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PMSA Alumni Q&A: Jessica Smith ('15)

Tuesday, February 7 2017 12:00am

Katie Foglia (MSA ‘17) caught up with Jessica Smith (PMSA ‘15), who recently accepted the position of Vice President of Sponsorship with the San Jose Earthquakes.

Q: Congratulations on the new position. How excited are you to work for the Earthquakes? 

I’m excited to be a part of the soccer family. I had a chance to go to the MLS meetings in Los Angeles, and it was eye-opening in a lot of ways. I have always had a sports marketing respect for MLS because of the demographics and unique allure they have to millennials. At the meetings I was able to see the growth firsthand. This year there are twelve applications for MLS expansion teams fighting for two slots. The year over year growth is incredible and I am excited to be a small part of the sport’s continued growth and success through MLS. 

Q: How did some of your previous work experiences help you get to where you are today?

I was always taught to put your head down and do the job that’s in front of you. Not only to meet goals and accomplish tasks, but to go above and beyond and ensure that you are the best each and every day. I feel fortunate to have started my career in minor league baseball where you truly understand what each department needs to do in order to have a successful event. This experience in particular taught me to always think through how something you are selling or managing effects other departments and the fans alike. 

The other aspect that I credit my career success to is being true to who I am. By putting my head down and working to accomplish goals at hand I have gained some traction regarding my personal brand. I have success in selling season tickets, group tickets, corporate partnerships paired with having success in managing I have been able to differentiate myself within this industry. Without each opportunity to learn a team, market, department, etc. I would not be as well versed or successful. 

Lastly, because of my varied experience I am often someone that can relate and respect my staff from both a peer and management perspective. It’s important to manage with trust and give folks freedom and respect. Based off my reputation to manage in that manner, as well as my reputation and statistics on what deals I have personally negotiated, I find myself here with the Earthquakes with an opportunity to implement what I have learned up until this point. I love having a background compiled of MLB, NHL and now MLS experiences. 

Q: The sports business industry is so competitive, what are ways people who hope to break into the industry can set themselves apart?

In my opinion, one of the things folks miss sometimes is the self-branding piece. It’s important to make sure people know who you are in this day in age, and we have every resource to make that happen on a daily basis. Social platforms including LinkedIn and Twitter allow us to have a true voice and approachability within this industry. We have an opportunity to represent ourselves along with the organization(s) we work for or associate with. But, most importantly, we have the opportunity to connect. We can connect with leaders, peers and fans all at once. Every day people will engage with you based on who are you connected with, what you are talking about and what you are liking and sharing. Social selling is alive and well, and most of the time the product is yourself. 

Q: You’re very active on social media. How do you use Twitter and LinkedIn?

Using these platforms allows me to take myself off a piece of paper. When it comes to my resume, I include my Twitter handle and LinkedIn URL. It is important to me that people can get a sense of my personality and traits by seeing my interactions and how I represent the industry and every organization I’ve been with. Being active on these platforms is not a necessity but to be has often been my “X factor.” I certainly attest my activeness on these platforms as one of the ways I have been able to grow within the industry. 

When Twitter first debuted I was with the Oakland Athletics and my handle was “JessicaattheAs.” I used it to communicate with fans when I was in ticket sales. I could use hashtags and ask people if I could help them or join conversations so people would follow me and I could keep that base. It was a small task that took 20 minutes a day that resulted in sales but more important genuine relationships with fans on behalf of the organization. I think that’s a huge piece to what the future of our industry will be when it comes to our leaders and their approachability.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in sponsorship?

The biggest thing to understand is that sponsorship is sales. You have to like sales. It’s a different kind of sale, yes, but the grind of prospecting, phone calls and meetings is legitimate. From there, know what type of seller you are and match that with an organization that sells in a similar fashion. There are many different approaches, and you want to find one that allows you to be genuine. 

For me, I thrive when I have the opportunity to represent an organization that is active in the community. While media, signage, etc. is important I like the emotional sell that the community activeness brings to the table. People follow very few things, sports teams and leagues are something they are engaged with. Using that platform to further the sport, team brand or sponsor is what I truly love. Selling sponsorships that are good for the team, fans and sponsor are what it is all about. Find what you truly love, refine the story of who you represent and get to selling.  

Q: When you started the program at OHIO, did you ever think you'd end up where you are today?

When I began the MSA program in 2013 I was selling corporate partnerships for the A’s, having moved from ticketing to corporate the year prior. I make each career decision based on what I think is best for me, five, ten years down the road. It was hard to leave the Athletics because I had invested eight seasons into their brand, which I fully believe in. At the end of my time with OHIO I was having a few conversations regarding next steps. I knew the position with the Blue Jackets was surrounded by talented people that would give me the opportunity to test my instincts when it came to leadership, ultimately being the best long term decision. 

The next level came two years later as I settle into my position with the Earthquakes back in the Bay Area.  Obviously, that came sooner than five years, which I’m very grateful for, but it was somewhat unexpected. Each background is going to be different, each timeline is going to be different and a portion of that depends on the willingness to move geographically.

Q: Why did you apply for the PMSA program, and how has the OHIO program impacted your career?

My thought process began as I gave an honest look to what I would need to do in order to break into management within the sponsorship field. Quickly, realizing there’s hundreds of talented sales people working for professional sports organizations around the country I knew I had to differentiate myself, expand my network and truly understand who I was as a leader. The OHIO program was the largest piece of accomplishing these tasks. 

With the program, I was able to improve my skill set, test my instincts with my leadership style, and really hone in on who I am as a leader. It is a program that I was able to complete and implement my learnings immediately. I 100 percent accredit it to giving me the confidence and vision for landing the job with the Blue Jackets and ultimately being chosen as the Vice President here in San Jose.

For more information on the OHIO program, click HERE.