By Kim Polacek, APR (Tampa Bay Chapter)
Be the captain of your own career. Sounds easy enough, but let’s be honest–we all could be a little more proactive when it comes to our career. Keri Potts, senior director of public relations for ESPN, provided some entertaining and useful advice to steer PR pros in the right direction when it comes to career management.
Right out of the gate she shared a quote I think we can all relate to – “When you get in the workplace, you realize all the things you never learned in college.” Sound familiar? Keri’s first job was an editor at the NCAA. In her three-year stint as editor, she says the most important lesson she learned was to keep your eyes open and ask the tough questions. She quickly noticed no one was being promoted from that department and that growth opportunities were limited, if not non-existent. So she left the job for another, and just six months later, the department was dissolved.
The takeaway here is that if you have ambition and you’re in a job that doesn’t reward or promote you for your hard work and dedication, you need to start rethinking your position. If there is no good pathway to move up, it is not a good place for you.
Of course, no one expects you to just quit your job. But as Keri explained, complacency is rooted in fear. Be a high performer and seek out opportunities. She shared that every few months she looks at job listings to make sure her skills are current. She goes through the entire process of what she would to apply. This helps you identify areas for improvement and gives you a better idea of what you’d like to do in your next job.
A point she emphasized several times during her talk, “You are responsible for your career; no one else. There is no one who will fight harder for you than you. If you are relying on your job or boss to do that, then you are sunk.”
Have a clear vision of what you want to do in your career; and more importantly, have the ability to articulate that vision when asked.
In PR, we are constantly writing down talking points and FAQs for our clients or leadership. Invest the time to do that for yourself. Write down what you want in your career. It is your checklist for success. As job opportunities come along, take out the list and see if the items match. Does the position match your values? Is it what you want? Will it advance your career?
Keri also touched on her volunteer work as rape crisis counselor. She says this has made her better at her job, including improving her crisis management and communication skills. She also added that it has grounded her.
Keri shared she was assaulted while in Italy in 2008 and went to great lengths to prosecute her attacker, even though many told her it would be impossible. She emphasized that fear is not an option; it is a motivator. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and ask for what you want.
Nothing is a better example of this than her career at ESPN. She has been with the company 12 years and has relocated three times. Each time, she was the one who went to her bosses and asked for the move. Why? Because not only would it make it easier for her to do her job, it would also cut down on travel and improve the quality of her personal life. She asked for what she wanted and got it. She even went as far as telling her bosses that if her performance wasn’t just as good, if not better, then she would refund them for the relocation expenses and move back.
She also pointed out that everyone has at least one thing they do better than someone else. Her example: Justin Timberlake. He can act, sing and dance. He makes millions and is married to Jessica Biel. But can he spike a volleyball? Not as well as Kerri can.
The session ended with Keri offering some key takeaways:
- Have a vision. What is it you want? It has nothing to do with wanting to climb to the c-suite. You should use your career as a sliding scale. Know what you want the work life versus personal life division to be. This will change as your life changes, but you should have the ability to live the life that you want and your job should allow you to do that. Make deliberate career decisions.
- Do your research. If you are going to interview for a job or ask your boss for a promotion, know what you want and all the possible ways you can get shot down. Have an answer for every question that can be asked and practice those talking points.
The last thing Keri shared is something she mentioned at the beginning of the session, but it deserves repeating. “There is no one who is going to fight harder for you than you. If you let someone else do it, you’re sunk and you deserve it.”
ESPN Public Relations Senior Director of College Sports
Keri Potts has been ESPN’s Public Relations Senior Director of College Sports, in ESPN’s communications department since April 2013, after taking on the unit in 2010 as director. She is responsible for coordinating and guiding the strategic communications efforts around all college sports event and studio content, including the new SEC Network, college football and the College Football Playoff, men’s and women’s basketball, NCAA Championships including the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, all other college sports, ESPNU, Longhorn Network, ESPN Regional Television’s collegiate offerings and related content and businesses. She is based in Atlanta. Potts joined ESPN in Bristol as a senior publicist in 2003, working on the NFL, NBA and ESPN Original Entertainment. In 2005, she was promoted to associate manager of communications, and moved to New York to focus on ESPN’s original entertainment programming. She handled day-today publicity efforts for ESPN’s scripted series, reality shows, reality series and made-for-TV movies. She was promoted to manager in 2007 and took on additional responsibilities publicizing all of ESPN’s marketing campaigns including the award-winning This is SportsCenter series. In 2008, as associate director of communications, she oversaw PR for the launch of the ESPN Films division and two of its main efforts:the critically acclaimed documentary film series “30 for 30” and the ESPN/Tribeca Sports Film Festival. Additionally, she oversaw Content Development’s live events – The ESPYs and ESPN’s New Year’s Eve special, as well as reality series, specials and scripted content. In 2010, she led all PR efforts surrounding the launch of espnW, ESPN’s first dedicated women’s business.
A native of Smithtown, N.Y., Potts received a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism and a master’s degree in public relations and organizational management in 1998 and 1999, respectively, from The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. As a scholarship volleyball player and co-captain, she was named a first-team GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-American in 1999, won the Soladay Award given to the school’s top female student-athlete, and was named the Orange Plus Woman of the Year, given by the athletics alumni association. In 2011, Potts was one of 40 Newhouse graduates inducted into the Professional Portrait Gallery. After college, Potts joined the communications department at the NCAA in Indianapolis as assistant director of communications, and worked there until joining ESPN. Currently, she volunteers as a rape crisis counselor at Atlanta’s Grady Hospital and is a national speaker on victims’ advocacy and anti-sexual violence.