Survivor: Sports Marketing Intern Survival Guide
Thinking about an internship in sports marketing or reminiscing about your experience from the past – and how it was different back then? Well, times have definitely changed and I can’t think of another industry that has hundreds clamouring for a chance to work in sports marketing (and it’s not just students who are applying these days). In fact, it’s harder than ever to get a great internship – one that will set the stage for a world of opportunity in this highly competitive and sought-after industry. There are more sport marketing programs being offered by universities and colleges than ever before and the number of graduates entering the marketplace looking for internships or entry-level jobs is staggering. The George Brown Sport and Event Marketing post-graduate program has over 150+ students registered for the upcoming school year (there were 25 students back in 1999 when I entered the program -and only a handful still left in the industry). Perhaps it’s the allure of becoming the next Jerry Maguire; the dream of a championship ring; the cool factor and perks of flashing a business card; or maybe it’s someone much more….
I recently saw the Hollywood version of the “Internship” featuring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. The storyline focuses on two washed-up sales guys looking to secure an internship as a springboard to a full-time job at Google. When they arrive at the Google campus on their first day, they quickly realize they will need to compete with hundreds of the brightest young minds to land one of only a few jobs available. If you think an internship and landing a job at Google is tough, then welcome to the wonderful world of “I want to work in sports marketing because…”
Congratulations – you got the internship – the launching pad for your long and rewarding career in sports and entertainment marketing. You get the big hug from Mom and Dad and you’re the new cool cat in your social group. Hurry, better post it on Facebook. You show up on your first day, nervous, excited, and ready to take on the world, but then reality sits in…and you quickly realize that you’re not Jerry Maguire; you don’t get an office or the red carpet, and you certainly didn’t get the birthday-like welcome party with balloons you were hoping for. This is going to be a lot harder than you expected and it’s starting to look a lot like the hit reality TV show “Survivor” when you meet the five other interns who started on the same day – all looking to take home the ultimate prize (a job offer) and the title of the “one”. You know, the “one” who will set themselves apart, make an impact, build the right relationships, and no matter what, will keep on smiling because they know something the others don’t…
The alarm clock goes off at 530am on a cold day in mid-November. I hit the snooze button, but get the tap from my girlfriend, Jacqui (now my wife) that we need to get moving – we can’t be late. We can’t miss the Santa Clause parade. After all, we are in it! I grab the giant metal crate that I dragged home on the subway the night before and head out the door of our shady basement apartment
behind the lovely Warden Subway Station in Scarborough, ON (don’t ask). We arrive at the operational home-base for the big parade, which attracts north of half a million people each year through the streets of downtown Toronto, and ask a volunteer where we need to get dressed. Not knowing what to expect we push the doors marked “dressing room” open to find the Kraft Bears, Mighty Mouse and just about every other mascot you can think of, warming up for the big show. Talk about memories that stick – I was about to make my Hollywood debut as “Leo the Lion” a.k.a Tyler Mazereeuw, RBC Royal Bank’s sponsorship marketing Intern.
I could ramble on about my internship from over a decade ago, but thought it would be more relevant to hear it from a recent generation (generation “Y” a.k.a the millennial generation born between 1980-early 2000s), and more importantly the ones who made the most of their internship and stamped their ticket for success in this industry. Thanks to the following group of “rising stars” who took the time to share their own personal experience as an intern including key lessons learned and advice for the next generation looking to break into the sports and sponsorship marketing industry.
- Dave Keeley: Director, Corporate Partnerships, Toronto Argonauts Football Club (internship: Toronto Argonauts)
- Charles Rolston: Manager, Sponsorship Strategy, IMG (Internship: Canadian Football League)
- Andrew Stokes: Manager, Global Partnerships, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (Internship: IMG)
- Owen Welsh: Senior Coordinator, Corporate Partnerships Marketing at Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Club (Internships: Ottawa Senators & IMG)
You did what at your Internship?
I’ve seen it all over the years – everything from the daily coffee runs and stuffing envelopes to cleaning out the storage room and yes, even painting the office walls (and I quote the intern administrator, “make sure you wear your old clothes next week as you’ll be helping to paint the office walls”). Charles Rolston’s most unorthodox moment was unexpected, but actually pretty cool. He was asked to dress up as a football player from the early nineteen hundreds (in 35 (c) 95 (f) weather) to capture a historic recreation of the 1909 Grey Cup Champions during 100th Grey Cup celebrations (if you look closely, I’m in there, too); while others were asked to help their boss with a residential 9-5 move on a Tuesday or haul trash up and down an elevator for the day. They all agree that no matter what, try to keep a smile on your face. “Bring your best to work every day and be excited about what you’re doing, even if it is “grunt work” – it’s only temporary and it’s all part of the experience.” Besides, If you didn’t have those “special” experiences, your internship “story” wouldn’t be much fun to share down the road, would it? We’ve all been there and done that so push through it and move on to the next big task. Simple tasks done well equals greater responsibility is what I like to remind interns that I work with. Do the small things well (whatever they are) and you’ll be rewarded with more responsibility. You need to earn the trust and demonstrate that you are in this for the long haul.
Key lesson learned from the group:
- Don’t let mistakes define you. Learn from them! “You will make mistakes as an intern. I did! If you don’t, you’re not trying hard enough, in my opinion. It’s not necessarily the mistakes you make, but how you handle the situation afterwards that sets you apart from the others. Be honest and own-up to the mistake, and never do it again.”
- Everyone you meet might be your boss one day (that means other interns, too). “Be nice to everyone, and know that you’re always making an impression. It isn’t a big enough industry to have any enemies.”
- Speak up for yourself and ask questions– “know when to ask questions and don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know how to do something – you’ll learn, that’s why it is an internship. Remember, this is your chance to learn. If you don’t ask it now, you may never find out the answer. It also shows you care.”
- Read everything: “When I was an intern, my boss had a stack of papers on his desk. I was responsible for filing them. I read everything completely before I filed it, and ended up learning a lot.”
- Take pride in your work: “Don’t drop your standards or half-ass something because the intern next to you is. Take pride in what you’re submitting to your boss as though it is an assignment in school. And do an extra scan of every email before you hit send – it’s worth it.”
Tips you’d like to share for the next generation of interns:
- Attitude is everything: “This is a chance to prove yourself, and it could be your only one. Bring your best to work every day and be excited about what you’re doing, even if it is “grunt work.”
- Stay persistent: “You will receive many no’s throughout your journey. “No, I do not have time to meet with you.”, “No, there are no positions available at this time.” And simply, no reply to your introductory e-mail or phone call. Do not get discouraged. Perseverance will be an invaluable asset to you as your career develops.”
- Know your role: “Whether you are an intern or at an entry-level position, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have all of the answers or feel like you always need to provide your point of view. Sometimes it’s better to listen and ask questions if you don’t know. I have learned to always speak from previous experiences and to not be afraid to present ideas or information if I feel it’s relevant.”
- Make an effort to grow your skills: “Take time to think about what your skills are and hone them along the way. Think about how you can apply these skills in your role to benefit the company. It will make you stand out and open up doors. All skills can be learned, so make an effort to grow.”
- You need to be “All-In”: “For however long your internship is, it should be your #1 priority. I did an 8-month unpaid internship, and since I’m not from Toronto, I wasn’t able to live at home. I went into debt about $10k during the internship so that I could live close to the office and stay late, and it was my sole focus while I was there. That $10k investment has certainly paid off.”
- Use the resources that you have, while you have them: “Most interns start asking me about jobs in their last week of their internship, and that’s far too late. Wherever you intern, make sure you use every day to pick the brains of those around you; there is certainly always a lot to soak up.”
- Networking:This was a recurring theme with all four rising stars and something I can’t stress enough. “Interns asking about a job on their last week” – this is more common than you would like to think. In fact, most interns don’t ask at all. The more people you meet and build relationships with, the wider net you’ll cast in landing a job. It’s not just about your immediate supervisor or employer. Many interns find opportunities in other departments or through contacts they meet outside of the organization with the help of people they meet at their internship.”
In addition to some great comments and first-hand advice, here’s a few additional tips from my industry colleagues Danny Fritz (CEO of SportBox Group); Peter Widdis (Professor, George Brown College and Senior Consultant at Boston-based Stratovation Associates); and Jacquie Ryan, VP of Sponsorship & Partnerships at Scotia Bank. Note: Jacquie was the one who gave me the shot to play “Leo the Lion” and help launch my career in sports and entertainment as an intern at RBC Royal Bank.
“Treat every co-op role as a “co-opportunity” to learn and grow as a professional, holding respect for everyone you work with – from the janitor to CEO. Also, find an on-the-job mentor to supplement existing in-class mentorship from teachers…as this creates for powerful learning. Lastly, find a way to make yourself indispensable at a “skill” the organization is lacking…whether you are hired or/ not hired in the end of your tenure you will be remembered for making a difference!.” – Peter Widdis
“Take advantage of the time spent in the role, time goes by quickly, you are there to learn and network. You need to jump in immediately, identify where you want to go in the business and build a path to get there. Your future relies on the network you build and how stakeholders in the space view you in the industry.” – Danny Fritz
“Work hard, it will pay dividends: To quote Ashton Kutcher from the recent Teen Choice Awards,
“Opportunity looks a lot like hard work.” If you want to get ahead, you need to work harder, longer and with more passion than everyone around you. The right internship is the path to your future career, so seize every opportunity to heed the learning, and show you’re willing to go that extra mile. For me, a lot of what I truly wanted in life has been outside my comfort zone and so my advice to you is that it’s ok to make mistakes, just fail fast, and move on. Stay true to yourself: Your reputation is your currency in the professional world. Follow your passion and go with your gut- I believe this will steer you in the right directions 99% of the time. Don’t waste your time around the water cooler, conversations there can be toxic- focus on the task at hand and ALWAYS take the high road.” – Jacquie Ryan
You got the internship now you have the best advice. I love the saying “the cream will always rise to the top”, and it does, so don’t be discouraged by the competition. Opportunity does look a lot like hard work and it’s not going to come easy. Dave, Charles, Owen, and Andrew got the memo and they’re now en route to a successful career. Use this information wisely and you’ll be on your way to becoming the next “rising star” in the sports and sponsorship marketing industry. Special thanks to Danny, Peter and Jacquie for not only being thought-leaders in our industry, but also mentors for the next generation of interns. It’s important to remember that times have changed and you can’t always self-reference your own internship experience when managing the next generation of interns. You need to adapt based on the situation, but more importantly the individual. Successful internships are a two-way street and both parties (intern and employer) need to be active participants or it’s not going to benefit anyone. I can tell you first-hand that the biggest reward (for employers) doesn’t come from the actual internship, but afterwards, when the intern you mentored gets a job and starts to climb the sports marketing ladder.