Thursday, November 7, 2013

How to Have a Career in Sport Marketing? Butt In

I was fortunate to attend the Sport Marketing Association annual conference in Albuquerque two weeks ago. In addition to meeting sport marketing colleagues and learning about the latest scholarly research, I was particularly excited about the keynote speaker for the conference's concluding session. Jon Spoelstra has been someone whose work I have admired for a long time. I took a copy of his book Marketing Outrageously to class last week and marveled at the number of sticky notes I had placed throughout the book marking all of the "important stuff." Spoelstra built an impressive track record as a master of selling tickets with the Portland Trail Blazers, New Jersey Nets, Sacramento Kings, and in minor league baseball as an executive with Mandalay Entertainment Group. I knew his presentation would be good, and he did not disappoint. You can see for yourself here- watch the Livestream capture of his address from the Sports Business Education Network.

Best Advice Ever
The highlight of Jon Spoelstra's presentation was his response to a question from the audience about what advice he would give to students aspiring to work in sport marketing. Rather than touching on the often cited suggestions to build a network of contacts and gain experience, Spoelstra's response touched on the mindset needed to approach pursuing a career in the industry. He said "If you feel like you belong, butt in." His advice is refreshing and inspirational. The deck is stacked against anyone attempting to break into the profession; numbers are tossed around about the ratio of applicants to positions for jobs and internships. The long odds alone are enough to discourage many students from pursuing sport business as a career path. But, for those students who are willing to follow Jon Spoelstra's suggestion to "butt in," you can chart a course for beginning a career in sport business.

How to Butt In
The advice to butt in if you feel like you belong is refreshing; it should give hope to aspiring sport marketers everywhere. Now for the heavy lifting- how do you prepare to butt in? Below are five things you can do starting today if you are not doing them already:

  1. A daily reading routine - Utilize readers like Feedly, Zite, or Flipboard to compile a collection of articles, blogs, and websites related to sport business. Just as stock market investors keep on top of developments in companies and industries, you need to build a knowledge base of firms and executives that are the "players" in the industry.
  2. Join LinkedIn groups - You have likely been advised to join LinkedIn (if not consider yourself advised). But do more than join, seek out groups that are related to your interests. Join the groups, then actively read discussions and take the plunge of participating in discussions by commenting on others' posts, asking questions, or starting new discussion threads. You can join up to 50 groups with a free LinkedIn account. Some people join a large number of groups, while others choose to limit their participation to a small number. Take the approach that feels right for you, but be sure to do it!
  3. Use Twitter for professional development - Twitter is an interesting social networking site; you can do anything from post photos of your lunch to follow the musings of your favorite singer or athlete. But Twitter also can be used as a learning resource. Follow companies, media outlets, and industry pros to learn more about what is going on in sport marketing. Also, be a contributor by sharing links to articles or other information that would be of interest to sport marketers.
  4. Follow industry-specific Twitter chats - Take your Twitter use to another level by following sport business hashtags (e.g., #sportsbiz, #smsports, #sportjc, #sponsorship, and brand-specific hashtags like #NFL and #NBA). Tweets using hashtags like these bring sport-specific content to you. Hashtags also identify Twitter chats, usually weekly real time gatherings of people interested in a particular aspect of sport marketing. If you think you have nothing to say or contribute, no worries. Begin by listening to others and getting to know the participants in the community.Three Twitter chats you should check out include:

  • #sbchat (Sundays at 9:30 pm Eastern)

  • #sportjc (Mondays at 8:00 pm Eastern 

  • #smsportschat (Thursdays at 9:30 pm Eastern)

  • 5. Find a Mentor - Reading and observing can be valuable in building a knowledge base and becoming better versed in the workings of sport marketing. However, there is really no substitute for connecting with someone who is already where you want to be or knows how to help you get there. If you do not know someone who could be a mentor to you, seek out the guidance of industry professionals as you encounter them online. A mentor-mentee relationship takes time to develop; an initial contact with someone that begins with "Will you mentor me?" is not the way to obtain a mentor... but it might be effective in scaring away prospects. Be patient and work on making contacts and building relationships.

    The Choice is Yours
    It is important not to confuse Jon Spoelstra's encouragement to butt in with a sense of entitlement. You will have to prepare for a chance to butt in and prove your worth once you do it. The good news is that these variables are under your control. Preparing to butt in will reduce your fears and make the process less intimidating. One of my favorite quotes fits here- Zig Ziglar said "No one can make you feel inferior without your permission." Similarly, no one can tell you that you do not belong in sports marketing unless you give them permission to make that assessment. If you have prepared to butt in and are willing to make multiple attempts to butt in if initial efforts are unsuccessful, you have a much better chance at succeeding than your competitors who bail when the road to a sport marketing career is blocked.