She played an essential role in transforming perceptions and realities of the college football postseason. When Gina Lehe started as the senior director of communications & brand management in 2014, she brought over 15 years of public relations expertise to the College Football Playoff (CFP).
With the first-ever playoff commencing earlier this month, Lehe was responsible for the media relations and public relations outreach for the CFP, as well as branding the playoff. The main challenge Lehe faced when she started with the CFP was creating a significant, distinct brand that was separate from its predecessor, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS).
Branding the CFP to be separate from the BCS took work, but it was important to bridge the gap from the previous era in college football. “We weren’t starting with something that was negative or needed a lot of help,” Lehe said. “We were taking something with a solid brand and looking for ways to make it even better, and sometimes that’s even harder than starting from ground zero.”
Lehe got her start in the bowl game industry while she was a student at the University of Arizona, as an intern for the Insight.com Bowl. Since then, Lehe has spent time with the Fiesta Bowl in the Phoenix area, and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
As an intern with the Insight.com Bowl, Lehe was fortunate to have a boss who provided her with opportunities that helped her move from college to a professional setting. “I was in a very fortunate position where I had a role model, in a strong woman who really taught me to stand up for what I believed and speak up when I felt I was right. She gave me opportunities at a really young age to essentially sink or swim in an industry that I really didn’t know much about, but it was the best way to learn,” Lehe said.
Using her former boss an example, Lehe continues the idea of mentorship and giving opportunities to young women in the sports public relations field. “I’ve really tried to carry the idea of paying it forward to other women to this day, giving young girls the opportunity to get into this industry,” Lehe said. “Whether that’s through an internship or a full-time job. Just kind of helping pave the road, similar to what she did for me.”
As a mentor to females trying to break into sports public relations, Lehe cautions to look at all options. “I think a lot of young girls who say they want to get into sports think they want to be a sideline reporter — it’s easy to say — because that’s one of the most visible jobs out there for women. There’s so many different opportunities for women to get involved in sports, whether it’s in front of the camera, behind the camera, or from a media relations standpoint,” Lehe said.
Having a willingness to be open and to explore what is out there is critical to breaking into the sports world. “Take whatever opportunity is presented to you,” Lehe said. “Because, you never know in what situation or what position you are in, who else might be around you and open the door for additional opportunities.”
What has been a driving factor in her success in the sports PR field? Lehe points to her ability to network as a huge asset. “The downside to social media over the years is that younger students think that just because they know somebody on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram that they have a relationship with that person,” Lehe said. “Traditional means of communication is almost a lost art these days, in addition to traditional, standard writing. I always try to stress that you give an effort in trying to meet people and talk to them personally. I don’t mean via email. Pick up the phone.”
--by Andrew Kivette, PRSSA General Member
All blogs are written by general members of UAPRSSA and Capstone Agency.