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Sunday, July 28, 2013

A little Q and A from the "Kids at Columbia"

Sports Publicity, a great book 
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to speak to a class of young "go-getters" who enrolled in a summer studies program at Columbia University in New York. The students were a group of rising high schoolers and I began the presentation by applauding each and every one of them for the fact they were using their summer vacation time to gain added knowledge and experience instead of sitting on the beach.

The students travelled to Morningside Heights from all over the country and the world to take a class - taught by Joe Favorito. The range of questions reflected that fact. 

After a brief intro on my career and how I got a start in the business (largely due to an internship at the National Basketball Association set-up though the relationship by college dean (Mr. Bernie Beglane) had with my first NBA boss - Matt Winick, now the NBA's SVP of Basketball Operations in charge of all scheduling for the games and the NBA referees, I opened the class up to "Q & A" to be sure to address the issues the kids wanted to speak about. (By the way, It's 5:27 am and I'm on a roll...)

As we began class, I asked the students to jot down some topics or specific questions on a piece of notebook paper, just in case we hit a void in the session and to get their questioning minds fully engaged. The questioning was as intense as any press conference I'd ever conducted or any college-level seminar to a group of slightly older students placed in a similar situation.  In recent history, I've spoken at NYU, Columbia, St. John's, Adelphi, UMass, New England Law, Northeastern and a host of others. In general, I was able to answer the vast number of questions and address nearly all the issues. 

As promised to the class, here are some answers to a few questions or topics we didn't have time to address:

1. Internships: TL Comment - "By far the best opportunity you can be offered as a student, especially at a college level Sports management program.  Make the most of ANY internship opportunity. Don't "EXPECT" a job from your internship, but feel free to try to work so hard and be so effective that you literally "EARN" a job. The key is to gain experience and to gain access to the network within the industry.

The greatest complement you can get is to have your "mentor" be able to make calls to his network to say something like, "I wish we had an opening for this intern.  Best I've ever seen."  - Maybe you have something?

2. Brand Identity Advice; This one is tough to address in a blog post, but I would say -- very generally -- the "game plan" changes depending on the brand and the category. In sports, I think the words honesty, integrity, performance and authenticity have to be laid out in front of the brand managers to see how the brand matches up to those key areas. I'd also ask the simple question? "What does this brand stand for? How do we match up to that? What needs to be changed?"  - All brand management "101" stuff.

3. Hardest part of working at the NBA? "Great question. And, it's hard to answer because there weren't all that many bad things. I'd have to say two things: Working at the league immediately before and during the two major work stoppages (lockouts) during my career were the worst times, by far. The term "self-inflicted wounds" comes to mind. We were hurting the very thing we had worked so hard to build - the NBA Players. 

"The other was the changing dynamic within the office and the league. I felt there were a growing number of people who were not in the sport for the sake of the sport. They were in it for themselves and their career became more important than a decision that might benefit the game. It was sad to see that dynamic, especially internationally in the mid-90s."

On a personal note, the extended periods of travel - sometimes for 30+ consecutive days - was the toughest part of the gig, mainly when my kids were young and it was so difficult to miss the key moments of their childhood (birthdays, first steps, etc).

4. How to get involved in NBA, MLB, etc before your sophomore year of college, as most teams and leagues require that? - Good question. I would say two things. "Just this week, I was rummaging through some stuff at my Mom's house - the house I grew up in (wonderful neighborhood on LI). I went through a ton of stuff from HS and noticed that I was doing many of the things I needed to do to learn how to do..

A. Managing projects and Event organization (Org charts at my HS paper; lay-outs and plans for the paper; flow charts and run-downs on events - like the Homecoming, or Ring Ceremony (as Jrs). and a ton of other things.  So, you can get GREAT experience by getting involved in your school events.

B. You can volunteer on events (like US Open tennis, golf tourneys, ask to be a runner for a local TV sports anchor at his "shoots and remotes" - and YES, that means YOU get the coffee!"

5. How to be successful at the NBA or where ever you work?

Honesty. With yourself and with your employer.  Your credibility is everything.

Work "your ass off" and don't be afraid to ask good questions. Learn from your mistakes and TRY, TRY TRY not to make the same mistake twice.  if you do, it's okay, but keep trying your best.  Be reliable.  Be the "guy (gal) they can count on.  Be on time - that means 30 minutes early.

More to come... as I'll have more time to write at 8am - and wait til you see the photos!


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