Monday, November 17, 2008

So You Want to Work in Sports?: Diana Iakoubova, Marketing Coordinator, Yardbarker Network

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 Diana Iakoubova, vodka enthusiast and Marketing Coordinator for Yardbarker.com's Yardbarker Network. She talks about, among other things, her work with the pioneering start-up as well as her previous positions which included working for Mr. Al Davis.

Name: Diana Iakoubova
Age: A lady never reveals her age ;)
Position: Marketing Coordinator
Organization: Yardbarker Network
College Major: Economics
Prior Sports-Related Experience: Community relations internship with The Oakland Raiders; marketing internship with Octagon Football

Can you give us an overview of your current position (and some of your priors), and the course by which got you there?

Working for a start-up, it's really hard to define what I do, though as we grow my responsibilities are starting to become more focused. For the most part, I'm in charge of publisher relations for the Yardbarker Network. With almost 700 sites in the YBN, there's a lot to be done both in terms of maintenance (helping with technical issues, responding to feedback, etc.) and in terms of thinking of and implementing new features that will keep publishers excited about working with us. It's generally up to me to keep the lines of communication with our affiliates open. My other duties also include working with athlete bloggers and some event planning, specifically for our Super Bowl party.

How'd I get here? Well, unlike most people, I was lucky enough to have internships that allowed me to do things other than filing, copying, and creating totally useless Excel spreadsheets (though there was plenty of that stuff, too). With the Raiders, I planned weekly community events for the players and then documented them for Raiders.com. At Octagon, I got an up-close and personal look at the inner workings of an agency. With that experience and a college degree under my belt, I ventured out into the big, scary world and started looking for a sports-related job outside of teams and agencies. Somehow, I was lucky enough to find YB.

The history of Yardbarker is pretty interesting. Can you give readers an overview of the company, its founders and its rumored initial Pro Bowl-caliber investors?

Yardbarker's founders, Pete Vlastelica and Jack Kloster, met while they were both in the UC Berkeley MBA program (GO BEARS!) Pete loves the Diamondbacks and Jack cheers for the Yankees, so I *think* the magic happened when they realized what they had in common: a love for really crappy teams. The rest is history.

Ronnie Lott and Harris Barton were a couple of the investors involved in our first round of funding back in the beginning of 2007, and Lott also participated in the most recent round earlier this year. Their connections were extremely helpful in getting our athlete blogger program off the ground, so we've really benefited from having them involved.

Pull my finger.

As a result of this relationship, we also got to work at Ronnie's All-Stars Helping Kids celebrity fantasy draft this year, which was awesome. Little bit of trivia we learned that night – Darren McFadden is awful at Guitar Hero, and Michael Irvin can be one scary mofo.

Let's take a step back and talk a little about your previous positions. First, as an Econ major, what was your attraction to taking these roles in sports-based industries and companies, as opposed to say, moving to NYC and cutting your teeth on Wall Street?

Don't get me wrong here, I think money is great, but making as much of it as possible has never been my goal. I chose econ as my major because it was something I enjoyed and was interested in (yeah, I'm a giant nerd). It's one of those majors that can really be applied to anything*, so as my love for sports grew, I decided that that was the direction I would try to go with it.

*What I mean by "applied to anything" is that I've completely forgotten all of the economic theory that was hammered into my head at Cal, so it doesn't really matter anymore that that was my major. At least my degree proves that I'm capable of getting off my ass occasionally and doing some work.

At first I thought that Octogon football was going to be a ripoff of the XFL. But like any mediocre interviewer, I did some extensive research (Google) and found out I was wrong. It's a representation firm. Tell us about your experience there, including impressions of the industry and your duties.

First of all, ripping off the XFL is just a bad idea. It would be like ripping off Communism – given the results of the previous attempt, trying it again would be just plain stupid.

My duties at Octagon were all over the place. From preparing marketing materials for recruits to organizing charity fundraisers to tracking down first row circus tickets for a player's family, I pretty much covered everything. There were two major things I learned from my time there:

1.) Being a sports agent isn't all that great. It was what I thought I wanted to do coming into the internship, but when I realized how much the job takes over your life, I reconsidered. When one of the agents was trying to explain this to me he said, "Is it awesome that I've played a round of golf with Tiger Woods? Of course. Would I rather have played that round with my college buddies that I never get to see anymore? Definitely." That really stuck with me.

Besides, there is now so much competition for these jobs that it's almost impossible to get a sizable chunk of the 1500-player pie that's out there and actually turn a profit. Even more difficult if you're a woman.

2.) NCAA rules are crap. How is an athlete supposed to make a good decision about which agent should represent him when they aren't allowed to contact him until right before the draft? Sure, there should be strict regulations on high-priced "gifts", but these players are adults trying to make business deals that will affect the rest of their lives. Why can't their potential business partners take them out for lunch and try to explain what they can do for them? Give me a break.

Who were some of the players you worked with or on whose behalf you worked?

Well, at the Raiders we worked with the entire 2005 team. The names people would recognize are probably Warren Sapp, Randy Moss, LaMont Jordan, Justin Fargas, Fabian Washington, Stanford Routt and Nnamdi Asomugha. The guys who were the most active in the community tended to be less well-known. The ones that stood out were JP Foschi, Stuart Schweigert, Jarrod Cooper, and Doug Gabriel. At Octagon, I worked a lot with Shaun Phillips and a bit with Marshawn Lynch. If you ever need a translation for what Marshawn is saying, I've gotten pretty good at deciphering it. I also helped plan events that involved Jeremy Newberry, Clark Haggans, Joey Porter, Alex Smith (Bucs, not 9ers), George Wrighster, Travis LaBoy, and a bunch of others.

Word on the street is you were reppin' my son. Dig?

As a community relations person, do the Raiders embrace the fact that their core fanbase are criminals, gang members and face painters, or is the team trying to change that?

I think they have no choice but to embrace it. Who else is going to cheer for them when stepping into the Coliseum during a day game is more dangerous than hanging out on the streets of East Oakland at midnight?

Seriously, though, I think they've got to do something to change their image if they ever want to sell out on a regular basis, and that won't happen until Mr. Davis and the CEO, Amy Trask, are dethroned.

How did Al Davis fire you?

Just pointed his bony little finger at me and said, "You're out of here!" He thought I was Norv Turner. Poor guy gets confused pretty easily.

"Norv, you look great, but you're out of here!"

How does interning for big companies compare with the all-encompassing roles you take on with a start up. Which do you prefer?

There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to each. Overall, though, I prefer the freedom I have in my current position to come up with an idea and make it happen. With organizations like those that I interned for, it's pretty common to hear "Yeah, that's a great idea. We've thought about doing it before, but Octagon Corporate/Mr. Davis/Amy just doesn't think we should." That drove me crazy. Now, if I come up with something good, it's not a matter of *if* I can do it, it's just a matter of working with the right people to get it done.

Yardbarker has grown exponentially in a very short-time and continues to bring new athletes, affiliates and publishers into the fold. What has made Yardbarker standout among its competition both on the athlete blogger and non-athlete blogger fronts?

I think we stand out because nobody else does all the things that we do. Other athlete bloggers are scattered in different nooks of the internet, other sports-focused ad networks do exist, and there are certainly other social communities focused on sports blogging. But there is no one that does all three of these things in the same way that we do.

With your title, one would think that you have been an integral part of the site's growth. Tell us about YB's involvement at industry events, social events and promotional avenues and how that's helped elevate the site's recognition.

We've been doing everything we can to get our name out there. That includes hosting Super Bowl parties, participating in Ronnie Lott's All-Stars Helping Kids event, having a presence at the ESPYs, attending media events, and sponsoring some sporting events such as Fight Night at the Playboy Mansion. I've certainly done what I can to help with this, but a lot of credit also goes to our CEO, Pete Vlastelica, our amazing PR consultant, Kirk Reynolds, and our editorial and sales teams.

And the effort is paying off. Between all of these events and the press we get for our athlete bloggers, we're hearing a lot less of "Yardbarker? What's that?" and a lot more of "Oh yeah, I heard about you guys at such-and-such event/on SportsCenter/on SI.com!" It's pretty cool to see the progress we've made.

What's an average day look like?

That's a really tough one. It really depends on what we have going on. At the beginning of each day the YBN team gets together to cover what needs to be done that day. There are always various projects to work on, such as testing out new network-related features or working with a partner like PicApp to help our publishers access their services. A lot of time, though, is spent on just making sure that our publishers are happy. This means a lot of e-mailing about technical questions, partnership ideas, etc. Then there is some event planning and athlete-related stuff sprinkled in throughout the day.

How difficult is it to secure athletes to contribute on the site. Is it easier now to get athletes to blog? Do they need permission from the team or their agents/handlers/publicists?

It's getting easier over time to get athletes to start blogging. When they see that guys like Donovan McNabb, Vernon Davis, Greg Oden, and Baron Davis are getting so much positive publicity out of it, it's easier to get them to understand the value right away. Usually we work with an agent or publicist to get the athlete on board and to help us keep them blogging regularly, and often these "handlers" (everyone uses it, but I hate that word – are we running a zoo or working with pro athletes?) help them make the decision on whether or not blogging is right for them. When it comes down to it, though, it's the athlete's call.

How are they with actually submitting pieces? Do they need to be hounded or are they given leniency to post as they see fit?

We don't want to hound anybody to do anything. Athletes' lives get pretty hectic, so we will get in touch and remind them to blog, but all we are doing is providing a service for them – giving them a way to make their voices heard. Our editorial team and I will make every effort to help them out with their blogs by giving them content ideas, helping them run contests, or shooting and editing video, but we see them as being their blogs to do as they please.

Who is your favorite athlete-blogger?

It's got to be Ovie Mughelli. He is so great on camera and is definitely going to make an excellent broadcaster/actor once he is done playing football. Just a genuinely nice guy who is always willing to participate in whatever we come up with for him. D-Bo, Kyle Harrison, Marques Douglas, and Diana Taurasi are also pretty great.

Who has the best/worst grammar?

Chinedum Ndukwe doesn't post too often, but when he does it's more well-written than most of the English papers I've ever turned in. Marshawn, of course, takes a lot of crap for the way he writes. Technically, yes, he has the worst grammar. But that just his style an I say let ma brahbrah do wha he want, yaddada?

With having to manage publisher relations for the Yardbarker Network, what would you tell a blogger are the benefits of joining the network? (Plug away!)

Where do I begin!? Above all, we want to create a win-win situation for our publishers and us. This means that we always keep in mind that doing what's best for you is what, in turn, is best for us. That's why we offer three basic benefits to our members: monetization, promotion, and traffic. By grouping together what is now nearly 700 of the web's best sports sites, we're able to pull in brand advertisers at higher CPMs on your behalf. All you need to do is keep generating some of the best sports content on the internet, and we will help you turn that into revenue.

In addition to that, our popular hub site, Yardbarker.com, and our partnerships with FOX Sports and others allow us to promote your content across the web and drive more traffic to your site. More traffic gives you more revenue, and that brings us full circle back to monetization.

If anyone's interested in signing up for the network, they can feel free to contact me with further questions, or submit an application here.

Whats next for both the YBN and Yardbarker.com?

Lots of great stuff coming out in the near future. YBN members will soon be getting some cool reporting features, a slew of new widgets, as well as more opportunities for special rewards like athlete interviews. Yardbarker.com users will also see a few changes in the near future. Some of those are top secret, though, and I don't want our engineers to beat me up for spilling the beans. They're pretty intimidating dudes.

What are some of your personal favorite sports, entertainment and news blogs?

Hugging Harold Reynolds. And the Sports Biotch. That's it.

Just kidding. We have a ton of great sites, and it's hard to keep track of everything that's out there, but I'm a fan of Tirico Suave, The World of Isaac, Larry Brown, You Been Blinded, Arrowhead Addict, Uncoached…and everyone else that's going to get mad at me if I don't mention them.

What's the most rewarding part of your current job?

The most rewarding thing is meeting our publishers in person (I've been traveling around a bit this year hosting happy hours for YBN members) and hearing all the positive things they have to say about us. I also love hearing that so many people are starting to make their sports blogging hobby into a full-time job. It's great to know that we helped make that happen.

Biggest perks?

Going to cool events like the Super Bowl (no, we didn't have tickets to the game last year, but were too frickin' tired to go anyways) and Ronnie Lott's fundraiser. It's amazing to see so many ridiculously talented athletes in one place and watch them interacting with each other and just being themselves. The open bars ain't too shabby, either.

Biggest hassles or obstacles?

Bloggers making me answer lots and lots of interview questions. Jeez, is this thing almost over?

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

I'm actually really happy with the way things went, and I can't say I would change much about what I've done leading up to now. Getting the right internships is definitely more valuable than taking the right classes, I would say. School is important and will sharpen analytical skills and things like that, but the work experience is what will ultimately make the difference for you. The internships are in high demand and difficult to get, though. You're only going to get your foot in the door if you make as many connections as possible, take the initiative, and follow up…often.

What advice would you offer those looking to follow in your footsteps?

See below.

Stolli, Absolut, Grey Goose or Kettle?

Ketel One. Grey Goose on special occasions. With pineapple juice. And two cherries.

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

9 comments:

World of Isaac said...

diana, admit that you said kettle one because of the ad you guys are running

come on, admit it

ben koo said...

I feel a little bit slighted that she didn't mention staring at me all day as one of the biggest perks of the job or identify as one of the biggest obstacles to her job.

sportsb*tch said...

sheesh, what kind of sell out do you think i am?

KETEL ONE KETEL ONE KETEL ONE KETEL ONE KETEL ONE KETEL ONE KETEL ONE KETEL ONE KETEL ONE KETEL ONE KETEL ONE KETEL ONE KETEL ONE KETEL ONE KETEL ONE KETEL ONE KETEL ONE KETEL ONE

and ben, i apologize. i definitely enjoy staring at you all day. trying not to stare too much and actually get work done IS, in fact, the biggest obstacle i face at yardbarker.

Eric (Extra P.) said...

I think speaking on the phone to Diana and Ben has been one of the highlights of my blogging career, mos def.

See you guys when you finally do the Charlottesville meet-n-greet. Though I may very well be the only blogger here.

Hello! (oh... ohh.....)

Yep.

Scott @ WFNY said...

Great stuff...

Dewey Hammond said...

I'm pretty sure when I lost that bet, D, you specifically asked me to buy you Grey Goose!

cherry tomato said...

I agree - great stuff, and very helpful too

Billy said...

I just added a little grey goose to my growth hormone!

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