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.

SportsPR.com 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 ESPN.com 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.

How curiosity can grow your sports business career

By Bob Hamer, Founder & President of Sports Business Solutions, LLC. 

There are many ways to achieve success in sports business. Every team, job, and company culture is different and every individual is different too. I don't believe there is a one-size-fits-all approach to success, however, I do think there are certain character traits that can help people succeed and one of them is curiosity. You may be curious as to how that can help you? Let me show you:

1. Be curious about different jobs in sports - Before you apply for jobs in sports, you need learn more about them. What does the day to day look like? How do people get those jobs? Which jobs would I enjoy the most, and why? Once you learn about them you can narrow your focus to the right jobs for you. If you go after the right jobs you'll have a better chance at getting them.

2. Be curious during the interview process - You're interviewing the team as much as they're interviewing you. Ask about the company culture, your potential boss and the current state of the team. Ask what the expectations are and how you'll be measured. Your singular focus should be to understand the position first to determine if it's the right fit for you. If it is, now based on your knowledge of the role you can show why you're the best fit for it. You'll naturally be more passionate about a job you want and your questions show your desire to be there. Both will help you get the job.

3. Be curious when you get the job - On day one, be humble enough to admit you haven't been successful yet, and others above you have. Learn how they did it. Ask questions about how they succeeded. What challenges did they face? How did they overcome them? What advice they'd give you? Then take all that advice, follow the success plan from those above you and focus on executing that every day. Buy into the process and the results will follow.

4. Be curious on the job - I'm not saying to defy your bosses orders, but once you've been on the job for awhile challenge yourself to look at the business in different ways. What can we do better here? Ask your customers for feedback. Brainstorm new ideas with your team. Look at ways you can improve your process. Try and avoid complacency and the status quo. If you continue to challenge yourself to get better individually and as a team you'll be perceived as a leader and produce great results.

5. Be curious to meet new sports industry people - The beauty of this industry is although we're competing on the field, court, or diamond we're in different markets so we very rarely compete in business. Be curious to get to know new people in our industry. Ask them their career path, what they're doing, what techniques and tactics are successful in their market. In turn you'll learn things you can bring into your job that can help you and build strong relationships and a network that can help you grow professionally.

6. Be curious to learn about your bosses career goals - Ask your boss questions and aim to develop a great relationship with them. They hold the keys to your future in many ways. They can give you more responsibility, endorse you for future jobs, help you get a raise and be a great mentor. In short they can help you get where you want to go. But first, we need to learn about them and where THEY want to go. What are their challenges for the staff? How can you help? How can you make their job easier? Make it your goal to make your bosses life easier. If you do that, you'll develop great trust and if you have that they'll give you opportunities to grow.

7. Be curious to learn about other departments - Make it a goal to learn about other pieces of the business. Ask people that work in those departments about their job, what are they working on, what are their pain points, how can you and/or your team help them with that? It'll help you develop more influence internally, and once you get to know their business more you can determine if that's something you want to do down the road too. You always want to prepare for your next role before you get it so it shortens the learning curve once you get it. But if you have no understanding of that job or the people there, it's harder to justify why you're ready to take on that department as well.

8. Be curious about your own performance - Sometimes it's hard to evaluate yourself during the game. Ask for regular feedback from your boss, your peers, your mentors, and potentially your staff. There is always room to improve and get better. Don't be comfortable being average, ask how you can be great, what you can do to get better and focus on improving those skill sets.

9. Be curious about your career goals - As you progress professionally, sometimes your career goals change. Life happens and priorities shift and you owe it to yourself to think about the things you like and dislike and continue to work towards a job that makes you happy. It's hard to do it in the heat of battle but find time to unwind after the season and evaluate your life. Ask all the tough questions and the "why". If you aren't happy, look for something else, and if you are, re-commit mentally and keep driving forward.

10. Be curious learning about your customers - Whether you're in sales, marketing, sponsorship or any other role in the front office, putting your customer first will further your career. Identify who your customer is, internally or externally. Make it your goal to learn about them, who are they, what they want, what makes them tick and their pain points and make it your goal to help make their life easier. If you do that, they'll reward you multiple times over and in turn it'll further your own career.

By being curious it shows you care. If you really care about people and helping others, it will shine through and people will gravitate towards you. You'll develop more relationships and influence, produce greater results, improve your skills, and grow your career. Don't maintain the status quo, ask the "why" and the tough questions and challenge yourself to get better and learn something new every day. If you do, you'll succeed.

-BH

Bob Hamer is the President & Founder of Sports Business Solutions. The company offers sales training, consulting and recruiting services for sports teams and career services for sports industry job seekers. To learn more visit www.sportsbusiness.solutions or email Bob directly at bob@sportsbusiness.solutions.

This post was originally posted on the Sports Business Solutions Blog, which can be found here.

Over 500 players step up for NFL’s #MyCauseMyCleats Initiative

The NFL is launching a campaign that gives more than 500 active players the opportunity to play for social-change causes they believe in during Week 13 of the NFL season.

#MyCauseMyCleats will feature customized cleats to shed light on a diverse lineup of causes and organizations working toward change -- as approved by the league.

This initiative, unlike other creative concepts that have landed fines in the hands of many athletes, is a product of 18 months of joint work between the NFL and players across the league.

The digital push includes an online storytelling platform that highlights each player and their cause through individualized “player cards,” in partnership with The Players' Tribune. Each card explains the personal experience the athlete withstood that urged and inspired their involvement.

“One of the great NFL traditions is how our players passionately support important causes in their communities and around the globe every year,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in the league’s press release.

“They are incredibly creative by nature so we are not surprised how they are seizing the opportunity this week with inspiring expressions of their charitable commitments on their cleats, online and through social media.”

Following the Week 13 matchups, players will have the ability to auction off their cleats at NFL Auction where 100% of funds raised will be donated to respective charities.

#MyCauseMyCleats is one, or should we say more than 500, steps forward for leveraging athletes and social change -- and the organizations the campaign is benefitting are relishing the spotlight.

The response is a clear testament to the desire NFL players have to support causes close to them, their backgrounds and their families. From both a monetary and an awareness standpoint, the impact is arguably unmatched.

Good move, NFL -- and to the rest of the leagues: you're up next.

Thanksgiving 2016: #SportsPR PROs give thanks

Schedules are as loaded as ever as the professional responsibilities march on throughout the holiday season, but our team stopped to find out what #SportsPR PROs are thankful for on this Thanksgiving. Here's what they had to say: 

Karen, Freberg, Ph.DAssistant Professor, University of Louisville

Matt BersonCommunications, San Francisco Deltas

Chris Yandle | PR Consultant, Founder of the SportsPR Podcast

Samantha Hughey | #SMSports, Adidas

Jeremy Crawford | Assistant Director of Athletic Communications, Calvin College

Katrina YounceManaging Director, PRO Sports Communications

Chad Knasinski | Founder, Synergy Management

Natalie P. Mikolich | Founder, NMP PR

Our team is giving thanks for our friends and family, our growing team and our fellow #SportsPR PROs around the world. Happy Thanksgiving!