickly, has helped. That’s what a liberal arts and sciences education is all about.