Sports PR: the Grit Behind the Glam

By: Julia Backus
(@julia_backus)As a Michigander who has loved sports my entire life, I have always wanted to incorporate sports into my career. I was given the opportunity to learn more about sports marketing during my sophomore year when attending *gasp* an American Marketing Association meeting. The speaker was from the Grand Rapids Griffins and I decided to seize the opportunity and leverage my new connection to move forward and learn as much as I could about the industry. I immediately connected with the GRG representative on LinkedIn and sent a physical thank you note. My reaching out  led to a job shadow where I then soaked in as much advice as I could. That advice being:

  1. Get experience.
  2. Write like a champ.
  3. Network network network.

Within that year I had weaseled my way into an unpaid internship with the Flint Firebirds OHL team. I was the “Gameday Operations Intern” meaning I was that girl who ran all the promotions, shoveled up the Chuck-A-Puck’s, answered any questions fans may have at guest services and basically any other task thrown my way. Whilst working there I noticed that the team’s official Snapchat was being underutilized because the social media team was only one person. I suggested that since I was all over the rink during the game that I should be the one to create the content. Permission was granted and for the remainder of the season the Snapchat following doubled from what it was before the new content. From this I proved myself valuable to the organization and was asked to stay on as a summer intern. This was where I was able to learn more about community relations and how our brand image rested within the surrounding community.

After working with the Firebirds organization, I was brought onto the Grand Rapids Griffins Public Relations team.This was what I had been dreaming of since I first heard the speaker at the American Marketing Association. I had some experience under my belt, now it was time to hit the other two points of advice. Part of my job description is to write Q&A’s for players, and that’s just what I did. In late December, I was published for the first time on the official Griffins Hockey website. (My entire family shared it on Facebook and I bookmarked the article on my laptop). This was yet another check off my list of things I needed to achieve to become the sports professional I had been striving to become.

The other aspects of my job is where the “network, network, network” came into play. I am the face of the Grand Rapids Griffins Public Relations team. I am the point of contact on gameday for the professional scouts, the media professionals, and any corporate sponsors that come into the arena. I tell them where to go, give them their credentials, know their names, and create relationships with them. I am not sure if everyone knows this but there are 37 regular season home games. That means that if I don’t know these people by now…I am doing something wrong. By cultivating these relationships and providing excellent media relations with each, I now have allies across the country in multiple different hockey leagues. These relationships are invaluable, just this week I was asked to give my resume to one of the professional scouts because he wants to help me find a post grad position with his team.

So there you have it, my advice if you want to break into the Sports PR industry are as follows:

  1. Get experience. Volunteer at a local 5K, intern for free for a lower level team, or even get involved with the sports events on campus. There is always a way to get experience in sports, you just have to be willing to put in the time.
  2. Write like a champ.  Whether it’s an SWS class, a personal blog, a campaign plan book or research paper, a press release, or even writing a letter to the editor for the Lanthorn, do it. Any time you can flex your creative muscles is a chance that you have to learn and master your writing skills.
  3. Network, network, network. DO ALL THE THINGS. I know it seems like a lot to go on agency tours, attend mixers, and go to events, but you never know who you are going to meet and who that person knows. Every person you connect with has their own unique web and could possibly help you with your next job.

Follow these steps and you are well on your way to success in PR.   


Julia Backus is a senior at Grand Valley studying Marketing and Public Relations. She is the VP of Chapter Development for GV PRSSA. Between classes, she is working for the Grand Rapids Griffins as a PR Intern, assisting women at the LOFT, and enjoys hanging out with her friends.