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How to Break Into Sports Marketing

So you want to work in sports?

I don’t blame you. There is nothing else I’d rather do. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of thousands of people who feel just like you and me, which can make getting into the industry pretty tough. I personally struggled to get my footing.

I’ve also been in a position where I needed to hire. It’s from these vantage points that I offer my opinion on the best ways to break into sports marketing.

First Things First, It’s a Business

Chances are you’re attracted to working in sports because you love sports. And that’s great. The sports business is tough to break into and even tougher to stay in (you’ll probably work investment banker hours, while making less money than investment bankers spend on their daily coffee habit your first few years of employment), so you’d have to be crazy to work in the field if it wasn’t what you loved.

Sports superfan drinking a pitcher of beer

Here’s the thing: sports are a business, and a high-profile business at that. A good way to get your cover letter and resume tossed? Emphasizing that you’re a “Super Fan” or talking about how “passionate” you are about the game. Instead, use your cover letter to show how your skills and personality are going to help your soon-to-be-employer make money.

Employers want people who are going to contribute to the bottom line, not spend their time trying to become best buds with the players (pro tip: for a long sports career, don’t try to become best buds with the players) or shirk their responsibilities to go watch a game. Yes, your Facebook friends probably thought the black and gold body paint made for an awesome profile photo, but it’s a red flag to employers  that you aren’t going to pass the “Super Fan” test.  While you’re at it, watch your communications with players and teams on Twitter. Attempting to buddy up with a player over the internet signals that you’re probably going to try it in real life too. Remember: your job is to make money for the organization, not be a part of an athlete’s entourage.

It’s not to say you can’t be a fan…you’ve gotta love what you do and it’s certainly more fun to go to work each day when you’re working for what is sure to become your team. But you must first and foremost be a professional, and the job search is the time to err on super professionalism. If you can’t be a professional before a fan, this probably isn’t where you’re supposed to be.

Be Willing to Go Anywhere

While the hometown team may be the dream, limiting yourself to a handful of organizations is unrealistic. For many sports professionals, the journey starts (and to be realistic, often ends) in the minor leagues. Real talk: when you’re competing against hundreds of applicants, you’ve got to take the opportunities you get. And that might take you to Podunk, USA (for me, it was Tacoma, Washington, a far cry from my hometown in Connecticut, comfortably nestled between Manhattan and Boston). As you advance in your career, you’ll have a little more leeway to pick and choose, but if you can afford to be flexible, you’ll have greater opportunities available to you. And the more opportunities you take, the more opportunities you’ll eventually get.

Invest in Yourself

The best decision I ever made while breaking into the sports industry was attending the Baseball Winter Meetings. Still a relatively fresh grad (I had completed my Master’s earlier in the year) and more than relatively broke, I made the last minute decision to board a plane to Indianapolis to attend the PBEO job fair (need tips on the PBEO job fair? Click here).

Over 250 jobs were posted my first year at the Winter Meetings, and there were around 500 “job seekers.” If you’ve absorbed anything I’ve typed…those are some darn good odds for the sports industry. I left the Winter Meetings with more than a dozen interviews and a handful of job offers. The one I accepted propelled me forward into a stream of opportunities that led to my current position. It required me to put some money up front, but I can assuredly say I wouldn’t have had nearly the number of opportunities that I have had if I hadn’t made that initial investment.

If you simply can’t fit  a flight across the country into your budget, look for more affordable local opportunities to mingle with like-minded professionals, such as a Social Media Club event, a Women in Sports and Events lecture, or a happy hour thrown by the American Marketing Association. Getting a job (any job) is often more about who you know than what you know. Meet people, but more importantly, stay in touch  (I could go on for days about how important networking is, but will defer to other great articles on SportsNetworker.com  to enlighten you. Here’s a recent one).

You can invest in smaller ways too. My favorite trick is sending a printed portfolio of my work dressed up in a nice report cover, with my resume and cover letter enclosed. Between the printing costs, supplies and shipping it costs me around $10 a pop, but with so few applicants actually taking the time to mail in applications, a printed portfolio can really help your application shine (note: always submit your application online as well).

And don’t settle for free if you can look more polished by spending a couple bucks. Invest in yourname.com (approximately $8 with GoDaddy.com) for that website you just created and opt for the business cards without an ad from VistaPrint.com ($10).

Take a Good Luck at Your Résumé

Hiring managers want people who get results. Does your resume give hiring managers something tangible? Show the numbers. By how many followers did you grow a previous employer’s Facebook presence? By how much did you exceed your sales goals?

Get specific with how you accomplished your tasks as well. Your bullet point shouldn’t be “Layout team’s game program,” instead it should give specifics of software you used, the frequency of this work and any special skills or software it might have required.

Concrete examples of your success and skills show hiring managers that you are ready to jump in and make an impact.

Work on Your Web Presence

Like it or not, your future employers are going to Google you. What does your web presence say about you? Social media is the best place to start to ensure you’re best attributes shine above the fold in a search.

Start with your LinkedIn profile. That resume you just worked on? Make sure your profile represents these latest updates.

Hopefully you’ve been able to maintain a strong relationship with someone at your former employer, because getting a ringing endorsement in the form of a recommendation on LinkedIn is a huge bonus. If it’s been awhile since you’ve touched base, offer up a recommendation to a few of your favored colleagues, LinkedIn will politely suggest they return the favor.

Because most Twitter users choose to keep their profile public, the micro-blogging network is a favorite of curious employers. Make sure your account reflects the image you want companies to see. Don’t be afraid to showcase your personality—everyone wants to work with someone they think they can get along with. However, supplement your personal tweets with a great article from AdWeek or a stat from the SBJ that might have been overlooked.

A well-thought out and maintained website can really bring your online presence together. It’s the perfect place to display your résumé, highlight your best work, be a hub for your social media presence. Even if your HTML skills leave a lot to be desired, it’s a huge plus for any employer to know you can “figure out” that part of the digital world. If you’ve never built a site, check out wix.com or wordpress.com for nice, free sites that a beginner can master.

Be Willing to Work for It

A killer work ethic is imperative for working in sports. If you’ve slayed it with your résumé and put together a professional web presence, you’ve taken the first steps at showing your future employer how hard you’re willing to work for success. So the period after submitting your résumé isn’t the time to be passive.

In your cover letter, set a time to follow up. Here’s a trick: studies have shown the time decision makers are most receptive to cold calls are Thursdays between 8-9 am and 4-5 pm. I always plan my follow up calls at 4 pm on Thursdays.  “Hi, my name is ____________, I recently applied for the XYZ opening and I was calling to see where you are in the process,” is a good starting point to the conversation, but have your 20 second elevator pitch ready to go in case the hiring manager is receptive to talking to you. Don’t expect it, but be prepared for a full on interview (this means having knowledge of the company as well).

Remember to display that “politely persistent” attitude throughout the hiring process… follow up your interview with a thank you note (I’m partial to handwritten notes, but an email is better than nothing at all).

The techniques expressed here are by no means all-inclusive. However, these are the areas job-seekers often overlook. Hopefully there is a tip in here which can help you achieve your sports marketing goals.

What’s the best tip you’ve picked up along the way? Comment below and send us a tweet @sportsnetworker

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7 Responses to How to Break Into Sports Marketing

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    @StephaniSpring im trying to hard to get into the sports biz. had an interview at img got shutdown. i need a job so bad. any advice?

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