Leanne Cozart, Content Marketing Manager
Leanne Cozart is a Content Marketing Manager at a sports performance technology company in Silicon Valley called Athos.She’s worked for various media companies, leagues and teams after beginning her career in 2013. She held marketing jobs at Warriors,NFL Media,Oakland Raiders. While attending Lindenwood University and then California State University, East Bay, she majored in Communications and covered sports for her college newspaper and television show. She also interned for the Oakland Raiders and the Arena Football League in various roles.
Choosing a Career Path
I’ve always really respected people who are passionate about what they choose as a career. They’ve got this contagiousness about them. I admire the urgency they have about what they’re working towards.
That’s why I was so frustrated in college when I hadn’t quite figured out what it was that I wanted to major in. After a couple of years at junior colleges, I was attending a university near St. Louis called Lindenwood and that’s where it finally clicked for me. After reading through the ENTIRE course catalog, I had figured out what I wanted to study for my major.
Communications with an emphasis on Media Production was going to be the route for me. Everything about the study of communications from marketing to media literacy to video production absolutely fascinated me. I also loved the idea of being paid to do things like content creation and social analytics. But most of all, I was captivated by the art of storytelling. I grew up in a family of great storytellers. They aren’t published journalists or filmmakers, but a group of people that can silence and captivate a room with their life’s tales. Now that I knew I wanted to be a storyteller, I needed to make some tougher choices like which industry? Do I want to do public relations or maybe news journalism? Do I want to run a social media account for a brand or become an advertising expert? There were so many ways I could take this broad study of communications.
Once I realized that reporting on the news depressed me and I couldn’t work for a company that didn’t completely fascinate me, I knew that I’d really have to focus on figuring out what my goal was going to be. I tried to do some deep thinking about what would fulfill me long term and what would feel challenging and always be evolving… that’s when I had realized that I could create media within the sports industry.
Uphill Sprint to marketing jobs at Warriors,NFL Media,Oakland Raiders
Once I made the decision to focus on sports, I started covering all the games taking place at my University for both our newspaper and television shows. When I transferred to CSU East Bay, I reached out via cold emails from contact information I was able to find online, to all the local bay area sports teams, papers, and television networks regarding internships. I only heard back from one company, which happened to be my childhood favorite team, the Oakland Raiders.
After my cold email, I was asked to come in for an interview that week. I went in and met with members of the Public Relations team and I got the gig! It’s funny because I really had nothing to show but some clippings from my university newspaper on our football team. The internship didn’t pay and it would require me to come in two days a week on top of working all home games to support the PR team and I was ecstatic about that.
I can’t express how grateful I am that they took a chance on a young college student who didn’t have many skills, just a drive to learn and succeed. Looking back, I know know that it was that internship that started it all for me.
I learned a ton about interviewing, pitching and writing stories, tracking assets, and building relationships with other departments as well as players and coaches during that time. However, it was also one of the toughest times for me as I was a struggling, impoverished college student supporting myself, working three jobs seven days a week on top of my full course load and internship.
Once my PR internship with the Raiders was done, I decided I’d reach out to the Arena Football League to see if they had anyone covering the San Jose SaberCats. A Communications Manager replied to my cold email and said they’ve never had anyone do that and they’d love it if I started. So there it was, I created my own opportunity and gained another internship.
The internship didn’t pay, it was very far from where I was living and I had to go there twice a week to cover practices and attend every home game on the weekends, but I was thrilled to do so. I was able to conduct hundreds of player/coach interviews and produce tons of blogs and social content during this time which I believe were vital building blocks to my future endeavors. I was building that storytelling muscle by learning how to construct a story by first researching, crafting interview questions and then collecting quotes and assets to add to my story that would then be published and distributed on the website and social platforms.
Once the NFL season was near starting up for the summer and the AFL season was dying down, I reached back out to the Oakland Raiders to see if there was an opportunity for me to return. They were thrilled to have me back and actually created an opportunity for me to intern in a brand new department called Player Engagement.
This was something way different than anything I’ve ever done. I was going to work directly with the Director of Player Engagement to create marketing campaigns and initiatives while collaborating with the league all in an effort to help players work towards their “second career” goals. This was an eye-opening experience for me because, for the first time, these players were humanized for me. I wasn’t just reporting on their stats and game performance anymore, I was actually trying to help them succeed outside of football. To me, this was fascinating and felt incredibly rewarding. I worked 2-3 days a week and worked every home game which was a blast.
I was lucky enough to be recognized by one of the executives who wanted to use my skill set on special projects throughout that season. So I was able to actually start helping put together large company events and marketing campaigns just as an intern. I felt I was part of the Raiders family and there was and is, no greater feeling.
Once again, in the off-season of the NFL I started back up with the AFL as a reporter, but this time for a different publication. I had sent a cold email to a site called Arena Fan where I asked if I could cover the team for the season on their site and the two men who ran the site were thrilled to have me contribute. At this point, I was a senior in college near graduation and I had felt I gained a pretty solid understanding of the sports industry…little did I know.
Entering the “Real World”
About five months prior to graduation, I started applying to jobs all over the country that were entry-level positions at all sports networks, teams, websites, and leagues. I had a couple of phone interviews early on and funny enough, both were in Connecticut. One was with NBC Sports in Stamford and the other was with ESPN in Bristol. I got past the phone interview with ESPN and was flown in around the same month of graduation for an interview. I was so nervous, this was my first big time interview and I had to fly across the country for it. These were the main things I did to prep for the interview:
Watched and read all things ESPN (ESPN shows, all their websites like ESPNW, and their magazine ESPN The Magazine… you get the picture)
Studied everything about the company I could including Disney who owns ESPN
Researched who was in the Creative Services department I was interviewing in to get an idea of who I’d be meeting
Learned the job description like the back of my hand and did a refresher on all the software mentioned
Met with several professors to get job interview advice on all things from what I should wear to how I should craft my answers in the best way to sell myself and my skill set
This one’s embarrassing…I practiced talking about my intern experiences by myself in front of the mirror and took notes on how I did and what I brought up. I figured the more I think through it all now the better it will come out when it’s go time
Crafted very thoughtful questions to ask them and nailed three to focus on if given the opportunity
Long story short, I met with several members of the team and learned a lot about the department and what I’d be doing day to day and it was FANTASTIC. I’d be working with two other people on updating content for an app on the Samsung Smart TV called ESPN Next Level. Beyond that, I’d help with any creative needs that came up in the department. After learning about this exciting position, I was able to take a tour of the campus with the two women who’d be my boss’s and I was in awe.
The Bristol ESPN campus is truly impeccable. Both a sports fan and a media lovers dream. After studying everything about all the shows, sites, publications and people I was almost starstruck to see it up close. I got the job offer about a week after I got back from the interview. So after graduation, I packed up my life in about 13 suitcases (3 were shoes and 2 were jackets, I had no idea how to prepare for living in the snow) and I had picked out a cat to adopt in a town about three hours from Bristol. I was all set to start “adulting”. Side note, this was a part-time job and only for a one year contract. So with that said, I had to find other part-time jobs once I got there so that I could financially survive.
While I was at ESPN, I learned a ton about video editing, filming, storyboarding and creating efficient processes. They had amazing classes you could take at ESPN University where you could polish your skill sets or even learn something completely outside of your skill set. I was exposed to some amazing projects working with augmented reality, 3D printers and everything else under the technological sun.
I had amazing boss’s who encouraged me to shadow around the company as much as possible to gain a better understanding of how it all works together. I’ll never forget, my first day meeting the head of my department, he asked me what I wanted to do at ESPN. I told him “This, be a creative assistant.” He said, “No, like long-term what are you working towards?”
Boy, was that a tough question to answer. Here I am just thrilled I actually got a job in the current awful economy in a hard-to-break-into, male-dominated industry but yet I hadn’t spent any time thinking on a macro level through what I wanted to accomplish and work towards for the long run. I remember being so frustrated that he had asked me this because I was totally unprepared to answer. But now looking back, I couldn’t be more grateful that he did because it challenged me to start mapping out the entire picture for my future.
With that said, the career shadows and informational interviews that I set up across the company became more pointed. That same executive who had asked me that question about what I wanted to be, told me some great advice, “Everyone has to eat and drink.” He encouraged me to reach out to any and everyone, no matter what position or rank to see if I could treat them to coffee or eat lunch with them that way it’s not too much of an extra burden for them to meet with me. It worked! I was meeting with the president of espnW, the Editor-In-Chief of ESPN The Magazine, with my personal heroes like Jemele Hill and Jane McManus, it was incredible. They all had such great advice. They encouraged me to continue meeting with people to pick their brains and to continue hunting down opportunities to get published wherever I could if I wanted to go down the journalist route which is what I was thinking at the time.
I had thought that I’d want to maybe cover the NFL for NFL Nation or possibly be a feature writer for ESPN The Magazine. I started contributing stories to all those publications (NFL Nation) as well as espnW through the connections I made from my shadows and informational interviews (ESPN The Magazine). I was able to attend practices at the Jets facility, cover marathons in New York City and work on projects that as an entry-level part-time assistant, I really had no business working on.
As I mentioned earlier, I also had to get a part-time job outside of ESPN to make ends meet. I reached out to all the local newspapers and publications to see if any of them needed a freelancer or what they called a stringer. I got an interview with the Meriden Record-Journal a few cities away from Bristol to cover high school sports and community events. It meant I was leaving my daytime job to go cover hockey and basketball games in the evening as well as traveling around on the weekends to places I never even heard of to cover community marathons. There’s nothing harder than keeping your own stats and hitting a tight deadline after a game. I had no idea how spoiled I was with the Raiders and the SaberCats because I had the help of stat pros.This was a new challenge.
About six months into my time at ESPN I had been offered a full-time opportunity for the communications department, which is one I had been shadowing in for a while. During my shadows they allowed me to contribute pitches and stories for their internal company blog. They were creating a brand new full-time position to support their internal blog as well as to manage assets and produce videos as needed. I was so excited to have a full-time gig alas. I was also very involved in several clubs during my time at ESPN such as “Radio Readers” “Disney Blanketeers” and I joined their “Mentor Program”.
It was roughly about a year after I had started at ESPN that I left to move back home to California to be near my family in a time of need. I had moved out there with no job and was quite overwhelmed with figuring out how to get into the sports industry scene in the bay area. There was ample opportunity given there are several sports teams and sports media companies in the bay, but it was still going to be tough to break into even with ESPN on my resume.
I reached out to my network and frequently visited Teamworkonline.com to see what was out there. I also sent cold emails to several different companies. I was able to get on as a stringer with the Bay Area News Group covering high school football on Fridays. This was so challenging because once again, I had to keep my own stats as well as hit a tight deadline right after the game. I fell deeper in love with sports during that time because it was so inspiring to watch these high schoolers work their butts off for the love of the game. It was a mega-shift from working with the pros and I’m so happy I had that opportunity. Even if it meant occasionally having an angry parent track me down because I messed up their kid’s stats in my story.
I had also gotten hired for a job I found online through my searches to be a part-time Promotions Assistant with Entercom, a local radio company. I worked with some great people during that time traveling around to everything from community festivals to sports games. I was waking up at the crack of dawn to load a van and heading out to different locations to set up tents, hand out flyers and running raffles. This was WAY different than what I saw myself doing, so this was a humbling time for me. I kept applying for jobs because I still needed to make ends meet living in the notoriously expensive bay area. After applying through Teamworkonline.com I was selected for an interview with the Golden State Warriors for a part-time Community Relations role which I ended up getting.
So here I was, working seven days a week with three jobs. I was exhausted but very proud of myself for making it work and staying on the path of working towards a career in sports.
Luck Is When Preparation Meets Opportunity
So the first part of this was a common theme of grinding and making opportunities for myself. This second part will be a lovely demonstration of how preparation can set you up for amazing opportunities.
While I was running around doing those three jobs, I was networking a ton with all the people at all those companies. The bay area entertainment industry is a pretty connected circle with some brilliant people. While I was a Promotions Assistant with Entercom, I was working every and any sport-related event that came up even if it meant waking up at 4 am to set up for a Raiders game tailgate. One football Sunday, I had set up the tent and started helping with the promotion of the live broadcast of 95.7 The Game when I met the Executive Producer and Asst. Program Director of the station. Funny enough, he also used to work at ESPN. He and I started chatting about the people we both know as well as what we did during our time there and hit it off. He was impressed with my sports knowledge and production experience and said I should come into his office the following week to chat about possibly producing a radio show for 95.7 The Game as a part-timer. I told him that I had never done anything related to radio before but I would be willing to learn if he didn’t mind having someone teach me. He said that being a great storyteller is all I needed to be because the rest can be easily learned.
The following week I went in to meet with him and got the job. I was going to help launch a brand new NBA show that aired on Sundays with some incredibly, well-respected journalists. I stopped covering high school football for BANG and stopped my Promotions Assistant job so that I could focus on just the Warriors and 95.7 The Game moving forward.
This is where it all started to come together. As I got more and more versed in radio production I was trusted with producing more shows and before I knew it I producing several shows throughout the week. I was creating the rundowns, editing audio clips, writing and recording promos, setting up interviews with players, coaches and journalists as well as running all the social media accounts for my shows. During the day I’d be at the Warriors in Oakland helping plan and execute community events and at night I’d be in San Francisco producing a four-hour show.
After doing this for about seven months, I was exhausted, to say the least. I had some contacts at Fox Sports and ESPN LA who had been keeping a lookout for full-time jobs for me and I finally thought it’d be a good time to settle into a full-time role. Even if it meant moving to LA which wasn’t too far from the family, so that I wasn’t running myself into the ground. Right around the time I started seriously looking into some opportunities in LA, I had met the Executive Producer at the Warriors.
There was a video production department that was growing and had some amazingly talented people creating content worthy of awards and they needed a Coordinating Producer. During my time at ESPN, I met a ton of Coordinating Producers and they were all very senior so this was a bit intimidating for me to consider, but once again, I was told that if I could tell stories well I could get the job done. I accepted the role and started my journey as the Coordinating Producer of Studio. My production skills from college, ESPN and 95.7 The Game came in handy in this role and I must add, it was so nice to just have one job to focus on.
During my time with the Warriors as a Coordinating Producer, I worked on AMAZING projects with AMAZING people. I was creating pitches, storyboards, writing scripts, interviewing players, coaches, media, and fans to create content for television shows, the in-arena video board and for our website, social handles and apps. I was able to partner with brands like Uber, Clorox, and RedBull on collaboration projects. I even was lucky enough to win three Emmys for videos I produced for various playoff and league campaigns.
I worked cross-functionally with every department to meet their creative needs and I also got to help pull off some of the best sports campaigns I’ve ever been a part of, including the well known “Strength in Numbers” playoff campaign. Working for a championship winning team also means I was able to network and film with celebrities and ride on parade busses, not to mention get my own championship ring. This was a job full of amazing opportunities and I learned so much about being a leader, project management and collaborating with internal and external clients. While I was in that role, after about five months I was promoted to “Lead Coordinating Producer” which was very rewarding and indicated that I was truly making an impact at the organization.
I did finally get to a point where I wanted to learn more about data analytics and the role they play in storytelling. So I started researching masters programs like the Data Driven J-School at Stanford University. I met with several professors there, sat in on classes and picked the Dean’s brain to see if this would be a valuable thing for me to do and to my surprise, most of the professors encouraged me to find a job where I could learn the skills I felt like I needed to learn in an “on the job” setting.
So instead of heading back to school to get my masters, I instead started searching the job market to see what roles were out there that would have a focus on data-driven storytelling and to my surprise I found a fit. The NFL Network was hiring a Digital Content Marketing Manager and the role was heavily tied to analytics as I’d monitor trends as well as traction to see how content was performing to inform how I’d create content moving forward for various platforms. This was also a part-time role and it was in LA, so it was a risk but I decided to apply for it. After several interviews and a trip to LA to meet the team, I was offered the job.
During my time at the NFL Network, I was able to once again work with some incredibly smart people. I learned a ton about SEO, content curation, creating campaigns for shows, and paid social execution tactics. I was able to work closely with a data scientist to help me learn about what the data meant and how to make decisions with it. Another favorite part about my time there was being able to actually shoot and edit content that was used in national commercials to promote a new show on our network. I’ll never forget flying out to Hobbs, New Mexico to film in a car shop for three days straight with a family who was starring in “Tackle My Ride.” It’s opportunities like these that have allowed me to sharpen my skill set and get out of my comfort zone which is just what I wanted at that time.
After about seven months in LA, an opportunity arose with my favorite sports team, the Oakland Raiders. I moved back to the Bay Area and started work with the Raiders in a full-time role as a Marketing Manager. I had the opportunity to work with a growing Creative Services department where I was working with some amazingly talented creatives. I was THRILLED to be back with the Raiders, the team that gave me my start. I felt honored to be back in the building and in a manager role. I worked very closely with our CMO who was a brilliant executive who came from Apple and Disney previously. I learned a ton about Go To Market strategies as well as how to manage campaigns from concept to execution. During this time, the Raiders announced that they were moving to Las Vegas and that meant I’d have to move right away to start the marketing efforts in Nevada. This was a tough decision for me, but after getting recruited for a job with a Sports Performance Technology company in Silicon Valley, I decided I wouldn’t move to Las Vegas but instead I’d take this job and stay in the bay area.
Now, in my current position, after the wild journey leading up to it, I am finally settled in. This is my first position outside of a sports team, publication or network and my first time working in tech, and a startup at that. Which means I’m wearing several hats day to day to support marketing and business development efforts. I regularly collaborate with several departments and lead cross-functional meetings with the goal of creating content and campaigns to drive business goals. I help to project manage and strategize as well as to produce all the content that goes on our platforms. This has been a challenging role as it’s the first time I’ve had to create content around such a complex technology. I’ve really enjoyed telling inspiring stories about athletes and coaches who are using our technology to reach their goals.
With ALL that said, you’ll notice a common theme in my journey. An eagerness to learn and a constant pattern of opportunities arising due to skill sets I’ve polished from job to job. By leveraging my storytelling skills, I’ve been able to land a dream job in tech. If you told me five years ago when I was graduating college that I’d be a Manager for a cutting-edge tech company backed by some of the most well-known Silicon Valley investors, I’d say you’re crazy. But now looking back, I see how every step of the way laddered up to where I’m at now.
I’ve been so fortunate to have had amazing leaders take chances on me along the way. This journey has been by no means easy, but it has been very rewarding and constantly challenging in a good way. I want to leave you with one thought, as you work to land your dream job or even get your foot in the door in your dream industry, remember that if you’re constantly learning and challenging yourself, you will have great opportunities to take advantage of in due timing. Lastly, never be afraid to reach out to people to “pick their brains”, the worst they can do is say no or not respond. If it wasn’t for my boldness in reaching out to people to gain insights, I don’t think I could’ve had half the opportunities I’ve had. Never get discouraged, it’s a numbers game. If you’ve got the passion to constantly evolve your skill set as well as the drive to succeed and grow, there’s nowhere you can’t go.