How to Get a Job in Sports with Chris Iles, Corporate Communication Mg. of the Minnesota Twins
Meet Chris Iles, the Corporate Communications Manager for the Minnesota Twins.
He’s a hometown guy, raised and educated in the Twin Cities area. He’s also the originator of the Twins’ Tweet Board, a growing sensation.
I had the pleasure of talking with Chris about his path to his current role in sports, the skills needed for his wide-ranging job and yes, the Tweet Board.
Click the play button on the audio player to listen to the interview or check out the transcription below:
First of all, I should introduce myself. This is Sam Miller from Sports Networker talking with Chris Iles.
I see that you went to the University of Minnesota. Are you from the Twin Cities?
Yeah, I am from the Twin Cities. I’m from a town just south of the Cities called Eagan. Grew up here my whole life and went to the University of Minnesota, and I got a degree in journalism from there.
What are you memories of [Kirby] Puckett and [Kent] Hrbek and all those guys?
Oh, man. Great memories of Puckett, Hrbek, both those guys. Dan Gladden. Really all of the guys from the ’87 and ’91 teams. I remember, I was only seven when the Twins won their first World Series. During Game 7, my parents sent me to bed. I slept on my floor with my head sticking out of the door so I could hear the game that they were watching on the TV.
Wow. What’s it like now for you to be working for them?
It’s great. Definitely feel very lucky to not only be employed in professional sports but to be employed by a team that I’ve grown up following and that I’ve always respected their brand and what they’re all about. It’s really an honor to be working for the Minnesota Twins.
You graduated in 2004, is that right? But you didn’t start working for the Twins until 2008.
Yeah, I graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2004. Right out of college I went to work for a PR firm here called Padilla Spear Beardsley, kind of a mid-sized firm here in Minneapolis.
From there I went to work for an HMO called HealthPartners for about three and a half years, located just south of Minneapolis. [I was] doing the same type of stuff that I’m doing now in a very corporate communications specific role. From there I was able to get a job here with the Twins as the corporate communications manager.
Did you try applying for something with the Twins right out of school? How did the Twins gig come about?
I did not apply to work with the Twins right out of school. I was on a very PR-specific focus, and I had built my network around agencies and healthcare. That was kind of what got me started. I did an internship for HealthPartners when I was finishing up college. That got me the contacts to go work for the PR firm, Padilla Spear Beardsley.
After about a year at Padilla, HealthPartners gave me a call and offered me a better job. I took that opportunity. The whole time I was working for HealthPartners, I knew a girl that works for the Twins who I used to get tickets from. When this job opened up, she let me know about it. She knew that I’d be a good fit and that my skill set was appropriate for it, so she let me know about it before it was even posted. Kinda had the inside scoop there. Luckily I was in the right place at the right time with the right skills, and I was able to get in the door here with the Twins.
I was going to ask you what are your responsibilities as corporate communications manager, but it looks like you give a lot of talks, entertain a lot of folks. What aren’t your responsibilities as corporate communications manager? You kind of do it all.
It’s a lot of different things. I’d say my main responsibilities fall into four buckets. One of them is media relations. I handle all of our team’s media relations on the business side of things. The second bucket is Web site from a content perspective. I work with our partners at Major League Baseball Advanced Media to make sure all the content there is updated regularly.
The third bucket would be social media, which was definitely not in my job description when I started here in 2008, and is probably one of the biggest ways that my job has changed. The fourth bucket, I would say, is internal communications and making sure everyone within our company is up to speed with what’s going on. It’s a mixed bag of things. I do give a lot of talks. It’s good. It keeps you on your toes.
You kind of briefly touched on it. How has your job changed in the last four years?
Definitely the biggest way my job has changed has been the increased usage of social media and being able to connect with the fans directly. When I first started, the focus was pretty specifically on traditional media relations and Web site communications, basically just broadcasting out to the fans.
The biggest thing that has changed now is definitely our usage of social media and how important that is as a part of our marketing mix. Now rather than just broadcasting messages out to fans through our Web site, we’re able to have communication as more of a two-way street. We’re able to get better interaction with our fans through social media. It’s kind of an additional avenue that gives us a way directly into fans’ homes.
What makes for a successful Twins’ social media strategy?
I would say what would make for really any successful social media strategy is well-defined objectives and well-defined measurements that [are] directly tied to those objectives.
Does that mean clicks and likes, or is it a whole lot bigger than that?
That’s definitely part of it. Our main things that we use to measure in terms of fan growth, how many total fans are following us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, all the various social media sites, that’s one of metrics we look at. Another one is how much revenue we’re able to convert. At this point we track Facebook and Twitter. To me that’s the most important metric. How much revenue are we able to convert through our communications efforts?
How much of it is initiating vs. reacting to fans?
In an ideal world, I’d say it would probably be about 50-50, two-way street. Where we’re at right now, we’re probably doing about 70 percent initiating and 30 percent responding. One of our goals for this year is really to get that responding and interaction better and more consistent so it’s closer to that 50-50 range.
Last year was a highly unusual year. The Twins are the best of the best, and of course last year was a struggle. How did that affect things?
It definitely inhibited our growth, I will say. One of the things that we’ve seen that really helps teams grow their social media fan base is just winning some games. With a 99-loss season last year, that made it a lot more difficult for us to do that. Really changed the tone of the communications that we were putting out there and the frequency. If we’re just getting beat up right and left on the field, we’re probably going to scale our communications back a little bit just because of the level of negativity that we would see, particularly on Facebook. We withdraw just a little bit.
Talk to me about regulating players on Twitter. Do you do much of that, or do they pretty much have carte blanche to say more or less anything they want?
We do talk to our players. For the most part, we’re blessed to have a pretty good group of guys who understands that social media can be used to build their personal brands. We don’t have a whole lot of trouble makers on our team, luckily. Their social media usage is governed by an MLB policy, so they have to adhere. MLB has a social media policy for its players, and they do adhere to that. Like I said, we have a great group of guys here, so we haven’t had too many issues.
How about the Tweet Board? That’s getting a lot of publicity. For somebody that hasn’t seen it, lives nowhere near the Twin Cities right now, what’s that all about?
The Tweet Board is really just a way for fans to interact with the game, especially if they’re in the stadium here. If they’re ever at the game, and they want to send us tweets, we are able to grab fans’ tweets right out of the Twittersphere and put them right up on our video board here in front of 40,000 people. Really, it’s a way for fans to interact with the game.
We see a similar response if someone were to see themselves on the main video board. You get your picture up on the main video board and you get all excited. “Hey, that’s my picture.” We see people doing the same thing: they send a tweet out. The next tweet will be, “Hey, my tweet made it on the Twitter board at Target Field.” It’s fun to see fans having fun with it and having that kind of interaction. That goes on the video board here, and it also goes on 650 Internet protocol televisions throughout the ballpark.
How did that idea come about?
It’s something that I wanted to do awhile ago. Kinda funny how it came about. We knew we wanted to put tweets on the video board and just happened to be talking with our vice president of technology who was in the room.
We were talking about how cool it would be if we could do that. Literally the next day, he came up to me and said, “Hey, I couldn’t sleep last night so I wrote the software that will pull tweets outta Twitter and put them right on the video board.” We did a little bit of testing with that and pretty much went with it the next homestand.
That’s a pretty original idea. There’s not a whole lot of teams or organizations doing that, isn’t that right?
That’s right. I’ve seen it at a few other places. I think we’re the first team to do it consistently every game. A few other places I’ve seen it. I was at the Red Bull Crashed Ice finals here in St. Paul this past winter, and they had a Twitter board for part of the time there. I’ve seen it at conferences, for example. It’s an idea that’s used and has been done, but from what I know, I think we’re the first team to do it consistently every game.
How do you go about initiating new ideas like that that no else has done, but that’s what keeps you guys ahead?
One of the great things about working for the Minnesota Twins is that we have a very small front office, which means a lot of work but it also makes us very flexible. When we have new ideas, there’s not a whole lot of bureaucracy that we need to get through to implement those ideas.
The Twitter board is a perfect example of that. We were brainstorming in a meeting and kind of joking about how cool it would be. The next day we were doing it. Definitely blessed to work for the Minnesota Twins and an organization that understands the value of social media and supports that.
Do you have a typical day, or is there not really a typical day for you?
One of the things that I love about my job is there is no typical day. It’s a variety of things. I spend a lot of time writing. I put out a ton of press releases on behalf of the Twins, as well as our social media platforms and putting messaging out on that.
Some days I’m doing media interviews, some days I’m arranging press conferences. Some days, not too often, but some days I get to sit down and just watch a game, which is nice. It’s never the same day twice, which I really enjoy.
What skills are needed in your role in corporate communications, as opposed to like a PR or straight up media relations role?
That’s a good question. I’ve never been asked that before. I think what’s needed across all of them definitely, and one that really sets people apart, is writing ability. It’s amazing how many bad writers there are out there. If you can really dial in your writing ability and get the mechanics of it down, get your punctuation spot on, that will really set you apart.
Another thing is interpersonal communications skills. One thing that I’ve found that helps out in a corporate communications role vs. a straight PR role is really having an understanding of the business as a whole. One thing that you’ll see in a corporate communications role is that you really interact with all different levels throughout an organization. In our case, that would be ticket sales, baseball operations, ballpark operations, broadcasting, our baseball communications guys, finance.
It really helps to have a good understanding of the business and the different roles that the different departments play. Whereas, in say our Baseball Communications department, for example, they would have a much better understanding of the game of baseball than I do. I get baseball, but they get it at a much deeper level than I do. I get the business better than they would.
What’s the No. 1 piece of advice that’s taken you to where you’re at, and keeping with that cutting edge theme, how can others kind of emulate you, I guess?
One piece of advice that I got when I was an intern that I thought was really good was just be confident. Don’t be cocky but be confident in your abilities. Confidence is a rare thing. Cockiness, I’d say, is probably a lot more common. But if you can be confident and not cocky, you’re in good shape.
In order to be confident, you’ve got to have the fundamentals down. I go back to the fundamentals of writing and being a solid writer and having solid interpersonal communication skills. If you can be confident that you have those skills and you can project that confidence, that will get you a long way going forward.
Thank you so much for your time today. Do you have anything else?
Just, win Twins!