The following “Six Questions” short interview with Ashley Kerns was conducted by our Assistant Editor, Cameron Chung. Kerns Marketing & Management was founded in 2012 by Ashley Kerns with the goal of providing focused marketing, PR and brand management services for elite professional athletes. Ashley is a seasoned professional in the sports business, specifically professional athlete representation. She began her career at FOX Sports and went on to serve as the Director of Marketing for a mid-size sports agency before forming her own company in 2012. During her career, Ashley has worked with numerous athletes including four 1st round NFL Draft picks and five NFL Pro Bowlers in the areas of marketing, public relations and brand management.
(1) When did you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in the athlete representation industry? What specifically interested you in the industry?
I realized that I was serious about pursuing a career in athlete representation during the break before my last semester of undergrad. I was going through some of my old papers and mementos at my parent’s house and I ran across an essay I had written in 5th grade about how I wanted to represent athletes when I grew up. I’m certain that I didn’t really understand what that meant at the time, but call it a bit of destiny. At that point I made the decision to go for it. I grew up going to Tennessee games with my dad who would explain offensive and defensive strategy to me and I always loved football. I was also intrigued by the male dominated industry, I tend to be competitive and set out to break boundaries.
(2) Where did you go to college as an undergrad? Did you pursue any graduate degrees or any internships to further market yourself in the sports industry?
I graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in English Writing and Rhetoric. The last semester of my senior year is when I had my first sports related internship, at the Sports Animal radio station in Knoxville. I interned for the afternoon sports talk show and helped collect interviews and edit them for the show, answer calls, research stories, etc… One day I was sent to cover a Phillip Fulmer press conference by myself because the usual reporter was sick. This would be Fulmer’s last year at Tennessee, they were losing, and needless to say he wasn’t in the best mood. I shot my hand in the air and asked him a question about the QB’s ability to read a blitz and call a hot route. I could tell Fulmer was amused by my question and smiled a bit as he answered it. It’s one of those career moments I won’t forget. The take away is that when you are given an opportunity, make the most of it… be memorable.
After interning at the Sports Animal, I graduated and moved to Atlanta to intern at FOX Sports South in marketing and public relations for 6 months before being hired to a full time position. This year I earned an MBA at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business. I made the decision to pursue my MBA around the same time as starting my business. It’s been a great experience to apply that knowledge as I’ve grown.
(3) How did you land your first job in the sports industry? As a follow up, how did your role with Allegiant Athletic Agency come about and shape your career?
When I walked into the door of FOX Sports South as an intern, I promised myself that I wouldn’t leave without a job. I didn’t. The General Manager at FOX, Jeff Genthner, told me at the time that I was the only intern he’d ever hired to a full time position. He saw my potential, but was also tough on me. He threw me in the fire and never treated me as an intern or as a 22 year-old employee… I was held to very high standards. I’m very thankful for that experience because it was essential to my development as a person and a professional. I think television was a great place to begin my career because there are so many moving parts and skill sets required. A lot of the skills I use today, I originally learned in my first job.
I reached out to Allegiant Athletic Agency when I saw they were hiring a Director of Marketing and went through the hiring process in a pretty typical way. What wasn’t typical was that they signed a top five pick four months into my new job. I am incredibly thankful to A3 for putting so much trust in me and to that player, Eric Berry, for believing in me and still believing in me. I absolutely would not be where I am today without the opportunities I had at there. It was a tough decision to leave, but ultimately it was the best move for my career and I’m thankful I had the support and gumption to make that decision.
(4) What has been the most surprising and/or challenging aspect of starting your own company?
The most surprising thing about starting my own company is that nothing has gone the way I thought it would, but has worked out in ways I could have never imagined. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t anticipate how challenging and stressful it can be at times. This business is definitely a rollercoaster ride…you can be steadily climbing and then get one phone call and you’re dropping, or the opposite. Every day is different and subject to change.
I’m also challenged by the fact that everything starts and ends with me, and that each client has put their trust in me to advance their careers. It is a responsibility that I take very seriously and I feel tremendous determination to do well by them. They each inspire me daily, I am incredibly lucky to work for fantastic men who make my job fun, interesting and motivating.
(5) What are the similarities and differences in the recruitment process for you compared to a typical sports agent that negotiates an athletes’ team contract?
There are some similarities to a typical sports agent in the way I recruit clients, but recruiting is a much smaller aspect of my business. When I went on my own, my first client gave me some great advice…take care of your current clients and they will bring you new ones. He was right, every client I have is the direct result of a relationship and/or someone speaking highly of me. Thus far, my clients have come to me organically and I don’t seek to get in the shark tank of recruiting college players very often. It’s important to note that I am not a replacement for an agent, I’m a compliment. The current structure, at least in the NFL, requires an agent to have a good quantity of clients in order to be profitable. I think separate marketing representation is not only an asset to the player, but to the agent as well. I have great relationships with each of my client’s agents, we are part of a professional team working together to provide as many resources as possible to the client.
(6) What advice do you have for young professionals looking to enter the athlete representation business?
The advice I have for young professionals looking to enter the business is to try and identify your skill sets, develop those and see where they lead you. There are many ways in which to work with athletes, or in the field, other than being an agent. Liking sports is not a resume builder to me, in fact I tend to hire interns and support staff that excel in other areas that I feel can be applied to sports. Athlete representation isn’t necessarily what you think it is and you have to have a very specific personality for it. It’s not a fair business, or a logical business and everything can change with one play, one injury, or one phone call. It is not for people who aren’t comfortable with the unknown or that are seeking stability.
Generally speaking, aim high and don’t stay in situations that aren’t moving you up the mountain. Being in a little over your head is a great place to be, I’ve been there most of my career. It keeps your brain sharp and stimulates innovation.