Sarah Sessoms is community relations coordinator for the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team. She has also worked for IMG and the athletics department at UNC-Chapel Hill. In this interview, conducted by email, Sessoms talks about her job and careers in sports communication.
Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?
A. My job varies from day to day, and I have to wear a lot of different hats throughout the year. In a nutshell, I am an event planner, a writer, a planner, a PR person and a nonprofit worker in one.
A regular day consists of a lot of emails, phone calls and meetings with the Promotions and Hockey Operations team, as well as with fans and nonprofit groups. During the off-season (April to September), I am planning, researching putting the finishing touches on our in-season activities. For example, we have the Canes 5k on September 14th, and a charity golf tournament on the 22nd. I have been working to put together the plans and all of the final touches with my co-workers on these events.
In-season, I do a bit of everything. On a regular day, I will help fill donations for charitable organizations throughout North Carolina, send tickets to groups, or work on other projects. On game days, I work on filling the charity suites (donated by players such as Eric Staal), and finalize meet-and-greets with the players.
Q. You graduated from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill with a reporting/editing focus. How have your news skills translated to your current job, and what new abilities have you had to pick up since then?
A. My skills from the j-school are consistently used every day. While I may not be the one producing the news, many of the things we do end up in the news, and it is very helpful to have a news background.
Writing and editing are crucial to my job here at the Canes. We are constantly writing items for the website, for press releases, Twitter and everywhere you can imagine.
The reporting sequence taught me how to write effectively — and it is something that definitely carries over. All of the material that we generate needs to be well-written, succinct and edited before it can be pushed out to the fans and the community.
I had a very strong base coming into this job, but had to pick up a few skills. For one, being the person interviewed, instead of the interviewee, was a new challenge for me. Luckily, our in-game host also comes from a journalism and news background and was able to coach me on how to be a good interview.
Other skills I’ve learned vary from new social media skills to being able to read autographs. It sounds funny, but being able to identify autographs with one look is really helpful here.
A final skill learned is working closely with the players and staff. Taking a player and explaining to them what is going on — whether at a community event or through a meet-and-greet with a kid from Duke Hospitals — is crucial. Prepping them for what’s coming makes it easier for them to relate to the fans. Prepping them well for everything is a skill, and something I was not quite good at until recently.
Q. Many students in journalism programs are looking for careers in sports communication. What advice do you have for them?
A. Working in sports is a blast all the time, but it’s not easy. If you want a career in sports communication, be prepared for long hours and bizarre things.
No two days here are the same, and I’ll wager it’s the same at any sports job. Be willing to jump in and volunteer for everything and realize that no job in sports is a bad one.
If you want a job as a public relations person with a team but there’s only an opening in a different department, apply for it. Work in the other job and talk to the people who have the job you want. Getting a foot in the door and working toward your goal is a great way to land the job you want.
Q. Hockey season is about a month away. Any predictions on how the Canes will do this year?
A. The Hurricanes organization went through a lot of changes this summer. We have a new general manager, Ron Francis, and a new head coach, Bill Peters.
Our changes to the team are going to translate and show up well with the play on the ice this year, with a fast, high-energy team. It should be a very exciting year with a great new home atmosphere (we’ve changed a few things about the in-game experience) and with the new coach.
I’m thinking that we have a really great chance at a playoff run with this new era of Hurricanes hockey!