Mary Pink: Iowa State Associate Athletic Director for Marketing - Work In Sports Podcast

Mary Pink, Iowa State Associate Atheltic Director joins Brian Clapp on the Work In Sports Podcast

Hey everybody, I’m Brian Clapp, VP of Content and Engaged Learning for and this is the Work In Sports podcast.

I’m going to date myself a bit here. 

In 1996 I graduated from college, got offered a job at CNN/Sports Illustrated in Atlanta, told I was going to start in 2 weeks...and moved to a city I had never seen before outside of a map. 

Heck, I had only been south of Virginia on a weekend trip to Disney World.

7 years later, I moved to Seattle. A city I had never seen, a state I had never visited. I had a phone interview or two, flew out for an in face interview and was asked to start in 2 weeks. 

I gave my CNN peeps two weeks' notice, stopped working on a Friday, traveled that weekend to Seattle and started on Monday. Looking back this was ludicrous. 

10 years after that I moved to Denver. 3 years after that I moved to Philadelphia. 

And multiple times I have spoken on this podcast telling all of you to prepare yourself for the inevitable. If you want to work in sports you will relocate. You will go where the jobs are. You will move on in order to move up. 

The theory is sound, the jobs in sports are in high demand, there isn’t a lot of turnover ahead of you on the career path, so if you start out with the Washington Nationals, you will likely have to move to the Pittsburgh Pirates to advance...or the New Jersey Devils or the LA Chargers… you get the drift.  

Even if you aren’t working for a team, the challenge is the same. If you start our at GSE Worldwide in Atlanta, you may need to jump to Octagon to grow. 

The examples are endless. 

This past fall I interviewed Chris Grosse, Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing at Penn State. Prior to Penn State, he worked at Florida State, the Naval Academy, Georgetown and New Mexico State.

Just last month I interviewed Tim Duncan, Athletic Director for the University of New Orleans -- his prior stops -- Memphis, UNC-Wilmington, Paine College, Clayton State, Northeastern and now... the University of New Orleans. 

So it’s settled then, right?


Enter exhibit A, today’s guest Mary Pink -- one of the most respected names in college athletics. Mary is the Associate AD for marketing at Iowa State, and has been rocking it in Ames Iowa for 24 years.

So it is not a mandate that you have to move around -- it may be likely - but it is not written rule. It is not a fact. 

For mary -- she’s been a part of  24 years of athletic, attendance, revenue and branding growth -- and going to explain it all. Here’s Mary Pink…


Questions for Mary Pink, Iowa State Associate Athletic Director for Marketing


1: Before we get into sports marketing in college athletics and life at a major university like Iowa State – I want to go back to your beginning… did you always dream of working in sports?

Follow:  how did you discover your fit in marketing college athletics?

2: I’ve interviewed many people in college athletics and often they’ve worked at a multitude of schools, jumping around in order to grow their career.

This always seemed like a necessity, a pattern you’d see everywhere, and yet you’ve been at Iowa State for 24 years and grown into a top role in the athletic department – why was it important to you to stay and develop within Iowa State?

3: Your job description is vast and the expectations enormous. You seem to have your hands in everything --marketing, branding, ticket sales, communications, sponsorship, special events, budgeting, negotiations, fundraising, coach and employee supervision, strategic planning and event management.

Clearly you can’t do it all yourself and you have a team of people helping you execute on your vision – so I ask, what are the most important traits you look for when assembling your team?

4: How would you describe your leadership style?

5: Looking for your guidance here – should young people who want to work in sports marketing try to become a jack-of-all-trades learning all of these component skills, or lean into certain areas and become a master?

6: In 2012 Iowa State won the Marketing Team of the Year Award from the National Association of Collegiate Marketing Administrators – lots of competition for an award like this, what was it that made your program at Iowa State stand out from the crowd?

7: Trends and approaches change quickly, what you did back then may not have the same impact now… how do you stay agile and fresh as a marketing department?

8: I’m originally from Boston, which means, yes, I am an obnoxious Boston sports fan… and imagine my surprise when watching an Iowa State football game and hearing the student section singing Neil Diamond’s iconic “Sweet Caroline” a song bellowed night after night at Fenway Park.

I looked it up to see how this happened… and it was attributed to you! Rather than rehashing the genesis of this decision – I’m more curious about creating these special moments that become a part of the athletic culture – is it luck? Is there a plan? How does this magic happen?

9: You’ve won national awards, managed huge budgets, developed social media campaigns, led teams – but what is the part of the job that excites you the most? What aspect of this job really gets you fired up?

10: Would you consider yourself a competitive person? In your view, is that an essential trait for working in the sports industry?

11: We’ll finish up with this -- to be in sports marketing you clearly need a flair for the creative –but you also have to be able to execute on the ideas and track data to know if an idea worked or not – how important is it for someone to be more than just creative?


By Brian Clapp | March 11, 2020
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