By: Adam White, @FOSAdam
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Jeramie McPeek, VP of Digital for the Phoenix Suns. Growing up a Suns fan, Jeramie got his first position working in the team shop straight out of high school and, after 23 years, he continues to be a staple figure in the organization with his jovial demeanor and contagious personality. Jeramie has grown up with his position and has seen dramatic changes in the industry all while becoming one of the most influential and respected men at his position today. He was gracious enough to take time out of his quest to become a “Suns Lifer” to sit down with us and discuss what his journey has been like, how to approach breaking into the industry, and why you must be protective of your personal brand.
You started working with the Suns in their team shop straight out of high school and now 23 years later you are the VP of Digital. What has that journey been like for you?
A journey is a great way to describe it. When I started out working in the team shop selling Charles Barkley jerseys and Suns hats I didn’t envision myself being here 23 years later and working on websites. I didn’t even know what a website was in 1992. My original plan in college was to be a sports writer. I was a journalism major at ASU and had aspirations for writing for Sports Illustrated.
While I was working in the team shop, I started a Team Shop Newsletter. In it were stories about the Suns, their merchandises and our employees. I took those newsletters and mailed them to all the executives in the front office including, at that time, Jerry Colangelo. I wanted to get my name out there and I wanted them to know they had an employee with ambition and drive to be more than just someone who worked in the team shop.
I graduated in 1995 and was hired full time to work on our team magazine “Fast Break”. Shortly after that, the NBA launched NBA.com and every team was given a portal. Our PR director got a fax from the NBA telling her that they were doing this. When she got the fax she handed it to us and said, “Why don’t you guys handle this. I don’t know what to do.” I kind of fell into my job by accident, I fell in love with it and I’ve grown up with it ever since.
I never thought I was going to be there that long, but once the website came along and I was working full time, I started to envision myself being a “Suns Lifer.” When I first got here, it was our 25th season and we printed a book celebrating the team for those first 25 years. I remember envisioning myself being around to not only see the 50th anniversary one, but putting it together. I’m only two more full seasons from coming full circle from where I was 25 years ago.
Looking back on your entry-level position with the Suns, what was that like?
For me the entry level position allowed me to showcase to the team that I really wanted to be there. When I was working in the team shop, I was always doing different things, always asking people if they needed help, always trying to make my presence felt and to show the team that I truly cared. During my second season, I got an internship with the basketball communications department on game nights where I helped hand out booklists and transcribe quotes for reporters.
I learned you have to do as many things as you can, do them to the best of your ability, put in long hours, meet as many people as you can and learn from them. If you can meet more people early on, get more experiences and network more, you will be better off when you leave school.
With so many social/digital media platforms out there today how do the Suns keep their content fresh and entertaining over all the mediums?
It is a challenge. We are lucky to have such a talented and creative staff that are constantly coming up with new things and challenging one another to be better. We are always looking at what other teams, leagues, and entertainment companies are doing while finding ways to create original content. It’s always hard to push the envelope, to find what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. There is a lot of trial and error.
Social Media positions have become one of the sexy jobs in sports with current students. What would be your words of advice for all those looking to get jobs/establish a career in sports?
When we hired Greg Esposito to be our Social Media Specialist four years ago, we had 1200 applications in less than a week. I have hired 20–25 employees over the last decade and never had anything close to half that. Typically for other jobs we receive 300–400 applications after 3–4 weeks, but nothing like the numbers we had for that position.
Everyone thinks that since they have their own social media accounts that they can manage a team account. There is so much more to it than just that. It takes so many more skills than just being creative and being able to write. You have to understand marketing, business initiatives, PR and being able to take all the requests we get from the different departments in the organization. You also have to be able to weave that into the content we put out. The best thing to do is get experience.
There are a lot of small companies and businesses that have no idea what to do with social media other than the fact that they should have it because it is important. These places are some of the best places to get experience not only because they would love the help, but also because they will allow you to do everything and really showcase your skills. Teams are no longer going to hire someone out of college without some type of experience.
What are you do’s and don’ts when it comes to social media use for students and young professionals?
Be protective and aware of your brand. Anything that you put on Facebook or Twitter can come back to haunt you one way or another. It may not be fair, but you will be judged by what you post. I would be cautious about what you say and what you put out there. On the flip side, you should showcase your personality, show creativity and show your true self but do it in a clean and professional way. You are your own CEO and you should treat yourself as your own business and present that business in the most professional and clean way possible.
With a wife and two kids, you are probably as busy at home as you are at the office. How have you been able to create a work life balance?
That is a very challenging thing in professional sports especially in today’s world where we are connected 24/7. You could work all day every day if your body can handle it. You have to force yourself to find that balance and carve out time for your spouse, family and other relationships. I’m far from perfect with that as I’m always thinking about what I want to do next. It is a challenge to turn that off. It’s a matter of forcing yourself to do it. There will always be time to work; there won’t always be time to spend quality time with your family.
Why do you think engagement on a second screen has become so critical to not only the teams but also the fans? Where do see it going from here?
I think it has become a part of our culture. Everyone is watching TV while holding their phone in their hand. We tend to get bored just watching a program without using our phones in between breaks in the show. In terms of sports, we need to take advantage of that and put out the best quality products from tweets to highlight real dunks on Vine for fans to enhance the overall experience. If people are going to be on their phone at the games, give them a reason to connect to your brand.
Persistence is Key
During my high school career at Phoenix Christian, I had a journalism supervisor who was always pushing me to interview Suns players, especially because at the time there were a few on the team such as Kevin Johnson who were strong Christians. I called the Suns PR department every two weeks and eventually they let me come to a game and interview any player that I wanted. I realized that if you are persistent and respectful and go after your dreams that it will work out for you. A few years later, the same PR director who had let me come interview them, was one of the people who gave me my internship during college.
Dream big, but don’t just focus on one thing. Get as much possible experience as you can, it is absolutely critical. I have not asked to see the grades of the last 20–25 people I have hired. I wanted to know if they graduated and what experiences they had. Experience has always been more valuable to me than the grades they got in college.
You have to get to know people as well. Other people will hear about you from the people you have worked with and, for the most part, this how you can get your foot in the door.
Because of his desire to help others, his creative knack and his true passion for this industry it was easy to see how he has gotten where he is today and why he continues to be one of the leaders in the field of digital media. We would like to thank him for his time and insight. Speaking with him was a true pleasure. We wish him nothing but the best going forward in his quest to become a “Suns Lifer” and with any other future endeavors. You can follow Jeramie on Twitter here and you can connect with him on LinkedIn here!