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Sharing valuable tips to help others

If you are a college student who has a dream of working in sports communications, the 2023 Steelers Public Relations Student Summit at Acrisure Stadium was the place to be on Tuesday.

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

Students got insight regarding what goes into NFL public relations on a broad scale, as well as in a local market like Pittsburgh. On the agenda was handling conflict with the media, managing social media, the Steelers NFLOMG stats program, tips for lands a job in NFL PR and resume building, and an overview of the Steelers internship position. 

"It's something we started doing about five years ago," said Tegnelia. "At first it was about giving back to the local students in the area, get to know them, and build relationships with the students and the schools to see what is out there. But since then, it's turned into so much more. We've opened it up to students all over the country. It's turned into not only something we think is helpful for people to not just understand what we do, what working in PR in the NFL and sports is and get a first-hand account, but it also connects us to so many students around the country and we feel like we have such an amazing opportunity to reach these students, evaluate them, and understand what the future of PR looks like.

"The main message I give them is no two days are the same, but you have to be the same. Every year I use the phrase, you have to be comfortable in discomfort. You have to be comfortable being in uncomfortable situations and know how to navigate those with professionalism and the right way."

Approximately 200 students from almost 80 colleges and universities took part, the largest group ever, with the summit happening in-person and virtually simultaneously, allowing students from outside the Pittsburgh market to participate, including ones from Puerto Rico and Canada. It gives the students and an opportunity to learn and make connections, while at the same time gives the communications department an opportunity to learn about individuals, with several past participants landing roles from full-time intern to game day and camp staff.

"The biggest thing I look for is the ability to relate to different types of people, be able to communicate with different types of people," said Bertsch of some of the qualities he looks for in the students. "It's putting yourself in a room where you might not have the same experiences as everybody else, but you can communicate the message they want to communicate. You don't necessarily come from their same background, but you can try and help them communicate whatever it is they want to communicate. One thing that is transitioning out of PR nowadays is the writing. I still think that is super important to have writing skills when I look at candidates. You have to have the basic skills in that department. If you can communicate, you can write. If you can write, you can communicate.

"If you are contemplating getting into the sports realm, the whole idea of work ethic, long hours, travel, that is just kind of assumed. You assume they know what they are getting into. The ability to communicate via word or writing with different types of people and backgrounds, those are the main things I look for."

In addition to the communications staff addressing the students and taking questions, guest speakers included Blayre Holmes-Davis, the Steelers director of community relations, and Natalie Glikes, a digital producer for Omaha Productions. Both provided valuable insight for the students on different options to still be part of professional sports, even if not in public relations.

The idea is to give the students as many options and avenues in the business as possible, while letting them connect with each other as well.

"We've had students who have worked in their sports information offices who have a great idea of what it takes to be in this career," said Tegnelia. "I am impressed to see their knowledge. I think it's even more important for the students who don't have that experience to see the students who have it and network with each other and see what they need to do, what they don't know. I think it's a good opportunity for those two types of students to interact with each other.

"The summit honestly has helped us a ton. It's a great tool for us from the standpoint of finding interns and game day staff. But the primary purpose is for the benefit of the students. That is just a nice secondary benefit that we get of seeing what all is out there."

The students had an opportunity to ask questions from the staff and guest speakers, as well as interact on a one-on-one basis before and after the event, making connections that can last a lifetime.

"What I think we are doing is giving them a different perspective," said Bertsch. "I worked in college sports for so long before coming to the Steelers. A lot of times the NFL might come across like it's on a different level to those at the college level. It's not that way. No matter what level you are on in this business, the work is the work. We respect the idea of what this profession is about. It's about giving young people the opportunity to get into this field. It's hard to break in. We don't have unlimited opportunities to provide, but we give them an avenue that they can reach out to us down the road.

"I try to imagine myself in their shoes. When I was coming out of college, I was somewhat overwhelmed about how I get a foot in the door. My main message with the students is whether we hire you or not, you can reach out to me to help you. I know when I was 22-years old it would have been so cool to know somebody in the profession I wanted to get into. When I came out of college, I didn't know anybody. I try as much as possible to communicate to the students I meet that we are here looking for an intern, but we can be resources to them wherever they end up and help them in whatever profession it might be. There are kids the last couple of years that we didn't hire, but they got into the profession at the college level. We can help get them into the profession that way too.

"It's also trying to communicate to them that there is sometimes a sense that getting into the NFL, or any professional sport, the work or the job can be overwhelming. It's still the same type of work they might have done at their small college or at a university. Yes, there might be more people paying attention, or more focus on it, but the things they did at their school, that is still applicable. It's about giving them confidence that they can do this. You want to reinforce that message to them. It's putting everybody on the same level as they break into the field whether it's pro, college or an agency."