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Insider Access: Tad Dickman’s Journey from Student-Athlete to Sports PR Executive

Front Office Sports

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This interview is presented to you by the University of Nebraska — Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration.

By: DaWon Baker, @dawonbbaker

Tad Dickman, Senior Manager of Public Relations for the Jacksonville Jaguars

When you think of someone who is great at what they do, a person the likes of Tad Dickman tends to come to mind. Dickman, the senior manager of public relations for the Jacksonville Jaguars is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington where he spent his college years as a basketball student-athlete. He has experience working for the NBL, DC United, New York Giants, and has worked at each Super Bowl since 2013. Dickman was kind enough to take us through his journey of hard work, character development, and how his department gives fans access to the Jaguars.

As a former student-athlete, Dickman’s journey started on the court.

“I wouldn’t trade my experience as a student-athlete for anything. It defined my character by establishing a work ethic and an appreciation for teamwork that I’ve carried with me into my career.”

Dickman knew he wouldn’t be going pro and found his first internship on his way to basketball practice.

“I was walking to practice through a study abroad fair, and a recruiter asked me about my basketball sweatshirt. He told me about an athletic training internship in Australia. I knew that field in particular wasn’t my passion, but that initial conversation sparked an interest in me and lead to another opportunity in Australia. That was the first step to where I am today.”

Dickman secured a media marketing internship with the National Basketball League (NBL) Office in Sydney, Australia during the summer before his senior year. During this time, he committed to public relations as a career.

“I had just declared as a business major a year ago and thought I wanted to pursue marketing full-time, but having the opportunity to interview players, coaches and front office personnel, and write stories and create content, I just became really intrigued by it.”

There were a number of differences between his experiences in Australia compared to American sports.

“The NBL was not one of the primary sports in the country. Above the NBL were two different rugby leagues and Australian Rules Football. Even the soccer league was more popular. We fought for coverage on a daily basis, and had to think beyond traditional journalism. I really enjoyed finding imaginative ways to find new fans. The job was a constant challenge, but I had the opportunity to work with some incredible people who really pushed me.”

An appreciation for international audiences has carried over into Dickman’s current role. The NFL International Series launched in 2007, and since 2012, the Jaguars have committed to playing a game at Wembley Stadium in London through 2020.

“It’s fascinating to watch a culture embrace not only a new team, but an entirely new sport. Every year we return, there are more Jaguars jerseys and British fans who are knowledgeable about the game. It’s been fun to see that progression over four years.”

After his summer internship in Australia, Dickman worked with his university’s sports information director, Clint Often, creating programs to help his own athletic department. Dickman helped establish the athletic department’s social media channels as a way for people to stay up-to-date with the school’s teams.

“Instead of sitting back and waiting, I was taking risks on my own in an effort to understand how people used the information and what approaches were most effective.”

One of Dickman’s events helped him secure his first post-graduation internship.

“We set up a college night with our local MLS team, DC United, which allowed me to interact with the team’s staff and secure my first internship. I graduated college on May 7, and started work there two days later.”

Dickman earned a new appreciation for the workload of a small sports franchise during his time with DC United.

“It’s drastically different from the NFL. Every person wears three or four hats, and everything they are able to accomplish is pretty incredible. That was my first time assuming a full time workload in an organization and it set the standard for what I considered normal. I helped with marketing, ticket sales, sponsorships and even pregame setup and postgame cleanup. I enjoyed multitasking. It gives you a chance to learn everyone’s role and gain an appreciation for how individual contributions lead to organizational success.”

Following his time with DC United, he got an opportunity to intern with the New York Giants for the 2012 season.

“The team was coming off of a Super Bowl victory, so there was a large contingent of media day-in and day-out. It was very different from DC United. I really feel that year of experience working alongside established PR professionals in the NFL prepared me for the opportunities to come.”

Dickman used his connections with the Giants to volunteer at larger NFL events, such as the Super Bowl and the NFL Combine. He has worked every Super Bowl since 2013.

“My first couple of years, I did everything on my own dime. I approached it like a 10-day job interview. I knew I would be around major players in my industry that had the power to hire. If I put in the hours, I would have the opportunity to take my career to the next level and secure something full time.”

Dickman thinks that young professionals and interns should have great character, above all, and has sought that quality in hiring for positions in his department.

“As a staff, we are going to be in the trenches putting in long hours, so I must be able to trust you, and vice-versa. We are in this together and I need to know you are accountable. More importantly, I want someone who is not afraid to call me out, too, if I’m not bringing it. It’s got to be both ways, but that’s where you grow closer and learn to understand how one another work at the highest efficiency.”

In terms of how to get your foot in the door, Dickman’s advice was pretty simple.

“How bad do you want it, and how are you going to differentiate yourself? So many people want to be in your position. You have to stand out by being yourself and showing your personality.”

Dickman spoke highly about the importance of relationships in traveling his career path.

“Working in PR, everyone knows how important it is to have that relationship externally with the media, but I think it’s just as important to have great relationships internally. As communicators, we have to build trust with coaches, the equipment staff, the GM and the players. We have to be on the same page with our events crew and our sales and marketing teams. I think that’s overlooked. The relationships inside the building are also extremely important.”

When speaking about the larger strategy of his staff, Dickman spoke about access and social media.

“Social media platforms play a major role because we are telling our story, but something equally important is access. How can we find ways to get our fans more access? We do a lot of live look-ins and Twitter takeovers. We give the fans a chance to be a part of the team. We want them to be around the players, get to know them and their families off the field and learn about their charitable initiatives. That’s the benefit that social media provides. It shortens that gap and gives fans a chance to be a part of the experience. It also goes both ways, as it gives the players a chance to interact with their fans. Those are very memorable encounters. It’s our jobs as PR professionals to steer those guys in the right way and make sure the opportunities are there to increase engagement.”

As far as new platforms, Dickman feels it’s important to be flexible and ready to capitalize.

“No matter the next big platform, it’s our job to stay on top of it and use it to fit our communication strategy. It’s our goal to promote access for our fans above all else. We can explore different ways to grant that behind-the-scenes look at our players thanks to our digital media and video teams. Whether that’s a ride-along with a new free agent signee or a microphone on a player at camp, it’s our job to seek out creative avenues that fans wouldn’t have access to on a regular basis.”

For advice, Dickman focused on a few things for young professionals entering the industry.

“Always be the hardest worker and let your work do the talking. I watch what my peers are doing and how they respond to situations. That’s how I formulate our plans; it gives us the opportunity to do a test run. But that’s the great thing about sports: there’s no handbook on how to do this. You have to create your own path and carve out your own niche. Everybody has a story and people come from so many different backgrounds, ultimately with the same goal. Be honest and genuine. Be responsive, whether it’s positive or negative, and get work done as efficiently as possible.”

Dickman also knows the importance of reaching out to others in the industry.

“I’ve found that some of the most inspiring and career-altering advice comes from impromptu conversations. When you get a few minutes of someone’s time, you never know what information they can share or with whom they are in touch. No networking opportunity is too small. I know I always try and give others that time of day because I know how important that is.”

You can follow Tad on Twitter, and connect with him on LinkedIn here!

Public Relations

NFL and ACS Continue to Partner in the Fight Against Cancer

When it comes to cancer, the NFL and the American Cancer Society know that offense is the best defense. Now, the two are fighting for positive change.

John Collins

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Professional sports leagues leveraging their platforms to raise awareness and support various charitable causes is certainly nothing new or unfamiliar.

We’ve all seen leagues like Major League Baseball wearing pink to support breast cancer research on Mother’s Day, blue to raise awareness about prostate cancer on Father’s Day, and many more.

One league that continues to go above and beyond is the NFL, with its impactful Crucial Catch campaign. Done in partnership with the American Cancer Society, the NFL and ACS announced the initiative will be expanding this year, and among other things, will be awarding $3.2 million in new grants to community health centers around the nation to reduce disparities in access to adequate breast cancer prevention and treatment services.

Started in 2009, the Crucial Catch campaign focuses on early detection and risk reduction, as opposed to some other charitable efforts that may be more geared toward research and/or funding for proper treatment and aftercare. Those are certainly equally important, yet as the Crucial Catch website says, “when it comes to cancer, the NFL and American Cancer Society know that offense is the best defense.”  

“This year, marking our 10th of working with the NFL and it’s Crucial Catch initiative, we’ve raised over $18 million to fight cancer,” American Cancer Society Chief Development and Marketing Officer Sharon Byers said.

She is proud of additional achievements, like the 201 grants they’ve been able to award across all NFL markets; the 632,000 patients they’ve been able to reach with education and screening materials; and upwards of 138,000 cancer screenings they’ve had a hand in supporting.  

Another unique element of the partnership is that all the funds raised through Crucial Catch are directed toward the ACS Community Health Advocates implementing Nationwide Grant for Empowerment and Equity program (CHANGE). That’s particularly important because it’s through this program that the ACS works to fight cancer in communities that might otherwise get forgotten or overlooked.

CHANGE is fighting for every life in every community, and has made it a priority to address the critical importance of health disparities and lack of adequate care for some populations,” Byers mentioned. The program uses data to target communities that have lower screening and higher mortality rates, fulfilling the ACS and NFL mission of improving healthcare equality nationwide.

This year, the Crucial Catch campaign will be awarding two-year grants to 32 community health centers — one for each NFL market. The Defender app was also added to the plethora of resources they already provide, as it is “a new tool that provides personalized tips on how to reduce your risk of cancer” and is available to everybody.

Further showcasing the work done by the ACS through its partnership with the NFL, Byers noted the Sun Safety Initiative the two worked on this summer, in which free sunscreen was given out at training camps across the nation.

NFL Senior Vice President of Social Responsibility Anna Isaacson, for one, loved the effort, as it “expands out Crucial Catch campaign with ACS, allowing us to increase our impact in the cancer space and address issues like the link between sun exposure and skin cancer risk.”

The American Cancer Society and National Football League continue their great work together using campaigns such as these to enact meaningful change.

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Public Relations

How the 24 Foundation Effectively Lifted Its Image in the Community

Started by one Charlottean after seeing Lance Armstrong defeat cancer, the mission of the 24 Foundation is getting aid to those going through a diagnosis.

Aaron Blake

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*Centerfold is a proud partner of Front Office Sports.

Inspired by Lance Armstrong’s triumphant defeat of cancer, one Charlottean decided to take matters into his own hands by spawning the 24 Foundation. The organization now uses 24-hour, non-competitive cycling and walking events open to all levels of ability as a way to raise money for cancer navigation and survivorship.

It began when Spencer Lueders, Founder of 24 Foundation, yearned to make a difference in the cancer community. Lueders became the first person to bike the famed south Charlotte Booty Loop for 24 hours. Only three miles long through the affluent South Charlotte Myers Park neighborhood, Lueders knew his commitment would be beneficial.

In 2017, the organization underwent a rebrand through the likeness of Centerfold Agency, also located in Charlotte, N.C. The rebrand positioned 24 Foundation to be more visible among other cities across the country.

“As an organization, it was important that we ensure each city hosting an event felt ownership of it, rather than feeling like an extension of Charlotte,” said Ann Marie Smith, communications and marketing director, 24 Foundation.

Previously known as the 24 Hours of Booty, the organization’s name did not have much significance outside of Charlotte. Giving a less localized name ensured others in various communities understood its mission.

“24 Foundation has grown to include Indianapolis as well as past events in Baltimore and Atlanta,” said Smith. “Event participants fundraise, and the foundation disperses those donation dollars to our local beneficiaries in each community as well as the national beneficiary, LIVESTRONG.”

The rebrand allowed 24 Foundation to shift its focus and clarify its mission: To inspire and engage communities to make an immediate impact on the lives of those affected by cancer. Without this mission, the foundation’s cause of providing cancer navigation and survivorship to those affected would not exist.

“Commonly, 24 Hours of Booty was thought of as an event to raise money for a cure or cancer research,” said Smith. “However, the rebrand gave us an opportunity to clarify our focus on cancer navigation and survivorship rather than research.”

Now completed, the rebrand keeps the legacy of 24 Hours of Booty alive. Maintaining the foundation’s signature colors and refreshing the logo, allowed them to achieve a modern look while embarking nationally and staying true to their roots.

“One of our favorite things that Centerfold has done is to create both a centralized 24 Foundation brand look and feel,” said Smith. “As well as cleverly modifying brand elements to match each city that we’re in.”

Elements of the live events boast hand-drawn backgrounds highlighting key elements of the host city. For example, Charlotte’s social graphic background embodied the Queen’s Crown and Indianapolis’s 24 Indy, embodied checkered flags.

Smith says these designs are intentional and pose a personal connection to the host city. The local elements, along with biking and community, bring together a wholesome and impactful experience.

“Everything they have created for the new 24 Foundation look is cohesive while weaving in local elements of fun,” said Smith.

Smith sums up the rebranding and repositioning as a great opportunity to tell their story better. The story of 24 Foundation has remained the same since its inception, but with the help of the professionals and a national outreach, the work shines through.

“Our mission has always been to provide aid to those going through a cancer diagnosis and treatment as well as support to family members affected,” said Smith. “But the rebrand gave us the platform we needed to shift from an event-focused to a more mission-focused narrative.”

*Centerfold is a proud partner of Front Office Sports.

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Public Relations

Telling The Kentucky Basketball Story

Jim Cavale, CEO of INFLCR, chats with Eric Lindsey, Associate Director of Media Relations for the University of Kentucky.

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