Keri Potts didn’t dream about running the public relations efforts for ESPN’s college sports assets when she was pursuing her degree at the renowned Newhouse School at Syracuse University. Her original plan was to become a magazine editor and eventually launch her own magazine.
However, through her years at ESPN, she’s made quite a name for herself in the sports media industry. Currently, she serves as the senior director of public relations for the college sports division.
2014 was an especially busy year, as she oversaw the publicity efforts for the launch of the SEC Network in August, and ESPN’s coverage of the inaugural College Football Playoff throughout the season.
Making the jump from collegiate life to the professional world wasn’t difficult for Potts. She was an athlete, while also being involved with the recruiting and media relations department.
As a woman in the industry, Potts pointed out a few characteristics that have helped her succeed. An ability to adapt to a quick evolving landscape has sky rocketed Potts over the rest.
While not necessarily obvious, a woman in the sports industry faces an uphill battle. “Once I was [employed], I realized the lack of female representation and access to women who are further down the road in executive positions. You don’t know how to model the way [to executive positions] — people like to model themselves after what they see,” Potts said. “When you don’t see that in your work environment, it’s tougher, and you have to look extra hard.”
Potts hasn’t seen any outright bias against women in the workplace. “It’s not necessarily overt,” she said. “It’s the kind of thing where they don’t think to invite you. They do an outing that is ‘so male’ — it’s a steakhouse, cigars and golf. They never think that that might not be appealing to everyone. So you either go along with it, or you don’t go. Of course you’re going to go, and it’s not going to be familiar to you. Those are the kind of things that I see and experience.”
According to Potts, an emphasis on knowing exactly what you want to do and a willingness to explore all of the options is essential when pursuing a career in sports.
“You want to be in sports, but going in you have to know exactly what that is and what it is about PR,” Potts said. “My advice is to be able to articulate and recognize and understand what it is you want to do in sports and what that looks like.
“When looking for a job in sports or events PR, it’s not always the Yankees or Giants or the Boston Red Sox you should just be looking at, it’s Central Park Conservancy in New York City, it’s the Sports Commission in Indiana, the U.S. Olympic Committee — there’s so many other avenues.”
A comfort level with the craft of public relations is also essential. If you’re not comfortable with being the public face of a company and not comfortable with conflict, consider working for an organization’s internal communications team, according to Potts.
One way Potts set herself up for success was her willingness to go anywhere after college. She took a job with the NCAA. “I left everyone and anything familiar and anyone I knew and went [to Indiana]. So many kids today won’t even do that,” Potts said. “So many people won’t even do that on the second job. And what did I do? I moved to Bristol, Connecticut.”
But, before accepting a job anywhere, Potts cautions to thoroughly explore the organization: “You have to look at the company. You spend so much time of your life there and away from your family and your friends. Don’t be happy just to get a job. You should try to think is this a good company? Is this a place where I could stay long term?”
“I’m not saying be snobby about it. You can get into a company that’s had a good, long history and has good programs, but ask them about training opportunities, [if there’s] a formal mentor program? Is there shadowing? You should be looking at your own development, not just so that you can be close to famous people and sacrifice your development. It could bite you in the [behind] if you don’t think about those things.”
--by Andrew Kivette, PRSSA General Member
When it was first announced that Neil Patrick Harris would be hosting the 87th Academy Awards, many had great confidence that the singer-turned-actor would be a perfect blend of credibility and comic relief for the show.
Unfortunately, those high hopes fell flat with a poor execution. The ratings this year were down 16 percent, the lowest they’ve been in six years. While many knew it would be difficult to top Ellen DeGeneres’ highly praised performance last year with her infamous "selfie,” the critics showed no mercy to Harris. Reviews included blasts on the stars, "dad jokes" and "horrible comedic timing.” Viewers also took to Twitter using hashtags like #Oscarflop and #Oscar2015 to weigh in on the show. While we're sure Harris and the writers put in great deal of effort (and production costs), it just didn't work — the entire show was a bit off. Was it the absence of crowd-favorite Jennifer Lawrence? Or was it the odd skit featuring Harris in his underwear?
Regardless, hopefully next year, American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and The Academy Awards are able to better execute a show that is such a fan-favorite. Although this year may have been a bit of a bump, it is likely that many viewers will still tune in next year, due to the strong connection the Academy Awards brand has formed with the viewing public. To many, the brand is highly respected due to its sense of credibility. And next year, should the Academy Awards be in need of a fresh face to resurrect the show, I’m sure I could make myself available.
--by Madison Croxson, PRSSA General Member
On the off chance that you haven’t yet heard of him, Ben Carson is a probable 2016 Republican Party presidential candidate. Or at least he was about a week ago.
On Wednesday, March 6, the retired neurosurgeon was being interviewed on CNN’s “New Day” when he said that being gay is “absolutely” a choice.
While that opinion itself isn’t enough to sink a candidacy, his justification might just be enough to doom his presidential aspirations. Carson asserted that sexual orientation is a choice because people go into prison straight and come out gay.
"Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight, and when they come out, they're gay," he said. "So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question."
As would be expected, these comments ignited a firestorm across the Internet. However, instead of simply attempting to apologize or clarify his statement and move forward, Carson did the opposite — he criticized CNN.
Several hours after the interview and its subsequent backlash, Carson publicly criticized CNN’s decision to air his comments. This decision broke one of the cardinal rules of media relations — never insult the interviewer.
This second round of poor judgment displayed by Carson serves as a clear reminder of why it is never smart to turn against an interviewer. Public criticism of his statements increased exponentially after he tried to blame CNN.
In a matter of 12 hours, Carson went from being a likely presidential candidate to being the laughing stock of the Internet, purely due to his poor response in the face of crisis.
It was not until much later in the evening on the day of the interview that Carson finally broke down and issued a formal apology for his statements.
"I realized that my choice of language does not reflect fully my heart on gay issues," Carson wrote in a Facebook post lateWednesday evening. "I do not pretend to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation. I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive. For that I apologize unreservedly to all that were offended."
This situation serves as a strong reminder of why it is important to stay composed in the face of a crisis. Did Carson make some inflammatory remarks? Absolutely. Could he have recovered from his remarks? Yes, without a doubt.
The easiest way to handle the situation would have been for Carson to immediately offer a public apology and address the issue head on. Had he done that, Carson would have been able to correct any misunderstandings or misconceptions rather than digging a deeper hole.
--by Pete Pajor, PRSSA Executive Member
As the temperature has gone from the low 50’s to below freezing (and snow), I’ve noticed that snow days and public relations have a lot more in common than most of us think.
They are unpredictable.
The weatherman might think he knows when it is going to snow, but the truth is you can never be sure if there will be flurries or a blizzard. The same goes for public relations. Projects and clients will throw “snow” balls at you in the blink of an eye, and it is up to you to catch them all.
Preparation is important.
Research! You must know your client’s needs and values before taking on a project. Just like how you wouldn’t brave a snowstorm without stocking up on milk and a snow shovel. You shouldn’t start a project without being fully prepared and equipped.
Communication is important, too.
Is school closed? Is work delayed? Are the roads too dangerous? When it comes to snow, there are a million questions that need to be answered. Communication is just as important in public relations. Be sure to communicate with your client about their needs and expectations. Be sure to keep your co-workers in the loop too, or you may find yourself in the middle of a snowball fight.
Some doors will close.
Especially as a novice, searching for a client to take on can feel like looking for an open restaurant in a snowstorm. Don’t worry; it takes time to find the right client to work with. Be open-minded and up for every opportunity, and you will find one soon enough.
They are fun!
Public relations might be a “job,” but that doesn’t mean you can’t loosen up and have a little fun with it. Get creative in your work and try to think of fun, innovative ways to complete a project. Building the most creative snowman (project) will warm up even the frostiest client.
--by Bethany Corne, PRSSA General Member
All blogs are written by general members of UAPRSSA and Capstone Agency.