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Providing invaluable advice and guidance


It's one of the most valuable commodities college students can receive as they prepare to head into the work force, especially when it comes from those who have once been in their shoes. 

And on Tuesday at Acrisure Stadium, a group of students received a treasure trove of advice and guidance during the annual Steelers Public Relations Student Summit. 

The summit, which was hosted by the Steelers communications staff led by senior director of communications Burt Lauten, communications manager Michael Bertsch, communications coordinator Angela Tegnelia, and communications assistant/social media MacKaiya Cherry, provided students with everything they need to know about working in professional sports and then some. 

Approximately 160 students took part in the summit that happened in-person and virtually, allowing students from outside the Pittsburgh market to participate. It gave the students an opportunity to learn and make connections, while at the same time giving the communications department an opportunity to learn about individuals, with several past participants landing roles from full-time intern to game day and training camp staff.

"The goal at the end of this is hopefully somebody in this room, or somebody on that Zoom right now listening to us, is up here next year talking about getting hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers," said Lauten, as the communications department is in the process of hiring their next intern. "Because it's real. Five of the last six interns have come from this session. So again, your participation, your eagerness to learn, understand, ask questions, all that kind of stuff, it is real. 

"Believe me, if you really want to be in this field, you've got to understand that there are long hours in this field. There's a lot of work put into it. And professionalism is key. We treat our intern as he or she is a part of our department. They do the press releases, they do interview requests, they do all that stuff. We're not like other NFL teams or universities where they might have two or three interns and you might do press clippings or copying or whatever it may be. Here you're going to be doing all the things that Angela and Michael do, obviously on a different scale just to learn the system. Our goal for the intern once they leave the Pittsburgh Steelers is that's it's easy for us to get them hired because we put them through a grind throughout the year. It's only going to benefit you guys.

"This is not a nine to five job. If you want to get into sports communications, there are flights when we land at 6 a.m. from the West Coast and we're going straight into the office. Are there a lot of perks? Yes, 100 percent. But you have to want to get into this field. If not, you are going to get burned out."


The itinerary was heavily focused on working with the media and players, which included the importance of relationship building, something that is invaluable when dealing with a vast range of personalities and backgrounds. 

Bertsch explained the weekly schedule in season, outlining the open locker room session as well as a lot of the one-off requests that come from networks and others. He also talked about how it varies in training camp, where 'locker room' access is oftentimes right on the field. 

"The main thing that is important is communication," said Bertsch. "It's about building the relationship so that they trust what you are saying. If they do heed your advice, they know it's coming from their best interest at heart. One thing you are going to hear more often today than anything is communication and being open to it."

One aspect of their roles that was shared was the media training sessions the department does with the rookies, as many college players never experienced an open locker room situation or the day-to-day availability. 

"We do this with the coaches and rookies as well," said Cherry. "We go through a scenario of we are the journalist, and we start with a softball question of how they will answer this. We give them tips, help them with how to navigate things. 

"The biggest tip we tell them is to take a second. Most of the time a guy gets a question and feels like he has to respond right away. We tell them wait a minute and process the question. It's an adjustment period for them.

"It's also about building relationships. You don't respond to this guy how you would another guy." 

Networking was also a major focus, getting to know people in the business, but also understanding when the time is right to reach out to others. 

"If you can get in contact with people, send that one email directly to them," said Tegnelia. "Have the feel of what is going on in the season. Maybe in the season, game day is not the best day to reach out. It's impressive when you know what you are coming into." 

In addition to the communications staff addressing the students and taking questions, guest speakers included E.J. Borghetti, the Executive Associate Athletic Director/Communications for the University of Pittsburgh, and Emma Kilmer, communications manager for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Kilmer shared the story of how watching the Penguins in her free time helped her land her role, which began as an internship and grew into her current role. 

"I started interning in hockey when I was a sophomore in college, and could only do that on breaks from school," said Kilmer. "I couldn't get the experience every single day. I decided as a massive Pittsburgh Penguins fan I would watch the games and after I would either write some postgame notes or design a graphic. I ended up bringing those that I did on my free time to my interview for my internship and my current bosses were extremely impressed by that, just showing that I took that initiative to use my free time to better my skills and opportunity to get an internship with them. I taught myself graphic design, I looked online for examples of press releases or games notes. I used my time where I would be watching the game anyway as a fan and taking that time to better my future career. You don't always have to use an internship to better your skills. You can just use your own time and see how you can use that to make a better opportunity for yourself." 

Borghetti, who was raised a Pitt fan, shared numerous tips, including the importance of being there for the athletes and coaches he works with. 

"You have to be present," said Borghetti "From the end of July through the new year, our headquarters is at the Petersen Events Center, which is on upper campus. But our football facility is on the South Side. I am there every day. You have to be there. You have to be present. You have to be in the cafeteria, you have to be at practice, you have to see guys as they are coming out of the locker room. If you are going to be a great asset for the individual you are representing, you've got to get to know them. You have to be present. They have to see you. 

"I would say the same for you in your own professional aspirations. You have to be seen. You have to be present. It's got to be about a handshake if you are sitting across the table from somebody. It can't just be texts and emails. 

"It's a great challenge, but you have to be present as much as you possibly can. You have to be there, engage and be proactive. That is how you build relationships."