The PR playbook: Getting a PR Internship in the NFL or NBA

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Everyone knows the greats — Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Fans also know about the years of dedication, hard work and trials these players had to go through. However, more often than not everyone, super-fans and media included, forget about the other hundreds of players that these sports legends had to surpass to become the greatest of all time.

The world of professional sports is a completely saturated market of people looking for a job. Everyone wants to be a part of the sports world history. Many people don’t understand the many jobs happen behind the scenes at sporting events.

Public relations students looking to break into the professional sports world, just like athletes, face an uphill battle. I had the chance to speak Billy Jones, a media relations coordinator for the Oakland Raiders and Frank Zang, the senior vice president of communications for the Utah Jazz.

These two professionals gave me their recommendation for how PR students can break into a communications department for a professional sports team.

Be friends with your school’s athletic department.

When I asked Zang and Jones what the most important experience PR students should when applying for internship with a professional sports team, they both immediately said working in your college athletic department. This kind of experience is one of the first things that they both look for on an application. Working for a college athletic department helps you learn the depths of bridging connections for athletes and media outlets. It will give you a crash course on some of the things you could face in the professional world. It is truly the groundwork for a job, let alone an internship, in professional sports.

Hard work and determination go a long way.

Internships are sometimes about grunt work, everyone knows that. Jones said three non-negotiable characteristics that students need to have include a good work ethic, a willingness to do whatever is asked and a good attitude. Jones added that most of the other skills they can teach interns but you won’t survive very long if you can’t meet those three qualifications from the beginning. To play in the big leagues sometimes you have to stand on the sidelines and wait. Be patient, your time will come. 

Connections are key.

If you want to work for a specific sport or organization, you might not land your dream job on the first try; however, just getting your foot in the door will prove to be beneficial. Zang recommended that accepting any kind of a job in an organization can help you get to your end goal. Once you are inside the organization, people notice you and you connect with others around you. Over time, jobs will become available and colleagues will refer you to them. Putting your name in the mix is sometimes the best way to land a dream internship. Take what you can and run with it.

Prepare for the long haul.

Finding a job in professional sports is not an easy feat and both Jones and Zang echoed this statement. Jones stated that sometimes preparing for the long haul is half the battle. The athletes that you could be representing one day had to prepare themselves for the long haul so you should too. Get a good head on your shoulders and learn to have a thick skin. Prepare to work hard and as Billy Jones said, be willing to “take some bullets early on.” The early bullets will one day pay off when you are the one setting up a press conference for some of the greatest athletes of our time.

“Unpaid” can be just as helpful as “paid.”

Full-time, paid positions are difficult to come by in a professional sports organization. There are only so many teams with so many positions open. Jones said it is very rare that a PR student will land a full-time, paid position for a professional sports team right out of college. So volunteering to help with a team is just as useful. If they can’t pay you, working hard will get you noticed.  Sometimes taking another unpaid internship can be helpful in boosting your resume or even making more connections.

Apply, apply, apply!

You will apply to what feels like a million jobs — you will either get them or you won’t. It comes back to your work ethic. Jones admitted that he sent out 140 cover letters and resume when he first graduated from college. Of that, a handful of teams responded. It takes a lot of time to apply but eventually things will click and you will get the call that offers you your dream internship.

Don’t give up.

If you don’t get the job the first time around, try again. Just because one team doesn’t want you, doesn’t mean that another team won’t need your skills. It is all about timing and your willingness to keep going after you fall down. It requires thick skin, just like the athletes had to learn over the years. Find your willingness to keep going and a commitment to what you want to do. Remember that internships are stepping-stones to your dream job. Sometimes it isn’t pretty but it will get you where you need to go.

Everyone loves the heart racing, intense games that come down to the wire. The stands are on their feet, the teams are saying silent prayers and the players on the court are just trying to stay calm. The same applies here. Stay calm, your dream is achievable. You might not win today but one day, if you continue to make the effort, you will end up landing the internships you’ve always dreamed of.

Ari Davis is a senior public relations major with minors in business and design at Brigham Young University. She is currently a sport information director for the BYU athletic department. Follow her on Instagram and LinkedIn.

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