By: Chase McCaskill, @itsmechase
Digital media is constantly changing. From dial-up to broadband and analog to digital, how we consume has influenced what we consume. And what we consume has influenced from whom we consume.
“You’ve Got Mail”
Much like the evolution of digital media, so has the career of Mr. T.K. Gore. A sojourner of the digital industry, T.K. became “enthralled with the cutting-edge of digital business” at an early stage in his career.
Leveraging the skill set built while managing cable, satellite, and e-commerce partners at Home Team Sports (HTS), T.K. made his first, big career transition to AOL Sports. It was during his time at AOL that T.K. truly began his foray into digital business.
Currently the Senior Director of Digital Media at Comcast SportsNet Chicago, his affection for digital innovation came about in early interactions with key influencers during his time at industry vanguard, AOL.
“Over my time [at AOL] I held a wide variety of roles because of how the business was constantly changing and growing. I worked with our AOL Sports channel focusing on content and managing all of our league partnerships (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NASCAR). AOL was being used early-on as a pipeline to drive traffic to our partners’ in-house websites.”
Desire to Learn
During his time at HTS, the World Cup was being hosted in America in 1994. Although not growing up a soccer fan, Gore soon caught the World Cup fever. In an effort to broaden his horizon and learn more about the game that had seemingly infiltrated American sports, Gore took up a side-job with the Associated Press. He was tasked with phoning in live stats at DC United/MLS soccer games. This allowed him to attend numerous matches and expand his network within the MLS.
“I still had a desire to learn. My mindset is that everyone is a student. The learning does not stop just because you’re not in an institution”
This desire to learn quickly paid off. One afternoon during an AOL partnership meeting with c-suite MLS executives, Gore was able to speak up and provide valuable knowledge of the game, helping cement what AOL brought to their partnership. This was truly an example of a desire to learn paying dividends.
A Leap of Faith: Be Curious
Growing in understanding of the footprint being created by the digital industry, T.K. gambled and left the comforts of his Senior Manager post at industry giant, AOL, to join a start-up. He eagerly linked up with some former colleagues at newly created World Championship Sports Network (WCSN), later known as Universal Sports. This was the opportunity for T.K. to truly hone his skill set by pursuing a challenging, yet rewarding, new venture.
“This was a true, early start-up; we all worked in a room above a thrift store in Bethesda, Maryland. During my first year with WCSN, I had to defer 50% of my paycheck to help preserve cash, which was a real challenge as my wife and I were expecting our first child. We made it work, however this exemplified the risk-reward as well as the stress of working for a start-up who was going through early-stage fundraising. When I reflect back on my WCSN/Universal Sports days, it was an absolute thrill to work within the global sports space, but more importantly it was invaluable learning of working for a start-up.”
When asked what skills it takes to be successful in the digital media industry, Gore did not hesitate to emphasize the importance of being curious.
“Always be curious; ask a lot of questions. Every time I meet with students or interns, I tell them to think about curiosity as a skill set.”
It was this curiosity and the ‘always be learning’ mentality that drove Gore to further his career by shedding his comfort in pursuit of enhancing his skill set.
After three years at WCSN/Universal Sports, Gore was afforded the opportunity to combine corporate life with a start-up mentality. He accepted the role of Senior Director of Digital Media to help provide a sense of digital direction to Comcast SportsNet Chicago (CSN Chicago), a joint-venture with four Chicago professional teams (Bulls, White Sox, Blackhawks and Cubs) and Comcast/NBCUniversal. Since landing in Chicago, he has also taken a position as an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern University teaching sports management courses on entrepreneurship and analytics. In addition, Gore has assumed a place on the Chicago Fire Foundation Board of Directors. As someone with three kids and a strong ‘family first’ mind-set, what would drive him to partake in so many community activities? Giving back.
“My mentor and best-friend, Jimmy Lynn, has taught me to always give back and impart wisdom on those who seek it.”
Giving back to the sports management community carried an inexplicable value and meant a great deal to Gore. His gratefulness to those who had an impact on him at a young age and opened up their network is a major driver for the way he models his career.
“Impart wisdom on those who seek it. I pay it forward to honor those who had a major impact on me early on.”
Gore shared some fantastic insight on sponsorship within digital media.
“In the end, we’re a business. We create compelling content that serves the audience and drives revenue. Businesses drive revenue. If you don’t drive revenue, you aren’t going to be in business much longer. ”
He constantly reminds his teams they are a business, and the teams they service are businesses. In addition to continually brainstorming ways to generate unique, compelling content, you’ve got to consider how to integrate sponsors. The name of the game is pairing unique sponsors with related content that resonates and engages with consumers.
Qualities of a Qualified Candidate
Digital media is a booming industry and entry-level positions are becoming more and more difficult to land. With that in mind, we asked Gore what stands out in the most qualified candidates.
“Diversity. At NBC, we make a point to cast the widest net possible to attract the best talent. For entry-level positions, I also put a lot of value on the activities you did in school. Did you work for the newspaper, radio station, or TV station? If you didn’t do these things at your school, then why would I hire you? There is a land of opportunity at schools, if you’re able to juggle that with your coursework, you can get some really good experience.”
For his group specifically, Gore is looking for candidates that have a strong digital experience (e.g. publishing, social media).
NBC puts a strong emphasis on referencing their candidates as “talent.” They don’t just have recruiters, they have “talent recruiters.” NBC makes it a point to invest heavily in their current talent.
“We have talent labs that offer courses for our people. Some of my staff have had the opportunity to participate in this program for new managers called ‘Jump.’ They go out to Los Angeles or New York and are placed with people across the company. They learn so much because they are interacting with individuals from other areas of our network. Personally, I was privy to go through a program called ELF (Executive Leadership Forum), initiated by our NBCU CEO & President, Steve Burke. The experience, which felt like a combination of Shark Tank meets The Apprentice, was amazing as our ELF team created a start-up transactional digital business. The overall program inspired us with a real entrepreneurial, intrapreneurial, and innovation spirit.”
NBC clearly sets a precedent for investing in talent. The more investment they put in their individuals, the stronger an asset they become.
Curiosity is key. As mentioned before, curiosity and the desire to learn sets apart high performers from the status quo. In addition to curiosity, high performers have presence. What is presence you ask? Based on the research of Harvard Business School professor, Amy Cuddy, Gore describes presence as, “Having a strong sense of self-awareness and being attuned to comfortably express true thoughts, feelings, value, and potential.” Presence is made stronger by being able to articulate your personal story.
“Think about it, we fall in love with the Olympics every other year because of the personal stories told of individual athletes. However, in this instance, the narrative is your story. We all love a good story. It is important to hone in on the skill set of telling your story.”
In conclusion - Be curious, be authentic, have presence, and learn the art of storytelling. These are the ingredients of a highly successful professional.