If you are a college student looking to break into the sports public relations field and you didn't take part in the Steelers 2021 Virtual Public Relations Student Summit, you have no idea what you missed.
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 in the business, from the Steelers' communications staff made up of director Burt Lauten, manager Michael Bertsch, coordinator Angela Tegnelia and intern Thomas Chapman, along with guest panelists former Steelers' quarterback and current media member Charlie Batch and the NFL Network's Steve Wyche, one of the most respected individuals in sports media.
"It's a good opportunity not only for us to get to know the students, but for them to have the opportunity to learn," said Lauten, who provided an in-depth description of what their department does, how responsibilities are divided and what they look for in interns. "We've all been in their shoes, a senior in college looking for any advice you can get. Any type of help we were able to provide them is a win for all of us. We want to not only help them, but we also want to see if there is a strong pool available for internships.
"The students were very polished, came prepared, asked great questions that were insightful for us to answer, and their peers on the call to hear those answers. This year's group was amazing. They listened to what we said throughout the summit, and you could tell by the questions they asked all of us. These students were prepared, and you could tell they have a passion for sports."
This is the first time the summit was held virtually, and it opened the door for a wide group of students to take part, with participants from Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, HBCUs and local colleges among the almost 100 who took part.
"The virtual aspect was one of the great things to happen for all of this because it wasn't limited in terms of proximity," said Lauten. "The virtual aspect gave us a much broader audience and that helped everybody, especially those who might not have been able to attend if it were in person."
Following introductions and descriptions of what the job entails at the NFL level, there were conversations with Batch and Wyche, with both sharing invaluable insight and advice, before opening it up to questions from the students.
Batch talked about transitioning from being a Steelers' player to covering the team as a media member, while balancing the fine line of knowing what questions to ask and how to say the tough things. But he encouraged the students to not be afraid to ask the questions they need to, and to never sell themselves short.
"Here is a quote I will leave you with from Ralph Waldo Emerson. 'Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail,'" Batch shared with the students. "I can't sit here and tell you what it's going to take for you to become a 15-year NFL veteran, what it's going to take for you to win two Super Bowls during your course of time.
"When you look at this, when you look at your opportunity, it's what is going to separate you from the group. You are all learning in the classroom, but how can you be unique, fresh, bring new concepts, to show what is not there currently. Don't be afraid to use your platform to show these things. Do what you need to do, handle yourself with respect and dignity, and don't do anything to disrespect your grandmother."
Wyche addressed how covering sports has changed since he broke into it out of college, including the birth of the internet which made everything more accessible. He also discussed issues like adapting during the pandemic, which required him to become more tech savvy.
"When I was coming out of college, the world has changed a lot since then," Wyche told them. "There was no such things as the internet. Everything I learned in school, I worked at the Washington Post as a senior in college, I worked at the student newspaper. I was really prepared. Nothing could have prepared me for dealing with life outside of the structure I had known. In college you had your schedule. When I went to Richmond, Va. for my first job, I was one of only five black people in the newsroom. The only black person in the sports department. That was nothing new. I grew up in an environment like that. I was the youngest person. I was dealing with people with life things that I never had to deal with, while learning a new craft. There is no way to prepare for that situation other than to be mature and understanding and draw from your life experiences. Try to work with people."
Afterwards Wyche had nothing but praise for the summit, from the fact the Steelers offered it, to how the students all approached it.
"You had around 100 people trying to get a leg up, who clearly understand how competitive this world is, whether it's in the media or with a team," said Wyche. "These jobs are rare. I thought the group of students were so sharp, and so engaged. I loved that they were dressed professionally. They were there to make an impression even though their overall purpose was to learn. I did a lot of the talking but came away more impressed with them than I am sure they came away impressed with me. That was a sharp group.
"Their questions were really good. There was a well thought out question, you could tell it was something that person was trying to figure out. It was, how do I separate myself from everybody else. I was like, whoa. I don't think most people realize that is innate. You are a hard worker, have a great personality. The fact that that person was that keen to think about that, and discuss it in that forum, they are a person looking to get a leg up."
Bertsch gave some good tips on how to get that leg up, sharing insight on how to approach an interview, what to include on your resume, the importance of meeting deadlines and never being afraid to ask questions.
"You want to separate yourself, but be careful about the materials you send in," said Bertsch. "Submit everything that has been asked for. And make sure you make all deadlines. That is really important."
Tegnelia addressed dealing with players and took questions that focused on building a rapport with the players that becomes valuable when they have to rely on them to speak to the media during the good and bad times.
"We have built relationships with the players when things are good, so that allows us to be able to have tough conversations with them when they aren't," said Tegnelia. "We have built enough credibility that they respect our opinion. It might take a conversation. But because of the mutual respect it works, and we are able to have them be accountable."
During the three-hour summit there was one thing that was apparent the entire time. The students were engaged because the information they were getting was fresh and from so many different perspectives.
"It was so valuable," said Rilee Standriff, a Villanova University graduate who is currently a communications assistant with the Florida Everblades minor league hockey team. "I took five pages of notes. It was great to have perspectives from different ages, from the media as well. As an aspiring public relations professional, I am looking towards hopefully working in the NFL one day. It's great to learn the small things in the department as well as the overall daily tasks. The biggest thing I took away was to keep grinding until you reach your goals. You have to put your head down and keep working."
Many of the students are looking to break into the field as interns, and Chapman encouraged them to send their resumes to as many people as possible. He sent his to all 32 NFL teams, heard back from 10, and had just two interviews. But he has had internships with both the Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, so it's proof that leaving no stone unturned pays off.
"It was all so valuable. I was thrilled to get a spot," said Kylie Wang, who attends the University of Miami and works for Five Reasons Sports, covering all of the Miami professional and college teams. "The information was really helpful. It was valuable to speak to professionals in the field, as well as others who have experience in the field doing other media, Steve Wyche and Charlie Batch, and getting the experience of the people who have so much to offer.
"I always knew I wanted to be in media, and what I was interested in is seeing how the public relations side is run. It was valuable to see that and hear from so many people."