I am lucky enough to be able to call myself a Division I Four-Time Varsity Letter Winner with four Big Ten Championship rings to prove it! I graduated from the University of Michigan and being able to compete in athletics on such a large stage, while graduating with honors, including the Big Ten All-Academic Team and UM Academic Achievement Awards, was not easy. However, the lessons and characteristics that helped me to be successful in my athletic and academic career also prepared me to succeed in my present career working in a public relations firm. Beyond the obvious traits which an athlete needs to possess, being a team player, being committed and being goal-oriented, I think the biggest takeaways that an athlete takes into the workforce are adaptability, time management, and tenacity. These qualities help guide success, both on and off the field, in life and in public relations.
There isn’t a time in my life that I don’t remember not wanting to be a D1 athlete, but my journey to play field hockey for the University of Michigan wasn’t as expected. I grew up a gymnast and only thought about being a collegiate gymnast. That dream ended one summer when I cracked two vertebrae and ended up in a hard-plastic back brace for 8 months. I decided to forgo my gymnastics career for something “less harsh” (haha) on my body—field hockey. I adapted and turned my energy to this new sport. Even though my end-goal was the same, play a collegiate level sport, my route changed. Any athlete knows, in sports, things often do not go according to plan, whether it’s a missed goal, an injury setback, etc. The same work ethic of adaptability is found in any strong publicist.
Working for a public relations agency, there have been more times than I can count that an original
game action plan hasn’t worked. When this happens and a wrench is thrown into plans, I take a pause, ask myself what the client’s goal of this campaign, outreach, etc. is, and adjust accordingly. You have to be able to be nimble and adjust in the world of PR (and life in general) because almost nothing goes according to plan!
Time Management –
As a collegiate athlete, balancing not only practices and games, but lifting and conditioning sessions, physical therapy, traveling, and of course classes and studying, you need time management, or you will fail miserably. This skill of time management is instilled in athletes from a young age in order to best prioritize commitments. This skill set directly transitions into the life of a publicist, by being able to work on multiple accounts while juggling numerous campaigns, pitches, and projects at one time. You are able to prioritize your “to dos” and make the most efficient use of time in the office when you have cultivated this skill as an athlete.
Finally, just as I didn’t master a reverse chip shot in one try, as a publicist you typically don’t succeed the first time you send a pitch, create an action plan, or write a press release. Like most athletes, one of my greatest strengths is my competitive and tenacious nature. Just as I spent hours drilling field hockey skills, I now spend considerable time working as a publicist to ensure meaningful coverage for my client that will help to achieve their goals, whether this is launching a new product, highlighting franchising opportunities, or announcing regional distribution.
There are over 22,000 members in the Public Relations Society of America and per Statista there are almost 8,500 PR firms, not counting in-house PR teams. Even if these numbers are low, imagine how many emails and pitches editors receive on a daily basis–thousands! If you stopped with just one pitch and follow up, you wouldn’t get very far. I’ve heard many times from editors, producers, and contacts, “thank you for your persistence” or “I’m glad you kept emailing me,” which resulted in top-level coverage for the client. While sometimes I feel as if I’m pestering them, my mindset is “no answer is still a possibility.” Until they say “no,” I’ll continue to follow up. This competitive and tenacious spirit transcends off the field to make for a persistent publicist.
Wherever you go, GO BLUE!