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: Travis Gorsch, @tgorsch3
What do sports, country music and social enterprises all have in common? You may not know how they fit together, but LaMecia Butler can tell you just that. She has experienced all three in her career, but they all seemed to have a common theme: community. Though it may not seem like they have anything in common, she uses each one of these experiences on a daily basis in her current role with the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee as the Director of Community Relations.
Butler got her first taste of sports at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Communications & Public Relations.
“I picked UTSA because they were hosting the Final Four two of the four years I was going to be there. If I wanted to work in sports, I needed to be around sports. Our athletic director, Lynn Hickey, gave a talk at our freshman orientation. Afterwards, I went up and introduced myself and told her I wanted to work in sports. She connected in the athletic department at UTSA. My first job in sports was working the music at volleyball and basketball games.”
An internship in broadcast journalism at WOAI-TV followed. Her internship with WOAI directly led to her other part-time position as a Communications Assistant for Spurs Sports & Entertainment.
“A woman did a presentation about internships at WOAI and again, I went up afterward and introduced myself. I told her the same thing I told my AD at UTSA, that I wanted to work in sports as a sports broadcaster. She told me to send her my resume and that’s how I started working at the news station.”
“While I was working at the news station, I did an interview with Spurs small forward, Bruce Bowen. Everyone was grilling him with all these difficult questions. I decided to ask him what his favorite part of his summer was. He had gotten engaged, so I got to break that story. The Spurs posted a communications writer position shortly after and, even though I had no experience, I applied for the position anyway.”
“The woman that would be interviewing me for the job, Monica Taylor, recognized me from that interview with Bruce Bowen. That taught me that first impressions are everything and you never know who is watching you. Even though PR was my major, I had no experience. I had my friend teach me how to write a press release and I went home that night to produce one that I sent to Monica. I told her ‘I didn’t want the only reason for her not to hire me because I had never done what was required for the job.’.”
Butler made the move from San Antonio to Tennessee after college where she spent four years working for Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. in Public Relations.
“After graduation, I knew I wanted to stay in sports and my boss was advocating for a full-time position for me. While she was advocating, it became clear that a full-time position didn’t seem likely. My mom told me I didn’t go to college to work two part-time jobs. I was thankful that she gave me that advice.”
“I started applying for anything and everything that was appealing. I applied and interviewed at the University of Tennessee for a GA position. They liked me, but they wanted to forward my resume on to another company. I thought to myself there’s no way they would do that. Not only did they follow through, I ended up interviewing for a position at Scripps and got it. For the time I lived in Knoxville, I returned their favor by volunteering with the Lady Vols Basketball team I loved community events when I was working for the Spurs, but I really started to recognize how much I wanted to work in community at Scripps.”
Scripps offered Butler many transferable skills that would translate back into the sports industry.
“You must know how to develop a plan that you can execute. And, create short-term and long-term goals to drive performance. We had a ‘hit list’ which was a list of stretch goals. This helped with Super Bowl 50 when we had lofty goals we were trying to achieve. Even this year in Houston, we have some things that will take a lot of effort. Often, when you’re finished, you realize sometimes it’s not as big of a stretch as you would think.”
“You have to be comfortable being thrown into unchartered territory and having to learn quickly. I had a short amount of time to conquer certain things. I think that helps now. Even with new projects, I have to conduct research and quickly gain an understanding of what works to move forward.”
Butler eventually decided that it was time for her to take the next step in her career in 2008, after the devastating Hurricane Ike hit Houston. It really hit home for her, knowing that her family was in Houston and she was stuck in Nashville. She ended up leaving Scripps to become an independent consultant, focused on pursuing her passion to give back to the community.
“It was a big risk for me to leave, I knew it was a great place. I received a promotion at Scripps within three years, so there was room for growth. But, in some ways I thought I had reached my peak in what I could learn at Scripps. I knew I wanted to do what was in my heart which was to give back to the community and more specifically the Houston community.”
In 2010, Butler went back to school to earn her MBA at Rice University.
“There were gaps in my knowledge of the operations and strategy for non-profit. If you’re doing PR and marketing, they just pull you in at the end. I could see flaws in the system. I felt like if I had the knowledge, people would seek that out or I could market myself differently.”
After graduating from Rice University with her MBA, she moved to Southern California to pursue a job with REDF, a venture philanthropy organization that invests exclusively in the growth of social enterprises focused on employment. During her time spent with REDF, she was responsible for making strategic grants to outstanding social enterprises. This experience would prove to be very beneficial down the road whether she knew it yet or not.
“There were four of us that started in the Southern California office at REDF. I met Jason [Trimiew] on my first day and he made an impression I’ll never forget.”
“Being able to understand the overall impact a nonprofit has is important. Part of our grant making process was conducting evaluations of the organizations. We had to determine if they were a qualified. I managed five organizations in the portfolio at REDF. Just knowing how to talk to people and understanding their concerns, and learning the nuances of the industry was huge. I have taken that experience with me.”
“The driving factor for me was I wanted to help people. I wanted to take what I knew and help others do a better job at what they’re already doing. I ask them ‘How can we improve it? What processes should we be doing? What other strategies can we explore?’ One of the things I think is great about the social enterprise space is that if you have an idea there’s room for it and people aren’t shutting the door and saying no we already tried it.”
That creativity and passion to help others would prove to be very valuable in the eyes of one of her colleagues. That colleague at REDF was Jason Trimiew, who had just been hired as the VP of Community Relations for the San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee. After hearing about the good news, Butler sent Jason a note congratulating him on his new role. Not long after, she found herself joining the same team as the Community Relations Manager reporting directly to Jason.
“In May of 2014, I started to think I wanted to leave REDF and get back to sports and ultimately work in Houston in the community. A few months later Jason announced he was joining the Super Bowl 50 team. All I said to Jason in the e-mail was, ‘You have no idea how much fun you’re going to have. Congratulations and enjoy it’ I had no expectation that I’d ever join his team. It reemphasized to me that first impressions are important. You never know who you are meeting and who you could end up working for.
“People often think networking is about getting the most business cards, but it isn’t. Having touch points is important. You don’t have to email them every week. You can go a couple months and say hey how’s it going without asking for anything. I learned in PR you should give before you ask.”
Butler was responsible for the development, launch, execution and tracking of the Business Connect program, the legacy program of Super Bowl 50, 50 Fund and many other Community Relations initiatives. Super Bowl 50 had been branded as “More Than a Game,” but that wasn’t just lip service, it was at the forefront of everything they did. With a dynamic team of four people, including herself, and a race against the countdown clock in the office kitchen, every day counted.
“Having a lean staff means you have to look for good people and let them do what they’re good at. You can’t get in the way and micromanage. As a leader, you have to learn to delegate. Once you have that level of trust, you have to pull back and let people do the work. Sometimes people can do a better job if you give them space to bring in new ideas.”
The 50 Fund impacted over 537,000 youth and families living in low-income communities in the Bay Area. Not to mention it broke Super Bowl XLVIII record as the Most Giving Super Bowl by raising $13 million for philanthropic efforts. The impact was seen all around the Bay Area and beyond as 141 nonprofits in 12 counties received grants from the 50 Fund.
“It’s pretty incredible to say we were a part of the Most Giving Super Bowl ever. In my current role we don’t have that goal, but we do make sure that our grants have a meaningful impact. You can never give out enough money. There’s always going to be a need. Even in the market of the Most Giving Super Bowl, there was still a need. It’s important to be a responsible grant maker and have an impact with your dollars.”
The 50 Fund created a Board of Directors and Advisory Council to oversee the different programs and grants including The Re(a)d Zone, PLAY 60, Play On, Game Changer, and Playmaker grants.
“Any non-profit board helps drive the organization and helps stay true to the mission. Everyone came together and was united around our goal to have an impact on low-income youth and young adults in the Bay Area. The humility that they exhibited when they needed to follow protocols and stay committed to the mission was impressive.
Butler’s linking diverse-owned businesses with contracting opportunities around the Super Bowl. The Business Connect Resource Guide consisted of 435 local diverse companies who have been vetted to conduct business for Super Bowl related events. In San Francisco, the Business Connect saw over $6 million spent with minority-owned, woman-owned, LGBT-owned and disabled veteran-owned businesses.
After her duties with Super Bowl 50 wrapped up, it was back home, but not for the rest and relaxation she deserved. Butler went back to Houston where she accepted the Director of Community Relations position with the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee for Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. She was heading home to do what she knew she wanted to do this whole time, give back to the community of Houston.
Now she is delving into Touchdown Houston, the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee’s charitable program, which will donate a minimum of $4 million to non-profit organizations throughout the community focused on education, health and community enhancement.
“There is certainly a learning curve that I don’t have this time around. I have the ability to build upon what I know and learned from last year. I’m very results oriented so having the ability to take something great and make it even greater whether it be with Business Connect, Touchdown Houston or our community outreach is helpful. Every day, I’m grateful that I get to wake up and do what I’ve wanted to do for years: give back to my community.”
Butler is currently reading the book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell.
“It’s about how small things can make a big difference in life. I really enjoy the book because if you have a small amount of resources or people you can still make a big difference.”
If anyone knows how to make a big difference in life, it’s LaMecia Butler.
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Super Bowl LI will be played on February 5, 2017. Follow along the action as it unfolds by following Houston’s social media channels.
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