From dishing out lifestyle and entertainment news, to covering the world’s greatest athletes during the Olympics, to directing the entire social media strategy for an NHL team, Marissa O’Connor has built a unique portfolio in her seven years as a full-time professional.
I sat down with Marissa to learn more about her professional journey and how these experiences have helped her find success in her career.
Talk about your career path to this point.
“I went to college at Southern Methodist University in Dallas where I majored in journalism. Sports had always been a passion and a hobby of mine, but lifestyle and entertainment news came really naturally to me. I ended up getting a job in E! News’ New Media department. I spent three years there, and I absolutely loved it.
While I was working at E!, I also freelanced for the United States Olympic Committee during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. I didn’t travel to Sochi, but I covered the games and worked the night shift from a complete social media coverage standpoint. After that experience, I was hooked and really wanted to get into sports.
That spring, the Director of Marketing at the USOC left to become the CMO of the Arizona Coyotes. He had been in Arizona for two months when I got a call from him saying he realized that they didn’t have a clear social media strategy, and he asked me if I wanted to come to Phoenix to take over that. I took that job in 2014, and last summer I got promoted to Director of Social Media for the Coyotes.”
How did your background prepare you for working in the NHL?
“My journalism degree has been a huge part. Just knowing the art of storytelling is huge because that’s essentially what I’m doing every day on these different [social media] platforms – telling the players’ stories while also connecting with fans. Starting [my career] in entertainment was super helpful for me because, at the end of the day, sports are entertainment. People are really passionate about their teams, and they want to be entertained. Having that entertainment background has really helped me to take a lifestyle approach [to my current job].”
What was it like making the jump from entertainment to sports, and what advice can you offer others who may be looking to switch to a career in sports?
“When I was at E!, taking on the freelance project with the Olympics really helped because that’s what branded me under “sports” and gave me nine months of experience in that industry.
When I did make the jump to sports, I definitely second-guessed myself. In the beginning, it was easy for me to say “I don’t think that’s for me” because I assumed that there were other people who knew more about hockey or could do a better job than me. It’s also intimidating that sports are way more male-oriented, but I reminded myself that I was hired for my exact skill set. Honing in on the things I knew I was good at and working hard at what I knew I wasn’t good at helped me when I was starting off with the Coyotes.”
Talk about some of the challenges you face working in a league with not much female representation.
“That’s definitely a hard part. Not just the lack of female representation, but there are also not a lot of young adults. A lot of people who work in the NHL are pretty established or have been working in the league for a long time, so being new can be intimidating. I think in general though, the collaboration between males and females is really important; we learn to work together and play off of each other’s strengths. We always say that the best idea wins; it’s not a matter of hierarchy.”
What advice can you offer women who work in a male-dominated environment? What tactics have you employed that have helped you?
“Know when to stick up for yourself, and know when to put your foot down about things you feel strongly about. Last summer when I was asking for a promotion, I had to assert myself. It wasn’t given to me. I don’t think that’s a male or female thing necessarily, I think it’s just how the sports world works. Be prepared to talk about yourself and then back it up with facts and data.”
Looking back on some of the experiences in your career so far, what advice would you give your younger self?
“I think when you’re younger, you feel like you need to pick one career path and stay on that track, but it’s never too early or too late to change. The other thing I would tell myself is that you can’t look at someone else’s career path and make a carbon copy of it. I made the mistake of saying “Okay, so-and-so started there, so I need to start there.” Everyone’s career path is different, and you couldn’t duplicate their exact career path if you tried. It just doesn’t work that way. You get to pick your career. As long as you are having fun and feel like you are using your talents, that’s what’s important.”