Nicola Murphy

I hope you enjoyed Expert Interview with Nicola Murphy: Hard Work Pays Off. At this point, I have given you a good feel for the sports marketing side of the business, whether it is sponsorships, philanthropy, events, or in Nicola’s case, athletes and properties. Marketing is a large part of the sports business and a great way to break into the industry. However, looking forward, I hope to diversify my interviews in terms of different aspects of the industry and levels of experience. Be on the lookout for upcoming interviews with sports agents. From Nicola Murphy, Director of Marketing, Athlete & Property Marketing at Octagon, we learned the following:

1. Working in sports is not just limited to internship and job opportunities within your home country. Develop a global perspective and be willing to take risks.

2. The skill set you develop does will not necessarily confine you to one particular industry. Make your skills transferable, and you can find a back door into the sports industry.

3. Although Nicola recommended three internship experiences, you can still break into the industry having worked in other capacities that may not be directly related to sports. It depends on how badly you want it.

4. Invest the same amount of time in networking as you would a friendship. Commit yourself to developing genuine connections with people, and sustain those relationships.

5. Treat internships as a trial job opportunity and deliver impressive work product every day.

6. Always take advantage of saying hello and learning a little about the executives you meet along the way.

7. It is okay to try out different things. You will end up carving out what you do not like and focusing on what appeals to you along the way.


Nicola Murphy


It’s been a little over one month since my last Expert Interview with Rachel Mech: Taking Chances with No Regrets, but I am excited for my latest Q & A session with Nicola Murphy from Octagon. She and I met last October at a sports career event held at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. I continued to check in with her every now and then over the winter and course of the second semester. We were fortunate enough to reconnect back in March at the Sports Events Marketing Experience (SEME) conference. Nicola’s answers to my questions are particularly interesting given her international background. I thank Nicola for agreeing to do this interview.

Michael Riley (MR): What is your official job title?

Nicola Murphy (NM): Director of Marketing, Athlete & Property Marketing at Octagon.

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

NM: I received a Bachelor of Business from Charles Sturt University in Australia, where I majored in Marketing. I didn’t have the typical college experience. Instead, I worked full-time and studied primarily during the evening for several years. I even studied a little in the US when I first moved to the DC region more than eight years ago.

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

NM: In addition to my undergraduate degree, I have completed a Strategic Brand Management course at George Washington University as well as a diploma in Event Management, a diploma in Marketing and a Certificate in Advertising at other institutions in Australia. None are graduate degrees per se, but all are part of a valuable education. I have also been part of the Graduate Sports Industry Management faculty at Georgetown University since September 2009 and have thoroughly enjoyed it.

MR: 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?

NM: Although I played every sport under the sun growing up, am a fan of many sports across the globe, and worked largely in sports sponsorships when I started my career in Sydney, I classify myself as more of a generalist. I believe my skills are more business-based with a marketing focus and are transferable across industries. In other words, my skill set would be just as relevant working for a global sports and entertainment marketing agency as it would be for a brand or even a non-profit organization.

MR: How many internships did you participate in before you landed your first job? Where did you intern?

NM: As alluded to above, I didn’t have the average college and, therefore, internship experience(s). I have worked in one capacity or another continuously since I was twelve or thirteen years of age and had several work experience placements before landing my first full-time job. I do, however, recommend that students try to obtain about three internship experiences that vary in nature during their undergraduate days. I think this provides a well-rounded experience base from which they can draw when looking to enter the workforce.

MR: How did you land your first job in sports?

NM: My first job in sports… I guess you could say that was working on the brand side for Australia’s second largest Internet company at the time. For a majority of my four years there, I worked in a sponsorships and promotions capacity, finding some of the most suitable and visible teams, leagues and properties to be associated with. Partners that would help us grow brand awareness and ultimately the number of consumers using our services. I got my foot in the door by knowing the wife of a guy who worked there. It’s one of those stories…That old adage is true, it’s (partly) who you know.

MR: Can you comment on the importance of networking in the sports industry?

NM: Networking is important, in any industry, sports or otherwise. I think it’s especially important when looking for employment and when you’re in an external facing role. Developing relationships with other industry members doesn’t happen overnight, but, with genuine interest and a real connection, you will likely achieve more than just learning from others, gaining contacts, or building business. I could debate the importance of networking for some time but will spare you an unbearably long response here. I will add, however, that it’s a skill that’s not always easy to master and one that takes time and commitment, similar to what you would need to invest into a friendship to sustain it. It’s not to be approached as a quick hitting one-time event. This response is reminding me of all the folks I need to reconnect with, thanks for the prompt :).

MR: Can you comment on the importance of mentoring?

NM: I think mentors play different roles during anyone’s career and life. When I started out working, I was lucky enough to have two individuals who helped steer me in the right direction and who provided the necessary knowledge and experiences that enabled me to develop and grow. To this day I am still in contact with them. I also find that, no matter your age or the stage in your career, having a mentor, whether at your workplace or elsewhere, is important. This is someone whose opinion you respect, who communicates openly with you, who you feel you can learn from, who you can bounce ideas off, and who you like spending time with. I’ve found that it’s usually a two-way street as you may also influence them, and you, too, will likely be called on one day to be a mentor. In this case, try to remember some of the aspects that made your mentors seem so helpful and successful, and consider building those qualities into your own efforts.

MR: 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?

NM: No day is typical here at Octagon, or in any of my past places of employment. In fact, does anyone have a typical day anywhere anymore I wonder? There are several constant responsibilities I have that span throughout the year, but I generally break my role into three buckets. The first is general marketing for the firm, which includes top-line marketing strategy, the creation and distribution of global marketing materials, and development of company-wide resources. The second bucket involves the marketing representation of clients and includes anything from the development of a customized marketing plan, to research and prospecting, to scouring the market for endorsement, appearance and speaking opportunities. The third bucket is more of a catchall, where we take on properties or projects and either provide consulting, sponsorship sales or business development capabilities. This includes such tasks as selling naming rights to arenas or teams, finding partners for an annual culinary event in Vegas, or managing a national running program for the country’s leading athletic retailer.

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

NM: This is always a good question and having an assortment of different answers on your blog is a great idea. I would suggest several things:

– Gain professional work experience and even volunteer where you can within the sports industry.

– If you request informational interviews, come prepared.

– Network and develop relationships with people who you gel with and whose work is of interest to you.

– Treat internships as a trial job opportunity and deliver impressive work product every day.

– Always take advantage of saying hello and learning a little about the executives you meet along the way.

– Understand that sports is an industry and a business like all others and that being a fan of sports or an athlete only gets you part of the way there.

– When reaching out to a contact for a job, it’s best to inquire about a specific position rather than deliver a blanket “I need a job or want to work for your company” statement.

– Don’t be afraid to ask your contacts, friends and family for help connecting you with people and companies of interest.

– It’s okay to try different things – you’ll end up carving out what you don’t like and focusing on what appeals to you along the way.

MR: What do you do for fun when you are not at the office?

NM: I’m a sucker for great food, wine and travel and am constantly trying new restaurants or returning to old favorites, as well as planning, or at least thinking about, upcoming travel adventures. I started to play soccer as part of a recreational league a couple of years back and jump on the field most weekends, whether it is for a competitive game or pick-up at Georgetown. I am also three summer’s deep into learning golf… and loving it!

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.


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) or tweet @LifeofRiley29.

I am talking about communication skills, of course.

I recently read a 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.