College students looking to break into the sports public relations field got a real life lesson when they attended the Steelers 2022 Public Relations Student Summit, which provided everything students need to understand what goes into the job and then some.
And as Burt Lauten, the team's Director of Communications, said about the profession, 'It's 24/7, 365 days a year.'
The summit provided an overview of NFL public relations, working with the media, social media, applying for jobs and resume building.
And it came from the best public relations department in the business, from the Steelers' staff made up of Lauten, manager Michael Bertsch, coordinator Angela Tegnelia and communications assistant/social media MacKaiya Cherry. The PR team was joined by guest panelists, including the team's social media manager Kyle Kron and team reporter Missi Matthews.
After the 2021 summit was held virtually only, the 2022 one was a combination of in-person and virtual, opening it up to students in the Pittsburgh vicinity and all over the country.
"We are happy that we have such a turnout," said Lauten. "It's good to see everyone here in person. We appreciate you guys coming here, whether you are from Pittsburgh or you have driven several hours.
"Our ultimate goal out of all of this is to give you as much information about the sports communications role as possible. We want to provide you with as much of a landscape of what we do."
The summit opened with a video the communications staff shows to the players and coaches before the season begins that helps them to deal with the media, which in turn aids the communications staff in their roles.
Each of the staff members went through what their role entails, explaining the different duties from the obvious to some that many people never even realize fall under their umbrella.
The staff took them through the process of putting together the media guide with the benefit of the NFLOMG, which is an online media guide service the Steelers and approximately 20 other NFL teams utilize. They also shared how the credential system works and the process they go through with approving credential requests and other steps along the way.
There also was discussion of how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the communications staff over the past two years, from dealing with virtual media to even being understaffed at times because of protocols and tighter staffs at times.
One of the newer members of the team's staff is Cherry, who handles the monitoring of social media, in particular the players' social media and guiding them in how to appropriately utilize it. The Steelers are the only team in the NFL who have someone on their communications staff in the social media role.
"The reach for the players with social media is incredible," said Cherry. "With COVID, it was a great way for our players to interact with our fans. Now that COVID really isn't as big of a thing as it was before, now our players are asking how can I continue to engage with fans. That's how I play a role. Most of the time younger guys want to know what to do. I met with all of the players and talked to them about their social media during training last year. I help them identity what they want their social media to be."
The students were given situations that occurred during the 2021 season and were asked how they would handle dealing with the particular issues, providing their thoughts and opinions in an exercise that gave the communications staff insight into how ready the individuals are for opportunities such as internships. And the communications staff has a post-graduate internship available, something they encouraged participants to be apply for.
"I think out internship is unique in terms of the league in general," said Bertsch "We are one of the smaller offices in the league. Our intern is absolutely a full-time member of our office. I can't emphasize that enough. We view that person as an equal. We view that person's input on the same level as all of ours. That person is vital to the overall success of our office and treated as such. We want that person to engage with us at all times."
One of the key components was guiding the students on how to set up their resume, highlighting experience that falls in line with the job description first. Everyone encouraged the students to gain as much experience as they can, whether it be through internships or volunteering at events.
And when you do land that interview, don't ever be afraid to sell your strong points, even if a question doesn't arise that asks you about them.
"Everyone tells you to practice for interviews, but when you practice, have a couple of things that people have reacted well to that you are going to work in," said Tegnelia. "There might be something about you that is impressive, and I might not get to a question about it. It's the same as when we coach players, it doesn't matter what the question is, what matters is your answer.
"Whatever is impressive about you, make sure you tell them. I want to know why I should hire you."
Among those attending the summit was Arlin Vieira, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh who is currently interning as a recruiting assistant for Pitt Football.
"The communications staff did a great job of showing what PR in the NFL looks like," said Vieira. "Burt, Angela, Michael and MacKaiya went into detail about their roles and responsibilities. How you develop a player beyond the football field. They also shared tips and tricks on how to land PR roles through networking and strong resume building. Teaching all of that, as well as how you incorporate into what you do. The best part was they taught all of this, while also being able to stick to a brand. They showed this is how we got here, these are our roles, this is how we help our players, while doing it the Steelers way."
One of the main things Vieira walked away with was the importance of relationship building in the field, and how those relationships are not just in-house.
"The thing that stood out to me was the emphasis placed on relationships," said Vieira. "They talked about the biggest thing in PR is relationships, whether that's players, local media or fellow professionals in the field. The local media is going to do their job when times are good, when times are bad, but it's still important to have a good relationship with them. The same goes with the players and coaches. They are more than what the public sees on the field so if you get to know them, you can help the public get to know them better."