By Konnor McIntosh
Getting an in-house position right out of college as prospective public relations (PR) professionals can be challenging, if not impossible. Although getting to the high-level communications jobs may seem daunting, the impressions I took from visiting Adidas and the Portland Trail Blazers teams were that there isn’t one path or secret to making it in the industry. At both locations they had teams of professionals who all came from different backgrounds, some crossing over from different industries but utilizing the same skillsets.
As someone interested in working in sports communications, I enjoyed the Adidas panel because I got specific advice related to the field. Conor McAvoy and Jon Shaw, who work for Adidas’ US and Global basketball brand communications departments, went in detail about how their projects in China and Europe have made Adidas the number one basketball brand globally. McAvoy specifically went in detail about some of the campaigns he’s worked on, including Derrick Rose’s best-selling shoe in 2011 and currently working with rookie Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks. McAvoy discussed how being able to speak to trends in a way the public who likes basketball and managers above you who may not fully understand basketball can understand is an important, attainable skill. McAvoy, Shaw, and Brianna Neumann, the Senior Manager of Corporate Communications, all attended the University of Oregon, either majoring in journalism or business departments.
Many of the crowd's questions were about the panelists' backgrounds and Adidas' internships. While Adidas does have full-year internships for college graduates, all four panelists, including Assistant Manager of Brand Communications Ngozi Monu, did not internship directly with Adidas. Neumann, who graduated from the University of Oregon in 2009, went into detail about how working for an agency right out of college helped her decide what industry she liked best. She also described how working in industries she did not know a lot about helped her better her networking skills which ended up landing her a job at Adidas. All four panelists, and Monu, in particular, liked the culture of Adidas as an “underdog brand” in an area that is Nike’s backyard.
When visiting the Moda Center and the Trail Blazer's communications staff, I observed a similar central message. Out of the six panelists, three were University of Oregon graduates. Michael Lewellen, VP of Corporate Communications, told a story about ticket services intern Karel Calcote, explaining how the role you first have doesn’t necessarily dictate where you will end up. Only 16 years ago, the current President and CEO of the Portland Trail Blazers was a ticket services intern. Lewellen and Cheri Hanson, VP of Team Relations, both gave behind the scenes, honest industry advice about how they deal with the NBA, sponsors, and community relations that may have been answered differently if we were media members. Hanson occupies a role that is of interest to me, dealing with players and sponsors and being the middleman between the two. Lewellen also discussed how you do not necessarily have to work for a team to be in the sports communications industry, as companies such as Alaska Airlines and Coca-Cola have sports advertising and communications departments that work with teams from various leagues.
The story that best represents flexibility as sports communicators came from Keoki Kakigi, the Sustainability Operations Manager. Kakigi makes sure that the Moda Center is one of the most environmentally efficient buildings and answers to the media regarding facts about the building in that regard. Kakigi described how he worked at Disney theme parks for several years and had no intentions of working in the sports industry; however, since his skills were transferable to any industry, he found a great team and situation in Portland. For potential sports communicators, there are many options in order to achieve your goals but having a flexible skillset in other industries will make you more attractive to employers.