Hints for Hiring The Next Generation of Sports PR Pro's

November 16, 2015

By Keith Strudler (@KeithStrudler)
Director of Marist Center for Sports Communication

The landscape of communication education in colleges and universities has changed in the past several years in more ways than we can list. In fact, today’s university may seem almost foreign to those long removed from campus. Many senior sports PR professionals probably didn’t come through a communication program, but perhaps a more traditional track, say English or history or any of the assorted liberal arts. Several others majored in journalism, which was an essential gateway to PR. But through the vast growth and increased sophistication of the PR industry and a response by colleges and universities across the country, young PR professionals earn far more focused degrees specifically in PR. In fact, in most communication schools, PR has surpassed journalism as the most popular degree track.

That said, a relatively small number of students get training specifically in sports PR. While there are a limited (but growing) number of schools that offer degree tracks in sports communication, many of them have a broadcasting or journalism focus. Other schools may offer a single course in sports information or PR. It’s the rare college student who has both the skills in and understanding of the field to hit the ground running in their first job in the field.

As an educator, this is part of my job – to help students prepare for jobs in the field, while also realizing that colleges do far more than that. Higher education is much more than vocational training (for very good reason), which is one reason why students spend only part of their time in career focused course work. But through curricular and extra-curricular activities, I try to give my students the training they need to be successful.

Many of you are on the opposite end of that process. You hire promising graduates (or student interns) with the hope of meaningful contributions without too many mistakes and without too much handholding. Those of you in larger organizations may benefit from strong training programs for interns and new hires, but others may lack those resources. That means that even the brightest graduate might struggle at the beginning.
But there are ways to improve this, to make a first job in sports PR a more gradual transition than a cliff dive. Much of that comes in creating stronger and more regular dialogue between those in the professional sports PR space and those that teach it. Academia may be fancied an ivory tower, but in reality, most academic faculty, especially people around sports PR, would love to have stronger interactions with working pros.
So, how do we create a stronger tie between people educating future sports PR professionals and those hiring them (and without compromising either’s time or integrity)? How do we create more prepared new hires in the field? Here are a few ideas – several that have worked for me:

– Create Regular Dialogue: Too often, groups converse in a closed circle. Sports PR professionals and executives hold conferences; sports communication academics hold conferences. There has to be more convergence between these two worlds. This can happen in a myriad of ways, from faculty visits to various agencies, team offices, and other work sites, to hosting sports PR professionals on campus. For example, when hosting a major sports communication academic conference in New York City, we worked with Taylor PR executives to give a keynote discussion during a lunch plenary. This 90-minute session was invaluable to academics who rarely get this insight, and it also allowed industry pros to better understand the academic world.

– Go Back to School: Want to help train the next sports PR professionals? Then do – consider becoming an adjunct at a local college or university. And if they don’t have a Sport PR course, then propose one. Many creative department chairs would love the opportunity. And sports communication faculty should try to volunteer during the summer at an agency, stadium, team, or any other place that might help them better train their students and keep them on top of the field.

– Learn the Social Habits of Gen-Next: As a sports PR professional, you know social. But you probably don’t know how 18-22 year olds use social media. Their habits may not coincide with your organization’s current strategy, but they should tell you about how the next generation thinks and works. Spend a day on campus with sports communication students and talk social.

– Refine your Internship Program: Internships are the lifeline of sports communication programs. In fact, it’s mandatory in ours. The most successful programs don’t simply give increasing workload to interns. Include seminars – classes, if you will – and mentors as part of your internships. The more they can learn from you, the more likely they can better adapt to the workplace.

– End Fan Behaviors: Depending on your organization, interns and entry level employees may have their first exposure to professional athletes they’ve idolized as fans. As a seasoned sports PR professional, this is a normal work environment. For a new hire, it’s not. Help prepare new employees for this reality, and consider having a formal discussion with new employees about how to behave around professional athletes. Most of us got into sports in the first place because we love sports and the people who play them. Help new employees realize that at work, sports are a job.

These are just a few ideas. Those of you in the hiring space probably know several more. And there will always be an adaptation period in any new hire. But with a more thoughtful, collaborative approach between pros and academics, we could better prepare the next generation of sports PR professionals.