The golf season is officially underway so great to sit down for a Q & A with the PGA of America’s Joni Lockridge. She is the Director of Digital Strategy for the PGA of America and oversees all of their digital efforts. This includes the content, product, and analytics teams within the digital department. For the last two and half years Joni has made sure all three of those specialty groups leverage their expertise across social, email, data, media, application development, etc. to help grow the game, to serve all the PGA Professionals, and to deliver a premium fan experience. Just talking to Joni puts me in the mood to hit the links.
Have you always had a passion for sports? I have always had a passion for participating in sports, but it wasn’t until my junior year of college that I realized I could pursue a career in this field. The light bulb came on when I realized I was getting paid for things that let me sit courtside. However, when growing up, sports was all about what I could play and not about fandom.
What did you think were cool jobs during your formative years? I always wanted to work for a big sports brand when I was thinking about careers. As a matter of fact, Nike was the name of my dog growing up, if that tells you anything.
Share a brief history about your career path? It was not a direct path to the role I’m in now. I started out working in sports even when I was still in college. During my undergraduate years at Furman University I was a “spotter” for the football team, along with a variety of other jobs within the athletic department.
When I completed undergrad, I took a job with the Big South Conference and it gave me a great perspective on working in sports. A couple of individuals there inspired me to look at grad school, and Ohio University offered exactly what I wanted: a true MBA that was separate from the sports degree, the MSA in Sports Administration, and the opportunity to explore some of my interest in the digital space through classes and application. I proceeded to apply and enroll in the Ohio University SAFM program.
Following grad school, I interned and worked Nike. It had been my goal going in to grad school, and I felt validated in that I achieved that goal coming out. I started out in the Retail Brand Marketing team with a group of great individuals and digitally-focused accounts. My plan was to be a “lifer” and work there forever, but my priorities changed unexpectedly. My brother had some serious kidney issues back in Atlanta and ended up getting a transplant from my father. I felt it was more important to move home to support my family, even though it had only been nine months, so I could help everyone get back on their feet.
The move was tough, with a lot of questions. To stay in the game, I took a contract job with IMG Live to help build the first Bracket Town for the NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis. Following this role, I decided to stay in Atlanta to chase my other passion—digital marketing—and I took a job with an agency called Definition 6. It was invaluable experience. What I thought I knew about the digital space was nothing compared to the world I entered. Definition 6 was not a sports agency; it was a 100% digital agency dealing with enterprise-level solutions, massive e-commerce systems, and global digital marketing campaigns. I gained a diverse set of skills by working with clients in a variety of industries. By the end of my term, my job was focused on building solutions across all disciplines in the digital space, with a group of people who were just as passionate about the opportunities technology afforded us, as I was.
After 3 ½ years, I shifted gears to move back into the sports world. In hindsight, the agency job was the perfect training mechanism to gather deeper experience and bring digital knowledge back into sports. I happen to believe this is an area where the sports world is deficient, so in retrospect it could not have worked out better for me.
Who inspired you along the way or a person to thank? It is so difficult to name one or two because everyone along the way shaped some unique components of my capabilities and professional style. Someone I must acknowledge is Jim Beeman, who helped me get my foot in the door at Nike and helped fulfill that lifelong dream. A couple others would be James Companion and Corey Patterson, who introduced me to the idea of grad school, and that it was not only feasible, but extremely valuable. Jason Norton and Michael Kogon, of Definition 6, who pushed me beyond my own expectations and comfort zone.
Career highlight or accomplishment you are most proud of? It involves a client situation that happened while I was at Definition 6. A key client came with a critical problem that would normally have been a six month solution that we had to complete in three weeks… over the holidays. We put together a team to work around the clock and came up with a solution inside of their allotted timeframe. Definition 6 acknowledged my efforts and I was awarded Unified Marketer of the Year, which essentially amounts to an award for the team’s collaboration and ability to rally against a seeming insurmountable challenge.
Do you have a dream job? I see one of two paths—first, I believe the CMO role is evolving to a mix of Creativity, Operations, Data and Technology. I’d like to find myself there, in the intersection of it all, amongst a team of talented, passionate people (I always crave a strong team environment).
Or second, I see starting my own business as the ultimate challenge. Here, ideas are a dime a dozen, so it’s all about execution and focus. Are you entrepreneurial? If you are in the digital space you have to have an entrepreneurial spirit. You have to reinvent yourself and your product over and over again to stay relevant and interesting.
If you took a different career path what would it have been? I would have been at a digital agency.
Advice for a kid going to college today who wants to get into sports? Two part answer. First, “work in sports” in any way possible. I don’t care if it is hanging banners, setting up chairs or whatever it takes to start working in sports. You have to figure out a way to get your foot in the door.
Secondly, there are specific, critical skill sets that the sports industry just can’t find enough talent. Two examples would be technology and data analysis. Formal education could include computer science, engineering, statistics, a management information systems degree or even something like a project management certificate. Find a way to create a unique skill set that is in demand within the sports industry.
Advice for making it in the sports industry? I think there are two areas where you have to be relentless in order to make it: building your network, and building skills and experience that the future of sports will need.
Any tips for a good work/life because Sports industry is a grind? I don’t believe in the work-life “balance”, because it implies there is an exactly equal weight or amount on each side of the scale. I see that as an unrealistic expectation for anyone at any given time. I like to think of it more as being “centered”. My advice is to think about your work and personal life as an effort to stay centered, applying weight or pressure, or even shifting the fulcrum when necessary.
Any parting shot? Sure, let me use a sports analogy. A lot of people tend to play defense when it comes to their career, reacting to other players’ strategies and movements. Instead, I suggest you play offense with your roles, responsibilities, and professional situations. Control your own pace, your professional plays, and your own destiny.
Now for some fun quick hitters to get to know a different side of Joni……
Name your dream foursome for golf? Pope Francis, Condoleezza Rice, and my grandfather
What is your favorite movie of all time? Shawshank Redemption
Favorite book? Non-fiction – The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and fiction – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Top 3 favorite athletes of all time? Charles Barkley, George St-Pierre, and Tom Glavine
What was your favorite TV show as a kid or growing up? America’s Funniest Home Videos
Three items you would take to a deserted island? Water, food and a boat
Favorite game to play as a kid? Capture the flag
Hobby that would surprise people? Huge UFC fan and actually mimic beginner MMA training techniques to stay in shape.
Do you have a favorite charity you volunteer with or support? American Kidney Foundation
To follow Joni on Twitter – @jonilock
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