Friday, October 3, 2008

So You Want to Work in Sports?: Bill Cook, Director of Public Relations, Trenton Thunder

Over the next several weeks, HHR will be interviewing 20 and 30-something-year-olds in various careers in professional, amateur and collegiate sports to get a take on how they broke into their respective industries and to offer tips how ambitious sports-related job seekers might do the same.

Today, we interview Bill Cook, 31, Director of Public Relations for the Yankees' Double-A affiliate the Trenton Thunder.

Name: Bill Cook
Age: 31
Position: Director of Public Relations
Organization: Trenton Thunder, Double A Affiliate of the New York Yankees
College Major: Sports Management, University of New Hampshire
Prior Sports-Related Experience:
Internships while a student:
  • UNH Athletic Media Relations Office
  • New Hampshire International Speedway
Post-UNH:
  • Eastern League President's Office

First, tell us a little about your duties in your previous roles.

At UNH, I was the main media contact for the swimming and track teams and compiled stats for football, hockey and basketball. I also did a lot of work on the various media guides, wrote press releases and ran scoreboards/clocks. At the speedway, I was an assistant at the infield media center and worked in the timing and scoring building. At the EL office, I was responsible for the league website, newsletter and assisted in administering to the umpires and the league's 12 teams.

From many I've spoken with, professional baseball seems a close-knit group that often hires from within, do you find this the case? And how were you able to break into Eastern League President's Office?

When I was at UNH and decided that working in Pro Baseball was the direction I wanted to go with my career, I picked up the latest Baseball America Directory and looked for places where I would want to live as the basis for where to send my resume. I discovered that the EL office is in Portland, ME (about 1.5 hrs from UNH) and sent my resume there. They called me in for an interview, were impressed with the experience I had gained while I was a student and I was offered the job.

Majoring in Sports Management, what was your intention upon graduation? Did you hope to go down the PR route given your internship at UNH and your current position, or was it something you tried, liked and stuck with?

Throughout my time at UNH and my internships, I realized that PR / Media Relations was a great fit for my skills and personality. So I tailored my classes around Advertising, Promotion, and Journalism.

How did you land the job with the Thunder?

As I was finishing up the year with the EL President's Office, I knew I wanted to work for a specific team, but hadn’t landed a new job yet and hadn’t even thought about moving to New Jersey. So I went to Dallas, TX to the PBEO (Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities) job fair held in conjunction with the Baseball Winter Meetings. The night before the fair, I was hanging out in the hotel restaurant with the EL President and several EL team executives. I got to talking to the guys from Trenton, who had assumed I was there with the Eastern League and not as a job hunter. When I told them that I was job seeking, the GM said they were looking for a Media Relations Assistant and offered me the job on the spot. Since I had just traveled all the way to Texas, I told them I would think about it and had to at least check out the job fair. I got a couple offers at the fair, but all things considered, I chose to take my career to Trenton.

Tell us a little about your day-to-day activities with the Thunder.

One of the most appealing things about this job is that there is no “typical day.” A day in season and out of season are completely different just as an offseason day in October varies from one in February. My responsibilities include overseeing Media Relations including organizing press conferences, writing press releases and issuing credentials. I put together our publications such as pocket schedules and brochures and oversee all of our marketing opportunities such as print advertising, billboards and online ads. I take care of our website, email newsletter and our email marketing efforts. I’m also in charge of the community relations programs for the team.

How closely affiliated is the Thunder with Yankees in relation to your position as Director of PR? Can you focus solely on promoting the team with full autonomy, or are you required to, for the lack of better terms, "toe the company line" as an affiliate?

On paper we run our business independently of the Yankees and the relationship really doesn’t go further than the players and coaches on the field. We do have an obligation to give the Yankees the best environment possible to develop players. We prepare them for the next step by getting them experience playing in front of large crowds and dealing with regular media coverage in a strong media market.

The life of a Minor Leaguer is sometimes described with low pay and poor accommodations in random small towns. Does this translate to front office workers?

Yes and no. The pay in Minor League sports is often not on the same level that a similar position would pay in a non-sports industry, but at the same time, I enjoy working in baseball. I can wear shorts and sneakers to work in the summer and my office is in a ballpark. When it comes to Double A ballparks, markets and front office staff, I would say that Trenton is by no means “poor accommodations.”

Any culture shock going from New Hampshire to lovely Trenton, NJ?

I moved to NJ in January 2001. At that time, everything was brown and gray and I definitely missed the mountains and snow of New Hampshire. However, I quickly learned that the Trenton area including Bucks County, PA, and its close proximity to New York City and Philadelphia, has a lot to offer in terms of culture and entertainment. I’ve been here for almost eight years now and I still have a long list of things I want to do and places I want to see in this area.

Do you get to travel at all with the team?

No, I am not required to travel with the team. Last year, most of the staff did take a bus out to Akron to see the team win its first Eastern League championship.

Any interesting, repeatable stories?

During this past season, our production staff (the guys that run the video and music during games) decided to play a little trick on our radio broadcasters who work in the booth right next door in the press box. They rigged up a giant fake spider to the ceiling in the radio booth and had a string that ran above the ceiling tiles over the wall and into their own booth. They set up three cameras to film the reaction of the radio guys when this thing came dropping down. As you can imagine, our radio guys jumped out of their seats full of panic! The footage was edited together and posted on our YouTube page the next day. It was only a matter of hours before it was one of SI.com’s Hot Clicks, and had over 25,000 views within a couple days.



It seems Minor League baseball, from a fan's perspective, is a family-friendly and economic alternative to the Majors. As an "insider," do you agree with this and see this trend continuing? And, where do you see Minor League baseball in 5 or 10 years as an entertainment source or in relation to MLB?

Without a doubt. We promote ourselves as a family-friendly and economic alternative to Major League sports because that is exactly what we are. The intimate environment with affordable tickets, food and parking all make Waterfront Park a premier entertainment destination in a very crowded entertainment marketplace in Central New Jersey. Most of our fans come simply for a fun night out with family, friends and coworkers. Having the future stars of the NY Yankees is an added bonus to what is already a great experience.

As far as the future goes, the MLB and MiLB relationship is as strong as ever. In fact, just this month the Thunder and Yankees extended our agreement for another six years. I think more and more people are making the connection between the Minor League teams and their favorite Major League teams and players. With the growth of blogs, fan websites and the Internet overall, MLB fans are finding it easy and interesting to look ahead to the future of their teams by following the top prospects throughout their Minor League careers.

Some MiLB teams push the envelope in terms of promotional events. While in comparison the Thunder has been more mild, but what were your favorites with the Thunder?

We were on the road for Independence Day a few years back and the game was being televised. Someone here came up with the idea to have a “No Game Night” at our ballpark where we showed the game on the big screen, ran all of our in-game promotions on our field then held fireworks afterwards. We outdrew the ballpark where the game was actually being played!

Of course, probably our biggest promotional “gimmick” was the introduction of Chase, our Golden Retriever “Bat Dog” about six years ago. During our games, Chase fetches bats, catches frisbees and carries water to the umpires in a basket in his mouth. He has been a bigger fan favorite than we ever could have imagined, to the point where several other teams now have dogs of their own. He’s been featured on CNN, FOX Saturday Baseball Pregame Show, NBC’s Today Show, The Late Show with David Letterman, and most of the local TV and newspaper outlets. Just today, I got a call from Rachel Ray’s TV show requesting footage for a show on “Amazing Animals” that they have coming up.

As Director of PR, how do you find coverage of Minor League baseball in the following 3 areas: local media, national media, online media?

Historically, we’ve had great coverage from all of our local media. Four local daily papers run game stories and two actually have beat writers that cover us day in and day out. Our list of National media contacts has grown as we’ve been fortunate enough to host several big-name rehabs that attracted a lot of attention.

I’ve tried to accommodate the new online media outlets as much as possible, seeing that this is the future of how people get their news. One of our regular newspaper writers started a Thunder-specific blog last year. He has done a terrific job, which is evident in his many readers, giving us a very unique and successful media outlet.

Often, the Thunder has hosted big-name rehab stints. How much do such games change your routine in having to deal with the additional focus?

Going from having five or six writers in the press box to 150, as was the case with Roger Clemens in 2007, is quite a challenge. It’s challenging because space is limited, but also because most of them have never been to our ballpark before and don’t know our procedures and timelines. However, we’ve been through it enough times now (Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano and Clemens to name a few) that we’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to accommodating the press and being at the center of a national news story.

Who was your favorite Big Leaguer to suit up with the Thunder and why?

I have a few and they have little to do with performance on the field. Josh Hancock, Kevin Thompson, Freddy Sanchez and Shelley Duncan are four guys that stand out as being super friendly with fans and staff. They all took the time to chat and joke around and were just good all-around guys willing to make appearances in the community, sign autographs and go above and beyond what is expected of them. From a PR perspective, these are the guys you want on your team.

What's the most rewarding part of the job?

I’ve been pushing “green” initiatives for the last few years and it has been rewarding to see things like our Environmental Awareness Fair and other partnerships with the NJDEP come to light and grow. Being able to take part in community outreach endeavors like organizing blood drives and food and clothing collections on behalf of the team is very rewarding.

Biggest perks?

Working in a place where people come to have fun means the staff can’t help but have fun on the job. This job also gives me a creative outlet through my work on the website and graphic design pieces.

Biggest hassles or obstacles?

The schedule from April through September is brutal. Working 12-14 hours a day throughout 7 to 10 game homestands then still having to take care of business in the office while the team is on the road can really wear on you.

Anything you would have changed during college to better prepare you? Relevant courses or internships you'd recommend?

I never took an accounting or economics class in school and while I've learned a lot through my own experience and growth in the business world, I'm sure that having that base of knowledge from college would have been helpful.

What advice would you offer those looking to follow in your footsteps or even break into MiLB in general?

Do whatever you can to get your foot in the door and work hard at it. Even though I didn’t want to run the clock for UNH Field Hockey and Lacrosse, that was what the Athletic Media Relations Department needed me to do. So I did it and it eventually led to other responsibilities that I did want to do. Be personable and work hard. You will get noticed if you are friendly and get results.

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See all our "So You Want to Work in Sports?" Features Here.

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