Exclusive interview with James Jeavons: working in football, creating outstanding content and building transferable skills

James Jeavons is a Social Media Manager at Me and My Golf, who are an online personal Golf coach with over 1 million combined followers. Before this, he was once a Journalism graduate from the University of Derby. Ever since graduating, he was destined for sporting greatness through his hard-working and resilient attitude to get his big break at Aston Villa FC. In today’s interview, James shares many insights around the value of obtaining transferable skills, the experience of working at the pinnacle of English football alongside what today requires to produce outstanding sporting content.

Q: How did your career in sport begin?

A: I went to the University of Derby to study journalism; I had always wanted to work in sports journalism/sports media, but there were not many courses around at that time that had a specific focus around this. Throughout my degree, I volunteered in initiatives such as writing for the Birmingham Mail and Derby County FC amongst many others. These would help me get my foot in the door. I thought I could get a job in sport straight away after finishing my degree but quickly realised how competitive the market was. I ended up getting a job at Virgin trains in their social media team. Funnily enough, they just began putting the team together, so I joined at a good time. However, I continued volunteering to push myself to get that opportunity in sport.

I was at Virgin Trains for nearly three years before an opportunity popped up at Aston Villa FC as a Social Media Executive. I was fortunate enough to get the job, and I was at the club for three years. My time there came to an end in November 2019, as a change of ownership at the club had a significant impact on how the social/digital team was run, and I decided to leave.

I then came across another opportunity at MailOnline Sport as their Social Media Editor. The role had some similarities to what I was doing at Villa. However, as expected, there was a much bigger focus on driving traffic to their website. Unfortunately, after five months I left the company because of the location, with being away from family proving too much. However, it still provided me with some fantastic experiences.

My current role is as a Social Media Manager at Me and My Golf, which focuses around providing golf coaching and tip videos. They have a combined social audience of over one million followers, and my role is to raise the awareness of the brand and help make them a market leader in what they do.

Q: When beginning your career off at Virgin Trains, what was your initiative behind finding this opportunity, and how did you make your skills transferable to sport?

A: When working at Virgin, there was a focus around community management, using social media to engage with customers rather than creating content. The good thing about Virgin is that they have a strong brand identity and tone of voice. Around the time I started working at Aston Villa, they were halfway through the 2016/17 Championship season, following a disappointing season in the Premier League. The club had a new owner come in at the start of that season and had brought a lot of fresh faces in with a primary focus of re-energising the club. I was fortunate that the boss who recruited me wanted to freshen things up. Luckily when I went to the interviews, I had voluntary projects going on, and I was working with a brand also wanting to be innovative. Fortunately, Virgin Trains had partnered with other football clubs, so I tried to utilise this by setting up football orientated social competitions. An example included working with Manchester City and giving customers the chance to win a first-class package for a football match. Having done projects like this, I felt I could utilise this at the interview stage, the fact that I had worked for a sponsor of football clubs.

I would like to think I got the position at Aston Villa because of not only my passion for football but also because of my willingness to learn through those numerous voluntary experiences.

Q: What was your strategy for building an active network to land your sports industry opportunity?

A: When I was at University, lecturers always emphasised to us about making contacts. Therefore, I began connecting with people that already worked in the sports media industry to ensure I was learning from those with more experience. This method also helped me understand what I was interested in and helped me enhance my LinkedIn presence. I lost count of the number of emails I was sending out to people working in the industry searching for voluntary opportunities.

Having the attitude of getting to know people will serve you well, I even sent emails out to every Match of the Day commentator asking questions about their journey into sport. The replies proved to me that there is no one route to breaking into the industry.

Also, I ensured I did not stick to one format of marketing. I worked in radio and learnt necessary video skills which helped me broaden my experience.

Q: While working at Aston Villa, what was your experience like reflecting on your time there?

A: There were lots of pro’s but also some con’s that many people do not see. The pro’s included me feeling privileged that I was in that position that so many want to be in, mostly getting paid to watch football! I also thought that a variety of colleagues you get to work with at a football club is excellent, as you are collaborating with various people and continually learning new things. Working in the media team, there is a huge cross over with people in other departments, such as ticketing, marketing, partnerships and retail. Lastly, given the size of the club, it was fantastic to see your work recognised on a much larger scale, something which is invaluable on your CV!

I don’t want to delve into the con’s too much, but this consisted of restricted access to filming content with key stakeholders of the club (players, coaches, and other staff). Also, as previously mentioned, when the change of ownership occurred, there was a reversion of playing things by the book rather than being encouraged to be innovative. This process had impacted on the content we could produce for the club, which in my view meant it was downgraded.

On the whole, it was great three years at the club which I’ll look back on with fond memories, but I also want to make people aware that working at a football club is not all plain sailing.

Q: From a digital marketing perspective, what have been the main differences when creating content in different sporting industries?

A: It is hard to benchmark content due to the size of the brand. At ‘Me and My Golf’, the company are ten years old so quite well established but still class themselves as relatively new at the same time. This differs quite a lot in comparison to Aston Villa. At Me and My Golf, the main focus is to grow brand awareness, whereas, at Aston Villa, they were focusing on changing the perception of the club. The main successes at Villa were trying to more creative with their content and maximising opportunities when they came about i.e. transfer announcements.

I think the main difference between golf and football is that golf as a whole is still trying to grow, whereas football is well established in English culture. Because of the tribalism within football, you will not see clubs engage with each other the way that golf creators do.

Q: While working in sport, what have been the fundamental values you have been taught and applied to sustain a successful career?

A: It is nothing out of the ordinary. I continually wanted to improve yourself and be the best I can be. 2-3 months after I joined Aston Villa, I was not in the mindset of ‘I’ve made it, this was the end goal’. I wanted to push on and help the club be best in class. I want the audience to think this about the brand I am at currently, that we are the best at what we do.

Also, as digital marketing is a 24/7 industry, outside of work, I am listening to podcasts, reading articles because I am passionate about what I do. I don’t think you can underestimate engaging with other like-minded people who’s targets and responsibilities are similar to yours. I always look to learn and improve at every opportunity.

Q: What advice could you pass onto someone who is working in an external industry to sport but wants to make that occupation full-time?  

A: Get involved in voluntary and part-time initiatives to demonstrate your passion for the industry. This will build up your portfolio of experiences to talk about in interviews when those opportunities arise. Keep connecting with people in the industry to understand the variety of routes there are to get into sport. Remain persistent, there are so many people wanting to break in, but few roles are available. It is a competitive industry, use that as motivation rather than a setback. If you fall at the first hurdle, do not give up. Lastly, always think about how you can transfer your skills into sport.

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Published by Ash

I'm a First-Class Graduate in Sports Business Management who has worked across Local Government, Sport and the Third Sector. Throughout my career, I've developed a thriving passion to promote sport being used as a tool to bring positivity to the world we live in. This ethos has inspired me to create a website which champions this value through comprehensive online content for you to gain value from. Join me on this journey of discovering what sport can do to enhance society.

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