There’s a place in marketing for high-end graphic design and well-planned social media campaigns, but sometimes serendipity still wins the day. Such is the case with “The Sign” – a spur-of-the-moment creation of a pre-teen that’s travelled the world promoting the University of Arkansas’ supply chain management program.
The Sign, as it’s become known, is an ordinary white poster board with a red hand-painted message – “#1 Supply Chain ” – and it has showed up regularly in the background of college football gameday broadcasts (among other places) throughout the 2021 season.
Screenshots and videos from ESPN Gameday and SEC Nation have been posted on LinkedIn and Instagram with personalities like Lee Corso, Laura Rutledge, Paul Finebaum, and Kirk Herbstreit talking about football while “The Sign” looms silently in the background.
The first video featuring the sign drew nearly 50,000 views on LinkedIn, and subsequent postings also have been liked, applauded, loved, shared, viewed, and commented on tens of thousands of times.
It’s been great publicity for the U of A’s Department of Supply Chain Management, which indeed has the No. 1-ranked undergraduate program in North America by Gartner. More importantly, the increased awareness created by The Sign has led Walton College students to better and higher-paying job opportunities, attracting even more of the best and brightest students to choose supply chain management as a major. It’s also become a way to share lessons on supply chain management with a public newly aware of the topic.
The genesis of “The Sign,” however, didn’t take place in an executive board room or in an hours-long meeting among marketing creatives.
It was Friday, September 10, 2020, and Luke Fugate, twelve at the time, was sitting on the family couch watching television when his father took a break from work and walked in the room.
“They’re on over here,” Luke said. “On campus. Can we go?”
His father, Brian Fugate, glanced at the television to see Finebaum, host of an afternoon sports talk show on the SEC Network. Finebaum and the SEC Network crew were in town because the Arkansas Razorbacks, for the first time in years, were suddenly relevant in the college football scene and had a big game the next day against their historic rival, the big, bad, burnt orange of the University of Texas. SEC Nation, the network’s Saturday morning college football show, would broadcast live the next day from a set on the stadium parking lot, and Finebaum is one of the show's personalities.
Fugate knew his son loved sports, especially the Razorbacks, but he fell victim to the cats-in-the-cradle curse of fatherhood and told Luke he was too busy to take him campus.
“Come on, Dad. Please.”
Unwilling to settle, he and his older sister Ally devised an idea worthy of any great management consultant – make the trip worthwhile to their father – and Luke made his pitch.
“What if we come up with a way to show off that Arkansas has the No. 1 ranked supply chain program?”
That got Fugate’s attention. As chair of the Department of Supply Chain Management for the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Fugate is always looking for ways to tell the world about the achievements of their faculty, staff, students, and alumni. The ranking by Gartner is a prestigious honor for the department, the college, and the university.
“If you can do that,” Fugate said, “let’s go.”
Of course they could do that! The two siblings disappeared to their family “school room” and emerged quickly with a homemade sign bearing a huge “#1” at the top and “Supply Chain” written below it.
True to his word, Fugate took the siblings to the University of Arkansas campus, and Luke stood holding the sign behind the set as Finebaum chatted on air with Rutledge. Fugate posted a video of the appearance on LinkedIn, and his 30,000 followers loved it.
The next day, the family returned to the stadium with The Sign and no tickets for the game. They couldn’t score tickets, but they did get several photos of The Sign, including shots with mascots Boss Hog and Big Red. That post drew nearly a thousand likes and more than forty comments.
The Sign was updated to include “Gartner” and a running Razorback logo, and it hit the road, traveling (with U of A alumni, students, and supply chain managers at U of A industry partners) to Georgia, Texas, Ohio, Michigan, and California. In addition to college football games, it has made appearances at a Formula 1 Aramco Grand Prix race, in the background of a Good Morning America broadcast, at supply chain conferences and classes, and, of course, at events at the Supply Chain Hall of Fame. Most posts have included some lesson on supply chains from Fugate, usually including links to articles on topics of interest.
The Sign recently made its way to Tampa, Florida, for the Outback Bowl, where Arkansas battled Penn State on Jan. 1. In the meantime, it has plans to travel to Russia, Spain, and other European countries with U of A faculty and friends for some international exposure.
Rumor has it there’s a chance The Sign crosses paths with such esteemed Razorbacks as Sam Pittman, Eric Musselman, and Dave Van Horn before retiring, perhaps to a display at the Hall of Fame. Until then, check your social media feeds for this sign of the times.