It's not every day you get an opportunity to work on some of the top properties in your country at a young age, let alone learning from the varying perspectives of the property, brand and broadcast. Jessica had that very opportunity - starting her career working as an Account Coordinator at TSN, she worked as a liason with properties such as NASCAR, NLL and TSN Curling Skins. She soon after took on a role working for the Canadian Football League in retail partnerships which eventually leading to a new opportunity working on corporate partnerships for the league office.
Fast forward to now, Jessica has moved across the Canadian sub-continent to take on a client-side role working as a Sponsorship Marketing Manager for Telus, who happens to be a major sponsor of the Canadian Football League, National Hockey League and Hockey Canada. She has been in the role for nearly a year now and takes pride in ensuring the telecommunications company is executing on its' strategic activation plans and delivering on sponsorship deliverables.
The Sponsorship Space had a chance to sit down with Jessica to learn about her career in our latest Young Achiever feature.
1. Tell us about your career so far. You started working in the real estate industry in university, so how did you end up in sponsorship marketing?
At the beginning of my career, I worked at a Real Estate company part-time in an admin role which eventually developed into a brief full-time marketing job after graduation. During this time, I was studying at the University of Toronto majoring in New Media Studies and Sociology. The program was a specialized joint degree with Centennial College, allowing the option to obtain a New Media Design certificate as well. The media program offered development in a great mix of hands on skills, which included: marketing, graphic design, web design, film editing, etc. The program also exposed students to a great network which ultimately helped spring me into my career.\
During my time in college, I interned for one of my teacher's Kickstarter campaign for a sci-fi comic book. I ran the marketing, PR and social media during the internship while the campaign met and exceeded their launch goal. After completion of my college internship, my teacher introduced me to the world of sponsorship marketing. He knew my dream job was to work in sports, specifically at TSN at the time, and once I graduated he connected me with a maternity leave contract position at TSN Events/NASCAR Canada. From there and beyond, I learned how relationship based, and “who you know” the industry of sports marketing rolls.
2. One of your first sports marketing jobs was at TSN – what was the experience like working on the media side?
During my time at TSN, I supported the Managing Director and Director executing marketing campaigns and activations for partners. The portfolio had a good range of properties to represent, such as: NASCAR, NLL, and the TSN Curling Skins game. I obtained invaluable experience working on the media side, developing skills in client servicing, integrated program planning, event execution, video production, etc. These base skills were further developed and continually applied throughout my entire career in future sponsorship marketing jobs.
I especially enjoyed the experience of building out integrated campaigns for partners, which were then promoted through broadcast, digital, social media and experiential. Seeing big campaigns come to life from start to finish is always rewarding! I also love relationship management and keeping busy dealing with multiple internal/external stakeholders.
3. From there you moved onto retail partnerships at the Canadian Football League and eventually to a role in corporate partnerships. What changed as soon as you moved from the broadcaster to a league office?
Although I absolutely loved my time working at TSN, from the work to my colleagues – my contract came up right around company-wide cuts. My former Managing Director introduced me to an opportunity at the CFL over in Retail Partnerships, which was my entry to the property side in sports. The immediate change from moving from the broadcaster to a league office was having a Commissioner as your big boss – which is something pretty neat to experience! Also, the office size going from hundreds at TSN, to a close group of fifty colleagues who execute the most-watched sporting event on Canadian TV year in and year out. It was quite an experience to work with a small group of talented colleagues/friends who can push big ideas out into the sports realm.
4. Can you talk about some highlights from your time with the CFL and TSN? Any key takeaways from your experience that you carry with you to your role now?
So many highlights, it’s tough to name a few! I had the opportunity to plan some incredible integrated contests with NASCAR that were executed at the Season Opener in Daytona and Championship Race in Miami. At the CFL I was involved in the inaugural Redtag.ca Ultimate CFL Fan Trip, a social contest that allowed the winner to take two friends to three CFL games in three days. It was wild and the content capture was incredible, while the fans were able to go on a once in a lifetime experience.
At TSN, I had full reign to run the NASCAR on TSN social media accounts, where I was able to get creative and increased the social following by 900%. It was also a great learning experience being involved in ecommerce projects - launching the TSN Shop and relaunching the CFL Shop. The biggest highlight I would have to say, is executing Grey Cup from a corporate partnership perspective – from working with the Festival, to the Kickoff Show and executing the in-game promotions. Now in my current role at TELUS, social media, digital, event planning and contest execution are skills that are still used every day on the job. It’s great taking key learnings from past career highlights, and being able to apply the experience in a different role.
5. Now, you’ve moved over to the brand side and are working as a Sponsorship Marketing Manager with TELUS – tell us what’s different.
At TSN and the CFL, the roles were similar with strong skills required in client servicing, sales and executing partner contract deliverables. Sponsorship on the brand side at a large company is very relationship based, where there are so many internal stakeholders involved with the partnerships you manage. Also, brand sponsorship marketing allows you to develop strong analytical assessment skills while collecting and reporting tangible metrics among different properties. Furthermore, the key learning from the brand side is developing/executing strategic campaigns with clearly established business objectives and measurable results to tangibly demonstrate marketing return on investment.
6. Your career has literally come full circle so far. You worked for TSN, which broadcasts the CFL, moved to the league office, and now work for TELUS who is a major sponsor of the CFL.
It sure feels full circle, going from the broadcaster to a league, then property side working with many brands to brand side working with many properties.
At the CFL, I always enjoyed being able to collaborate with previous colleagues, and now at TELUS I have been able to continue these working relationships. The Canadian Football League seems to be the common denominator of my career! It is absolutely incredible to work for a company that is a huge fan and supporter of something so near and dear to me.
7. TELUS also partners with Hockey Canada and the NHL. What’s the strategy relating to those hockey partnerships? Why is hockey such a key priority for TELUS?
TELUS has long standing partnerships with Hockey Canada, the Calgary Flames, WHL teams and most recently a few OHL teams. Given Canada’s passion for hockey, the Canadian established company can leverage high national and local fan engagement to drive results and return value. Hockey is Canada’s game, and TELUS is proud to power the network keeping Canadian fans #AllConnected. Furthermore, it’s an exciting opportunity with World Juniors this year being hosted in Vancouver/Victoria, with Vancouver being the location of head office.
8. Outside of work, tell us a little about the real Jess Szabo. What are some of the things you enjoy doing outside of work?
Sponsorship still follows me at home, while my fiancé is a professional curler and I’ve recently started working on opportunities with his team. Outside of sponsorship, it’s almost my year anniversary as a Calgarian (Toronto is home) – as a West coaster I try to embrace the mountains whenever I can get the chance! I am also a Fur Mom to my Instagram famous French Bulldog @Kevin.Frenchie, who has a great dog sitter while we love to travel. We try to plan an epic annual trip- backpacking in Thailand is on the agenda in May!
Manager, Partnership Marketing at Telus
Education: University of Toronto