As the Director of Marketing for the University of Notre Dame’s Athletics department, Janna Hughes is responsible for the overall marketing and fan experience for all 26 varsity sports. The University of Notre Dame is a Division I college in South Bend, Indiana. Additionally, she handles all marketing and promotion for the men’s basketball team. My fascination with the Fighting Irish began when I was 8 years old and watched the Notre Dame Fighting Irish facing the Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA tournament. The atmosphere was electric, and even watching from home, I felt the intensity from the players, coaches, and the crowd. Although the Irish lost, I remember feeling goosebumps as the clock wound down and I now appreciate the impact of watching that memorable game. That feeling, and those goosebumps, are what Janna is responsible for night after night. Read on to find out how Janna Hughes makes the fans’ experience memorable every night.
Please note: The interview with Janna Hughes was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
I have been at Notre Dame for four and a half years and in my current position as the director of marketing for two years. I oversee a staff of six that is responsible for the marketing and fan experience of all 26 varsity sports as well as finding creative solutions for generating new revenue for the department. In addition to managing our department and strategic marketing initiatives, I personally handle the marketing and promotions for Men’s Basketball. This includes developing strategic marketing and sales campaigns, promotions and giveaways, writing scripts, coordinating halftime entertainment and collaborating with multiple departments to create a great experience for our fans and student-athletes at our home events.
There is never a shortage of meetings, but one of the best parts about my job is that no two days are the same. There is always an event or season to plan for, research to conduct on industry best practices and new technologies, as well as growing and connecting with staff and coaches.
I enjoy being able to create memorable experiences for fans. On more than one occasion, I have seen grown men cry at the sight of the football locker room or the Play Like a Champion Today sign. As a staff member, it’s easy to become desensitized to our surroundings because we live and work in it every day. To then experience a game or special event through a fan’s eyes really puts it all in perspective and reminds me why I do what I do.
Education is incredibly important, but in my eyes, experience is key. It shows me that a candidate has been exposed to the demands of the job, has first-hand experience in working with other departments, coaching staffs, vendors, etc., and is less likely to experience the “culture shock” of working in a career with high stress and long hours.
It’s all about relationships! This is one of the most critical aspects of any job, but especially in the sports industry, which is relatively small. It’s important to build and maintain relationships with those in your department and on campus to be successful in accomplishing your goals. It’s also important to network with others in the industry in order to share best practices and grow professionally.
Being a great listener seems like a no-brainer, but in order to provide the best possible experience throughout the customer journey (purchasing tickets, coming to and from an event, and at the event itself), we have to understand our fans and listen to their feedback.
In this day and age, having at least a basic level of Photoshop skills is a requirement. You don’t have to be a graphic design master, but you do need to be able to update a template and create simple, yet visually appealing, graphics from scratch. When hiring staff, that’s one of my top questions.
Oh, and t-shirt rolling skills are great too!
I always like to stress to those starting out to be a sponge. I recommend being in and around the office and at events as much as possible and to absorb everything going on around you. Pay attention to how the staff prepares, how they approach difficult situations, and how they interact with fans.
Most importantly, ASK QUESTIONS. Everyone has been in your shoes at some point and is willing to help you navigate the industry.
Notre Dame is a very special place, and it’s the people that make up the Notre Dame community that make it so special. As a department, we lean into our pillars – excellence, education, faith, community and tradition – and any decisions that we make are always informed by one or more of our values.
We are led by servant leaders who bring a holistic approach to serving our student-athletes and staff members by enriching the mind, body and spirit. I think that’s what makes Notre Dame so unique.