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Chelsea Zahn, Pittsburgh Steelers Partnership Activation Manager Shares How To Start Your Career In Sport

Chelsea Zahn | Partnership Activation Manager | Pittsburgh Steelers

The internship isn’t just about you, it’s about the impact you make on the organization and the impression you make on those you are working with during those internships.

Chelsea Zahn

Partnership Activation Manager

Pittsburgh Steelers

× The interview with Chelsea Zahn 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 Partnership Activation Manager at the Pittsburgh Steelers and what does a typical day look like for you?

To put it simply, every day is different, exciting, and new. I manage a handful of partnership accounts where I “activate”, or coordinate, the sponsorship assets that are included in each partnership. These assets range from making sure logo signage is in the stadium, to digital media advertising, to developing custom events for the sponsor.

Internally, I work with every department within our organization to ensure that sponsorship assets are fulfilled each season.

Throughout the year, I study and analyze the performance of these assets, in order to report back to our partners on the value they’ve generated through these assets. Essentially, their return on investment.

This is a very important part of our activation process, as the performance of these assets are vital to the potential of our partnerships renewing their agreements when the time is applicable.

You started out with the Steelers by interning with the marketing team. How important do you think internships and volunteer work is for people aspiring to work in sport?

Internships are one of the best ways to get your foot in the door and to become memorable to others within an organization. The internship isn’t just about you, it’s about the impact you make on the organization and the impression you make on those you are working with during those internships.

This was my goal at my first internship and at my first internship with the Steelers. Day 1, I wanted to hold myself to the highest standard and to earn respect from those I was working with. If I could prevent it, I did not want to be seen as an “intern”. I wanted to be looked at as a reliable and organized contributor to my manager and my colleagues.

Through that, I was able to build great relationships with everyone in the workplace. Because I became memorable to the organization, this led to my interview for the Steelers sponsorship department in a full-time capacity, right after I graduated.

While working with the Pittsburgh Passion Women’s Tackle Football team, one of your roles was intern team coordinator. What are some key characteristics you looked for in your interns and how can one set themselves apart from other applicants?

This is a great question. I want to point out, at the time I was the intern group coordinator, I was 19 years old. All the interns in our group were ages 20-22. I never told them my age as I wanted to gain their respect and in turn, I wanted to treat them as a colleague, opposed to an intern.

When managing a group of people, you see who some of your “champions” are. “Champions” being the people who are go-getters, who pay attention to detail, who go above and beyond to give feedback and contribute new ideas. These are the people who are not afraid of criticism, who are not afraid to make mistakes and learn how to be better, and more knowledgeable, at what they’re doing.

Those are the types of people I’ve always tried to seek out when hiring for any internship role. Those are the folks that succeed more often among their peers.

Speaking of standing out, you obviously stood out to your superiors as you obtained a full-time job after your internship, received two promotions within your department and was awarded the Steelers company MVP award in 2018. Tell us about your work ethic and motivation that got you where you are today.

I don’t ever see limits. I don’t shy away from challenges. I’m not afraid to be who I am and who I want to be in this role. I always search for opportunities and do everything I can to maximize on that opportunity whenever I can.

Not only was I a Division 1 student-athlete in college, and a women’s tackle football player for the Pittsburgh Passion, but I’m an athlete in the office.

There is a way to find competition within yourself, to challenge yourself to be the most knowledgeable person in the room at what you do; to find a way to encourage your teammates (your colleagues) to be the best they can be; and a way to motivate yourself to win every day (to sell sponsorships and retain those partnerships year over year).

It’s always exciting to win on the field, too.

Lastly, I work for a department that encourages new ideas, growth, and accomplishment, in any aspect of this role. I’m not so much here for the praise. What’s important to me in this role with the Pittsburgh Steelers is for a client to feel that we are the best sponsorship team they work with, not only in the city of Pittsburgh but the best sponsorship team to work with across the NFL.

Building strong relationships, approaching situations, and conversations with a realistic, calm attitude, and being a professional problem-solver are major points of success in this role.

What are the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of your role?

The most challenging part of this role is understanding that you can only control so much of your job. Things happen all the time with sponsorship events and activations.

Things can go wrong that are completely out of your control. To my previous point, being a professional problem-solver, being a solution person, is the best way to approach trying to control the situations you actually can control.

The most rewarding aspect is around sponsorship sales. Getting a new partnership sold, and renewing a partnership, is such an exciting feeling. Especially, when you were able to develop the ideas for the proposal or provide your teammates with the information they needed to sell the deal.

Emma's Final Thoughts

Sport is competitive so getting your foot in the door as soon as possible in your career is crucial. Internships are a big part of that according to Chelsea Zahn. Chelsea shines a light on the importance of internships and how you must treat your job like a sport. Work hard, be confident, and never back down. Chelsea is a confident woman in sport indeed. Take her advice and apply to internships and get out an volunteer because she is proof, that it will pay off.

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