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How Kanten Russell pulled the ultimate 360 to make his group a success at Stantec

We’re now one of North America’s top skateboard park design firms – and Kanten’s #MyStantecStory is how we did it!

A leap of faith
Flat bill hats, flashy kicks, flip tricks—and a whole lot of attitude. That was my world for 12 years as a pro skateboarder. I had an amazing career—traveling across the globe, endorsing pro model shoes and signature skateboards, and appearing on magazine covers.

When I retired, I knew I didn’t want to put away my board for good. I studied civil engineering and landscape architecture, worked in the private and public sector, and eventually joined Mike McIntyre, Principal (Austin, Texas), first at SITE Design Group, and then at Action Sports Design. In just over six years, we made a name for ourselves creating skate parks and skate plazas around the world.

In the spring of 2012, Mike told me there was an opportunity for our firm to strategically partner with Stantec. We’d worked with engineers from Stantec before, so I knew about the Company. The offer would help us access more resources, focus on the projects and communities we cared about, and expand our network. The partnership sounded great in theory, but would it work? I had my doubts. After years of building a distinct brand and identity—a specialized niche, could we survive? Would we be given leeway to do things a large firm like Stantec wouldn’t normally do? We had concerns, but we were up for the challenge.

Growing pains
From the start, we faced something I was all too familiar with: a healthy dose of skepticism. Being a skateboarder, I’d met many people who didn’t take the sport seriously. Some of our new colleagues had a hard time understanding our needs. They often asked: “what exactly is it that you guys do? Is this action sports area sustainable or is it just a fad?”

In those early days, my mindset was all about connecting myself to Stantec’s brand. Like a player that got traded to a new team, I had to “suit up” with a new label and uniform and give 110% effort to that team. I approached discussions with co-workers from different areas with that perspective. It was about educating people about who we are, what we do, and why we do what we do. We talked about the value of maintaining a certain look and feel in our marketing materials: photos and videos that popped, ones that were bright, bold, and celebrated the sport. During these conversations, we tried to build relationships and find a middle ground with our marketing materials, but we also had to reassure the skateboarding industry that we hadn’t ‘sold out.’

I admit, these conversations could be tough. But I’ve always believed that we sometimes have to get uncomfortable before we can find our way to being comfortable together. These talks helped us come to a place of better understanding. Despite making some headway, we were still looking for a breakthrough that would launch our partnership into the big-time. 

The 180 flip
Then our Stantec brand was refreshed in 2013. This helped us connect the dots in a big way. Our success had always hinged on our authenticity—we took pride in riding with the community at openings and making sure the skateboard parks we designed were extensions of the communities they served—we still do to this day. Now all of those efforts were backed up by Stantec’s values and commitment to ‘design with community in mind.’ With the brand refresh also came a new look and identity—one less “corporate” and more bold—that was more appealing to our younger clientele.

But we still felt we had more work to do to truly fit into the Company. After some break-through meetings with our Stantec marketing team, the group helped us turn the corner. We were given the chance to fully explain how our design philosophy connected with the culture of the skating community we were partnering with—essentially how our team lives the Stantec promise to design with our community in mind.

Things just clicked after those conversations. Our marketers understood how to better market our expertise in line with Stantec’s brand. We really started rolling once all of the branding elements came together. Between mid-2014 and the beginning of 2015, we went full tilt with our marketing—winning more new clients and projects than ever before.

The marketing department supported our group in redesigning our proposal materials to meet our team’s specific goals and ideas. They supported a really creative, outside-the-box design aesthetic. At the same time, we ramped up our social media presence using digital media, which is still key to our marketing today. We also created award-winning videos as well as enticing brochures, tradeshow booth graphics, e-cards, newsletters, 360 virtual reality renderings, and apparel. A defining moment for us was when TransWorld SKATEboarding, a website with millions of followers, posted a link to one of our highest viewed videos on Stantec.com and touted us as one of the best skateboard park design firms in North America. This endorsement was a huge deal in our industry, which is traditionally very anti-corporate. We couldn’t have asked for more validation than that.

Finding your line
Over the course of our careers, our team has contributed to over 250 successful skateboard park projects. In the past four years with Stantec, this number continues to grow. I now realize that the passion and grit I developed back in my pro skateboarding days helped me to navigate the challenges of creating a genuinely authentic marketing approach that’s aligned with Stantec’s brand and embraced both internally and externally. It’s uncanny how my career as a designer mirrors my career as a skateboarder—how in both careers, you have to always be hustling to prove yourself and to market your skills and talents to attract clients.

My advice to anyone joining the Company? Be determined to find your niche and do what you do best. Don’t be afraid to focus on what makes you unique—that could ultimately be what brings you success. Those are the tricks that will make you fly.

 

Don’t be afraid to focus on what makes you unique—that could ultimately be what brings you success. Those are the tricks that will make you fly.

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