Industry Spotlight: Gianina Thompson, ESPN PR

Gianina Thompson works at ESPN as their senior publicist for NBA, MLB, FIBA and Little Leagues where she serves as a spokesperson, crafts and executes strategic publicity campaigns, analyzes TV ratings for media distribution, and pitches exclusives and feature pieces for on-air commentators like Sage Steele and Rachel Nichols and retired stand-out NBA players who are now ESPN analysts like Jalen Rose and Tracy McGrady. She also travels to some of the most anticipated sporting events and games where she manages interviews for on-air commentators with various media. She has worked with media from Forbes, Vogue, Sports Illustrated, Allure, Men’s Fitness, and Essence, among many others. caught up with Gianina to talk about her experience and insights from working in the sports PR industry.

On being named one of PR News' Rising Stars Under 30 and her experiences working in PR so far:

I’m very blessed to work for a company where there’s a contagious atmosphere of hard work and collaboration. Not everyone is fortunate to find inspiration in what and who they’re working with and that became even more apparent when I worked with Jessica Mendoza. Jess broke several glass ceilings for women in MLB broadcasting. For each interview I accompanied her to, I left inspired… and I’m the publicist, not the writer or audience. I believe that says a lot about the person Jess is and it made my pitches more natural and gravitated an energy to media I worked with.

Another instance that really stands out for me is when I pitched Chauncey Billups to speak with The Source Magazine [hip-hop publication] about his transition from ball to broadcast, hip-hop, style, and of course, top NBA storylines. After the interview, he told me how it was one of his most favorite interviews and to send him the article afterwards. I know it was because it wasn’t just pure hoop talk, it was something different and it included a mix of topics that was akin to barbershop-talk.

On travel and the challenges of a "mobile" office:

I don’t travel for every game, but I must admit I do love the adrenaline associated with being on-site at events, games, and even the studio sets. I like a nice balance between behind-the-desk and in-the-weeds on set or at a game. During the NBA Finals, the hustle and flow between my boss and I was an awesome tag team, especially with last minute changes, requests, or variables that came into play. I think it’s important to build a trust with your team. It's easy to want to be independent because you know what and how to do your job, but trusting your teammate(s) to tap in is imperative. You can’t always be super-man or super-woman but you can be part of a super-team. I have that with the team I’m on and it makes the world of difference.

On being a woman in a male-dominated industry and where she finds inspiration:

I’m still doing a lot of trial-and-error and learning a lot. So many women have helped me along the way… but the ones that stick out are the ones who invested in my growth when all I had were goals and determination, before working for a sports team or network or even a job at that. I’m not going to name each as I don’t want to forget anyone, but their words of wisdom are something I’m always willing to share. A piece of advice that is practically my mantra is, “Never hope for it more than you work for it.” And that’s something that drives any and everything I do.

And as I said before, I’m blessed to work with people who inspire me even if it’s just because of how they carry themselves or their work ethic and the reputation they’ve worked for with sweat and patience. A few of those women are Doris Burke, Ramona Shelburne and Rachel Nichols, who I pitched to a Forbes writer who wrote an amazing piece on how ESPN is boldly putting women at the forefront of its NBA coverage. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s a must. Last I checked, it had over 20K views and for good reason!

On "must-have" news sources:

I have to be honest with you, I fall in the high percentage of people who check their phone first thing when they wake up. I look on Twitter and then the ESPN app for game scores and reaction from fans and writers. Later in the morning, I’ll read Sports Business Daily. I also enjoy reading the daily newsletter from Goalposte.

And although I’m in the sports industry, I love reading music, lifestyle and fashion sites. Yes, I’m a “seller” of story ideas, but I’m also part of the audience that writers are trying to appeal to. So I like to see what angles they are going for in non-sports publications. That’s what gave me the idea to pitch Allure to do behind the scenes videos with Josina Anderson, ESPN’s first woman NFL Insider, one of ESPN’s rising stars Cassidy Hubbarth and Mendoza at their studio sets and games. I know the audience may not be specifically hard-core sports fans, but that inside peek into who the commentators are beyond just the sports coverage and how they get ready, their career journey and how they overcome certain instances, makes them more relatable to readers and viewers.

On industry changes and the growth of digital media:

Athletes, coaches and TV commentators are more accessible to fans’ kudos, praises… and even insults and harassment. It's one thing to be critical, but it’s a whole different ball game when it’s thrown with threats and violence. The problem has become too common and how to stop is still unclear, unfortunately.

On a more positive note, social media keeps me on my toes in coming up with clever story ideas to pitch to media.

For example, on Halloween the reporters on the show “Around the Horn” all dressed up and Israel Gutierrez dressed up as UFC fighter Conor MeGregor. I thought, “Oh my gosh, Izzy is ripped and so in shape!” And maybe half an hour earlier one of my friends had retweeted a Men’s Fitness article that they were featured in. That quickly hit a chord for me to pitch Izzy with Men’s Fitness as a reporter who’s just as shredded as the NBA players that he interviews.

I may or may not have thought of that pitch if I didn’t see my friend’s post. Social media allows us to be privy to things outside of our everyday interest and for me that sparks various ideas in my work-related pitches.

I'm also able to get news out quickly via Twitter, whether that's a guest coming on a show, schedule changes, ratings and viewership, further promoting articles from or ESPN the Magazine, or features I pitched that go live.

Gianina Thompson works at ESPN as their senior publicist for NBA, MLB, FIBA and Little Leagues.

Most recently Gianina was named one of PR News’ Rising Stars 30 & Under for her work around ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza who broke several glass ceilings for women in MLB broadcasting, the most watched and historical 2016 NBA Finals and the new Saturday NBA game series on ABC.

Prior to ESPN, Gianina held communication and writing roles at the NFL Washington Redskins, a FOX-affiliate news station in Virginia, Hampton University, a Forbes-featured website Bonfire Impact, and her alma mater Old Dominion University.

At 21 years old, Gianina had already received both her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in communications. As a Division 1 college athlete on the rowing team, Gianina focused her thesis on why male college-athletes aspire to play their sport professionally more than female-college athletes.

For more from Gianina, follow her on Twitter.