7 Questions with Gina Lehe, Sr. Director of Communications & Brand Management for the College Football Playoff
October 11, 2016
Being the Senior Director of Communications and Brand Management for the College Football Playoff is a high profile job that requires dealing with many different personalities ranging from Selection Committee members to coaches and athletes to the media. Gina Lehe shared with us how she navigates this sometimes tricky landscape, while also offering tips to PR professionals.
There’s really no “typical” day for you, but how would you describe a typical day at work?
Social media has significantly changed the day-to-day “routine” of my job. In addition to having a comprehensive, traditional media scope, I now have a similar scope for social—be that calendars, targeted messaging and platform-specific goals. Because there are so many details that go into staging a big-time event such as the College Football Playoff National Championship, I try and focus on small elements of each function every day. Years ago I developed a philosophy that helps me achieve daily goals and tasks. I try and put myself in the shoes of our guests and look through their lens. So if that means I am a media member:
What do I see as soon as I step off the airplane?
Task: Identify signage
How do I know where to go?
Task: Media guide, directions
What is the schedule?
Task: Calendar of events; news conference – signage, AV, FF&E, lighting, etc.
From there I can easily address the multitude of needs in order to execute a successful operation.
How important is traditional/legacy media to you, as opposed to the use of emerging platforms (including social, of course)?
At the end of the day, traditional communications and relationships are at the foundation of success. I remind our younger generation of this often. You are only as good as those who trust you, and you build trust through relationships, not the number of likes and followers you may have. I think it is important to constantly self-reflect and evaluate what those around you are doing. It may not always make sense for your particular brand, but you’re missing the boat if you don’t at least explore being creative with new technologies.
What are some keys in developing and maintaining positive relationships with media professionals?
In my role, I am often one of the only women in the room. While this does not intimidate me, the last thing I ever really want to do is “talk shop” to try and prove I belong or justify my role. I do my homework. I like to look up bios of people I have meetings with or entertain at dinner. I want to know more about them as people: Do they like to travel? Do they have kids? What are their hobbies outside of the workplace? Human, authentic interaction creates long-lasting relationships. Ultimately it is about communicating. I don’t necessarily think I am great at my job, but I am very good at being responsive and following up. I know what it is like to be waiting on the other side and try and provide the same respect to those I want respect from.
Describe one situation that you handled especially well and are particularly proud of (either an event, a crisis, an announcement) – and what were the lessons from that experience?
This is easy: having my daughter, Adriana, on December 11, 2014, and going back to work less than two weeks later to stage the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship. Life is always going to present you with challenges, personally and professionally. This was the ultimate clash of my worlds! My husband and I found out we were pregnant in March of 2014 and got the calendar out immediately. There are just some things you don’t do during football season—get married, go on vacation…and have a baby! But with advance preparation, being proactive and surrounding myself with amazing volunteers, vendors and coworkers, I was able to pull it off. I can’t say I would ever recommend this timing to anyone, but you deal with the cards that are dealt. I wouldn’t change a thing about how it all transpired and it will be a story my daughter will love to share with her friends as she gets older.
What is it like to sometimes be the only female in a work situation — or often at least the only executive? What advice would you offer women entering and advancing in the sports PR field?
Quite honestly, until someone points it out, I am not one to walk into a room and immediately gripe about being the only woman in the room. From my perspective, I’ve always felt if someone has invited me into a room, that means they believe I belong there. If they believe that, I sure better. I am honored to have had the numerous opportunities presented along the way—due largely to men in the industry trusting and believing in my ability. There are always naysayers and those who question my inclusion, but I don’t stop for a second to worry about those people. My advice to women entering this field is two-fold. First, you must have thick skin. From derogatory comments to often feeling “alone,” no one will be around to hold your hand. My personality has looked at this as a competition or challenge. I don’t need to prove myself, but I am definitely going to contribute. Second, never stop and worry about what those around you have and what you don’t have. The minute that becomes your focus, you have lost sight of your goals, and in turn, your productivity and value. Work hard and good things will come your way. Yes, this may be a cliché, but it couldn’t be more on-point. People respect those who keep their head down and work hard more than those who are constantly asking for more. Prove your value and your worth will be undeniable. People will come to you and you will be in demand—not you demanding their attention.
What advice do you have for sports PR professionals in dealing with negative publicity/events or crises?
It is so easy to be reactive. With social media, everyone literally has a voice and a platform to share their opinion. Take it at face value. You don’t always have to respond to that one person on Twitter who complains. Base your operation on the rule, not the exception.
How do you manage time effectively in a complex role?
I think everyone is wired differently. One of the more difficult tasks as a professional is finding an effective method and toolkit personal to your own work ethic; some people need lists, others need binders, etc. How I work isn’t necessarily conducive to everyone else. Whether you are single, married, have a pet, have kids, time management is always important. I take balancing my life as a wife, mom and professional very seriously and want to be successful in each role. I am a very visual person, so I have a process that may seem time consuming to others. But ultimately I need to provide myself comfort to see clearly, thus, the example of stepping in someone else’s shoes. It really is such an effective way to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. Final answer: there is no magic process. You truly have to self-reflect and evolve your discipline in every stage of your life.