What does it take to succeed at the highest level as a profession? Jake Brown and Zac Ellis know. In this special edition of the Ambition Blog, we're interviewing the two young sports journalists to learn how they earned positions with CBS and Sports Illustrated by age 24.
Much of our content here on the Ambition Blog focuses on sales. But in this post, we're tackling a much bigger subject, and one that's geared more towards the users of Ambition rather than the managers.
The topic is Millennial professional growth, and since we wanted to come at the subject from a different angle than the thousands (millions?) of other articles out there already covering it, we're bringing on two highly-successful members of Gen-Y who have already risen to the highest echelons of an unorthodox profession: Sports Journalism.
Jake Brown and Zac Ellis may not be Sales Professionals, but the work that they do perform as sports journalists and media figures, in many ways, requires the exact same attributes for success as Sales.
Jake Brown is all over CBS's New York City-area sports coverage, acting as Program Manager for CBS Sports Radio and Columnist for CBS Sports' New York website. Hardly limited to the Gotham area, Jake's content is distributed throughout CBS's syndicate network across the nation -- Dallas, Pittsburgh, Detroit, you name it.
Zac Ellis, for his part, covers College Football for a little magazine you may have heard of entitled Sports Illustrated. I first made contact with Zac in July of last year, and I'll be damned if I didn't pick up a copy of SI's College Football Preview at an airport the very next month and immediately see his byline profiling the Auburn Tigers, among other teams included in the magazine's Preseason Top 25.
Neither of these men are even close to sniffing 30. Zac just turned 26 last October, while Jake isn't even old enough to legally rent a car. By happenstance, I made acquaintances with both of them around the same time, and our conversations about how they made such quick ascensions in the ultra-crowded Sports Media industry gave me the idea for this post. Both Jake and Zac are succeeding at an enormous level, and they're doing so the right way. These are their stories, so take note: This is how you succeed as a Gen-Y professional in 2015.
Know Your Market. Add Value. Hustle Fearlessly.
There was a moment early my late adolescence when I didn't even make the first cut for my Middle School basketball team (estimated percentage that made the cut: 95%) that I made a time-honored shift in career aspirations felt by generations of uncoordinated, unathletic male youth. I might never make it as a pro athlete, but I still had a shot at sports journalism.
I wasn't the only one. Millions of millennials, in our adolescent and teen years, started our mornings off with Dan Patrick and Stuart Scott delivering the previous night's top athletic highlights on SportsCenter. We listened to broadcasts of our local pro sports franchises and grew to regard our favorite announcers as something close to kin.
And for many of us, now adults with careers, spouses and mortgages, little of that has changed. We check Deadspin multiple times a day, record NBA Tonight, and order Bill Simmons' paperbacks on Amazon. One critical change that did occur for 99 percent of us, however, was the interest in trying to make it in sports media as a career. Jake Brown and Zac Ellis didn't get that message. And by their mid-20s, they've accomplished something that thousands of embattled Bleacher Report writers could not: They've made it in one of the toughest industries to break into - here's how.
Jake Brown: Take any opportunity, no matter the size, and use it as an opportunity to grow.
Special thanks go out to Jake Brown for distilling the formula for Millennial professional success set forth above. I had to co-opt it as this article's headline, since these components, combined, form the foundation of any successful career path -- be it journalism, sales, marketing, customer service, or a host of others.
Know your market. Add value. Hustle without fear. That's the mantra, and you can really drill it down even further.
Know your market: Understand who you're serving. Never forget who you're selling to, who you're writing for, who's on the phone with you seeking help. Recognize their needs and develop your own abilities to help meet those needs. If you're in sales, that means asking qualifying questions, getting to know your product and industry inside and out, and gaining a comprehensive understanding of your purpose to those you are trying to serve. The element of your character most at-play here - intellect.
Add value: What is your mission at any given moment in your profession? Is it to entertain? To inform? To problem solve? In many instances, it can be all of the above and then some at varying points throughout the day. Always keep the needs, interests, desires and expectations of your market top of mind. In his position, for example, Jake cites "thinking like a fan" at all times as a critical factor to his success. Why? Because that's the mentality that will trigger his strongest value-adding instincts. The element of your character most at-play here - empathy.
Hustle without fear: Do not let fear of failure prevent you from taking a chance, requesting an opportunity, or giving your full effort to your profession, day-in-and-day-out. Everyone who has ever achieved something of notoriety had to overcome adversity to reach that success. Jake hits the nail on the head in his interview, citing persistence, and that you should dismiss your criticizers who offer only negative feedback for purposes of destroying your skills and practices, rather than constructing them into something better. Success breeds further success -- once you start realizing those successes, the easier it will be to stay persistent, maintain focus and consistently act with guile and ingenuity. The element of your character most at-play here - toughness.
Zac Ellis: "With everything I do, I try to remember that I'm representing something bigger than myself."
Zac Ellis's most profound insights from our interview round out the formula for Millennial professional growth. His advice: Conceive of yourself as an extension of the company, brand and product you represent.
Something Millennial professionals can often forget (and a bad practice that I'm frequently guilty of) is that, not just at work, but outside of work, you should regard yourself as an Ambassador of what you sell, who you write for, whatever the case may be. Am I advocating that you should become a total corporate sellout and white-collar clone? Of course not. Our two young professionals being profiled here are two prime examples of how this can work.
Check out Jake Brown's interview and radio show -- you'll hear his East Coast background, wit, self-certainty and intellect shine through. If you listen to the end of our interview, you'll also see a different side to Jake, as he opens up about his past feelings of vulnerability while engaging in some genuine introspection about how he's gotten where he has.
Zac, on the other hand, carries an almost dignitary-like sensibility to him. His content is a reflection of that -- thoughtful, erring towards substance over style. He has a rare gift, the ability to take the facts of a sports story and present them in a way that's evocative, without editorializing. (To better understand why this is a problem, read Drew Magary's latest rightful evisceration of Gregg Easterbrook on Deadspin roughly one-third of the way down the page). Zac is the old-school sports journalist, with the added benefit of carrying an appropriate, un-inflated sense of perspective on sports itself. (If you're uncertain as to why this is a problem, I again direct you to Deadspin).
Jake and Zac add value to whatever sports dialogue they're covering and they deliver with enough versatility to reach almost any sports lover. They're unselfish, they don't take shortcuts, and they utilize the maximum capacity of their talents. There's a lot of talk about "Growth Hacking" these days, but that need not apply to your growth as a professional. Jake and Zac didn't growth hack their way to the top, and yet, they still got there before they could legally rent a car. Take heart, millennials, and follow suit.
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