The following “Six Questions” short interview with VP of Broadcasters & Client Representation at CSE, Matt Kramer, was conducted by Belmont University Law School student and aspiring sports/entertainment agent Mark J. Burns. Connect with Matt Kramer on Twitter and LinkedIn.
1. Your first few jobs out of your undergraduate days at the University of Michigan were with the San Francisco 49ers, NFL Europe, and the Atlanta Falcons. What motivated you to transition to talent representation with CSE?
I began my career in Media Relations and PR. I was fortunate to be able to work with the Falcons, 49ers and the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe and the experience was truly incredible. In 2006, I was offered an opportunity to join CSE to handle PR for their Client Representation division and their 300+ clients. I was interacting with clients and new challenges on a daily basis. One day, I would be creating job interview talking points for a NBA coach, the next day I would be working with Major League Baseball players on a charity event. It was a crash course in communicating with high-level athletes and coaches on a day-to-day basis. I was only 24 years old at the time and it was a terrific opportunity.
As part of my position when I started, I would field press inquiries. There were constant calls early from journalists trying to connect with our Founder and CEO Lonnie Cooper and our Senior VP of Client Representation, Mark Carmony. As the middle-man, I would often have to say no to reporters looking for inside scoop about negotiations and deals. I came away very impressed with many of these journalists who were very good at doing their jobs and were trying to get inside information for their readers and their websites or newspapers.
A few years later, I was fortunate to make the transition into representing talent. The division that made the most sense was for me to move into was the CSE Broadcasters group, which at the time was primarily former coaches and players who had transitioned into the booths at networks such as TNT, ESPN etc.
In transitioning into my new responsibilities, I was also trying to determine what I could bring to the table that other agents in the industry were not. This is where my time in Media Relations came in. I had an idea that, along with the TV broadcasters we represented, CSE could also begin to represent editorial talent, sportswriters and reporters, many of the same journalists who had impressed me when I worked with them on their PR needs.
My generation is used to getting breaking news and information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on any platform we can and I realized that excellent reporters could become more important and influential as time — and technology — went on. Lonnie and Mark were very supportive as we took this on.
I am really proud of where we are now. We recently added our 100th client in this specific division and have just wrapped up negotiating either a TV, Radio or Editorial agreements for clients at 45 different properties, ranging everywhere from Fox Sports 1 to CBS Sports Radio to the TSN in Canada. We are now very fortunate to represent some of the truly elite sports editorial personalities in the business at outlets such as YahooSports, ESPN.com, Sports Illustrated, CBSSports.com, NY Post and many others.
2. You recently earned a promotion to VP of Broadcasters and New Media Personalities. What do you do on a daily/weekly basis in that new role?
Every day, every week is different, and that’s another thing that makes the job and CSE so unique.
We do the work that comes with the territory; negotiating contracts, searching for marketing deals, identifying and recruiting specific media talent that we feel fits the CSE culture and so forth. We seek ways to simply make our clients’ lives better. Managing relationships is paramount to what we do every day, being there for our clients 24/7. That is a hallmark of CSE and is the approach that Lonnie created and has fostered for nearly 30 years.
There are certainly the days that I’ll travel to see clients or executives. We spend a great deal of time working closely with our clients to layout a roadmap for their future. Every client has different needs and desires for their professional future, so each day is different.
We have a team-oriented culture here at CSE headquarters in Atlanta. CSE is not the kind of environment where you have to set up a meeting days in advance to see the CEO or senior brass. In fact, it is the exact opposite. Lonnie is right across the hall and encourages all of us — the entire company — to walk in his open door whenever they need him. So there is a great deal of engagement and that allows us to be quick and nimble.
3. Besides contract negotiation, what other services does CSE provide its clients?
What CSE has done for personal clients and people for nearly 30 years, the agency now does for corporations, companies and brands. CSE delivers multi-dimensional strategy building and execution across a wide range of diversified areas, including strategic sponsorships, digital, media content creation, experiential marketing, multicultural, advertising, analytics, social media campaigns, communications and PR, cause marketing and more. The company has grown tremendously in the past year or so and is growing even more this year. We are approaching 150 team members.
It’s true when people say that within the Client Representation division, the contract negotiation isn’t necessarily the biggest thing we do. We have a marketing group that specifically works with our Broadcasters to help identify for them either corporate partnerships, speaking engagements and other opportunities. We work closely with other CSE divisions to provide our clients with opportunities outside of TV/Radio/Editorial as well.
Occasionally we’ll do massive agreements, other times we’ll do smaller deals, but I always find it beneficial when our Client Rep team is working with our CSE Marketing Division and all their components. Just last month, we had a client who is a radio personality who was utilized for our Multicultural team’s corporate activation at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans with Coca Cola. It was a big success. Next month, we’ll have another client serve as a sideline reporter on a package of college football games produced by our Television and Content Production group. We’re constantly looking at ways to utilize each of the services of our divisions on behalf of our clients.
4. What is one big challenge you had to overcome in regards to progressing in your career? What did you learn from that challenge?
When I began representing TV broadcasters and New Media personalities, I had to find a ways to use my age as an advantage, to position the fact that I came from a different, younger generation as a positive. I was, and still am, a heavy consumer of breaking sports news and information not just on TV, but on all other platforms. I believed this gave me a leg up; that no other agency understood these specific sports journalists as CSE did. And I still believe that is true.
Being able to identify with those journalists and connect with them differently than other agents was a great confidence builder for me. Instead of just trying to recruit the same TV broadcaster that everyone else was pursuing, I would recruit sports media personalities that my generation was consuming information from. I could relate to him or her and understand exactly what they were looking for in the future. I was able to turn a potential negative into a positive and that has been a great experience for me at CSE.
5. What has been the most rewarding aspect of working with talent/broadcasters for the past seven years?
There are many times when we feel a great sense of satisfaction being able to move a client from one television network to another or re-doing and expanding an existing deal which makes them financially set for the rest of their lives. If we can make even a slight improvement for a client — something that truly makes their lives better — that means the world to us, truly.
One client sent me a text after we wrapped up a new agreement for him. He said that when he was in college, his friends would joke that he should never get into sports writing because as a sports writer he would never, ever make any money, and that he’d be lucky to one day make $50,000 a year. And with his new deal we had just finished doing, he was making ten times that amount and doing so at one of the biggest sports websites in the world, plus he was going to do TV and Radio work. He said that all those years of covering tiny sporting events in even smaller towns across America just because he loved being a sportswriter had “finally” paid off, thanks to CSE. To feel like you really actually changed someone’s life for the better, that is an incredible feeling.
6. In 140 characters or less, what advice would you give to aspiring sports/entertainment business professionals who want to work in the sports agency world?
Always try to find ways to bring something different to the table. And honesty goes a whole lot longer in this business than you might think.