Archive for August, 2011

I am excited to attend tonight’s networking event hosted by The Business of Sports. It will be held at Slattery’s Midtown Pub in New York City from 6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. This is the perfect way to cap off my summer before I head back to Georgetown for my senior year. Sports networking events are not completely new to me. I have attended the Sports Events Marketing Experience (SEME) as well as another sports networking event at the Verizon Center, both earlier this year. Based on my experiences and what I have read about networking, here are 5 Do’s when attending these types of events.

Do’s

1. Bring business cards – Sports business professionals in attendance are bound to bring a stack of cards. While you can certainly get someone else’s business card, it is definitely impressive to bring your own. This is a great way for you to differentiate yourself from other students trying to make connections. It will increase your chances of being remembered when you follow-up with a contact via email after the event.

2. Be interested – When you talk to people in the business, take a genuine interest in what they are saying. They could potentially be the person to get your foot in the door some day. Make sure you look them in the eye and smile while they are talking to you. Listen actively, and try to relate their experiences to yours. Show them that you care.

3. Be yourself – There is nothing worse than acting like someone you are not at one of these events. Be honest when answering questions and informing others about your background. No one likes a liar. If you try talking to someone and it does not go so well, it is not the end of the world. Move on to the next person and learn from your mistakes. The more you practice networking, the better you will become at it.

4. Make your personal brand known – Before going in to one of these networking events, think of a few points about yourself that you would like to get across to each person you meet. You could talk about skills, interests, experience, etc. Be careful not to brag about your past, but make sure the person you speak to understands what makes you tick.

5. Follow-Up – This is what I like to call the X Factor. Getting a sports business professional’s business card is great. However, having that person’s contact information is essentially meaningless if you do not take advantage of it rather quickly. If you feel like you had even a slight connection with someone you met, be sure to send them a polite follow-up email the next day. If your interaction went really well, a personalized handwritten note might blow that person away. In your message, it is a good idea to mention a few of the things you conversed about with that particular person, particularly something that you learned. Ask them if it is okay if you check in with them every now and then. If they are okay with that and you plan to follow through on your request, give yourself a pat on the back. You have now added someone to your network!

If anyone reading this post will be attending tonight’s event and wants to connect, send an email to mjr89(at)georgetown.edu or tweet @LifeofRiley29.

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I am talking about communication skills, of course.

I recently read a Forbes.com article called “The One Skill They Don’t Teach You in B-School”. Contributor Carmine Gallo wrote about the importance of effective communication skills in the business world and how lacking them can affect your career adversely. It got me thinking about how such a fundamental skill should be mastered not only if you want to land a job or internship but also if you want to climb the company ladder. He really put things in perspective for me as an aspiring sports business professional. When you think about breaking into sports, it really is all about communication every step of the way. Let me show you what I mean.

Networking – Whether you connect with someone by email, telephone or in-person, you have to be an effective communicator. There’s a good chance that you will not know the person at all when reaching out to them for the first time. Convincing them to speak to or meet with you might require some persuasion. Delivering your message clearly and concisely is necessary.

Resume/Cover Letter – Let’s face it. In this day and age, recruiters will not be reading your resume with a fine-toothed comb. At best, they will be scanning it for relevant experience, skills, etc. That means maybe 30 seconds for you to make an impression on them through a piece of paper. It is so important for you to ensure that certain things stand out and grab their attention. The same goes for a cover letter. They should know in a matter of seconds how you can add value to their company. Bullet points detailing your skills might be a good idea. Getting your foot in the door this way is only half the battle.

Interview – As important as written communication skills are, interviews are the time for you to shine with your language and presentation skills. You can be the smartest kid in the world, but if you cannot answer questions clearly and comfortably, then you are unlikely to be effective in a team office environment. This means that you have to work on your public speaking skills. Practice your pitch, and deliver it like your life depended on it.

Now that you have a better idea of how important communication is for breaking into sports, here are a few tips:

1. Take a Public Speaking course – I took one during my sophomore year at Georgetown. It was a great way for me to enhance my speaking ability in front of an audience and think on my feet.

2. Take English/Writing courses – As much as you might not like the either of these, they are vital for you to become a successful communicator. Become a master grammarian and learn to write persuasively.

3. Get involved with extracurricular activities – Strive for leadership positions that will force you to stand up in front of a large group and lead meetings. If you are religious, volunteer to be a lector at services. Other ideas include hosting a sports radio show and joining a Speech and Debate or Mock Trial club; basically anything that will help you hone your communication skills.

4. Join ToastMasters International – This is a global organization dedicated to making people better communicators and leaders. There are chapters pretty much everywhere and meetings every couple of weeks. I have not joined the club yet, but I want to get involved as soon as I get back to school.

Enjoy the clip below.

Mark McCormack

One of the most important lessons I learned from Mark McCormack’s What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School is how to better manage my time. McCormack, the founder of IMG and the godfather of sports marketing, lived his life on legal pads and index cards. He was a master planner. Every night before he went to bed, he would write down all the things that he wanted to accomplish the following day on a legal pad, whether it related to personal downtime or business meetings. On the left side of the page, he listed the daily tasks that he needed to get done. On the right side, he wrote down the names of all the people he had to call. He made his schedule much more than a “to-do” list by allocating the proper amount of time to each activity. Mark’s trick was to never under-allocate time, so he could keep up with other tasks and not fall behind. In terms of the index cards, he would carry them around everywhere. They served as a quick place to write things down that came up suddenly throughout the day, whether it was someone he had to call or an idea he wanted to share with a coworker.

Mark’s main message was to adopt a time management system that works best for you. I heeded his advice and imitated what worked so well for him all those years. At first, I tried out the legal pad. I was able to articulate my daily goals much better and organize my schedule accordingly. However, as a college student, having a column dedicated solely to phone calls was unnecessary. In terms of tasks I was not able to conquer during the day, I simply wrote them on the back of that day’s page and carried them over every day until they were completed.

Sooner than later, I found the size of the legal pad to be an inconvenience. It became difficult to carry around with me unless I had my backpack. To solve this problem, I bought a few notepads from the bookstore that were small enough to fit in my pocket. Although I had less space to write things down, I could carry the pad with me at all times and keep on top of my schedule. I am now into my second notepad.

Time management is a skill that you must master if you want to break into sports. You should be doing something at least once per week to increase your odds of landing that dream internship or job of yours. That means scheduling other activities or tasks around a certain time block dedicated to advancing your sports career. More importantly, you have to begin developing the habit of getting things done. There is something gratifying about crossing off an activity that you just accomplished. When you get that internship or job you want, people are going to count on you to perform. The more experience you have managing your own time, the more productive you are going to be. By focusing on planning each and every day, you will sharpen your organizational skills and be able to tackle assignments efficiently. Spend your time wisely, and you will see results. The clock is ticking.

In Master the Power of a Handwritten Note: Part 1, I talked mainly about the importance of writing personal thank you notes to people in the industry who have helped you in some way. This is definitely a great way for you to make a lasting impression and start a genuine relationship. Make sure you extend this habit to all areas of your life, whether personal or professional.

In the context of breaking into sports, the other type of handwritten note you can write is one that is directed towards someone in a position of power at a sports organization. This person can be an idol of yours whose job you hope to have one day or simply the head of an organization you really want to work for.

So far, I have tried out this tactic once to no avail. After reading super-agent David Falk’s book The Bald Truth, I decided to compose a handwritten letter. It made perfect sense for me to reach out to him. He grew up on Long Island. He is arguably the best basketball agent of all-time. I believed in a lot of the principles he outlined in the book about his personal code of ethics. He represented some of the best Georgetown basketball players including Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning as well as basketball god Michael Jordan. His firm is located in Washington D.C., not far from Georgetown.

With all these things in mind, I wrote him a letter, hoping I would hear back from him like I did with DeMaurice Smith. The letter was very genuine, and I did not ask him for a job. I simply wanted to take him out to lunch and learn more about his career. Although I never heard back from David, I still plan on crossing paths with him in the future.

That being said, writing a handwritten note  to a senior level executive of a sports company is another way for you to stand out from the competition. Blindly sending an email or resume is not the way to go. You will get lost in the clutter. The most important thing you can to when writing these letters is to personalize them as much as possible. Do your homework on the person to whom you are writing. Find out as much as you can about their background and draw comparisons to your own. Show them how you can add value to their company. What separates you from everyone else who is dying to work there? Make them want to get back to you.

Just like in sales, you have to play the numbers game when sending these letters. If you want to work for an NFL team, write all the GMs or owners. Do NOT send them a cookie cutter letter. Take a genuine interest in their career paths based on your research. All you really need is that one response that can change your life. I would recommend writing out a short list of people whose careers match your interests and reaching out to them through the power of a handwritten note.

Over the past few years, I have become a big fan of quotations that are typically attributed to famous people throughout history. I am especially interested in sayings that are motivational and practical in nature. It just so happens to be that some of the best quotes out there come from sports figures.

For those of you in college, you are probably aware that there are a lot of Muhammad Ali posters to choose from for your dorm room. Last year, I bought one of him mainly because I loved the quotation on it. Here is a picture of the poster:

Muhammad Ali’s quote on the poster reads,

“Champions are made from something they have deep inside them, a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

I draw a lot of inspiration from this quote, and so can you. Ali’s message is very applicable to the circumstances surrounding one who looks to break into sports. Let me dissect the quote for you.

To be a champion, you have to be the best at what you do. For Muhammad Ali, that meant winning multiple heavyweight titles. While the amount of time and effort he invested into training allowed him to accomplish his goals, Ali’s success flowed from his champion attitude. He wanted to win so badly that he would not let anything get in his way. If you want to separate yourself from the competition, you have to develop the same kind of attitude as Ali’s. Eat, sleep, and breathe like a champion. Be confident in yourself, but be weary of cockiness.

Breaking into sports requires a desire, a dream, and a vision. A desire is a want. You want to work in sports. A dream is where you see yourself in the industry if all the right pieces fall into place. It is the sports job that no one thinks you could ever get. You may be even doubting yourself now about following that dream because the odds are stacked against you. A vision is your plan of action that will take you closer to fulfilling your dream and accomplishing career goals.

Having last-minute stamina is the equivalent of having mental toughness. You are going to get rejected, probably multiple times, before you get your foot in the door. It’s about how quick you are going to get up after you get knocked down. Be the last man standing, and never give up.

Being a little faster goes hand-in-hand with developing that champion attitude. If you want to land a job in sports, you are going to have to be one step ahead of your competitors. Unless you know someone who works in the industry, you are going to have to bust your butt and hustle to get that entry-level job you want. Do not let anyone outwork you for something you want so badly.

You will need the skill and the will to work in sports. Whatever job you want, you are going to have to bring the necessary skills and then some to the table. You not only have to be a good organizer, communicator, and leader, but you also have to possess the technical expertise that allows you to add value to an organization. The will goes back to your attitude. You cannot let any setbacks stop you from getting a job in sports. If you believe enough in yourself and do everything you can to achieve your objectives, you will successfully break into the sports industry.

While skills are certainly important for getting into the industry, your attitude has to be even stronger. A lot of the people who will apply to the same jobs as you will have similar skills and experiences as you. What will set you apart from them is whether or not you can convince the employer how badly you want the job. Let your passion shine through, and you will see results.

Nowadays, email is increasingly becoming the most common method of communication, whether it is personal or business-related. Getting ahold of the email address of a sports executive is not all it’s cracked up to be anymore, unless you have some personal connection to him or her. Just think about the hundreds of emails these people are receiving on a daily basis. In all honesty, the majority of the messages others send will be more important than whatever you are sending them. Therefore, your email will probably get buried in their inbox, never to be seen again.

All hope is not lost. If you really want to get a sports professional’s attention in this day and age, I would recommend sending them a handwritten note. Depending on your objective for reaching out to this person, the length of the note will vary.

Based on my experience over the past couple of years, the most common handwritten note sent is the “thank you” note. You might be thinking that one should only send these types of notes when receiving gifts. Wrong. If you want to make a lasting impression on someone and truly appreciate whatever help he or she gave you, say “thank you”. Sure, you could thank the person via email. Without a doubt, he or she would appreciate it, but it is likely that it will be forgotten down the road. If you want to really impress someone and plan on continuing your relationship, you will write them a short, personalized note. This requires slightly more effort than email, but it is well worth it given its more permanent nature. Just like my mentor Rachel Mech taught us about how it is more memorable to speak with people on the phone vs. email, the same applies to handwritten notes.

Just to illustrate the power of the handwritten note, I want to share a little anecdote with you. Back in September 2010, I got a chance to see NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith speak at Georgetown University about the state of the NFL. This was long before the actual lockout took place, but it was certainly looming at that time. He spoke about issues including the success of the league’s business model as well as the risk of concussions for players. See below for the introductory part of Smith’s presentation that night.

After Smith’s 2 hour presentation, I left the auditorium as a more informed football fan. I was happy I attended, so happy in fact that I wanted to thank him for it. After looking up the local NFPA’s address, I sent DeMaurice Smith a note thanking him for speaking and putting my confidence in him to get a deal done with the owners, hopefully before the CBA expired. About a week later, I received a handwritten note in the mail from DeMaurice Smith’s personal stationery. He thanked me for the feedback and support I provided him. Enclosed in the envelope was an NFLPA lapel pin. All because I wrote him a nice handwritten note. Since then, I have kept his note in my desk as a reminder of the power of the handwritten note.

If I can get the attention of someone like DeMaurice Smith, there is no reason you cannot get in touch with sports business professionals that you idolize. So, go to your local pharmacy or bookstore and buy yourself some “thank you” notes!

If you want to learn more about current internship and job opportunities in the sports industry, it is probably a good idea to attend a sports-themed career fair if possible. Given that I am entering my senior year and will most likely pursue an entry-level job in sports (or otherwise attend law school), I could not pass on the opportunity.

Last Thursday, I traveled to the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey to attend the Madison Square Garden Sports and Entertainment Career Fair (note that the Garden is currently under renovations for the summer). I paid $40 for a ticket to that night’s New York Liberty game in order to gain admission into the fair, which lasted from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Along with hundreds of other attendees, I waited for nearly an hour outside in the 90+ degree heat before entering the Prudential Center, much to my chagrin.

When I finally got past security, I took the escalator up to the main concourse, where I was immediately immersed in a throng of internship and job-hungry candidates. The basic set-up of the career fair included tables with representatives from sports and/or entertainment companies followed by long lines of attendees looking to separate themselves from the pack. The companies who were in attendance included the following:

Major League Teams: New York Jets, New York Rangers, New York Knicks, New York Red Bulls, New York Liberty, New Jersey Nets, and New Jersey Devils

Other Sports Companies: CBS Sports, Gazelle Group Sports Marketing, Aviator Sports and Events Center, and FirstJobinSports.com

Professional Leagues: NBA/NBA Development League, WNBA, NASCAR, and National Lacrosse League (NLL)

Minor League Teams: Providence Bruins (hockey) and Newark Bears (baseball)

Entertainment: Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall

Other: Coca Cola, MetLife, and Northwestern Mutual

It was quite a thorough representation of sports and entertainment companies located in the tri-state era. Attendees, myself included, were forced to allocate their time accordingly given the long lines. Based on my interests, I made it to the New York Jets, New Jersey Nets, New York Islanders, Coca Cola, New York Red Bulls, and FirstJobinSports.com. Some of the companies were offering internships, while others full-time positions. The majority of the available jobs were in Inside Sales, which is basically selling over the phone. This is definitely a very common path into the sports industry, so start sharpening those phone skills!

Due to the large number of attendees, the company representatives often spoke to groups of 2-3 people about current opportunities as well as answered any questions. Depending on when you got there and how popular the line was, you might have gotten some one-on-one time. Some company representatives handed out business cards, while others did not. When you left a table, you came away from it with someone’s name and information about how to apply to his or her company.

What people probably enjoyed most about of the fair was the fact that they could drop their resumes off with any of these companies. In my opinion, this did not really mean much to me because of the sheer amount that were collected by teams, leagues, and the like. Unless you asked a memorable question, you became just another name in the pile. I did my best to remember the names of the people I met and follow-up with them via email. Hopefully, it will set me apart from the rest.

Overall, I am glad that I went to the MSG Career Fair. I had been to a sports networking conference before, but this was my first sports career fair. It was nice to see what is out there and how the fairs typically work. The main thing I disliked about it was the impersonal nature of most of the conversations I had with employers. This is not to say that were rude; they just could not give everyone the appropriate attention given the time pressure and over 1,000 attendees. I am much more interested in getting to know the employer representatives on a more basic level, i.e. where they are from, where they went to school, how they broke into sports, etc. Although this was not quite possible given the circumstances, I hope to stay in touch with people I did meet and develop genuine relationships. Definitely attend one of these career fairs to know what the experience is like, and take it from there.