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SBD/December 15, 2010/People and Pop Culture
Catching Up With Big Ten Net VP/Communications Elizabeth Conlisk
Published December 15, 2010
When Elizabeth Conlisk joined
the Big Ten Network in '07, she fulfilled a dream that dated back to
her days at Harvard, where she obtained her Masters in Public
Administration. As a sports fan who grew up in the Big Ten footprint
and later attended and worked for Ohio State, the opportunity to help
launch the conference's network was a dream come true. Now in her
fourth year as VP/Communications & University Relations for the Big
Ten Network, Conlisk still faces the challenge of growing the network
and making sure fans know where to find it. Events like last weekend's
Big Chill hockey game at Michigan Stadium certainly help in that
effort, and Conlisk took some time earlier this week to chat with Staff
Writer Erik Swanson about the interest in that game, the biggest
challenges for the young network and the impact of social media on her
Technology you can't do without? iPad
Favorite non-Big Ten bookmarks? N.Y. Times, SportsBusiness Daily, CNN
Legends or Leaders? Both, they're all my teams
Q: What were the biggest challenges in launching a new network?
Conlisk: Painting a picture for fans of a change in how they were going to see their games without having the actual pictures to describe it, not being on the air yet. We knew that once people saw it, they would really like what they saw.
Q: What was your biggest challenge from a PR standpoint in the last three-plus years?
Conlisk: I have to say that nothing has been as challenging as the bruising distribution issue. We've benefited actually from all of the discussion on Big Ten expansion. Earlier this year, we were in the news for quite a while past the time that we've been talked about previously.
Q: What was your strategy in handling the distribution issue?
Conlisk: We took some alternative routes. We reached out to blogs and message boards and really tried to connect directly with the fan. Also, through sports talk radio; our President, MARK SILVERMAN, was very engaging with fans on sports talk radio. I think over time, people got to know him and got to understand that the network was going to be a good thing for the fan. I think we won fans over bit by bit.
Q: What kind of interest did you see around the Big Chill hockey game?
Conlisk: There was a lot of excitement. It certainly, and not surprisingly, was our highest-rated hockey game on the network ever. Michigan did such a great job getting the Big House ready, and the weather cooperated. I think all in all, everything fell into place, certainly after a long planning period.
Q: What would our readers be most surprised to learn about your typical day?
Conlisk: I guess that there isn't one (laughs). I have a pretty broad portfolio. I'm responsible for media relations, I'm responsible for university relations, for customer service operations, so there are any number of those things that could be at the forefront unexpectedly.
Q: What comprises the bulk of your day on average?
Conlisk: You probably get this one a lot, but meetings. Outside of meetings, really looking ahead for the next phase of growth and doing some planning for that. Looking ahead to the integration of Nebraska into the network. Really looking ahead.
Q: What's the biggest challenge you face? What keeps you up at night?
Conlisk: Thinking about ways to increase viewership. And to make sure people know that we're a national network available in all 50 states, and internationally through our streaming product.
Q: How has social media changed the way you do your job?
Conlisk: When we launched, there was no such thing, so it has changed significantly. My staff spends a significant amount of time in social media. We spend a significant amount of time planning social media strategy and looking at ways to integrate both media relations and marketing and our online efforts, and uniting them in the social media space.
Q: How big of a role does Twitter play in your ability to get the message out about the network?
Conlisk: It will play a role more and more. I'm kind of new to it. I think there are a lot of people who are really good at it, and I would like to become really good at it. I do think that it's an art, and not everybody is able to but I really want to become good at it.
Q: Who has been influential in your career development?
Conlisk: I've been really fortunate my entire career. I spent some time at Miller in my 20s and had some really phenomenal mentors and leaders. I had the same experience at Ohio State and now at the network, working under the leadership of Mark Silverman. I've really been fortunate.
Q: You spent some time running your own consultancy. Do you see yourself ever going back, or do you see yourself staying in-house from here on out?
Conlisk: I think it's likely that I would stay in-house. I had a phenomenal experience owning my own consulting business and doing speaker coaching and media strategy. I worked on a presidential campaign, which was really exciting. But I think I prefer the environment that I'm in right now.
Q: If you weren't working for the Big Ten Network right now, what would you be doing? What's your dream job?
Conlisk: I don't know, I kind of think I have a dream job. Helping to launch the first nationally distributed conference network, loving sports as much as I do, loving the Big Ten and growing up in the Big Ten. When I heard about the concept of the network I was still at Harvard and I remember sitting in my teeny tiny apartment and saying to myself, "What a great idea. I hope I can somehow play a role in that when I go back to Ohio State." And it all worked out.