I’m a firm believer that EVERYONE has a story. Some may be more compelling than others, but every single person or situation has some type of unique story to tell.
Assistant Director of Strategic Communications
Penn State University
The interview with Chelsea Vielhauer was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
Tell us about your role as the Assistant Director of Strategic Communications for Penn State University. What does a typical day look like for you?
I started at Penn State in my current position as Assistant Director of Strategic Communications in July 2018. I work primarily as the Strategic Communications contact for Penn State Women’s Basketball, as well as overseeing our student contacts for Men’s and Women’s Tennis and managing our 25-person student intern program.
In my role as the Strategic Communications contact for the Women’s Basketball team, I am responsible for brand management and social media/content creation, serve as the primary liaison between the team and the media, and handle all statistics, record keeping and archival material. There’s so much that goes into each of those areas that it’s hard to try to list it all!
As is normal in athletics, there’s really no such thing as a “typical” day, but that’s what makes it exciting! I think most of us would say that part of the reason we work in athletics in the first place is because we’re not “9-to-5 desk job” type people and need the excitement and adrenaline that comes with working in athletics.
One day I could be working with a TV Network to get the broadcasters everything they need to get ready for a game, or I could be getting game notes or a game program together or could be helping plan and oversee a photo shoot or video shoot for social media usage.
What principles do you believe are most important in ensuring that the information provided to the media is consistent with the mission and vision of Penn State Athletics?
Penn State Athletics’ mission is to prepare students for a lifetime of impact. Penn State really focuses on developing the whole student-athlete, not just the athlete. So it’s important for us to be able to properly promote things that are happening off the court as well.
We produce large game notes packages for the media so that they have access to all the information they could need to cover our team. In those packages, there are of course a ton of stats, but we also focus on listing things like academic achievements and community service initiatives. So when you’re watching a game on TV and the play-by-play announcer is referring to a select student-athlete, he/she can say not only is she the leading scorer in the Big Ten, but she’s also an Academic All-Big Ten honoree and serves on her school’s Student-Athlete Leadership Council.
Getting that off-the-court information to the media also comes from developing strong relationships with the media members who are covering the team. For example, I could have a writer out to practice one day who wants to write a story on Sally who just scored 30 points in our most recent game.
Before Sally comes to talk to the writer, I’m striking up a conversation with the writer and telling them other aspects of Sally’s story like how she is one of four Division I athletes in her family, or how she wants to be a vet. Then the writer is able to work those other aspects of Sally’s story into their piece simply because I made an effort to have a conversation prior to an interview.
In this age of social media, some people argue that communication skills are deteriorating. Do you agree or disagree? What do you do to ensure that your communication skills are kept up to date and effective?
I would have to disagree that communication skills are deteriorating. Rather, I think that social media simply presents a different way to communicate.
It has been fascinating to see how much social media has evolved since I got started in this field seven years ago. Social media is an incredibly important instrument in creating and controlling the narrative surrounding a brand and a program. People used to use social media purely for informational purposes, and it has since evolved into a source for entertainment that when properly conceptualized and executed can have a large impact on the perception of a brand.
That being said, I feel that my communication skills have actually been sharpened by the evolution of social media. Our content team and I are constantly having to find new and exciting ways to promote our brand on social and figuring out how to convey our message with imagery, video and limited characters.
We spend a lot of time monitoring what other schools and professional teams are doing on social. If we like something another team did, we oftentimes find a way to make that our own and adapt it to our brand. It’s also important to stay cognizant of various viral and pop-culture like trends to keep up to date and effective.
Shifting to content creation, what are some of the big creative challenges you face when creating content for the Lady Lion brand? What about smaller ones?
Content creation is all about storytelling and the resources you have to tell those stories, so challenges can come from either of those angles.
I’m lucky in that we’re well resourced at Penn State, so we have the resources and the means to produce professional video pieces and top-notch graphical elements thanks to a strong team of creative professionals. Sometimes we run into challenges with copyright laws – for example, we could be working on a video for social media and say “this song would be the perfect background music” or “can we put out this sick hype video with this song that’s #1 on the charts right now”, but we can’t do that because we don’t own the rights to that intellectual property.
In terms of the storytelling aspect of content creation, a lot of the challenges we face there are time-related. I’m a firm believer that EVERYONE has a story. Some may be more compelling than others, but every single person or situation has some type of unique story to tell. So, taking the time to tell every single one of those stories in the best possible way can certainly be a challenge.
For example, say we’re working on a feature story on a student-athlete. You’d like to sit down and interview the student-athlete for an hour so that you can get all the information you need to tell the story, but they’re only able to meet for 20 minutes because of practice and school work. You have to strategically figure out how you’re going to maximise those 20 minutes to get all of the information, b-roll/other creative assets you need, and dive as deep as you can in that 20 minutes.
You’ve drastically increased follower/interaction rates for Penn State’s Women’s Basketball team in the past. How were you able to accomplish this feat? Tell us about your content strategy at the time and what you did to create new and engaging content.
Since taking over the Women’s Basketball social media accounts, I’ve really tried to focus on giving fans and followers a behind-the-scenes look at the program. I’m lucky that I work with a coaching staff that understands the importance of social media, so they grant our content team tons of access and really prioritize using our social media to set us apart.
We really prioritize showing off the personalities of our staff and team. Fans will be more engaged and invested not just on social, but also on game day if they know more about the people they’re watching and feel like they know them on a personal level. We’ve produced a ton of content that focuses on who our team is off the court – whether that be in the classroom, in the community, or just in their everyday lives.
This year we started a new video series called “Inside The PRIDE” that was conceptualized as a way to give fans and followers a raw, behind-the-scenes look at the program. It included footage from every aspect of the team including inside the locker room, at practice, in the coaches’ offices, etc., so that people could feel like they were a fly on the wall on a typical day with Penn State Women’s Basketball. A lot of it was shot “selfie-style” with a go-pro so that viewers could really feel like they were right there with the student-athletes and staff.
In your experience, what makes a good strategic communications employee in sports?
A good Strategic Communications employee first and foremost has to be a good communicator (obviously, with that being in the title haha). Our job is to manage how the public sees the program that we’re representing – whether that be through our own content, or through the media. Being able to communicate your point quickly and effectively is the main goal in every aspect of the job – with the media, with the team, with the coaches, and with those you collaborate with.
Time management is huge. There’s so much that a Strategic Communications professional is responsible for, and we work with so many different people on a day-to-day basis, that you have to be able to prioritize your daily tasks and responsibilities.
I also think that being relationship-focused is a major key to being a successful Strategic Communications professional. If you’re able to develop strong relationships with the student-athletes, the coaching staff, other professionals in the department, and the media, then you will be much more successful. Trust doesn’t come without having a strong relationship, and the student-athletes need to trust you to tell their story, and the media needs to trust that you’ll help them cover the team accurately and effectively.
Hayley's Final Thoughts
Chelsea Vielhauer has made an incredible splash in her role as Assistant Director of Strategic Communications for Penn State. Being behind the Women’s Basketball Instagram and Twitter accounts, Chelsea has developed content that increased the number of followers and improved interaction/engagement rates. Additionally, she and her team continue to come up with fresh ideas such as the “Inside The PRIDE” series, improving the Penn State brand further! Chelsea’s role, however, is not limited to social media. Chelsea is the primary communications contact for Women’s Basketball and oversees student contacts for Men’s and Women’s Tennis. With that being said, a lot goes into her job! Yet, Chelsea excels and represents Penn State Athletics with the upmost class.