Here is my Q&A with Shane Harmon, Director of Marketing for the Rugby World Cup..
1) If possible could, you summarise you role
I work for Rugby New Zealand 2011, the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) for Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand. Our company is a JV between the New Zealand Government and the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU). Rugby world Cup has grown into a major international event. 2.2 million people attended the last tournament in France and a cumulative global audience of 4 bn people watched the matches on TV. You can find out more information here RWC 2011 Background.
As General Manager, Marketing and Communications, I am part of a 4 person senior management team responsible for leading our organization in the planning and delivery of RWC 2011 on behalf of our two shareholders as well as the Tournament owner, Rugby World Cup Ltd (RWCL), a wholly owned entity of the International Rugby Board (IRB).
I manage 5 streams of work that are critical in the delivery of a successful Rugby World Cup; marketing, ticketing, media and communications, ceremonies and events and VIPs.
2) If you were to be talking to someone for the first time about your business and your role, how would you describe what you do (if #1 does not apply)
First and foremost I have responsibility for managing an incredible team of professionals to deliver the expected core tournament outcomes from each of the five work streams listed above.
In addition a significant part of my role is about managing relationships. Typically, planning for major events is played out in multi-stakeholder environments and Rugby World Cup 2011 is no different. On a daily basis our senior management team work with RWCL, RWCL’s commercial broker IMG, NZRU, New Zealand Government and its agencies including Tourism as well as regional coordination groups around the country to name but a few.
3) How did you get your start or how did you break into the sports industry
I entered the sports industry in a managerial capacity in 2000 as Membership and Direct Marketing Manager for the Sydney Swans, a team which plays in the Australian Football league (AFL), or Aussie Rules to people in the US! I’d worked with Citibank in Sydney for 5 years prior to this in Cards Marketing where I honed my direct marketing skills. At the same time I developed a passion for AFL and the Sydney Swans (I’d relocated to Australia from Ireland in 1995), and had held season passes over that period. I have found that a solid direct marketing (and more recently digital marketing) background is advantageous in gaining a foothold in sports marketing, particularly when it comes to fan engagement. In securing the role I was able to take my passion for the game and the team, combine it with my direct marketing background to deliver actionable strategies.
4) What are the biggest challenges you face in your role
Time is always a challenge. In the corporate world or even in the season-to-season nature of traditional pro sports, project timelines and launch dates can change. However, in the world of major events, you face the immovable object of the opening day. So everything that I do, everything my organization does, everything our shareholders and stakeholders do has to dovetail into 9 September 2011.
However, this also can be an advantage, as time constraints tend to focus the mind and force issues resolution. There is no room for procrastination.
The other challenge is managing expectations and ensuring that each stakeholder achieves their objectives. While everyone shares the same goal of a successful tournament, each stakeholder has its own specific objectives and measurements of success.
5) What are the biggest rewards you get out of your role
RWC 2011 is the biggest event that New Zealand is likely ever to host. Being part of something with such high profile that will bring joy to millions of Kiwis, and also put New Zealand in a global spotlight is tremendously rewarding. In addition, I work with some great people. I have developed some great friendships and professional relationships.
6) What key skill set(s) do you believe to be the most valuable in your role
The single most important skill, is the ability to listen, and understand where others are coming from, and then to be able to take those learnings to help steer mutually beneficial outcomes.
7) What does your companies/team org chart look like in terms of possible entry points for a young professional looking to get his/her start?
8) In addition to the basic educational credentials, what intangible qualities are most important to success in your field
Firstly you need to enjoy working with people. You need to adopt the same team mentality off the field as the players do on the field. In addition you need to be flexible. Sports is not a 9-5 job. Invariably there are long hours and weekend and holiday work. While we all have detailed job descriptions, I find in sports more than any other industry that you need to be prepared to pitch in as required in areas that are often outside your core responsibility.
9.) What trade associations/forums/networking groups or seminars do you or your company attend that may make sense for someone to attend
The underlying philosophy for our company is “A Stadium of 4 million”. We want all New Zealanders engaging with this event whether they are attending a match or meeting some of the 85,000 international visitors expected during the Tournament. As a result we are always speaking at a diverse range of seminars and functions. These include retail, transport, hospitality, and tourism to name but a few. We deliberately cast a wide net, as all New Zealanders have a part in delivering a successful tournament.
Personally I speak regularly in sports marketing conferences in Australia and New Zealand. These opportunities are fantastic, as they provide great they can open doors in terms of business development and future career. Plus I always pick up great learnings.
10) What is the most successful networking tip that you have used that you would be willing to share with others
To follow up with anyone you meet immediately; i.e. same or next day. This can be a quick email, a LinkedIn request or follow them on twitter. This does require discipline. I let this slip sometimes! Social media offers unprecedented opportunities to network and stay in touch.
Then engage with them periodically. If they have a blog, post a comment. Retweet them when they post something interesting. There may be a point in time when you need to ask that person for something. Having a connection in advance will generate a better response than approaching someone cold.
11) What are the top 3 qualities you look for in hiring someone
• Strong sense of self-awareness – no-one is great at everything!
• Team first – someone who can demonstrate that they get on with people and can work well in a team environment.
• Hunger – someone who demonstrates that they really want the role. An employer can visualize how hunger in an interview can replicate itself in the workplace.
12) What advice have you been given that you would pass on to others looking to break into a career in sports
The most common reason I hear from someone looking to work in sports is their passion for the sport. That is not enough. You need to be able to articulate how you can transfer that passion in actions and business outcomes. Above all you need to be able to demonstrate a passion for what you do. You need to be a passionate marketer, social media coordinator or media manager first and foremost. It’s critically important that passion for the sports property doesn’t outweigh the candidate’s passion for they do.
13) If you could teach a course, as part of a sports leadership degree program, what would it be and why
Using social media to achieve sporting organization goals. Social Media has transformed how sports communicate with their fans. We are using it very successfully for RWC 2011. But to use social media most effectively requires and organizational wide changes particularly in relations to transparency and authenticity.
14) What did you do during your interview process that separated yourself from others in line for the same job
The most important outcome an employer looks from a candidate in my opinion is the able to relate their education and experience to the challenge in front of them. I believe the preparation that I have done in advance has created a point of differentiation.
I studied the position description and the key performance outcomes. I then listed examples against each outcome that I could relate to my previous experience.
15) What has a candidate done, while interviewing with you, to stand out from the crowd
Nothing is more impressive than those who have done their homework. It does surprise me when an individual attends an interview without having done some basic research about the company. Company websites are a good source of background information. Invariably the interviewer is going to have a Google footprint. Find out a bit about them and their background too.
And as I mentioned earlier, being able to articulate your experience or education and their relevance to the role at hand are important.
16) To provide my viewers with a realistic snapshot into your specific industry segment; what is one misconception about your field that you would like to clarify
From my personal perspective it’s the misconception that the success of our organization is tied to the fortunes of New Zealand’s national team, the All Blacks, in their RWC endeavours. We are in fact about supporting 20 teams and their fans. We need New Zealanders adopting a second team and going to matches that don’t involve the All Blacks. The All Blacks will only play in 4 out of 40 pool matches!
From a wider sports perspective, it’s often the perception that working in sports is more glamorous than the reality. Working in sports involves long hours, working with limited budgets and resources. And no, you generally don’t get to hang out with the stars!
17) What is the top reason you decided to pursue a career in the sports industry
I love the dynamism of sports and events and the fact that every day is different and ultimately the role is about bringing happiness to fans.
18) Who mentored you while you were breaking in the field and how did you secure that mentor
My mentors have invariably come from within the organizations I have worked with; Kelvin Templeton and Richard Colless at the Sydney Swans; John O’Neill, Matt Carroll and Geoff Parmenter at Australian Rugby, and my current CEO Martin Snedden and COO Therese Walsh. All have been great at articulating a vision that I bought into from the beginning.
19) If you were to advise a young professional (or college grad student) who is about to embark on a career search for a role within the sports industry, what 5 strategies would you suggest they implement?
• Connect via social media: Sign up to twitter if you haven’t already. Connect via LinkedIn. (Tip: always include a personal note on LinkedIn as to why you are reaching out – the standard ‘I’d like to add you to my personal network’ doesn’t project a real desire to connect at a personal level).
• Start a blog or comment on existing blogs: Combine your sports passion with your education or work experience to offer insightful comments within a broader community of sports professionals.
• Hustle: Yes, your potential employer gets lots of résumés and emails. Yes, you run the risk of bugging them too many times. But hustle demonstrates your hunger and creates a connection prior to face-to-face meetings
• Do your homework: Unless you are working in a coaching capacity, many sports jobs don’t necessarily require the candidate to be an expert in that sport. However, on the flipside, don’t enter an interview with no idea about the sport and its rules. In addition build a list of example of things you have done, and how that experience is actionable within a potential new job.
• Intern or volunteer: Internships are commonplace in the USA but not so common down under. However there are often plenty of match day opportunities for volunteers. When it’s cold and raining and outside, showing up to volunteer demonstrates hunger and dedication and will catch the eye of the organization and provide a point of difference on your résumé.
You can follow me on twitter @shane_harmon or connect via LinkedIn http://nz.linkedin.com/in/shaneharmon
You can follow Rugby World Cup 2011 at www.rugbyworldcup.com or: