My Professional Story: I have been working in public relations in some capacity since before I graduated college, or even knew I wanted to earn a degree in public relations. I first wanted to to earn a degree in political science, eventually becoming the first US Senator that also plays on the PGA TOUR. (Dream big or don’t dream at all right?)
As I took various jobs and internships in the political world through my college years, I saw my career preferences reshaped into what I am doing today, while also learning a ton along the way.
The tobacco fields: It all started with a summer job. As a high school and college student I spent my summers working for the local Farm Service Agency office, where I measured the size of the tobacco crops in my home county. At the time farmers were required to report the size of their crops to the government, and it was my job to go measure those fields to confirm what had been reported by physically walking and measuring the perimeters of each field. If you are curious, in the hills of Tennessee, planting in an easy to measure square or rectangle is as rare as a cool day in August. Communicating with every farmer in the county, showed me early on the importance to being able to communicate in many different ways and the importance of treating every client with equal respect – regardless of education level, financial status, or any other measure.
Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper: As a 19-year-old in the summer following my freshman year of college, I landed my first job with Congressman Cooper’s campaign, where I coordinated the campaign’s presence in one of the three counties that made up his district in 2002. After winning that primary race, and essentially the entire race with no opposition in the general election, I returned to school in the fall. During that summer, I also continued measuring tobacco crops, so I would often go from boots and jeans covered in mud and sap to a suit and tie at a fundraiser in the same day. I later returned to Congressman Cooper’s congressional office as a summer intern in 2003, assisting in grant research, local outreach and constituent services.
Tennessee State Representative Mark Maddox: Upon returning to college in the fall of 2002, I saw State Representative Maddox’s car in a parking lot, so I left a hand written note under the windshield wipers. Two days later I met with him and shortly thereafter was named his campaign manager. Managing my first race, as the only “full time” staffer, I quickly learned the importance of being well-rounded in all aspects of the campaign – especially the communications end. After many frustrations of waiting on others to produce communications materials, I knew I needed to know more and added a second degree in Public Relations to my college course work.
Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen: As a sophomore in 2003 I was selected as a part of the first intern class for then newly elected Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen. I spent the fall working and researching with the Legislative & Legal team in the Governor’s office. It was an amazing experience, with unparalleled access, where I had the opportunity to work on many projects, including the administration’s implementation of the Tennessee Lottery’s HOPE scholarship.
Tony Campbell for State Representative: In 2004 I took an independent study semester from UT Martin and managed the Tony Campbell for State Representative campaign, where I was the lone staff member and coordinated all aspects of the campaign. I directed field and visibility logistics throughout the district, managed all media relations, campaign message development and fundraising. There is truly no better learning experience than having to learn out of necessity, which I did a great deal of during this race.
UT Martin Student Newspaper, The Pacer: Through coaxing from some fraternity brothers on staff, as a junior I began working with the UT Martin student newspaper, The Pacer, as a staff photographer and sports writer. I was not very good at either at the time, but it was a great experience that sparked a passion in me and drove me to find ways to become better at both.
UT Martin Sports Information & University Photographer: In the summer between my junior and senior year, I remained at UT Martin where I began concurrent internships with the university photographer Trevor Ruszkowski and the UT Martin Athletics Sports Information office, which I continued while still working at the student newspaper up until my graduation the following year. I honed my skills in photography thanks to a very talented and patient teacher, while also learning the ropes of a Division I media relations office.
American Junior Golf Association: After completing my second degree in the spring of 2006, I immediately began a communications internship with the American Junior Golf Association where I traveled over 10,000 miles around the country in a van with six others conducting the top junior golf tournaments in the country. This was the most intense, exciting and educational four months of my life, as we were responsible for communications, course setup, rules officiating and much more at each tournament.
The demands for quality, speed and accuracy in every aspect of the AJGA’s philosophy is something I still carry with me today. We were well trained to provide a top-notch experience, for all participants, media and fans attending our events. The phrase “make it happen” became a staple in the vocabulary of our staff, and remains a part of mine today. This was said when something unplanned or expected came up. It was our job to make whatever needed to happen, happen, without sacrificing quality or speed. This quickly developed my attention to details, ability to think and react quickly on the fly, and most importantly my ability to make a quality decision quickly. The experience also allowed me to meet some amazing friends, see the country, visit some of America’s best golf courses and even get embarrassed in a long-drive contest by a 14-year-old girl. (She later won the US Amateur so give a guy a break huh?)
The Real World…. After graduating college with degrees in Political Science and Public Relations, and finishing my internship with the AJGA, I accepted a Graduate Assistant position (which quickly morphed into a full time position) with the UT Martin Sports Information Department. This was the best first job a guy could ask for.
A highlight of my time at UT Martin was managing a nation-wide All-American campaign for eventual NBA draft pick Lester Hudson. This included the management of a specialized website, a dedicated social media outreach strategy, to go along with the traditional promotions to print and broadcast media across the country. Lester’s amazing story was told across the country in national publications like the Washington Post, ESPN.com, Sports Illustrated, and many more. Additionally, I was a part of the stat crew to record the only quadruple-double in NCAA Men’s Basketball history.
UT Martin Athletics: My job as Assistant Sports Information Director was to know the athletic teams I was responsible for inside and out, tell the story of their season and promote the team and student-athletes across the country. During my four years working in UT Martin athletics I had the opportunity to grow professionally, test new methods of communicating and self-taught myself graphic design and layout. As part of a three-person staff covering 17 Division I teams, I also learned how to balance a heavy work load without sacrificing quality, while also working in some of the most historic sports venues in the country.
It was during this time that social media grew from its infancy and became widely used by brands. I led the launch of our social media networks on Facebook, Twitter and aided with our YouTube channel. We became the first program in the Ohio Valley Conference to live stream our events and quickly became a model others in the league were turning to.
I also had the pleasure of telling the story of teams as they participated on the biggest stages in the NCAA and NIT Tournaments, as well as the FCS Football playoffs.
Mike McWherter for Governor: In 2010 I left UT Martin to return back home to the Nashville area. I accepted a job as the political director with the gubernatorial campaign of Mike McWherter. During my time working with UT Martin Athletics, I remained active in political activities and spent a good bit of time with former Governor Ned McWherter who lived in nearby Dresden. When his son Mike decided to run for governor, I could not sit by and not help out. With the campaign I coordinated the state-wide network of political and elected officials, secured endorsements and coordinated the visibility of the campaign across the state. I also often traveled with the candidate to oversee logistics of the campaign, organize local media interactions and assist in message preparation.
Mitchell-Haynes Financial Services: After the 2010 gubernatorial election I went into the offices of my family’s long-time financial adviser to move an old 401K…. I left with a job instead. I was presented with the opportunity to use my public relations skills to help clients of a new kind, those who needed help securing their retirement futures and help finding the affordable healthcare they needed. After becoming a licensed agent I quickly found enjoyment helping these clients, but also found that more than anything else I enjoyed getting to know them and found myself thinking more of the ways I could share their interesting life stories, rather than of the financial or insurance need at hand. This was a sign to me that, public relations was truly my calling and that I had to follow my passion of helping clients tell their stories.
Stepping out on my own: In 2011 I began taking on independent public relations clients from the corporate, political and non-profit sectors.
Taking on my own clients allowed to do exactly what I wanted to do – help people and groups tell their stories in a compelling way, while also remaining immersed in the media world which has fascinated me since childhood. It also allowed me to embark on an unexpected adventure, taking on and growing the reach of Sports & Entertainment Nashville Magazine.
I began with the quarterly magazine as simply a contributing writer in its first issue. Fast forward three years and I helped transform the publication in a source of daily online content, develop a strong and interactive social media presence, launch a new website plus write some of the stories and take some of the photos I’m most proud of in my career.
Visit Franklin: In 2016 I had the opportunity to become the Public Relations Coordinator for Visit Franklin, promoting the incredible people and stories that make up Franklin, Tenn. Short of getting paid to play golf for a living, there is not a better fit for what I want to do in my professional life. I spend my days learning about the incredible people who make up Franklin and all of Williamson County’s communities, then get to share their stories with any and all who will listen. This is the perfect combination of my personal and professional loves. I love small town America and Southern culture, but I also have an almost embarrassing level of interest in news cycles, finding unique ways to share a story and connecting great people with great story tellers across the country.
- Before my 3rd knee surgery the doc said, “I’m sorry but your half marathon days are over.” THANKS FOR THE MOTIVATI… http://t.co/k2Ra9PCTmK 5 days ago
- Appreciate @titansradio picking up those Hawaii affiliates so we can hear the @Titans while enjoying drinks with um… http://t.co/CZRalP35Et 6 days ago
- @KLThomas88 Me too, it’s terrifying how real it was in those moments! 6 days ago