By: Teagan Epley (@teaganepleyy)
GVPRSSA welcomed Kasey Sullivan, Assistant Athletic Director for Digital Marketing and Branding at Grand Valley State University Athletics, and Aaron Sagraves, Assistant Athletic Director for External Relations and Communications at Cornerstone University Athletics, to discuss sports PR at our last meeting. While none of us went into the PR profession thinking it wouldn’t be hectic, professionals Kasey and Aaron gave PRSSA members a glimpse into the fast-paced lifestyle associated with Sports PR. Kasey and Aaron shared their tips for managing on-the-spot, reaction-based PR that the sports industry requires.
Creating and maintaining purposeful relationships is a defining part of public relations as a management function and is a prominent part of both Kasey and Aaron’s day-to-day. When it comes to working with student athletes, they are determined to showcase who they are as people, as well as highlighting athletic achievements. For example, outside of the hustle and bustle of game day broadcasting responsibilities, the university’s athletic social media accounts emphasize the athletes’ cumulative GPA and other academic achievements, along with upcoming events and schedules.
Media Relations and Sponsorships
Aside from the typical configuration of press releases, students were interested in the sports professional’s relationship with local media. Because Grand Valley has a more recognizable brand, they attract more attention naturally and are less press seeking than Cornerstone. The same goes for sponsorships; Cornerstone seeks out local businesses, whereas Grand Valley has multiple requests for contracts from larger organizations. The marketing department’s role from there is to make sure they are fulfilling those contracts through their media output. A great example of Grand Valley’s media relations in action is their implementation of “media day” where all athletes are required to be present for interviews by local media before big games. When it comes to writing a traditional press release, both Kasey and Aaron said they prefer not to flood the media with content, but rather create newsworthy releases, in order to maintain a respectful relationship with the media.
Role in Recruitment
Though coaches do assume a majority of the responsibility for direct recruiting, the marketing teams at both universities are constantly posting to attract potential students. Both athletes and traditional students look to social media for a sneak-peak into the student body experience. This is something both marketing professionals look to enhance through their use of language and graphics. Often, promoting specific athlete’s achievements with an accompanying eye-pleasing graphic prompts potential students to think “I want that” and ultimately look into the university.
Looking to the Future
Kasey, specifically, is new to his position within GVSU Athletics and is looking to make significant changes in the near future. One of his more difficult tasks is finding a creative way to keep students engaged enough during the university’s football games to stay past half-time. He plans to promote a type of “school spirit” initiative to attract students with the greatest Grand Valley pride. As for Aaron, at Cornerstone University their primary focus for the future is on alumni relations. Specifically, Aaron is pushing for current students to create and maintain relationships with alumni in order to establish future connections and networking opportunities for the university.
We all knew it was coming, the increasing role of technology in every field, especially those that are communications based. When asked how they maintain a work-life balance while technology consistently demands their attention, Kasey and Aaron had a simple answer… there’s no such thing! Though not what we as aspiring professionals wanted to hear, the men say they are still struggling to find a balance after multiple years in the field due to the demand for immediacy in today’s online atmosphere. In the end, your involvement in your work versus presence in your social life is what you make it, and if you do find yourself needing a technology breather, delegating is key.
Biggest Piece of Advice
If nothing else were to be taken from the presentation, the best advice Kasey and Aaron gave for those looking to enter sports PR was that experience and specialized knowledge in public relations is much more valuable than how much you know about sports. Whether looking to enter the field through internships or pursuing a career path, market yourself as a person who is proficient in writing, analytics, and strategic thinking, and less as someone who knows the most football statistics. Employers are still looking for someone who is aware of the real world aside from the athletic world.
Teagan Epley is currently a junior at Grand Valley State University studying Advertising and Public Relations, with minors in both Writing and General Business. As an avid social media content creator, Teagan spends her free time traveling, taking photos, and networking with peers. During the week you can find her actively participating in PRSSA and GrandPR meetings, working, and hiking in the local ravines. With her creative mindset and outgoing personality, she is always eager to learn and pursue the PR profession.