Expert Interview with Ben Sturner: An Entrepreneur to Emulate

Posted: June 10, 2011 in Expert Interviews
Tags: , , , ,
Ben Sturner

                                    

I wanted to start off my sports industry expert interviews with a bang, so I reached out to Ben Sturner of Leverage Agency, a leader in sports sponsorship and branded entertainment. My relationship with Ben began as a result of an introduction from my mentor. Ben welcomed me to his office back in January where he gave me my first copy of SportsBusiness Journal/Sports Business Daily’s Resource Guide and Fact Book. Since then, I continued to network with him by keeping in touch. I thank Ben for agreeing to be my first interviewee. Let’s jump into the content!

1. What is your official job title?

I am the CEO of Leverage Agency. You are probably thinking Chief Executive Officer, but a more appropriate title would be “Chief Entrepreneurial Officer.” Being entrepreneurial essentially defines my day-to-day role at Leverage.

2. Where did you go to college as an undergraduate? What was your major(s)/minor(s)?

I attended Boston University’s (BU) College of Communication, where I was a Communications major. Going back to being entrepreneurial, I created my own minor in Sports Management by taking BU graduate level courses. The classes included Sports Management, Communications, Journalism, Psychology, and Public Relations.

As a side note, I enjoy giving back to the academic community. For the past 5 years, I have taught Sports Business Development to undergraduates at New York University as well a Sports Marketing seminar to graduate students at Columbia University.

3. Did you pursue an advanced degree(s) to further market yourself to the sports industry? If so, please elaborate.

I did not pursue any advanced degrees to further market myself in the industry. I preferred the actual hands-on experience I received from my various internships and jobs. However, I almost went to get my MBA at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. In fact, I wrote my personal essay about how one day I would start my own profitable sports marketing company. Instead of following through with the application, I brought my essay to life and set out to start Leverage Agency. While I had certainly acquired a lot of knowledge through my internships and jobs, I decided to craft my own practical MBA education.

4. When did you know that you wanted to “break into sports? Was there one specific moment that you can recall when you knew you had to work in sports? Was it an industry you always saw yourself working in? Or did you just kind of fall into it?

Back in high school, I can remember a conversation that my friends and I had about what we were going to do when we grew up. For me, it was a no brainer that I wanted to work in sports. I liked the idea of being behind the scenes. I even had my own sports radio show in high school. Sports marketing was definitely an area of the business where I could see myself.

Fast forward to 1996 at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. At the time, I was interning for NBC Sports. When I witnessed Muhammad Ali light the torch, it was such a powerful moment to be a part of. There was something about being there that just felt right. It really reinforced my decision to want to work in sports. From then on, I promised myself that I would be at every Olympics. I have kept my word.

5. How many internships did you participate in before you landed your first job? Where did you intern?

I have participated in a variety of internships before I landed my first job. Back when I interned, I had to handwrite old-fashioned cover letters and call for follow-up. It definitely took a lot more time to research than it does today. Email and search engines were not the norm.

Some of the places I interned at in the U.S. included ESPN, Boston University Sports Marketing, Sports Media Technology Corporation, NBC Sports (Atlanta Olympics), and the United States Tennis Association (U.S. Open and Davis Cup). When I went abroad to Sydney, Australia, I interned at the Sydney Olympic Committee. Some of the internships were paid, while others were not.

My best internship advice would be to try things that you are passionate about, regardless of whether or not you are paid for your services. That is the best way to find out what you really want to do in sports. Don’t just take an internship to earn the money if it is not something you feel strongly about. Follow your passion, and the rest will come. Be persistent, professional, and patient.

6. How did you land your first job in sports?

It was really a combination of networking and the traditional interview process. During the summer in which I taught tennis, I made a connection through one of the other instructors. The instructor helped me get my foot in the door with someone at Lycos, the #1 Internet company at the time. The interview process involved me designing a media release and strategy for a NASCAR team. It was a pretty thorough process as I interviewed with 10 different people at Lycos before they finally extended an offer. Their company tagline was, “Go get it,” and that’s exactly what I did.

7. Can you comment on the importance of networking in the sports industry?

Networking is everything in the sports industry. People you work with in your 20s will be the same people you might do business with in your 30s and 40s. As you move up the ladder in sports, so will they. It’s important to network with both people your age and older. Make sure to treat everyone the same, whether it is an intern or an executive. Return every phone call and email. Go to networking events and sports conferences. You never know whom you will meet and what business opportunities will present themselves. It is much easier to network nowadays with social media and resources such as LinkedIn and CardScan. I can thank social networking tools for many of the 11,000 contacts my Blackberry holds.

In terms of networking with your college classmates, please choose your friends wisely. Try to surround yourself with ambitious, like-minded people. In fact, a lot of my BU peers have become successful entrepreneurs. Stay in touch with your friends, and you never know whom you might being doing business deals with in the future.

For networking advice, try reaching out to people on Twitter instead of email. Think about the hundreds of emails these people are getting each day. You stand a better chance of getting noticed on Twitter. That being said, you can still send emails. Just make sure you subject line is concise and easy to read so that people will get back to you. Sometimes asking a question in the subject line works.

8. Can you comment on the importance of mentoring?

It is very important to latch on to 4 or 5 mentors in sports, especially when you are young and energetic. These people want to help you. Spending time with people you respect, admire, and emulate is essential.

One of my mentors is a guy named Steve Fund. He was the Vice President of Marketing when I was over at Lycos. We worked together a lot during my time there, but we both eventually moved on from the company. Steve went to Gillette, while I became more of an entrepreneur. After starting Leverage Agency, Steve was instrumental in delivering Gillette as one of our breakthrough clients. He has taught me a lot about loyalty.

Another one of my mentors is Jeff Bennett who was in charge of Global Corporate Development at Lycos. He took me under his wing when we both left Lycos and Jeff started Bennett Global. Over the two plus years that I was there, Jeff taught me a lot about being an entrepreneur. He has given me great guidance and help since I started Leverage Agency in 2005.

If you want to learn more about mentoring, I would recommend a book I read recently called Who’s Got Your Back by Keith Ferrazzi. It’s about building relationships with people you respect and admire and how those people will hold you accountable for your actions as they try to take you to the next level.

9. Could you take me through a typical day at work? If no day is typical, what did you do yesterday, or what are you doing tomorrow?

Sure, I will walk you through what I have lined up for tomorrow (Monday). At 9 a.m., I have a weekly sales meeting with my Leverage team. We go through different properties and our status report for the upcoming week. Then, we hit the phones, making sure that we touch base with every one of our clients at least once per day. We help them find sponsors, consult with different properties, and develop properties. Sometimes I have an 11 a.m. meeting outside the office with an advertising agency or client. I normally eat my lunch at my desk unless I am out meeting a client. From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., I am usually in meetings. Throughout the day, I walk around the office to check in with my staff and reinforce a positive energy level and environment. My day at the office normally ends around 7:30 p.m., but if often continues since I frequently attend networking events after work.

Work on the weekends varies. Sometimes I send in business proposals. Other times I attend a lot of events, whether it is a charity softball game or an event (boxing, polo, etc.) with a Leverage client. Overall, I have a good work-life balance.

10. What is the most rewarding aspect about working in sports?

I love all the excitement that comes with working in sports. I enjoy the industry’s fast paced nature, constant change, and variety.

11. If you had to give advice to someone looking to break into the sports industry, what would it be?

Don’t give up. “NO” is just the first two letters of “NOt yet.” Don’t get discouraged if you face rejection. Pursue your passion in a polite way. Remember where you came from. Don’t count favors. Do good for others, and karma will come back to you. Set goals and be laser-focused on accomplishing them.

12. What do you do for fun when you are not at the office?

I play tennis every morning at 6 a.m., normally with my business contacts and friends. We often play in Central Park. I also belong to a local gym called CrossFit where I have become an active participant in a national fitness program. In addition, I am a very active board member of the High School of Sports Management in Brooklyn. Other hobbies include running in Central Park, going to the movies, and hanging out with friends and family.

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Comments
  1. Marilyn Nepp Sturner says:

    I love this interview andI love my son Ben Sturner!!

  2. […] first Expert Interview with Ben Sturner: An Entrepreneur to Emulate was a big hit. I hope to continue to provide you with valuable content on your quest to breaking […]

  3. Al Lucia says:

    Thank you for your insights Ben, and thank you Mike for creating this blog! It seems like it is going to be a great resource! I’ve interned in sports in a variety of capacities for the last two years, both paid and unpaid positions, and I’m really trying hard to land that full-time job. I’m also a graduate student in the Columbia University Sports Management program Ben referenced.

    Thanks again!

    Al Lucia

  4. mjr89 says:

    Al, I am so glad you came across my blog. I hope you learn a lot from what I and my interviewees have to say about breaking into the business. It sounds like you are well on your way to landing that first job as a graduate student at Columbia. What part of the sports industry are you interested in?

  5. Al Lucia says:

    I’m really interested in experiential marketing and sponsorship activation. My goal is to find an agency where I can work with brands to help them connect with consumers and develop marketing and P.R. campaigns that involve activating around large-scale sports and entertainment events. I have experience in event production as an intern at New Meadowlands Stadium, where I worked the inaugural NFL season for the only facility to house two NFL teams. I also have agency experience as an intern at STRATEGIC, where I worked with brands such as Labatt Blue, Reese’s, and Yinzcam.

  6. mjr89 says:

    It sounds like you have a good grasp of what you want to do in sports, which is great. It must have been cool working in the new Jets and Giants stadium. There are definitely a lot of sports marketing agencies out there. It may not be a bad idea to purchase SBJ/SBD’s Resource Guide and Fact Book if you are having trouble with your agency research. Let me know if I can be of any assistance.

  7. Al Lucia says:

    Thanks Mike. If you hear of anything in the NYC area, feel free to shoot me a note. alfredjlucia@gmail.com

  8. Great article and definitely informative.

    George, TSR writer

  9. mjr89 says:

    Thanks, George. There will be more sports industry expert content in the near future.

  10. […] tapping into the sports marketing side of the business with my first interviewee, Ben Sturner, I wanted to change things up a bit by going corporate. I decided to reach out to Kelty Carpenter, […]

  11. […] she gave me painted a picture unique to her life experiences. Her answers differed from those of Ben Sturner because they often tackled the questions from a different angles. As long as I continue to gain […]

  12. […] to get where you want to go in life. Take chances. Put yourself out there. And in the wise words of Ben Sturner, “NO is just the first two letters of “NOt […]

  13. […] (such as Andy Gould, Arthur Pincus, Joe Favorito, Eric Guthoff, Jenny Koltnow, Marc Zwerdling, and Ben Sturner, among others) who I not only counted on to help get Carnegie get off the ground but also to make […]

  14. I loved this interview. Mr. Sturner is an inspiration to myself and all others pursuing careers in sports. I will keep “No is just the first two letters in Not yet” in mind and continue to strive daily towards my degree and goals. Thank you Michael for emailing this article to me!

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