No Matter Where You’re Going, Never Forget Where You Came From
By: Natalie Mikolich
Photo by: Humberto Vidal (www.humbertovidalphoto.com)
Blogging about things other than some of the year’s biggest sports PR stories, emerging trends and ways young (and other) PR pros can improve their practices is not something I have done much of. But, with another year about to end and a new year soon to start, I wanted to take up some space on my blog site to share with others some of the things I have been reflecting on as I look back on all that has happened this year in hopes that it will be informative, insightful and possibly even inspiring to others.
Over the past few years, whether in person, via email or through social media, I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to meet students studying sports administration and public relations along with other aspiring and young sports business professionals including some I have developed close friendships with.
In addition to many others who may not work in the industry, I often feel they have misconceptions about what it takes to break into the sports world and what it is really like to work in the industry. Blinded by the spotlight, fame, and money, many might think that everything we do all day, every day, is always as glamourous as it looks on the outside.
Is working in sports exciting, fun and non-stop all while getting to experience things many others will never get to do? Yes.
Is working in sports also extremely competitive, cut throat and very ugly times? Yes it can be these things too.
As I come up on starting my tenth year working in sports business and specifically in sports PR, I can honestly say that this past year was one of the most challenging years I have experienced despite how things may look and seem on the outside. But while some things didn’t go as planned and caused setbacks in 2015, I am grateful for the many other things that did go my way and most importantly those who have been there every step of the way.
Maybe it is because I work in PR and at times I am overly aware of the perception of how things look and seem to others that I wanted to share my experiences this year. Either way, I am hoping that those who read this blog will take away the things they can relate to and most importantly the message I want to drive home: to never give up.
Whether you are looking to get your big break in the sports industry with your first internship, your first full-time career position or your next career opportunity, I want others to know that anything is possible if you are persistent, patient and determined enough. Like one of the famous lines in Jerry Maguire, “forward motion is everything.”
“The Road Less Traveled”
After working in sports business and public relations for about ten years now since my first internship opportunity in 2005, many might not know how I got here unless they came across the different articles I have contributed to, were students I have met with or groups I have talked to. As for my career path to get to where I am today, I know I have journeyed the road less traveled.
Growing up in San Diego, and as a teenager, my goal was to be one of the best professional tennis players in the world on the WTA Tour. Moving to Florida when I was 15-years-old for better training facilities, I continued pursuing my dream of being top 100 in the world until I was faced with what seemed like a tough decision in my senior year of high school to accept a tennis scholarship to play at one of the best women’s collegiate tennis programs – first at the University of Florida and then the University of Miami.
For those who are not familiar with women’s professional tennis, choosing to pursue a college education is very much that same as making the decision that you will NOT play on the Tour and you will NOT see your career dream come true. To this day, there hasn’t been a top ten ranked WTA player or Grand Slam singles winner (at least that I know of) on the WTA Tour who has done this after going to college.
It was at the University of Miami though (after transferring from the University of Florida) that I began thinking about my career following my full-time tennis playing days and when I began seeking out internship opportunities during my junior year. Like I tell many aspiring sports business and PR students today, internships are extremely important and can be very valuable for not only getting your foot in the door somewhere, but gaining real experience and obtaining insights to what you really want to do in your career.
At the time, I knew I had a great opportunity to intern for Sfx Tennis (and what is now the Lagardere Unlimited tennis division) along with the Andy Roddick Foundation for their annual fundraising charity weekend in 2005, but I had no idea that it would later be the launching pad for my career in sports PR. Throughout college I always seemed to know that I wanted to be on my own as an entrepreneur or independent contractor, but the pieces weren’t quite there to put together when I graduated from college in order to support myself.
After graduating from the University of Miami in 2006, I instead first took a full-time position with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) in their Player Development department. At the time, what I most wanted was to work for Sfx Tennis under tennis agent Ken Meyerson who represented Andy Roddick, but the agency was transitioning into becoming Blue Entertainment Sports Television (BEST) and therefore they were not looking to hire anyone new even if they did need help with their public relations.
I only ended up staying with the USTA for about four months before deciding it wasn’t for me and then took another job with a tennis academy in the South Florida area. It was during that time, and about nine months after I graduated from Miami, that a couple of business owners I had met through my internships with Sfx Tennis and the Andy Roddick Foundation reached out to me and asked if they could contract me to help them with their public relations and marketing.
Knowing that this was the direction I really wanted to go in, I quit my job at the academy and decided to take the leap of faith as an independent contractor and see where it would lead me. At 24-years-old, and not to mention a female wanting to work in the sports industry, I had no idea what I was getting into but was excited about the possibilities and what the future had in store.
Unlike others who go out on their own to create an agency, firm or business in the sports industry (or public relations), the way I got started was the road less traveled. I did not get my start somewhere putting in three, five or ten years at an established sports agency or public relations firm to build my contacts, develop relationships and create a portfolio of work before venturing out on my own.
Having been out of college less than a year, this was something I had only put a little bit of time into after my internship and first couple of career positions. I was confident though that with more experience and opportunities, I would quickly accelerate and be able to grow my business as an independent contractor.
Looking back now, I never knew that becoming a consultant eventually would lead to incorporating my own business, nor that it would give me the opportunity to work with some of the best professional tennis players and world class athletes amongst many others I have been fortunate enough to work with in my career.
In addition to my personal career journey and how I got to where I am, I know there are many others too who have stories about the road less traveled to get to where they are today and the successes they have accomplished. Therefore, I hope those who are reading this will know that there is not one set path for everyone, and that everyone has their own journey to make to achieve success in their careers.
“Success – It’s Not Always What You See”
Sometimes I look back after starting my own business in 2007 at the age of 24-years-old and still wonder how I have made it this far.
Over these nine years, I have experienced and survived the economy crash in 2008, clients defaulting on contractual agreements that you plan your income around, and many other unexpected occurrences you would never think could possibly happen including some of the people you are closest to and trust the most trying to sabotage your career.
Fortunately though, I have also had many incredible opportunities in my career and once-in-a-lifetime experiences that others would give a lot to be a part of. One thing has always led to the next, and when one door has closed another one has always opened. And, more importantly, along the way I have learned to always “expect the unexpected” so that nothing really surprises or disappoints me anymore.
After going out on my own in 2007 and founding was is now npm | public relations, I was later asked at the end of 2008 by the BEST Tennis division if they could contract me to work with their top clients including the Bryan Brothers, John Isner, Mardy Fish, Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka. Talk about things coming full circle from my post-graduation days just a couple of years before this.
This ended up leading me to the opportunity to work Prince Tennis that eventually led to working with other brands outside of tennis along with professional experts, authors and athletes in a variety of sports from soccer to wrestling, CrossFit and boxing. In addition to this, I have even had the opportunity to experience the Olympic movement during the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games which has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life and one that I will never forget.
Along this career journey though, and what often seems more like a rollercoaster ride at times with thrilling highs and disappointing lows, I have learned to take everything in stride and that you have to be able take the good with the bad. That, and I have also learned that not every year is going to be as good as the last year, or that the upcoming year isn’t going to be as tough as the current year.
Although I will admit to only crying twice in my professional career, there have been many days where I have felt like throwing in the towel and completely breaking down. Every time I do though, I remind myself of the famous words by PR matron Kelly Cutrone “if you have to cry go outside” and somehow it helps put things in perspective. Not to mention that those of us who do work in sports are very lucky to be in this industry, and the problems and issues we often have at times are all relative compared to worse things going on in the world and real problems others are facing.
One thing I believe though that everyone who works in sports must have to persevere through the tough times, and to be successful at what they do, is passion. If you’re not passionate about what you do (and not just because of the money you might make), it will be hard to see things through when the going gets tough.
Someone wise I know recently told the Manhattan Sports Business Academy students “passion equals profits.” Whether it is monetary profits, personal profits or career profits, I believe that having passion for what you do will lead to rewarding results in your career and personal fulfillment in whatever you are involved in.
“No Matter Where You’re Going, Never Forget Where You Came From”
2016 is shaping up to be one of the most exciting years in my career. Not only will I continue working with incredible brands, athletes and experts I have been fortunate enough to work with over the past several years or so, but I have also been afforded the tremendous opportunity to be the Chair of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Entertainment and Sports Section.
An opportunity I never would’ve expected to receive at this point in my career, I am truly honored to be able to lead our group and help other public relations professionals in the sports and entertainment industries. Of all the things I do and am a part of these days including those I work with, I can honestly say that sometimes I feel the most reward from the things I do not make any money from like being a part of PRSA, working with students or young professionals, and writing blog posts that professors share with their classes.
Before I get lost in the busyness of the New Year and wrapped up in the day-to-day craziness of things though, I feel it is important to take a moment and look back on the journey that has led me to this exciting year I am about to embark on.
Along with myself, I know that there are many others who have encountered challenging years like I did in 2015 that had them questioning their career path and re-evaluating the direction they wanted to go with things. I also know that it is usually in these tough times of reflection and “soul searching moments” (as I like to call them) when it is hard to believe that everything is going to work out that we learn the most about ourselves and what we can do better moving forward. But again, we have to keep moving forward.
In the end, people, positions and clients will come and go, you will be let go and you will learn to let go. What is most important though, are the lessons you learn along the way and those who are there for you every step of the way.
It is because of the things we have experienced, the setbacks we have had from time-to-time and the lessons we have learned along the way, that have led us to where we are today and prepared us for where we are going tomorrow. While some might lose sight of this, I know that no matter where I am going, I will never forget where I came and what made me who I am today.