How to Break Into the Cycling Industry – GreenEDGE Cycling Pro Team’s PR Manager Jessi Braverman

Driving the follow car for Team Vera Bradley Foundation, one of the early teams Jessi worked with before signing on with Tour de France contenders.

We all watch our favorite teams and riders when we can. But for many races, we’re left to digital reporting to find out how they did, particularly for foreign races. True fans have probably noticed that the same athlete and team manager quotes end up in a lot of different outlets, usually very soon after the finish.

Ever wonder who puts out all the race reports, team profiles and quotes you see following any major cycling event? For Team GreenEDGE, that person is Jessi Braverman, who says she “lucked” into the position.

As any successful person will tell you, you make your own luck. Hard work, self confidence and putting yourself out there help make luck, which helps explain how she got where she is today.

BIKERUMOR: Who are you and what are you doing here?

JESSI: My name is Jessi Braverman. I’m the digital content manager for GreenEDGE Cycling. My primary responsibility is to create all online content (website copy, social media updates, press releases) generated around races. I also have had a hand in creating static website copy (such as rider bios) and creating copy for sponsors. I handle our Facebook and Twitter strategy on a daily basis.

interview with jessi braverman public relations manager for GreenEdge pro cycling team

Jessi, in the blue jacket, at the Team in Training charity century ride around Lake Tahoe in 2007.

BIKERUMOR: What was your first job or experience in the cycling industry? How did you “break” in?

JESSI: I started riding through Team in Training in 2006 and quickly became hooked on the sport. It wasn’t until my parents hosted a professional women’s team (Team TIBCO) for USA Cycling National Criterium Championships that I realized racing existed beyond the Tour de France. I gave racing a whirl the following year and was honestly amazed at how spectacularly I sucked, but it opened the door for me to meet a ton of women invested in the sport at various levels — including two women who had started a cycling education and advocacy non-profit in St. Louis that included an elite team within their organization.

In November 2008, I moved to St. Louis to work for this non-profit, Team Revolution. Officially, my job title was Sponsorship Coordinator. Unofficially, I was a jack of all trades — as I quickly discovered anyone who works in women’s cycling must be. When they restructured their organization the following year, I had enough contacts and experience to land work with the newly formed Team Lip Smackers.

BIKERUMOR: What’s your education background?

JESSI: I did my undergraduate work at Northwestern University which I chose specifically for the Medill School of Journalism. I have had a lifelong love affair with the written word, and I was confident I wanted to pursue a career in journalism. Much to my surprise, the school wasn’t a good fit for me, and I ended up switching to Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy. While it was a great fit academically, my heart clearly remained in writing professionally — and an opportunity to mix two passions (words + bikes) still feels too good to be true.

BIKERUMOR: After that first experience/job, what was the path to your current position?

JESSI: I would love to be able to point to something I did right to land where I am today. Instead, I think a lot of it was luck and knowing the right people. When my position was eliminated at Team Revolution, I landed a job at Lip Smackers through a friend who knew they were looking for someone to help with sponsorship. The team lacked a soigneur, and I ended up traveling with the team to races to fulfill select soigneur duties. This opened the door for me to gain critical experience with social media and on-site race reporting. It also allowed me to meet the people who worked within professional cycling — the riders, staff, journalists, sponsors, race promoters, etc. It’s a tight-knit community — and being part of this community has helped me keep my foot in the door.

At a Team Vera Bradley Foundation group dinner in 2010.

Lip Smackers folded after their inaugural season, and I moved to the newly formed Team Vera Bradley Foundation. I had a connection at the Vera Bradley Foundation through a friend of a friend, and I worked with Lisa Hunt to introduce the sponsor to the sport. In addition to working directly with our title sponsor, I took on a lot of responsibility with online content that helped build my portfolio for what would come next. I also began to work with some individual athletes, my longest standing relationship is with 2009 National Road Champion Meredith Miller, on personal sponsorship materials including sponsorship proposals and websites.

Team Vera Bradley Foundation proved to be a one-year deal as well, and when the team folded I found myself job searching without much luck. I had a few interviews within the cycling industry that didn’t translate into hires for a variety of reasons. My lease was up in St. Louis, and without a new job, it didn’t make sense to sign a new lease. I ended up moving back in with my parents, temporarily, in a Chicago suburb until I had some direction.

I still marvel at the serendipity at work in the next part of this story. I’m living with my parents. I’m under-employed. I’m realizing that there’s a very good chance that I’m not going to find another job within cycling and interviewing for positions for which I’m having a difficult time mustering much excitement. To say I’m less than thrilled with my current state of affairs would be an understatement.

Something most fans would kill for: Jessi's team pass for US Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado in 2011.

I’ve always had a thing for Colorado, and I had done some interviewing in/around Boulder and Denver without much luck. A friend in Boulder looking for a dog-sitter suggests I come visit her — watch the dog while she’s out of town and get a break from interviews and living with my parents. It is meant to be short-term stay that I hope to find a way to turn permanent — but I know that it was in no way a given. I load up my car with what I would need for the next six weeks, and the morning I set off to drive to Boulder, I get an email with the subject “Leopard Trek”. I wonder how I got on their mailing list and almost delete the email.

Instead, I open the email. It’s from their press officer. He tells me LEOPARD TREK is looking for an online content specialist to write race reports for the team. My name came up in discussions — would I be interested? I send an immediate response expressing interest, and I get an immediate call back. I’m asked to start the next day.

I wrote my first race report for LEOPARD TREK from Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s early March, and I’m covering Paris-Nice. Jens Voigt spent the day in a three-rider break before finishing sixth on the first stage. I would like to say that working with the women for the past two years left me cool, calm and collected when I made my first pre-race phone call to gather the quotes I would need for the report. I would be lying if I told you that. I’m pretty sure my hand was shaking as I dialed Kim Andersen’s number on my phone.

I did enough in my first week to turn the trial into a permanent position. I loved the work. I stayed in Boulder — which I also loved — and woke up bright and early each morning to cover European races thinking how lucky I was to have landed in the LEOPARD TREK fold.

I was surprised as most people when the rumblings about the LEOPARD TREK – RadioShack merger proved to have merit. I learned of the news via press release the same day as the general public.

Less than three weeks after news of the merger went public, I had job offers from three teams. It was dramatically different from the situation I had been in one year earlier when the end of Team Vera Bradley Foundation prompted a long, drawn-out job search. Ultimately, I chose to work with GreenEDGE because I was excited by the prospect of crafting a new identity for a new team — and I knew I would enjoy working with Brian Nygaard, the former manager of LEOPARD TREK and current press officer of GreenEDGE.

In previous years, I always had to pair my work in cycling with other work to make ends meet financially. My position at GreenEDGE is the first that (easily) works as a stand alone position. I’ll likely continue to do other freelance work — because I thrive on being busy — but I’m incredibly grateful to be in a position where other work is accepted because I enjoy it rather than because I need it.

Hanging with Team Tibco junior racer Skylar Schneider at the Gateway Cup in St. Louis.

BIKERUMOR: What’s a normal day for you?

JESSI: My days are dictated by races — or lack thereof.

My race day consists of fixing myself in front of my laptop to use whatever sources are available to me to follow races from afar — I rely on live broadcasts (generally steephill.tv or procyclinglive.com will have a list of links that I can use) for the bigger races and have to get by with a race website’s live text feed, live updates via Twttier and the like for races that aren’t broadcast live. I use this information to take notes on anything that might merit mentioning in a report later.

When a race ends, I give our sports director a ten minute breather before giving him a shout. I’ll have a set a questions prepared that I fire off to him in an attempt to fill in the gaps on any information I may need to write my report. I also use the call to get quotes and reactions from him that enhance the type of report I can churn out. Depending on how the race went for the team, I may also ask to speak to a rider or two for quotes, too.

Once I have all the information and quotes I need, I set out with writing. If we’ve won a race, a press release is due before a race report. If we haven’t won, no press release is necessary and all my attention goes to the race report. The goal is to get the race report written and posted to our team website within an hour of the race end. The purpose of this time restriction is that it allows other cycling news sources to go to our website and lift information/quotes directly from our reports as opposed to having to reach out to our riders and directors on their own.

Once the report is posted, I link the report to Facebook and Twitter. I’ll upload photos and results to the website as soon as they’re made available. I also review fan comments and questions on social media and address as a many as make sense.

My non-race days vary quite a bit, and I’m only starting to get a feel for them with GreenEDGE. They include writing static copy for various websites, interfacing with team personnel, fielding copy inquiries from sponsors, writing race previews and non-race result related press releases, and managing our social media sites on a daily basis.

BIKERUMOR: What are the highlights of your job?

JESSI: The other day I explained what I do to a recreational cyclist who responded with “So, you get paid to watch bike races?” I do. I get paid to watch — and write about — bike races. I realize how lucky I am. I have found a way to make a living by combining two of the things about which I am most passionate. I realize how rare this is.

My career path has provided me the opportunity to surround myself with people who are as passionate about this sport as I am. I’m part of a cycling community that includes some of the best people I’ve ever met — and I don’t only mean the athletes, although they’re certainly inspirational.

I get to speak with some of cycling’s most revered characters moments after their defining days on the bikes. I spoke with Andy Schleck after his win on Galibier at the Tour de France last July. I exchanged texts with Fabian Cancellara minutes after he finished third at the World Time Trial Championships in Copenhagen in September. Two days ago, I had Shara Gillow on the phone after she scored the historic first win for GreenEDGE Cycling. I’m no longer in awe of our cycling superheroes, but sharing in these moments with them, even in the smallest way, still gives me goosebumps.

Helping out with a Team Vera Bradley Foundation fundraiser in 2010.

I work from home — which has it’s ups and downs, but it definitely has more ups — and I can work from anywhere as long I have an internet connection.

I have the opportunity to travel with the team to select races, and I’ll be looking to increase this travel as much as makes sense in the future.

BIKERUMOR: What could you do without?

JESSI: Time zones, especially the current difference between here and Australia, can sometimes be a real bear. I love working with an international contingent. I’m definitely not a fan of working with people in five different time zones.

Some days the work feels isolating — just me and my laptop in the wee morning hours. Luckily, I know several others in my position for other teams, so I can connect with them on Skype during the races if I need some virtual company.

The schedule is completed dictated by races. I work almost every weekend in the summer and often have to pass up on any activities that happen before noon. Last summer, I had three family weddings in July. It was a struggle to balance my obligations with race reporting (during the Tour!) with family functions.

BIKERUMOR: What advice would you give to someone looking to follow your path today?

JESSI: Find ways to connect with the cycling community in your own backyard and across the country/globe. I truly believe that I have gotten where I am at the moment because of the connections I have made.

I knew EVERYTHING there was to know about women’s cycling but very little about the WorldTour teams, races, etc. at the time LEOPARD TREK hired me. I landed the job because of my writing ability — not my familiarity with cycling. Find what you are good at and hone that skill. Anyone can get to know cycling — not everyone can write well, pave the way in social media, build websites, organize team logistics, etc.

Start small. Work with a grassroots team. Lend your skills to a local race organization. Develop professional relationships with individual athletes in your area. This type of work will build the portfolio you need to land the bigger jobs. Think of it as working your way up the rankings. No professional cyclist jumped into the Tour de France his first year on the bike. He had to slowly build his way up to the biggest race in the world. You do, too.

Comments

Melisa - 01/11/12 - 12:13pm

I enjoy this series in general. Thanks for the take away message start small/ local.

The Dude - 01/11/12 - 7:37pm

The Clue, Alex:

“…I think a lot of it was luck and knowing the right people.”

The Answer:

What is: How every single “How To Break Into The Cycling industry” that will ever appear on this page can be summed up.

Mike - 01/11/12 - 9:24pm

Ok, had a look at the Greenedge site, and F’book pages. Meh.

Having said that, it must be a challenge, repackaging widely available digital content as something exclusive and ‘inside the team.’

b3 - 01/12/12 - 4:09am

“Luck is the place where preparation and opportunity meet.”

We make our own luck.

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