For the latest instalment of our interview series we sat down with Tom, who is responsible for digital communications at the Western Bulldogs AFL team. By focusing on the journey and constantly developing his skills, he’s ended up at a pretty special destination.
Age – 30
Location – Melbourne, Australia
What is your current role?
I’m currently the Head of Digital at the Western Bulldogs Football Club.
Tell me about your career path leading up to your current role.
I completed a Bachelor of Media Communications/Bachelor of Commerce double degree at the University of Melbourne and completed a variety of internships and placements along the way. Most of these placements were external to course work and something I sought to build practical experience as a point of difference to other graduates trying to enter the job market.
My first full-time job was as Communications Coordinator at Athletics Victoria, before being promoted into the Communications Manager role. As a state sporting organisation, with a small staff, the remit was quite broad but there was no better way to build experience.
After three years at AV, an opportunity to specialise in the digital space arose at the Western Bulldogs, which prompted a move. The chance to be a part of the pre-eminent sporting code in Australia and build the Bulldogs’ digital platforms from the ground up was appealing. No day has been the same since arriving at the Kennel as a Digital Marketing Coordinator five years ago, and being a part of the 2016 AFL Premiership journey has been a career highlight.
What does your role involve?
I currently oversee the Club’s digital platforms from an operational sense, including video production and social media, as well as guiding the Club’s digital strategy – focussing on audience growth, fan engagement and the commercialisation of these platforms. My background in digital has come from a content creation perspective, so complimenting this with technical knowledge is a focus of my ongoing professional development.
What are your favourite aspects of the job?
The culture of a sporting club is pretty hard to replicate and it is one of the standout features of the job (and indeed the industry). We’ve each got our role to play in helping the Club achieve the ultimate success. There’s a genuine commitment from all across the business to the collective.
What I’ve learned over five years at the Bulldogs is how much this Club means to so many. To be able to be the conduit between the inner sanctum and the Club’s fan base is a privileged position. There’s an intangible, emotional investment that you make, which at times can take its toll, but the rewards I dare say can’t be replicated by any other industry.
Be honest – did you know what Digital Marketing was when you were in uni? How/when did you first find out about it and what drew you to the role?
I didn’t. The digital space is so rapidly evolving, that I can say it wasn’t a role I saw myself moving towards through my studies. It wasn’t until I got to Athletics Victoria that I started to appreciate the space, the value it had and the opportunities it could provide. It was the industry shift towards organisations and brands being content creators that really drew me to digital. You didn’t have to work for a traditional media organisation to break the news. You could do that yourself, on your own channels.
What type of person do you think would enjoy and do well in your kind of role?
There’s no hiding from it - the digital space is always on. There are no opening hours, so the expectation is increasingly that you need to meet this demand from a content perspective. You need to be prepared to put in the hours, as it’s not a traditional 9-5 job.
Things are often fast moving, so being a clear thinker and process orientated is a benefit. When the requests come in thick and fast with a quick turnaround, you need to be able to process them and deliver to deadline. From a content creation perspective, strong communication and writing skills are a necessity. They’re the fundamentals of the media industry, and while the medium changes, the basics don’t.
Most importantly though, you’ve got to be passionate about the space and the industry in which you find yourself in. If you’re managing the social communities of a brand, you’re the mouthpiece of it, so it’s a lot easier to represent it when you’ve bought in.
What are your interests/projects outside of work? Have any of them helped you to get to your current role? What other things/people have influenced you?
Before I moved into full-time work, I spent five years rowing at an elite level. I had the privilege to represent Victoria at both underage and senior levels and had some state and national level successes along the way. What I took from that was the work ethic and commitment needed to achieve your goals.
As an athlete, the best are those that put in the extra work when others aren’t watching, and ensure they dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’. In professional life it is no different. I’ve also had the opportunity to pursue a passion for sporting commentary through my previous roles, and have had the opportunity to call state, national and international athletics meets alongside some of the industry’s best, including Bruce McAvaney, Tim Lane and Peter Donegan.
What’s your advice for people who are considering a career in your field?
Early on, people sometimes get caught up in the destination rather than the process, focussing on where they want to work first, rather than what they’ll be doing day-to-day. If you covet a role at a peak industry body, be it an AFL club or otherwise, it’s highly unlikely it will be your first job. With positions hotly contested, it is relevant, hands-on experience performing a similar role that will hold you in good stead. The key tasks you perform in your role don’t change from business to business; it’s largely just a matter of scale.
In the end it’s the quality of your work, technical skills and industry acumen that will see you progress. It sounds clichéd, but if you focus on developing your craft, your work, knowledge and skills will do the talking when job opportunities arise.
If you want to work in sport, look to the grassroots level as a place to start. While there might not be paid roles, or even a role in the first place, you can likely help add value to a local club or league, and in turn add value to your own resume. Sometimes it’s just a case of asking a question, and volunteering your services. It’s not often they’ll be declined.
Finally, if a career in digital media is what you’re keen to pursue, the best thing is that you only need a computer or a phone to be a content creator, so there’s no excuses to not having enough opportunities to hone your skills.