The Daily Gamecock

South Carolina New and Creative Media team adapts despite COVID-19 challenges, hiring freeze

The media team gathered for a team photo at Williams-Brice Stadium before a home game during the 2019 season.
The media team gathered for a team photo at Williams-Brice Stadium before a home game during the 2019 season.

The South Carolina New and Creative Media team is known for its weekly Battle Armor videos and hype videos — but its content output could be affected by a hiring freeze.

Current University of Maryland creative director for football Alex Grant, formerly a video producer for football and other sports at South Carolina, described the office as a “big open room with a big conference table” with dividers so that “everybody has their own little section.”

The layout of the office keeps the morale of the team high. Football graphic designer Jayson Jeffers said they “have a really good office culture.” Grant said they "vibe off of each other's energy” and having that chemistry in the office helped out creatively. Being so close to his coworkers “meant the world” to Grant, and moving to remote working and Zoom meetings because of the pandemic was difficult.”

“Working from home, it was just boring,” Jeffers said.

Aside from taking the team out of the same room during the day, the department had to deal with a lack of sports.

“It was kind of a strange time, just trying to figure out things that we could still be doing,” Jacob Reeves, designer of New and Creative Media, said.

After the cancellation of the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, Grant said the media team coasted on videos recapping the season for a month or two before finding itself at a place where they needed “to be able to turn the page, but we can't necessarily turn the page 'cause we still don't know what the next step looks like.” 

Reeves said this obstacle of less content pushed the team.

“Being able to challenge ourselves creatively to try and still communicate with recruits, the fans, everything, despite the circumstances, has been an interesting learning experience,” Reeves said.

Perhaps an even bigger obstacle is the hiring freeze. Due to COVID-19, associate director for New and Creative Media Justin King can’t make any new hires. Fans might not have noticed until the week of the Vanderbilt game, when the fan-favorite Battle Armor video was never released.

“Appreciate the enthusiasm around the Battle Armor video! Team is down multiple members + a busy week - had to make a tough choice," King wrote in a tweet. "Until we are through the (completely justified) hiring freeze, I can’t promise there will be one every week, but I can promise I’ll do my best."

Grant said the hiring freeze wasn’t something anyone on the media team wanted to happen, but “everyone understood why it happened.” He said it affects the “natural progression of things,” where people "have the opportunity to go and pursue other opportunities."

"Under normal circumstances, that's not a problem because you can bring in other people; you can go and seek other talent. But that's where the hiring freeze kind of affected the department, where Justin wasn't necessarily in a position to be able to replace the talent that was in the room,” Grant said.

Grant, Jeffers, Reeves and football graphic design intern Zachary Kilgore said the way King handled the hiring freeze is a testament to the foundation he's built for the department.

“I think that's what Justin is building, from a creative standpoint, at South Carolina. Justin is very well on his way to being the Nick Saban of the creative industry in college athletics,” Grant said.

Kilgore said King has a “really good eye for talent.”

“If you're going to build the best creative team in the nation, which we have, multiple times, you're going to have to deal with losing people,” Kilgore said.

According to Reeves, not only did King build the program “from the ground up,” but he has also developed his team as creatives and as people.

Even though they have faced challenges, King and his team have continued to persevere.

“Everyone, everywhere has similar challenges – it’s not the obstacles we face, it’s about how we respond,” King said in an email.