Today is the last part of an informational interview that I had by phone with Matt Barnhart, who is the Detroit Lions Director of Media Relations. We spent nearly 45 minutes talking about public relations and the Lions so I decided to break it into multiple posts this week. In today’s post, Matt provides some career tips and suggestions for those wanting to work in the sports PR industry. If you haven’t read them already, be sure to check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of the informational interview.
1) What suggestions would you give someone who is hoping to find a job in the sports PR industry?
I’ll first start out with the academic part of it. You don’t necessarily have to have a specific degree to succeed or find a job, but you have to develop certain skills and they’re basically your main communications skills. One is writing and the other part is the verbal skills—the interpersonal skills that you have and the ability to build relationships and getting to know and work with people. Those two aspects are vital. I would think from a more specific standpoint, anybody working in a sport management and/or marketing program would have good opportunities, as well as sports communication. I would also think if you are in a journalism school or in a public relations program, those build good foundations. Ultimately, what it comes down to in competing for an internship in the NFL, you have to have some solid experience while you’re in college and I can’t stress that enough to students about getting experience early. Earlier than later!
It’s very difficult at times to all of a sudden graduate and want to enter this field because you think this is interesting and this is what you want to do but you don’t have any experience. It’s very difficult so what I try to emphasize with students, especially in their junior year or sophomore year, is that wherever you are at whether it’s at college during the school year or whether you go home, there is some way that you can connect to the sports world.
If you have a minor league baseball team in your area, try working for them during the summer and doing whatever you can to just get experience whether it’s from a sports management standpoint or media relations standpoint. Get your foot in the door and start working around a sports organization. Writing for a sports section or a sports department is really good because some of the writing is similar. Our interns and entry-level assistants have to deal with writing, and if they are at least around athletes and writing about athletes they get a good understanding of sports writing and the sports industry. That’s another really good, solid experience to have. And that writing follows you all the way during your career.
Not only do you need to have a pretty decent education structure, but you have to have experience and those two things work hand in hand because once you have that experience, you start networking and start building contacts who will help you down the road. Those are the two things to get people started, but the another thing that I’d like to add is to understand that every day, no matter if you’re an intern or in my position or even a student trying to find an internship, you have to prove your value and you have to make sure that you demonstrate the skills to succeed. It is about your ability to add value to the organization that you are either working for or want to work for that’s really important.
2) What type of character traits do you look for in potential hires whether it’s for an internship or a full-time position?
I want to make sure that the person has a base understanding and knowledge of sports, especially with the sport of football. If a person comes in and has writing experience but they don’t know certain things about the game, such as struggling to figure out what certain positions are, it’s very difficult for us to feel comfortable with them. Once they join us, things move fast and get going, and we don’t have a lot of time to train and teach people like the basic fundamentals of the game. That’s one, having a base knowledge of sports and football.
Second is that work ethic can’t be stressed enough. We need to make sure that they’re going to put the time in and put the effort in to help our department. As you know, this is not a 9-5 job and it’s not a job that you’re going to work a few hours a week and master. You’ve got to put the time in it. When training camp starts, we’re working seven days a week basically until we have a bye week so you have to be committed and you have to show commitment from day one.
Another trait that you need to have is the ability to be a self-starter in terms of some projects because we can’t, especially the way I manage our internship program and our department, micro-manage people. I don’t like to micromanage my employees. I don’t like to micromanage my interns so you better be able to handle projects and you must be able to say, ‘Okay, this project is done. What else can I work on? What else can I get started?’ And if you don’t have direction at that specific time than you may even want to propose something. ‘Hey this is what I’m thinking of doing.’ Because one, if you can propose a project that’s going to add value or help the department, that’s great but it’s also going to show that you are very progressive and that you are basically a go-getter in terms of what you’re doing. That’s really important.
I tell our interns when they start with us that I want to give you as much responsibility and opportunities that you can get. I don’t have problems giving you projects that are normally held for a full-time assistant because that’s ultimately going to benefit you in the long run to be able to do some of those and have that on your resume and portfolio. I’m not going to give those to you unless: one, you’ve proven the ability to do it and, two, if you’ve earned that opportunity. There might be some simple responsibilities that you have as an intern like newspaper clippings and so forth that if you don’t master those I’m not going to give you more responsibilities. It’s not right and it’s not fair for everyone involved so those are basically some character traits that I think are very important.