Thursday, October 20, 2011

Listening to the Stars Will Get You a Job

Last night, two of the best sports communicators in the business gave a down-to-earth lesson in finding a job and enjoying what you do. 

My long-time friend Mike Breen was gracious to accept an invitation to come to Marist to inaugurate the college's new Center for Sports Communication.  Mike and I both went to Fordham, though I was three years ahead of him and did not meet Mike until he joined WEOK/WPDH as a news reporter after his graduation in 1983.  I had gotten out of the radio news business and was the assistant to the chairman of the Dutchess County Legislature, which meant Mike and I had the "hack" and "flack" roles.  I truly detest those terms, but use them here to show how false they are.

I saw in Mike a desire to learn, be the best, set goals, achieve them, and be helpful to others.  We had incredible fun working together in our separate roles, and we spent a lot of time hanging out together outside of work, becoming very close friends.

What impresses me now about Mike is that he is, without a doubt, the most successful and best known sports broadcaster in America today, yet he remains truly humble, giving of his time and talent to young men and women who want to move into any area of the sports comm world, in front of the camera or in the studio.  What was supposed to be a 90-minute seminar on Mike's career and tips for success turned into a Q & A session followed by a meet and greet with 200 Marist students that took us from 7 until 11 p.m.

Mike was introduced and joined by Marist alumnus Ian O'Connor, one of the best sports columnists and authors around.  Between the two of them, they provided Marist students insight into leveraging their talents and connections to get them to where they want to be. They reiterated what I tell my class, but it had more meaning coming from two men who are stars (though they would both dislike being called that).

Here are some of their tips:

Be passionate about your work. "You have to love going to work every day; follow where your heart leads you." You can't value your success by salary alone.  Discover your passion and pursue it.

Excel as a writer, because there aren't a lot of good ones out there. When Mike was asked by one student what classes he should take since he has some spots to fill in his schedule, Mike quickly responded, "English." Take as many English courses you can and write, write, write.  the more often you do it, the better you get at it. The same is true for on-air delivery. The more you find yourself behind the microphone or in front of the camera, the more comfortable you will feel and the more conversational you will be in delivery. Ian added that you need to read great writing to know how to write well, so read, read, read.

Gain as much experience as possible through internships.  As Mike said about Marist, "You guys have something really special here." Marist offers incredible internships, particularly in communication. If you don't take advantage of those opportunities, you will be behind the competition when it comes time to look for a job.

Network and take advantage of connections. Mike will give a closer look to a résumé from a graduate of Fordham because it's his alma mater, or Marist because of his close affiliation with the Home of the Red Foxes. He got his start in TV as an analyst alongside the great play-by-play man Dean Darling, broadcasting Marist men's basketball games in the mid-1980s during the Rik Smits era, and he holds a special place for Marist in his heart. Mike got his job at WEOK/WPDH because his then-girlfriend's mother was having lunch with the mother of the station's news director. It's not even six degrees of separation. It could be just one or two.

Be at your best every day on your job. Mike sometimes broadcasts games five nights in a row. He could be on MSG calling a Knicks-Celtics game one night, a Lakers-Heat game the next night on ABC, then be on ESPN for a Timberwolves-Raptors game the following night. He has to be "on" for each one because while it may be three in a row for him, a fan may only be watching one and deserves the best play-by-play and analysis.

Ian and Mike told some great behind-the-scenes stories, which I'll save for those who were in attendance.  When you can keep students in their seats for two-hours past the scheduled time of an event, you know you've captured your audience, and judging by the tweets during and after their talks, both men hit it out of the park. (I know, it's a baseball metaphor, not basketball.)

I also appreciated Mike's comment to Ian that "Marist is one of the hottest schools in the country." It's nice to have that third-party affirmation, even if it is from a close friend with perhaps just a little bit of bias.

One last thing...apologies for not posting for more than a month. This has been my busiest semester in almost 17 years at Marist. There are many things I've wanted to "say," but trying to eke out some time when I'm not attending meetings and events on- and off-campus, talking with students, or writing news releases and pitches has been nearly impossible.  Last night's seminar was so good and the messages so valid and valuable, I had to break the "cone of silence" and put them here. Congratulations to Dr. Keith Strudler, chair of the communication department at Marist, for putting together a great seminar for our students and for being the driving force behind the development of one of the top sports communications programs at any college or university in the country.