By Alexander Sampson, Deputy Features Editor
I’m sat in a Zoom room waiting for a Creative Director named Tom Brandhorst. He’s worked with Nike and Puma, written tweets as the Old Spice guy, and directed football games with Olivier Giroud and Marco Reus. If you follow football content you’ve probably watched some of his stuff: he’s travelled to Moscow and Milan, South Africa and South London all in the name of football, and he’s worked with some of the biggest names in the Premier League.
On screen, he’s 29 and quietly confident. He knows the Zoom interview like the back of his hand, having completed many throughout lockdown and beyond. I’m the rookie here.
Tom’s university career was launched in Goldney Hall and shaped at the Winston Theatre. Back in 2010, Goldney was the apex of first year halls, yet Tom’s university acme was born out of Bristol’s DramSoc: over three years studying Ancient History,
‘I was in a lot of the drama stuff. Never massive roles but I was once in an opera as a non-singing part. We did a version of Bizet’s Carmen done in a 1920s New York setting. Playing this American man smoking on stage at the Winston was probably my crowning [Uni] moment.’
Outside the theatre, Tom filled his time with football on the Downs and 3am essay shifts in the ASS library. He also took on the role as social media secretary for Boat Society, a position clunkily named ‘webmaster’. As noughties as the name sounds, the role gave him vital experience that contributed to his professional work experience at the Bristol media festival Inbetween Times.
Tom’s first job was to voice the social media accounts for companies such as Mercedes-Benz, Smart Car and Old Spice.
‘Back in those times there were so many companies looking for a social media manager – basically just a kid who they could chuck a bit of money to run their Twitter and Facebook pages...’
Despite this nonchalant response, such experience paid dividends: at 21, with Twitter taking flight, Tom’s first job was to voice the social media accounts for companies such as Mercedes-Benz, Smart Car and Old Spice.
Tom’s early career was equally shaped by the work experience he completed during his time at Bristol. Initially aiming for a job in advertising, he applied for multiple work experience placements and ended up with a digital media company called Holla; based off his performance over the Christmas and Easter holidays, he was invited back over the summer to do a month’s more work experience.
‘It was good experience, very much the classic intern vibe: picking up the simple tasks, being involved in a bit of the creative side but a lot more of the logistical side, and just seeing how the digital media world worked.’
Two years and many summatives later, Tom stepped out of the Wills Memorial building with a scroll in hand and his eyes on the horizon:
‘I was ready to do a gap year. I didn’t have any contacts; I didn’t know any people, so it was just going to be a case of coldly sending people my CV or applying for grad jobs. But then I randomly got an email from the company I did work experience at in my first year, and they said they had a role.’
Landing on his feet, Tom naturally gravitated to the more creative side of digital media within Holla, and was subsequently approached by a football media firm named COPA90. At COPA he was able to do more directing and writing and began making waves: having filmed with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Wilfried Zaha, Tom flew to film the performative art of ‘Kasi Flava’ in South Africa and the Ultra fan scene in Milan.
To hear more about Tom’s story in depth, watch the video below:
Amongst all these projects, his favourite lies in Charlotte, North Carolina:
‘We went out there as a very small unit and were just travelling around in an SUV. We were making a film about Charlotte FC, which is about to launch in the MLS, and were making a documentary about why the city needed a football team and the culture there.
‘Essentially it was four days of going around eating, drinking and stopping people with a camera. America’s full of personalities and it was really, really fluid, and so much fun.’
Simultaneously, Tom notes certain individuals as a cut above the numerous celebrities and players he’s interviewed:
‘Peter Crouch was really sound. I was [also] impressed by Jesse Lingard – he was solid, fun and got on board with what we were trying to do. Trent [Alexander-Arnold] too – he’s a very normal guy and very fun when he’s in his personal world, but you would never really see that.’
To be a creative director at 29 is no mean feat: for his ambitions, and in his field, it’s pretty much the best role you can get.
Now, as creative director of Footballco, he’s working for the largest football content provider in the world. When asked if this daunts him, Tom shakes his head:
‘It’s pretty cool to be operating on such a global scale. Footballco reaches around 400 million people globally. It’s a huge company.’
To be a creative director at 29 is no mean feat: for his ambitions, and in his field, it’s pretty much the best role you can get. Yet Tom’s humility is clear throughout the interview – convinced he just ‘got lucky’ multiple times, it goes without saying that his work ethic and creativity have been key factors in his rapid ascent.
His focus now turns to producing original content – to shock, surprise, and push the boundaries of what football content is – while his longer-term goal is to potentially own his own company.
‘I would like to own my own company one day … but right now, I’m focusing on this CD role, building a team and fostering new talent to try and create content that the audience perhaps isn’t expecting.’
With the world of football at his feet, Tom pulls me back to Bristol with a parting word of encouragement:
‘I think people from Bristol have a different head on them compared to other universities, and often seem to have a perceptive way of approaching a task or a project. If you use the city, Bristol gives a very different education; if you play the city proper, Bristol [students] come out very solid.’
For Tom’s best advice on getting into the world of media and digital content, see below:
Featured Image: Epigram / Tom Brandhorst
Have you ever considered being a Creative Director as a career?