By: Travis Gorsch, @tgorsch3
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Carolynn Smith, CEO and Owner of Seven Marketing + PR. Carolynn was gracious enough to offer up her time and insight in to how she has differentiated Seven from other marketing and PR firms.
Seven Marketing + PR is a public relations, brand development, and marketing firm that specializes in sports, entertainment and hospitality. Seven represents both current and former professional athletes spanning the NBA, NFL, MLB and WWE as well as entertainers and talent. Some of their clients include Denard Span (San Francisco Giants), Titus O’ Neil (WWE), George Tinsley (former NBA), Ian Beckles (former NFL), Theresa Depasquale (Fitness), Tarence Kinsey (former NBA), Coy Stewart (Nickelodeon Actor) and Karlee Perez (Actress/former WWE Diva).
Carolynn accumulated 15 years of experience in hospitality, sports, and entertainment as a sales and marketing professional before founding Seven. Her journey began as a student athlete on the Women’s Basketball team at the University of North Florida where she earned her degree in Public Relations, Communications and Broadcasting. After graduating, she had career aspirations of becoming the next Erin Andrews, sideline reporter at ESPN.
“I was able to find mentors. I found two at the Fox Sports show in Jacksonville. I would go and hangout where they would interview Jaguars players. They would do shows around town at local sports bars. I also had a mentor, Thea Kline, back in Tampa who was an entrepreneur. She told me to go wherever these people were and meet these people. This is why I mentor high school and college athletes.”
“I didn’t have a lot of extra time because I was a student athlete. I was hanging out and taking it all in when they were around. I started playfully talking crap to them about the Bucs [Tampa Bay Buccaneers] because they were Jags [Jacksonville Jaguars] fans. They found out I was a broadcast major and asked me to meet them for lunch. They gave me an internship position on air at Fox Sports radio. This position carried over after graduation when they offered me minimum wage plus commission position for live events and advertising. I stayed for the year after college and did live remotes with them as well as advertising and voice overs."
“This allowed me to build a network with NFL players and coaches and gave me contacts to other people in the sports industry. I thought I wanted to go back to Tampa to get on TV. When I came back home to Tampa I was doing sideline reporting at Bucs training camp, college basketball games, and bartending in the evenings. I would always talk to people that came in the bar about what they did and one lady that worked in the hotel business offered me a position to come work for her hotel. It was a great salary and opportunity for me.”
It wasn’t easy leaving the sports industry, but the opportunity was too good to pass up at the time. While working at the Hilton Tampa Westshore she received a lot of training in marketing and public relations. Carolynn continued to climb the ladder up to Assistant Director of Sales & Marketing, culminating over 10 years of experience in sales and marketing. These skills proved to be beneficial when she decided to make the leap back over to the sports industry when she started her own company, Seven Marketing + PR.
“It’s great when you go work for a corporation or big brand in the corporate world. I soaked up all that training. Any time there was a training and they asked who wanted to go to the conferences, I was always the one that volunteered. Looking back as a business now, it is very expensive to attend these events. I was always fortunate to have someone like Colleen Beck around.”
“You look at sales and marketing techniques that can just relate. It’s just as much about building relationships and networking while being very genuine, unique and out of the box. Never be afraid to tell people what your dreams and aspirations are if you know that your end goal isn’t where you are now. To be successful you should always have aspirations to go higher. I was grateful to have a nice paying job with the hotels and to this day, I am doing business with people that I met in those positions. I had a shoebox that I would dump all the business cards I got in.”
“My experience taught me to compete with 20 other hotels in my market and I was able to transfer those skills over, because you always have to compete against so many people in the real world."
“When I had my son, I was on maternity leave and it was a very hard time in my life. I knew it was time to start my company then. I called two people because I knew they were doing a lot of events. They were both looking for someone that had my skill set to produce these events. One of them was producing a 32 team international basketball tournament and the other was running a fan fest for high school state basketball games.”
That’s how Seven Marketing + PR was born and Carolynn experienced success early on by playing on the connections she had made with people during her time spent outside of the sports industry.
“I always told people what my other goals and dreams were. I continued to reach out to contacts that I had and they were able to connect me to even more people. Every person you speak to is a door to a new opportunity. If you don’t open your mouth and speak to people and tell them what you want to do then you’ll never get anywhere. Why hide what you really want to do? Let them know that you would love to help them with that.”
“I always had to be creative and out of the box. Now that I am my own company and going after athletes and celebrities I have to think ‘What can I do to separate myself? What can I do out of the box to sell them over someone else in my industry?’”
It hasn’t always been easy for Carolynn running her own business. She experienced many bumps in the road along the way that taught her valuable lessons going forward. She was kind enough to share some of those challenges that she faced while trying to get Seven up and running in its infancy stage around contractors and copyrights.
“There were a couple instances starting out when I was growing very fast. I started to find clients and delegate the work to contractors who weren’t performing the way that I would perform. There were a couple of clients that weren’t happy and wanted to end the agreement. I was planning on that revenue for six months down the line but it stopped after two months. I started to really invest into good contractors that helped me eliminate the risk of being burned.”
“Trust is important. Just knowing you are going to get burned at one point is important. I’m extremely loyal and trustworthy, but you can’t think that everyone is like that. People will steal your ideas. You can actually put copyright signatures to use on proposals. I have copyrights on anything that goes out to a client. Even non-disclosure agreements because those are free to download."
"Before, I would share my ideas without people signing agreements. Be careful how much you share with people until they prove themselves.”
With a small team of three full-time staff and one intern it’s all hands on deck. Seven is a boutique agency firm which means that she relies on independent contractors to help her execute her client’s contracts. Each client’s needs are different and it takes independent contractors most of the time to execute their contracts.
“I have anyone from web designers to copy writers. I have people on the East Coast and West Coast. I’ve had to establish relationships all over."
"I write a 90 day action plan for every client that I sign on. Say a client wants to start a 501(c)(3) organization, there are a lot of action items that we need to do to accomplish this. What is the timeline and date that this needs to be done by? Then I give them to my client."
"I try to schedule a conference call once a month or every two weeks. If I’m going to contract in my designers, in order for them to get paid they have to meet my timelines. I’ve established great designers that always get the work done on time. I do that to keep everyone accountable. Accountability is important to me and I think that it really separates me from people in my industry and companies. I get it from being a student athlete and growing up in a military family.”
Carolynn lives in Tampa, FL but has clients all around the nation including Denard Span who recently joined the San Francisco Giants. This means she has to juggle clients from Tampa to New York to San Francisco and beyond. Carolynn is constantly on the road with abnormal work hours and always fighting a constant struggle to maintain work life balance.
“That’s the first thing I tell my interns is, if you’re looking for a 9-5 job and you don’t want to work weekends or get a text at midnight then it’s not the job for you. The world of PR is pretty much never ending especially in sports and entertainment. Athletes’ number one job is to perform on the field or court. I have people wanting to give a check to do an appearance or event but sometimes it’s hard to get the athlete on the phone. I might have to wait until midnight my time to get on the phone with someone on the West Coast. If you’re going to deal with athletes and entertainers you have to work on their time after they are done with what they are being paid to do.”
“My job is to help portray them in a good light. We are secondary because they are busy people, but when they need something it’s usually last minute. Sometimes I have to make arrangements and go and get that done. Especially with media, it’s all about timeliness. We got a call today and now have to take a client down to Miami tomorrow morning, but I had a lot of things planned that I’ll have to cancel or reschedule. It’s when the client thinks it’s a good time. You have to have a lot of flexibility.”
Carolynn’s final piece of advice revolves around reaching out to professionals in the sports industry and finding a mentor.
“Interns and graduates email me all the time. It only takes 20-30 minutes on social to go and learn about me. You can find out so much personal information and put it in the email. Talk about some of the recent things that the person has accomplished. It’s going out of the box just like that.”
“If you do have the opportunity to sit down with someone and have coffee or lunch, go to the mall or online and order something. If you are a college graduate, where are their alumni? This shows that you are going to go above and beyond. There are so many small creative things that you can do to make yourself stand out like buying a hat or coffee mug for an alumni. Is there any opportunity to have coffee or lunch? The worst thing they can say is no or they ignore you. Then you may not want to work with them anyway.”
“Speaking to both students and people that are looking to make career changes, I really stress to them to start researching mentors, business owners, or companies. Everyone has access to social media. I think Instagram and Twitter are great platforms because there are a lot of PR hashtags. Go and study who the CEO and Owners are. Go big or stay home. If you find an exciting company or firm that you want to get into, start following them. Set Google alerts by Googling “Google alerts,” put in anyone’s name and anytime someone’s name hits the web you will get an alert. The best thing about it is it’s free. Set alerts so you are staying updated on these people and when you have a good enough strategy or game plan then reach out to them.”
“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘We can’t help everyone but, everyone can help someone.’ The more that you give back and help, it will always come back to you. A lot of CEO’s are on boards or affiliated with other events that are in the non-profit world. It’s a great opportunity to meet them by volunteering.”
If you would like a chance to hear Carolynn speak she will be in Indianapolis for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four where she will be Emceeing Tourney Town.
This interview is another edition of "Winning Edge Wednesday" in congruence with our partnership with the Winning Edge Leadership Academy. Every Wednesday we will be featuring the story of a woman or minority working in the sports business industry.If you know of a professional you would like featured, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.