PR Week interviewed recruiting expert Brad Karsh for their 2007 Career Guide and he gave a variety of career tips including how to make your cover letter stand out.
Iacono: How do you make your résumé and cover letter stand out without going overboard and looking foolish?
Karsh: There is a fine line between clever and stupid. First off, cover letters are an extraordinarily underused medium. Think of your cover letter as a writing sample. In my last job, I probably received about 10,000 résumés and actually read fewer than 200 cover letters.
Every student writes the same one: It starts with how they heard about the job, discusses their interest and why they’d be a good fit, and closes with an invitation to follow up. It’s a rewrite of what’s on the résumé.
Instead, think of a cover letter as a teaser ad for your résumé. It needn’t tell the whole story. Force yourself to make it short, interesting, and personal. The first sentence can say something like, “I knew I loved PR from the moment I opened up a lemonade stand when I was five years old.” Don’t say, “As you can see from my attached résumé…” If someone spends 10-15 seconds reading your résumé, they’ll spend even less time reading your cover letter. You want to show that you know what the story is – how you got interested in PR.
Personally, I find the cover letters the hardest ones to write. Trying to find the right balance between informative and eye-grabbing can be tricky. I thought Karsh’s advice on talking about how you got interested in PR or some other interesting anecdote will do the trick when everyone else follows the same format. It also helps to now think of your cover letter as a writing sample. The only cover letter examples we seem to be given in college follow this formulaic outline, but that’s why they all read the same. If you do something different, the person having to read hundreds or thousands of resumes and cover letters will hopefully take note of your effort.
This past Saturday was called “Super Saturday” by the NHL because all 30 teams were in action that day, which made for a great day full of hockey. The NHL’s website linked to 20 feature articles written by different teams. Each article focused on a day in the life of a certain employee within the organization. For example, the Nashville Predators’ article described what the PR staff did during an average game day that stretches from 7am until 11pm, which really helps those interested in a career in Sports PR with an idea of what work is like on an average game day. While I can’t post the entire piece, here is an excerpt and be sure to check out the rest of it here.
6:15 p.m.: Wilson mans the press box, getting ready to disseminate pre-game lineups. Darling heads back to the locker room to coordinate player introductions.
7:07 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.: Game time. Wilson’s primary responsibility is to distribute information to the press box, including intermission stats. Darling’s primary responsibility is to coordinate requests to and from the locker room, including on-the-bench interviews and intermission interviews with players or coaches.
9:35 p.m.: Darling opens the Predators locker room after the game and assists media with their postgame player and coach requests. Wilson makes sure all postgame stat sheets are printed by the NHL stats crew, copied, and then distributed through the press box and the locker rooms.
9:50 p.m.: The game-night staff starts to trickle back into the office to transcribe postgame quotes from home and visiting players and coaches.
For anyone interested in working for an NHL team, all of these Super Saturday articles were fantastic reads (great job NHL.com people for coordinating it). When you work on game day as part of the PR staff, you have to interact with plenty of other departments including security, marketing, game-day staff, equipment managers, etc. so it’s beneficial to get a basic understanding of what those other positions entail. As you can see from the various articles, a job in sports usually equals long work days. Here are links to the 20 articles for those interested in reading more.
Anaheim Ducks: Boys in the box get the best seats in the house
Atlanta Thrashers: Thrashers’ mascot knows how to have a good time
Calgary Flames: No rest for the equipment crew
Chicago Blackhawks: National anthem a Chicago speciality
Colorado Avalanche: DeLuzio helping bring Avs fans closer to the game
Columbus Blue Jackets: Jackets firing off successful history lesson
Dallas Stars: Perlmeter keeps Stars on time
Edmonton Oilers: Press box keeps everyone informed
Florida Panthers: Panthers Ice Dancers are always in the spotlight
Minnesota Wild: Loomis provides the non-playing entertainment
Nashville Predators: Preds’ PR staff makes sure everyone is taken care of
NY Islanders: Zore has his hands full on game day
Phoenix Coyotes: Anzelc’s always on the job
Pittsburgh Penguins: Off-ice officials are a fourth team at every game
San Jose Sharks: Stenn keeps Sharks on schedule
St. Louis Blues: Buford signing a happy version of the Blues
Toronto (NHL): Toronto’s ‘war room’ has its hands full Saturday
Vancouver Canucks: Engineering a successful night at GM Place
Joe Favorito, the brains behind Sports Marketing & PR Roundup, has held a variety of jobs in the sports PR field. He has worked in college sports, NBA basketball, professional tennis, and the International Fight League (IFL). He talked to PR Week for their 2007 Career Guide about his journey and then gave three keys to change.
Each change had its own challenges, but Favorito cites his move to the 76ers as his biggest leap.
“I had just gotten married and bought a house in New York,” he recalls. “I moved. The organization was down. The job had been vacant for months. I didn’t know anyone or what I was doing. [At 27], I was the youngest NBA PR director.”
Hard lessons were learned. “I had never been exposed to crisis management or long-term strategy,” he says. “I made mistakes – definitely in managing people. I was afraid to call the media because I was new. I wasn’t mature. I winged it a lot.”
Despite challenges, including the 76ers’ poor on-court performance, Favorito developed confidence and expertise – and he garnered success. “I learned to work in a public environment, to succeed regardless of the [team's won-loss record], to work with large personas, and to treat people as people,” he notes.
After the Knicks and Favorito parted ways last year, he leapt to the IFL. “It was risky,” he admits. “It’s a start-up. It’s edgy because it’s fighting. I get to apply all I’ve learned to something totally new. It’s rare.”
3 keys to change
1. Think with your head and your heart. Move for all the right reasons — financial, personal, and career-wise
2. Do your homework; ask the right questions
3. Don’t burn bridges. Your reputation goes wherever you go
One of the big stories this off-season has been the revival of one of the Original Six franchise, the Chicago Blackhawks. Before last season, Rocky Wirtz (son of then owner Bill Wirtz) was informed by the team’s finance department that they needed immediately $34 million to make payroll and start the season. That was quite the wake-up call for Rocky. His father passed away later and Rocky quickly made changes off the ice. He recently told Sports Business Journal, “I knew the Blackhawks brand had a pulse. I just didn’t know how strong it was.”
He first brought in John McDonough, who was the Cubs president at the time, and handed the reins over to McDonough in much of the business decisions. But before he could accept the position, he told Rocky that certain elements would have to be changed off the ice.
WSJ: Did you set any conditions, such as, “I want to see the games on television?”
Mr. McDonough: Without that, in my opinion, we had no chance. I gave him a list of things I thought were critical. There had to be structure. There had to be an ambitious approach.
I walked in on day one and there was no receptionist. Then I said to somebody, I want to see the director of human resources. We don’t have a director of human resources. People say, “Did you start from scratch?” Whatever it is before scratch, that’s where we started.
WSJ: Yet now you talk about building one of the best front offices in sports.
Mr. McDonough: The Blackhawks all of a sudden have been the resume Olympics. There’s a certain type of person I look for: somebody bright, somebody willing to achieve, somebody not concerned about hours. People hearken back to the 16,666 [seats at the former Chicago Stadium] that I fondly remember as a child, being one of the fans standing in the second balcony. This building [the United Center] is 5,000 seats larger. We have a tough task.
As you can see, the team had to turnaround not only its on-ice product, but its personnel as well creating an enormous task for R. Wirtz and McDonough. He then made a smart decision telling the team that the hockey and business operations were to operate as one from now on.
At the end of last season, when we missed the playoffs by three points, we gathered the hockey team and the front office together over a luncheon. The message I sent was, we are no longer going to have a hockey operation and a business operation. There is going to be one Chicago Blackhawks. There is going to be a certain type of player that is going to play…They are going to be congenial. They are going to understand the big picture. We’re not the premier sport in the United States or in Chicago. But if we sign integrity guys and players that understand the media and the importance of developing a relationship with the community, we’re going to get this job done.
I thought his mention about signing players who understand why it’s important for them to talk to the media and be active in the community was key. When you are struggling for attention in a big market like Chicago, you have to give the media a reason to write about you. Creating events like the Blackhawks Convention for fans and a Street Fest for training camp were great ways to get some print during the baseball season.
Last year, the team only had about 3,400 season ticketholders. This season, they have around 14,000 and are considering capping the season ticket amount. Talk about a turnaround. Now the question is if they have made enough changes on the ice to equal their off-ice sucess this year.
Rick over at Eyecube has an interesting blog post that looks at the different NHL team slogans for this season. As he points out, many of them sound similar and make it hard to differentiate one team from the next. He proposes the following to switch things up:
By changing just one word in those slogans it would fit any other team. The NHL has a problem – all the teams look, feel and play alike. You can see this lack of differentiation on the ice, and in the marketing departments. The NHL should be playing up the local and regional distinctions among its teams, rather than allowing the teams to further homogenize themselves.
I understand that it’s challenging to come up with these slogans year after year, but a little variety would certainly be nice. However to be fair, I feel that at least the local Detroit sports teams struggle with coming up with a creative marketing slogan. This season, the Lions used “Do you believe in now?” for its ads. Very poor choice.
Chris Botta, former VP of media relations for the NY Islanders, recently spoke at Hofstra and he made three key points during his talk about PR.
- Make sure everyone in the organization is on the same page, from the president to the receptionist.
- Be pro-active. Tell your story, even if it’s a tough one to tell. Don’t hide.
- Be honest. You start to twist, spin or out-right lie, you’re screwed.
While these tips are helpful in all PR, I’m going to specifically apply them to crisis communications. Let’s use the example of a serious crisis situation during a hockey game. In November 2005, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Jiri Fischer collapsed on the bench during a game against the Nashville Predators. Thanks to quick thinking by a doctor, who sits in the seats behind the bench, and an AED, Fischer’s life was saved.
When a crisis likes this happens, your sports organization will already have a system in place. While I don’t have any responsibilities in a crisis (other than to stay out of the way) as an intern, I know what each of my bosses should be doing and they each have different people to contact. A plan made ahead of time allows the organization to be on the same page. Additionally in a crisis situation, there is usually one person who addresses the media. By having just one contact, it ensures that there are no discrepancies in remarks by different people.
Secondly, be pro-active. When a crisis happens, keep the media informed and be sure to abide by that. It can help prevent the situation from getting out of control and it allows your organization’s stance to get out there before the public forms their own opinion. By then, it can be too late.
Finally, never lie. Ethically speaking, it’s wrong. But it’s just a plain dumb idea anyways. Be honest.
According to recruiting expert Brad Karsh, who answered some career related questions for PR Week’s 2008 Career Guide, you can stand out even by just sending a thank-you note. Surprisingly, less than 25% send them which I found to be shocking since it just seems like a smart thing to do.
Maul: What do you suggest as proper follow-up steps after an interview?
Karsh: Fewer than 25% of people send thank-you notes after an interview. That is a huge missed opportunity. I recommend the night that you interview, you e-mail a thank-you note. I love the hand-written cards, but some companies and interviewers make their decisions very quickly. So send that thank-you note via e-mail.
For me, content is more important than form. It should be personal, it should be interesting, it should reference something that you discussed in the interview, and it should reinforce your interest and strengths.
By sending a unique thank-you note that touches on comments made in the interview as well as points you want to emphasize one last time, you get a step up on the competition.
While the sports industry hasn’t been hurt to the extent financing has, we are starting to see the ripples from the increasingly poor economy. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the NBA had to lay off around 80 employees. That’s 9% of its work force! A Sports Illustrated piece said that the Charlotte Bobcats laid off 35 employees from the front office.
The league and most teams have their sponsorships, television contracts, and other big deals already in place before the financial crisis became the headline of the fall. As a result, the league won’t really feel the impact of the poor economy unless it turns into a recession that would affect signing future long-term contracts.
The biggest problem currently facing NBA teams is convincing people to come attend games between the gas, ticket, parking, and concession prices. While some NBA teams haven’t felt the effects of the poor economy (ie. NBA champions, the Boston Celtics), many are having to creatively push ticket packages by reducing ticket prices and offering incentives and discounts to certain groups like college students or the military.
The league has created an internal site for its teams to encourage the sharing of promotional ideas.
To save the 30 teams from having to reinvent the sales or financials wheel in a challenging economy, the NBA has an internal Web site dedicated to team marketing and business opportunities. It serves as a clearinghouse for ideas and strategies; if a promotion works in Philadelphia, it might just work in Sacramento, too. Silver said teams have been encouraged to step up some community activities, through their NBA Cares program. “We want to demonstrate that we share some of the pain people are feeling right now,” Silver said.
It’s amazing how some affordable or even free community relations events can really help the team perception in the community. If fans feel more connected to the players and believe that they are more accessible, they tend to be more likely to open their wallet and pay for tickets. By sharing event ideas, teams can wait until it’s been proven to work before implementing it thus reducing risk and potentially saving the team money, which is key in this tight economy.
Yesterday, I highlighted the negative impact that newspaper staffing cuts are having on the NHL. Well, a new policy this season regarding the disclosure of player injury information has been agreed upon by the league’s general managers in their June meeting. Unfortunately, PR personnel from across the league had no say in the matter and a former VP of media relations for the NY Islanders, Chris Botta, is unhappy with the results of the GM vote.
Another one: commentators will wonder why the National Football League does full disclosure on injuries, but the NHL can’t.
Just wait til a major market writer decides to use a reliable source to make his own season-ending injury announcement about a star player. Oh, I pray the confrontation is in a locker room hallway where I’m standing.
From a PR perspective, this is a bad move that will only help frustrate the fans and media. Jamie, a commenter at NYI Point Blank, responded to Chris’ comments with the following (and I couldn’t agree more):
This is NOT helpful to the PR pros out there, who, in my experience usually are the ones lobbying the coach / GM / Doctors to give the ok to servicing the media. I get the whole injury thing, but there are ways to help the media tell the story without painting a target on a guy. This is just going to strain media relationships for a league that NEEDS some media coverage.
The Newsday blog also makes some valid arguments on this policy including one that acknowledges it’s not a very fan friendly policy at that.
He was smiling, but general manager Garth Snow’s policy forbids discussing injuries in detail, and NHL general managers apparently have endorsed this policy. The idea is to prevent the opposition from knowing an opponent’s injuries, and it also allows GMs to hide injuries when they are trying to trade a player. The downside for the player, in addition to being forced to be less than honest with reporters, is that fans don’t know when a player is struggling to play through an injury. For instance, Mike Comrie was listed with the flu for one game last season when he actually was out with a hip injury that required surgery.
Chris Botta thinks that the GMs will have to revisit this policy by Christmas. As fans of the game, let’s hope he’s right. At the very least, make sure that fans know if the injury is enough to keep a player out of the game. They deserve to know who is healthy enough for the line-up and this policy could drive fantasy hockey players mad.
Update [October 25, 2008]: The LA Times just published an article asking the question, ‘Does anyone trust NFL injury reports?’ While the NFL can fine teams for inaccurate injury reports, people still find the reports laughable.
Some reports are just plain laughable. In New England, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had a streak of three consecutive years where his name appeared on every injury report, usually because of a “sore shoulder.”
That streak ended just before this season’s opener, when the Patriots submitted a list that did not include their star quarterback — even though Brady was truly injured, sitting out the exhibition season recovering from a foot injury.
Then, a cruel, ironic twist: In his first game in three years when he wasn’t mentioned in the injury report, Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Thanks to Twellow, I came across Jackie Reau’s Twitter profile and consequently a link to Game Day Communications, which is a sports and entertainment PR firm located in lovely Cincinnati, OH. Their website then pointed me to their blog, Butts in Seats, and the most recent post had tips for college students about to graduate on how to get a job in sports PR or marketing.
She offered tips like improving one’s communication skills, making sure you have an online personal brand (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), reading news whether it’s from the Sports Business Journal or the local newspaper or a blog, and getting experience. The piece of advice that stuck out to me the most was the following:
1) Write a personal plan for yourself: decide what your dream job might be and the steps you need to take to get there. If I want to work in MLB, intern with a team, sell tickets, go to games, network with the people who have these jobs now. Who are the influencers that you need to meet? What networking events do you need to attend? What books/web sites do you need to read on a regular basis? Sure this will change, but you have to start somewhere…see Theo Epstein.
Solid advice from someone with years of experience in the industry and obviously knows what she’s talking about.
On a personal level, I know that I read up on the current news. I get Sports Business Journal, PR Week, Sports Illustrated, and Advertising Age in my mailbox every week. I have subscribed to more blogs on Google Reader than I care to admit. I’m on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Sports Marketing 2.0, and PR Open Mic. I currently intern with the Red Wings, U-M athletic media relations team, and assist a sport management professor with her research. I volunteer when I can. Just this summer, I volunteered at the Chicago Blackhawks convention, the Chicago stop in the AVP Tour, and a fundraising event for 2016 Chicago that raised $12 million for the campaign. I can do all that, but if I don’t have a plan of attack, who will know all that? I know that what I need to work on the most is (1) effectively networking both online and in person and (2) draft a personal plan and start working on those steps to achieve my objectives.