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
All blogs are written by general members of UAPRSSA and Capstone Agency.