Richardson Lives and Shares the South Mississippi Story Through RARE Design
Thu, 09/28/2017 - 08:48am | By: Jim Coll
Rodney Richardson stood at the end of the conference room table in Memphis, just getting started on a creative presentation that he and his Hattiesburg-based agency, RARE Design, had put together for the NBA's Grizzlies new branding efforts. And it didn't take long — moments really — for Michael Heisley, then-owner of the Grizzlies, to stop the presentation and ask Richardson where he was from before posing the question to a colleague, “Why in the hell are we working with someone from Mississippi?”
It seemed a fair question to Heisley when considering the important decision of who best to help tell the Grizzlies' story to the world. After all, Memphis had considered some of the country's biggest agencies—all from places much larger in reputation and scale than the Hub City.
But it was a question that Richardson was prepared to answer.
“I told him about the perseverance and grit that we bring to everything we do,” recalled Richardson, a University of Southern Mississippi alumnus. “And I told him that the work we were presenting was the result of digging down and finding that story of who you are and bringing that story to life in the right way.”
“We talked about that for a minute, and he said, ‘Ok, let's go. Carry on.'”
That successful presentation was just the start for RARE Design, which Richardson opened on Fourth Street in Hattiesburg in 1999. Today, Richardson is one of the country's foremost storytellers for professional sports franchises, and RARE Design has moved to its current downtown location in The Bakery Building, alongside The Venue, which he also owns.
In recent years, Richardson and the RARE team have shaped brands like the Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans Pelicans, Houston Texans, Charlotte Hornets, Sacramento Kings, Portland Timbers, NASCAR, and most recently, the Minnesota Timberwolves. His passion for telling others' stories is shaped by his own, which includes USM's and Hattiesburg's influences, as well as a stint in sports marketing with Nike.
“When you're from a place in the world that historically is one of the poorest in the nation—a place where it's still not politically incorrect to put us down or denigrate us without repercussion—you either give into those things, believe them, and become them, or you overcome them,” Richardson said. “And when you look at the things that have come from this place in the world—the innovations and creations; the art, the flavors, the textures, and the sounds—there are so many wonderful things! When you listen to the stories and find the stories of the people, what you find is grit and determination and ingenuity.”
In addition to his work with professional teams, Richardson has also worked with the Southern Miss athletic department to design the Golden Eagle logo, as well as administrators at Pearl River Community College and Oak Grove, Presbyterian Christian, and Petal high schools on their athletics branding.
“The Southern Miss brand and identity has been one of the most exciting projects for me, because it's one of the nearest and dearest,” Richardson said. “It's part of me and part who I am. I have experienced it, learned from it, and grown from it. And to be able to help bring that story to life is tremendous.”
The Southern Miss and south Mississippi stories are of grit and determination, and family and friends who contribute to others' successes, according to Richardson. Those characteristics are infused in the Golden Eagle logo, which Richardson has guided through multiple iterations, including the latest update in 2015.
“Our goal was to bring that Southern Miss grit to life,” Richardson explained about the logo. “There is a great pride and intensity here, and we have a history of instilling fear in athletic opponents, even when we're the perennial underdog. But let them think that, because by the time they realize that they're wrong, we've got ‘em!
“That's part of the truth I know about Southern Miss,” he continued. “how people want to underestimate us, whether it's our place, our university, our athletic teams. But I know the heart and soul of the people here. I know the heart and soul of the people who invest their lives here to teach our students and coach our athletes and lead this university. And I know how deep that runs.”
Richardson's own story was shaped by his experiences as a Hattiesburg resident and USM student. As a USM student, Richardson worked in what was then known as Publications and Printing Services.
“When I look back on those experiences when I was in school, I had instructors, fellow students and other people around me who were encouraging and didn't allow me to quit when I wanted to,” he recalled. “It's that kind of thing that, I think, makes Southern Miss so very special—that people are willing to pour that kind of time into you and grow together. It's deep, and it's real.”
Intensely proud of his experiences, Richardson considers it a blessing to reside in the Hub City. He believes those experiences are an advantage when he competes for work with agencies from New York, Chicago, the west Coast, and all places between.
“I was told by a guy once: ‘You're going to walk in a room one day and a couple of things will happen—first you'll open your mouth, and they will hear your accent and think you're an idiot. They can't hide it on their face—you'll see it,' he told me. ‘And when you see that, they'll probably lean over to the person next to them and say, ‘Why are we talking to someone from Mississippi?' How will you answer that?' That's where those values and those character traits have to come out.”
While RARE Design engages many local clients, Richardson's most recent national branding work was to evolve NASCAR's visual identity, including the organization's logo, and with NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, which included a revised identity and new uniforms, including the most recently unveiled “Statement Edition” uniform that highlights that region of the country.
“It's big, it's bold, and it's energetic,” Richardson said of the new uni. “It's like when you see the Northern Lights in all their glory and energy. That's what the uniform is all about. There's a sense of boldness and intensity. I think when the team wears this uniform, and when the people encounter it, there will be a vibrancy that you can't help but feel and become a part of.”
Proud of RARE's recent work, Richardson is also keeping an eye on what's next.
“We are getting into some sports that we haven't been heavily involved with; that's exciting for us,” Richardson said. “We are also continuing our work with the NBA through its partnership with 2K to launch an online gaming league. I love the fact that we get to take our natural, Southern story-telling roots, and we get to work with people from all over the country, and if they're passionate about discovering and living out who they are, we can be passionate about finding their stories and helping them bring them to life.”