The following “Six Questions” short interview with Ron Berkowitz, President & Founder of Berk Communications, was conducted by our Assistant Editor Cameron Chung. Connect with Ron on Twitter and check out the Berk Communications website.
(1) How did you first get your start in the sports industry? As a follow up, can you describe your early career/experiences that led to you entering the Public Relations industry?
My initial venture into sports was while I attended The University of Miami – I handled play by play for WVUM Radio, covering Hurricanes football, baseball and basketball. My radio and broadcast experience led to a post-college career in the industry, and I soon began working as a reporter at WTOP radio in Washington D.C. I was in the Orioles press box one September evening, covering a Yankees – Orioles game, and I met a guy by the name of Rob Butcher, who was then the head of PR for the Yankees. We got to talking, and he suggested I come interview with him for a role in the Yankees PR Department if I ever wanted to transition out of sports broadcasting and into the sports PR world.
I took him up on that offer, and reached out to him at season’s end, setting up an interview with him for the day after Christmas. As I was on the train, heading up to The Bronx on the day of my interview, I randomly found a copy of the Daily News in the empty seat next to me. I pick it up and, naturally, immediately flip to the sports page. Imagine my surprise when the back-cover story is about George Steinbrenner firing Rob Butcher on Christmas because he wasn’t around for the David Cone signing. So, here I am, on a train to interview for a job with the Yankees with a guy who doesn’t even work for the Yankees anymore. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I figured I might as well show up and see what happens. With the PR department having some openings I got the job, I would like to think it was because I was qualified, but might have been because they needed people ASAP. (KIDDING)
(2) What prompted you to start Berk Communications and what made you feel ready to run your own company?
During my time with the Yankees, I struck a relationship with the team at Fox Sports, who went on to offer me a gig working in publicity for their new station, FX. At FX, I really grew as a publicist, and began to spearhead a lot of projects on my own. In 1999, I knew it was the right time to bet on myself, and I started my own company, Berk Communications. This was a time in New York City where there wasn’t a PR firm on every block. I wanted to make sure my agency had a specialty, so I stuck with what I knew and loved – sports, entertainment and hospitality.
(3) Have you had any mentors who have influenced your life or helped you navigate the business world?
Yes, a few. First, my parents – they taught me how to treat people right and how to work hard for what you want, which is the most important lesson for the business world. They work hard, so I learned to work hard. Next is Michael Kempner, Founder and CEO of MWWPR. Michael leads a very successful PR company, and MWWPR was everything I wanted Berk Communications to turn into. He has helped me learn the intricate details of finding success in the PR industry both from a client perspective and as an agency.
Lastly, Desiree Perez of Roc Nation, a very smart and talented woman who I have watched help build the business of Roc Nation. She showed me how to successfully navigate the business world, as well as the operations that go behind running a company.
(4) What is the most difficult part of your job/industry? What changes would you like to see, or expect to see, down the line?
One of the challenges of the industry is the everchanging definition of what sports PR really is – five years ago, social media didn’t mean anything in the industry, but today is extremely relevant. Sports magazines and print outlets are constantly changing and modernizing, and we owe it to our clients and ourselves as publicists to do the same.
(5) What aspect of your career are you most proud of?
Over my nearly 20 years of being in business we have had a lot of success stories. Serving as Alex Rodriguez’s publicist throughout his triumphs and challenges, and helping jumpstart his reinvention in the eyes of fans and the media has to be at the top.
(6) What advice would you give to aspiring sports/entertainment business professionals who want to work in the sports world?
Network constantly. Put yourself in position to meet as many people in the industry as possible. Going to events, networking in your community or school. The more people you know that can provide mentorship, the better – nobody knows everything in this industry. It’s a vast and everchanging business, the more people you know, the more you can know.