Heartlent Group's Elliot Gerard on His LeBron Portrait and Rock the Vote Campaigns
A graduate of the Pratt Institute, Elliot Gerard has spent over 15 years in the creative industry, playing an integral role in the creation of award-winning campaigns for various brands and media outlets including ESPN, Hitachi and IBM. In 2020, Elliot co-founded Heartlent Group, a social-first marketing collective specializing in innovative content that stands out in today's digital world. As head of creative, Elliot leads creative strategy and content development for the collective's roster of clients.
During the 2020 election, Elliot led Heartlent Group's efforts around Rock the Vote campaigns "Hoopers Vote" and "Kickoff The Vote," which included the creation of over 400 custom digital content pieces for current and former basketball players and influencers. As a result, "Hoopers Vote" and "Kickoff the Vote" received over 85,000 social engagements and was covered in more than 40 publications.
Elliot also co-hosts "We Need to Be Doing That," a podcast focused on sports, social media and content featuring interviews with a variety of guests across the sports industry spectrum. Elliot credits his wife and two children for inspiring his creative direction.
We spoke to Elliot for our Time-Out series, where we chat with folks in the sports world about their favorite athletes, teams, sports movies and shows, and their love of sports generally.
Elliot, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in New York City on the Upper East Side and even though I now live in Westport, Connecticut, I still consider myself a proud New Yorker.
Your earliest sports memory.
I played little league as a kid and I'm told I was known for having a bunt run. In high school, I was a mediocre football player and a decent wrestler. Wrestling led to all sorts of injuries, though. So in college, while I started wrestling my freshman year, those injuries quickly caught up to me. After that I walked onto the track team—I was terrible, but I did it to stay connected to sports in some way. I didn't become a real fan of sports until I was a teenager.
Your favorite sports team.
The Knicks are definitely my favorite sports team and have been a common thread throughout my life and career. I remember being at the game when I was a kid during the infamous Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning fight, where coach Jeff Van Gundy grabbed Mourning's leg to try and stop it. I was there with a family friend who had season tickets on the floor and we were right under the basket where the fight took place.
The next morning I walked into school and my principal said he'd seen me in the paper that day. Turns out, The New York Times sports section ran a photo on the front page of me (wearing my Oakley jersey) and my friend in front of the crowd. I had that article framed and became a Knicks fan for life. While the Knicks have had a tough history since then, I still love them because they have such a deep connection to the city and will always be New York's first team. I've been lucky enough to work with the Knicks over the years and was actually introduced to Jonah Ballow when he was the director of digital for the team and we've worked together ever since, including our latest journey of building a company together.
Your favorite athlete.
I'm most appreciative of LeBron James. He gave me one of the most important moments in sports and in my career. I created a piece for Sports Illustrated after LeBron won the NBA Finals championship with the Cavs that depicted him yelling and a lion coming out of his face. I worked with another artist, John Boyce, on this piece and we wanted it to emulate Cleveland's frustration over the years they went without a championship and the celebration that came when they finally clinched it.
LeBron used it as his last post before Zero Dark Thirty-23—the 30 days every year when he goes dark before the playoffs. The attention it got was huge and the illustration was covered everywhere, including ESPN and Bleacher Report. LeBron posting that image led to a lot of opportunities and was a big part of my career trajectory, including creating a mural for the Cavs that was displayed outside their arena throughout the 2017 NBA Finals.
I will always be a fan of Carmelo Anthony. I hope he wins one with LeBron this year. He is a controversial figure but one who makes a difference both on and off the court. My grandparents went to Syracuse and the year that Melo won the championship with them, my grandmother was dying. I would watch Cuse games with my grandfather and it brought us closer and was a way to find joy during a painful time in our lives. I have created a lot of artwork of Carmelo since, including some of my favorite pieces that the New York Knicks hired me to create.
Your favorite sports show or podcast.
My pick is more of a personality—Stephen A. Smith. He is such an interesting and outlandish dude. He is the quintessential sports personality reporter out there right now so I gotta give him love. He's also covered and shared work that I have created in the past so I am a little biased.
Your favorite sports movie and/or video game.
NBA 2K. I haven't had time to play since my kids were born but when I did, I loved making myself as a player, forcing a trade to the Knicks and winning a championship with them. That's a fantasy of mine. If I could be one thing in this world, I'd be starting point guard for the Knicks!
On the movie side, I really love Any Given Sunday. I know it's a cheesy movie, but I'm a big Al Pacino fan. I think it captures professional football at that time and the hype of the sport really well. Also, I like that real players like Lawrence Taylor were cast; he gave an amazing performance. There is one speech I really love where Al Pacino talks about inch by inch—the inches turn into yards, etc. That's a great metaphor for life.
A recent project you're proud of.
Before the 2020 election, Ben Lyons and Rock the Vote came to us and wanted us to create artwork. We came back with the idea to do 50 custom digital illustrations featuring "Hoopers," current and former basketball players and influencers in the sport. In the end that 50 turned into over 400 illustrations and they were used by players on their social media and on media interviews and news to encourage everyone to exercise their right to vote.
The campaign took on a life of its own, we developed multiple AR filters in the middle of the campaign to increase awareness on Instagram, and the campaign was a major launchpad for Heartlent Group. The "Hoopers Vote" campaign was featured by ESPN online and on-air, TNT, The Hill, MSNBC and The Athletic, among many others, and has won 11 industry awards (so far!).
Someone else's project that you admired recently.
Nike's Colin Kaepernick campaign in 2018 took a lot of guts. The design was clean and beautiful, and the meaning behind it was so powerful. They lost business because of it, but they did it for the right reasons. There was so much backlash at the time and there's something to be said for a brand taking a risk like that for a good cause.
What sports can do that nothing else can.
I love that sports can give a unique voice and platform to athletes like LeBron and Kaepernick. The power these athletes have is immense and a pro athlete can really make a difference by using their voice for good. I think athletes have a very distinctive opportunity right now when it comes to sharing their views and the issues they are passionate about.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the sports world.
I was a fine arts and theatre major with a communications minor so when I came out of school I wanted to be in the film or theatre industry as a director, actor or some kind of talent. Both my grandparents were in the industry so I wanted to follow in their footsteps. In addition to acting and directing, I was also a rapper at one point and was featured in an award-winning documentary about it, so I think I would definitely be working in entertainment if I didn't get into sports.