From Corporate Attorney to Sports Reporter, Author, and Publicist
Kristi Dosh has led a fascinating career, which took her from corporate attorney to the first (and still only) female sports business reporter at ESPN, to a founder and principal at Guide My Brand, doing publicity for authors and entrepreneurs. She is also author of Saturday Millionaires: How Winning Football Builds Winning Colleges.
I was anxious to speak with her about developing and owning her expertise in a male-dominated field. Plus, I know from experience that she offers invaluable advice for authors who want to establish their expertise and build a platform.
The conversation didn’t disappoint. We covered:
- How (and why) she went from corporate attorney to sports reporter
- Why it’s important to wait before finding your niche
- Why you should pay attention to the third thing someone says when introducing you
- The “three bucket” exercise for building your platform
- How Twitter changed her life for the better
- Why Twitter is great for building a following, connecting with journalists, and showing up as an expert
It’s a fascinating interview. And if you like it, here are a few related links:
- Find Saturday Millionaires on Amazon or buy it from BookShop.
- Follow @GuideMyBrand on Twitter
- Learn about her publicity work at GuideMyBrand.com.
Listen to the Interview
(The audio is not as clean as it might be, but the content is definitely worth listening to! And you can also check the transcript.)
Read the Transcript
Anne: Hey, Kristi, thank you for joining me to talk about platform building. I know that this is a passion of yours for authors and entrepreneurs, and something that you have done on our own as the author of Saturday Millionaires, a book about college football.
Kristi: Yes. When I got my first book, which was actually for a different book that still has not been released from the publishing house, they said, “You need to go build a platform.” I was like, “A what?” I was a practicing attorney at the time. I had no concept of what that mean or how to do it. Quite frankly, they did not give me a lot of guidance on what that looked like. It was a lot of trial and error in the beginning.
A: I’m not sure that even the publishers know. They want you to have a platform, but I’m not sure they totally know how to define it.
K: Exactly, agreed.
From attorney to ESPN reporter to publicist
A: You went from being an attorney to what you doing now, which is helping other authors and entrepreneurs build their platforms. Is that a fair assessment?
K: Yes, it was a weird transition, in that I was an attorney and did get this book deal, while practicing law, for a book based around legal issues in sports. I started building my platform to support that book. What that ended up doing was exposing me in the sports law and sports business space. It eventually led to ESPN hiring me away from my law firm and stop practicing law.
I did that for a while, and got to be on the journalism side of things, and had more and more friends coming to me saying, “How did you get to be on that show?” or “How did you write the book?” or “How did you get to be on that website?” I started helping people for free, then came to a point in my career where it made sense to figure out how to monetize that knowledge.
I always say, I was my own best case study. I used myself for a lot of trial and error. But I only use the proven stuff for the clients.
A: You’re not making them try all the hard things that didn’t work?
K: No, I try to let them learn from my mistakes.
A: You are still doing this—you still have this platform as someone who speaks and writes about sports legal issues. You have a Twitter handle …
K: @SportsBizMiss. I had a different Twitter handle when I first started. I mostly wrote and talked about baseball, so I had a baseball-centric username. As I started doing more media, it was someone at Comcast Sports Southeast, a regional sports network, who helped me come up with SportsBizMiss idea. They taught me a lot about branding—not only my social media. I got a logo created that goes along with it. He, along with others I surrounded myself with, taught me the value of creating a personal brand. For me, leaning into the fact that I was female in a male-dominated space, and using that to my advantage instead of focusing on the ways in which being a woman in a male-dominated industry might be a bad thing. I had some great people around me who really taught me how to turn it into a positive and make it easier for me to get noticed, because I stood out from all the middle-aged white men I was up against.
A: Yes, and there are plenty of women sports fans. You can take what’s different and either be a victim of it or use it in your story and move forward, which is what you did.
A theme comes up with you that comes up with so many of the authors I talked to which is this: someone reached out. There’s this almost accidental platform building. It’s not accidental: it happens because of the work you’ve done and the way you’ve put yourself forward, but it doesn’t always happen because of everything has been planned and charted out.
K: Right. My plan was to be a corporate attorney and do mergers and acquisitions the rest of my career. I haven’t practiced law now in nine years. It did not go according to plan at all, but I love what I’m doing even more than the plan I thought I was going to enjoy.
On writing her book
A: So tell me how the book fits into that platform.
K: It was a little unusual, in that I was practicing law. There was an attorney in my first who owned a niche publication in the sports space. Some of the people in the firm knew that in law school, I had written an article that was published in our legal journal about collective bargaining and major league baseball—fascinating to me, but not to anyone else. It got passed around to this editor of the public that a partner at my firm ran. He was like, “If you ever want to write for our publication, feel free.” I was like, “I’m a first-year associate, working 12-14 hour days. When am I going to sit down and write about baseball?”
However, the market crashed not long after, and the type of law I was doing was heavily affected by the market. Somehow the editor at this niche publication knew an editor at a publishing house and passed along my legal journal article because he thought it was interesting. The publisher actually contacted me and asked me to put together a book proposal. I got my first book deal that way. IT was for an academic publisher. We ran into some timing issues with the release. I am still, technically, under contract for that book ten years later, but it has never come to fruition.
In the mean time, I came up with another book idea, got a literary agent, got a book deal from another publisher for that book, and it came out years ago. It’s interesting that my first book still is not out yet, but my second book is out.
A: Publishing, you’ve got to love it.
On finding her niche
A: And then, you went to doing television appearance, you write on Forbes. You are still very much a presence in your area. Clearly you made the shift from practicing law to doing this.
K: One of the things, when I look back, that was really important and allowed me to make that shift from practicing law to building that brand and getting the second book deal, the ESPN job, and all the speaking and consulting I do now is this: I started out writing just about baseball. Then I got brought on as a contributor at Forbes—again, sort of a random thing that happened to me, with an editor that I emailed about something else who ended up asking me to contribute. As I wrote more there, I was writing about legal and business issues all across sports. In early 2011, around May or April, I decided to go “all-in” on the business of college sports. Those pieces were getting the most views. Even though at the time, I wouldn’t have said that was my favorite thing to write about. At that time, baseball was my favorite thing. Anybody who’s ever blogged knows that when you’re blogging and no one is reading, it’s hard to stay motivated. Even if you love the subject, it is really hard to continue to put out content when you’re shouting into the voice.
I started writing these pieces about the business of college sports, and I wasn’t shouting into the void anymore. People were reading. They were leaving comments. They were emailing me. My social media was growing. I was getting opportunities to be interviewed on TV and radio. I thought, “I’ve found something here.” Its’ amazing how much more you enjoy a subject when it’s getting attention, and people are reading it and you’re getting positive feedback.
In May or April of that year, I decided to go all-in focusing on college sports—particularly college football, but the business of college sports. By August I had my book deal and in October, I got the deal from ESPN to leave the practice of law.
I talk to bloggers about should you be more niche? Should you be more broad? I think people get stuck on trying to develop a niche from the day they decide to blog. You’ve got to give it a little space to develop and figure out not only what do you enjoy and have the expertise to talk about, but what do people want to hear more about. Where is there a gap in the marketplace for your knowledge?
At that time, there was this real gap in understanding how the business of college sports worked. That was almost a decade ago. That has really changed, and a lot of reporters write about it now. But at the time, no on did. I had been writing about all sports for probably two years at that point. It was when I niched down and found that sweet spot between my experience and what the audience wanted that everything took off for me. When I look back, that was a real turning point, when I niched down. I just think people sometimes do it too soon. You’ve got to test the waters a bit.
A: You hear that constant dichotomy—people are afraid to niche down because they think they’ll be less relevant and miss opportunities, and they don’t want to get bored. But it’s not that you just pick a niche and go for it. You almost let the market tell you what your niche is. That’s the key. And to do that, you have to be a bit broader and be putting things out there and creating content.
K: Right. I wrote what I thought was one piece for Forbes about the business of college sports. I did it on one conference. It did so well, my editor said, what if you did this for all of the major conferences? I said Okay. I wrote those, and they did so well, it’ was like okay, we’ve got something here. Maybe we should be writing more about this. It wasn’t something that was planned. It just sort of happened. When you start getting that positive feedback and your audience is growing, that’s when you know it’s time to lean into that.
Now I’ve been leaning into it for ten years. It ended up getting me another book deal. I 100% believe it’s the reason I ended up at ESPN. They were linking to my pieces all the time. That’s how their higher-ups learned about me and hired me away from practicing law. Almost all of my paid speaking and consulting is on the business sports. Even though I now run a PR agency and have moved on in my career. I do still write for Forbes, and I do still do television work for ESPN. I worked so hard to get my foot in the door in that industry, I’m not willing to let the door shut behind me. I want to stay in.
On helping others with their personal brands
K: Everything I learn as a journalist really pays off for my PR clients. Although I sometimes feel like I have two lives, they feed each other well.
A: Right. One is almost a sandbox for your publicity work. People are afraid to pick a niche. They fear they’re going to be boxed in. They think, what if I get bored? I have to do this for the rest of my career.
K: Even with my PR agency, most of my marketing is geared toward females. I talk all the time about how part of the mission and motivation behind the PR agency was that I read this stat that only 19% of the experts featured in the media are women. I was shocked, because I had been in the media. It hadn’t really occurred to me that there was this overabundance of mail experts on air—although if I stopped to think about it, I knew that based on what I saw in the sports world.
So, almost all of our messaging is geared toward women. However, we serve mail clients, and we get mail clients in the door every month, and they don’t care that we’re largely marketing to women. What they care about is that we get results. They don’t care if it’s for a male or female, a dog, a chimp, and alien. They just care that we get results. But we have to speak to women differently to get them in the door as clients. Even though it looks like we niched down in our marketing message, we still get other types of clients in the door. That was an interesting lesson to learn as a business owner, because I was afraid. I did not want to only work with women. I just wanted to 75% work with women.
It’s always really scary to niche down, but every time I’ve done it, it’s worked out really well. I try to now use that past success to inform my decisions going forward.
A: So, you’re niching down on your audience, and I think that makes you able to speak more authentically to them and obviously, you bring your passion about it and serve them really well. It’s weird, but I think that to get a bigger impact, you have to go more narrow—which is counterintuitive to most people. It’s this balance.
You work now with authors, entrepreneurs, and other people who are trying to step into a space of authority, of expertise. I’m trying to reach some of those same people as I work on my next book. Obviously, everyone is going to build their platform differently, everyone will approach it differently. Is there some general advice you give people as they approach this—if you’re sitting there saying, how do I start building my platform?
The “third thing” exercise
K: The first exercise I do with a client that comes in, regardless of whether they’re in our full support retainer package or our group program, I always tell them how important it is to know what your personal brand will be. Because we all have one already—it’s whatever other people think we do, or what we’re about or what’s important to us. Sometimes, if you start asking around, it’s interesting to hear what people think you do or what you’re passionate about.
I remember my final year practicing law, I was at a sports law conference. That was not the area of law I practiced: I did commercial real estate and mergers and acquisitions and securities. But I went to the sports law conference because I was a big sports fan and I was writing about sports. I sat next to a guy at lunch. We had talked all day about these sports issues, but he knew what I practiced. At the end of the day, he said to me, “If I come back to this next year and I see you and you’re still practicing law, I’m going to be really disappointed in you.”
I was like, “What are you talking about?” He saw it before I saw it: how passionate I was and how much I lit up talking about sports. I was still stuck in the mindset I was going to be an attorney. I wasn’t looking for a job outside of law. He saw it before I did. I always encourage my clients: as your followers, clients, or friends and family what they think you are best at or most passionate about.
One of the exercises was taught was when someone introduces you especially in a professional setting, pay attention to the third thing they say about you. The first thing will be your name. The second will probably be your job title or something like that. What is the third thing they say about you? For me, even when I was a practicing attorney, it was, “This is Kristi Dosh. She’s one of our associates. She’s a huge sports fan.” Or something sports-related was really that third thing. I’ve told people to pay attention to that third thing.
Finding the three buckets
K: As they become clients, we tell them whatever that brand is, whether it’s what you want it to be or not, we can intentionally craft your personal brand. The way we teach clients to do that is we tell them that they get three buckets: three things they want to be known for. I have sometimes allowed a client to stretch to four, but one of the first clients I did this exercise for, I didn’t give a limit. She came back with ten buckets. I told her, people are going to be so confused by what you do, they’ll have no idea what you do.
I work with clients to come up with the three things they want to be known for. Then, anything they do that is forward-facing, which is what we called it at ESPN. Anything that is public-facing—a blog post, a speech, an interview, a social media post—anything the public can see has to fit in one of those buckets. If it doesn’t, you shouldn’t be talking about it publicly. I caught myself, early on when trying to grow my business, I would be in Facebook groups and see someone ask for advice about whether they should form an LLC. I wanted to jump in and answer because I’m an attorney and I know the answer and want to be helpful. Then they think I want clients as an attorney, and that’s not what I want. I have a PR agency. Now I always stop and ask myself: should I be the person to answer this question? Even if I know the answer, should I be the one to answer it? I try to get I the habit that the way I can be helpful is not to give the answer is to tag in a friend who that is what they do. Tag in an attorney friend who does want more entrepreneur clients, instead of me giving the answer.
I did this three bucket exercise for myself and decided what my three buckets were going to be. We sit down with every single client an do it, and it helps streamline your message — particularly when you’re getting PR. Often, people get an opportunity to be interviewed, but they end up in a piece that’s about something that has nothing to do with their book or their business. It’s great to say you were on Forbes or wherever it was, but if it doesn’t feed into the person you’re trying to become or the brand you’re trying to develop, it’s not that it’s wasted effort, but you’re confusing your message. You’re confusing your personal brand.
The three buckets exercise remains my favorite thing to do with clients, because it really helps us start solidifying their brand and making sure we’re putting them in front of the right audience and getting them the right opportunities to support what it is they want to be known for.
A: It makes me think of when I was working corporate clients, doing content marketing and writing for them. Most of them had zero style guides, so I’d say: three adjectives. We’re going to do the three adjectives, and that’s your style guide. It’s a mini-version. Because you don’t get to pick all of them. If you pick all of them, you have no voice. It applies to brand, it applies to voice. Great advice there.
How Twitter changed her life
A: When I first sent out this request for interviews, you said you had a good Twitter story. So I have to ask about your Twitter story.
K: The publisher of my first book said, “You have to get on Twitter.” This would have been in 2009 or 2010. At that point, I knew a few people on Twitter, but it was in its early days. People were mostly sharing what they were eating for lunch. It wasn’t anything like it is now. I thought, “Why do you want me to get on Twitter?”
They told me two things to do to build my platform: start speaking more, and get on Twitter. They didn’t tell me how or were to start speaking more. I had to figure that out on my own. And Twitter? I was like, “Okay, I’ll get on Twitter, but what do I do with it?” I started by following other writers that I knew and read their work: sports writer, and particularly writers in baseball. Then as they shared other people’s content, I would discover new people to follow, and it would build from there. I was already writing for Forbes at that point. I did figure out that I should be sharing the content I was writing for Forbes. Actually, when I first started on Twitter, I was still writing on my own blog. It was another writer I connected with on Twitter who got invited to contribute to Forbes. So I started reading Forbes, reading his work, and I ended up reading something by the sports editor. I emails him to provide a longer comment on his piece, versus posting it on the website. He invited me to become a contributor. That’s how I ended up becoming a contributor at Forbes. As I built up my following on Twitter—I always joke and say that one day I’m going to write a memoir with the title “How Twitter Changed My Life.” It really is how I made every important connection that changed my career. I met an agent on Twitter, who ultimately introduced me to another agent within his agency, and that’s the guy who got me to ESPN.
I wasn’t even trying to get ESPN. He called me and said, “I had a meeting at ESPN today about another client. I brought up your name, they know who you are, and now they want to meet with you.”
I said, “Meet with me about what?” A job with ESPN was not even on my radar. That wasn’t what I was trying to do with an agent. I was trying to figure out how to publicize my book, and I wanted to be on TV a little more, but I wasn’t trying to change careers at that point. That really changed things for me.
Using Twitter to position myself as an expert on the business of college sports, really using that platform to build my expertise and meet more people in those circles, and get my stuff shared and linked to by more writers—that ultimately got me the book deal for the book on the business of college sports. It got me into ESPN. IT got me the agent.
I also met my husband through Twitter. I always say that every big thing that’s happened in my professional career has been thanks to Twitter. It sounds silly, but I believe that. Twitter has truly changed my life, and I will always have a soft spot for Twitter.
A: People do misunderstand it. The thing I’ve always found it best for is making connections with people. That’s what it’s for, not for whatever else.
K: You can reach people you would not otherwise have access to. I had a client tell me that she woke up at 4 in the morning a couple weeks ago—she wasn’t our client at the time, she just became a client. She told me, “A couple days ago I woke up at 4 in the morning and there was this news that I had something important to say on. It was right in my wheelhouse. I didn’t know how to pitch myself, I knew I was going to get started with a publicist.” At that point, she hadn’t decided who to hire yet. She does immigration law. She said she just got on Twitter and started finding reporters who wrote about immigration, and she said, “I just tweeted all of them and told them if they were looking for an expert on this news that just broke, I was available that day.” She ended up getting four media interviews from those tweets—and she only has a hundred followers.
I found that, too, in the early days of Twitter. It’s not about how big your following is. I think on a platform like Instagram, you’d better have a big following or you’re not going to get noticed. On Twitter, you get access to contact people you might otherwise not be able to get to by phone or email. Journalists tend to be active on Twitter. People who are on Twitter tend to be interactive—they’re not just talking at people. They do tend to reply. So I have done some of my best networking on Twitter, and continue to do so.
A: It’s a wonderful resource. Great story. Getting up, I’ll just tell them I’m an expert source. That the kind of stepping up that we’ve got to do. I hope she gave herself a big pat on the back for doing that.
K: I told her this morning, I want to teach you some hashtags to use on Twitter, so maybe the media will find you. She told me, “Let me tell you what I did…” I was, “You get it already.” There’s more she can do, and we talked about strategies for doing that going forward. But it is amazing who you can contact and get an answer from on Twitter.
In fact, if someone isn’t reading my emails and I know they’re on Twitter, I usually tweet at them, and that gets a response faster.
A: That’s brilliant, I never thought about that.
K: Tweets don’t get caught in spam. You have a better chance of getting to someone. I benefit now that I have the little blue checkmark, thanks to ESPN. Celebrities and people who have a really big profile, I can usually get a response from because I end up in their “verified” feed. Even before I had that, I was amazed at the people I was able to connect with and build a real relationship with on Twitter before I met them in person. For some, I never met them in person.
A: I have had that same experience. And to flip it around, if you’ve written a book and someone reaches out with a question to you and you respond, they’re blown away. You get to make a deeper connection with readers, and it’s easier to do.
K: It’s a way I found out people were reading my book. It got picked up in a lot of classrooms. I had done some outreach to professors—again, mostly on Twitter. I tweeted for a long time. I was traditionally published, so from the day I got the deal to the day the book was in my hands, was two and a half to three years, so there was a long time to talk about the book before it came out. All along the way, I had known that there were sport finance classes in universities that it would be great for. I did some direct outreach to professors, but every so often on Twitter, I would say, “If you teach in a sports management program, I’d love to get you an advance copy of my book and talk about how you could use it in your classroom.
It’s not necessarily that that many people followed me—there were some—but people would retweet it and it would get in front of the right people. I would use hashtags that I knew. For example, the industry association for sports management professor—I would tweet using their hashtag. It was getting in front of people. I thought I knew how many classrooms were using my book. I had been tracking it with the people I had direct contact with. But the first couple years the book was out, students would tweet at me saying, “I’m reading your book for my class.” I would look at their profile and see where they went to school, and be, “that school’s not on my list. There were a lot of professors using it who didn’t come to me and say, I’m going to use your book. Twitter was neat because I was able to connect with people who were reading it and reaching out to me, asking follow-up questions or asking for updated information. That book came out almost 7 years ago now, and I still get tweets about it every single week, and I still do speaking and consulting for things in that book every single month. For seven years. People say, “Are you going to write another one?” I say, “I don’t need to yet.”
A: I’m going to go up my Twitter game. You have so much great advice. Thank you for sharing that. I’m going to share the link to not only your book but your agency, which is…
K: Guide My Brand. The @GuideMyBrand Twitter I haven’t spent nearly as much time with. I’m on Twitter every day, but I’m really serving that sports account because I have 34,000 followers there versus our agency account. I have not found it as useful from an agency perspective in getting in front of clients. Some of that is my own fault, because it’s not where I have invested my time and effort. But it’s still a great way to reach out to journalists. I can reach out after I’ve pitched and they haven’t opened the email, and find out it ended up in spam. I can tweet out about a client. I use hashtags around that client’s industry. We had one recently that was a retired EMT. When all of the Coronavirus was first starting out, she had traveled all over the world in the past to work on epidemics, and had frontline knowledge of handling epidemics. But she didn’t even have a Twitter account. I got on Twitter, and said “If anyone needs an expert … let me know and I’ll get in touch with her.” I used a #pandemic hashtag and a Covid19 hashtag, and three of four reporters wanted to get in touch with her. Only one ended up turning into coverage
The quick, easy access to journalists on Twitter is amazing. They all use it. Clients tell me, “Nobody in my industry uses it.” That’s fine but people in the journalism industry use it.
A: Thanks for sharing this advice, I’m sure it will be helpful to other people.