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Life in the fast lane: Alumna uses PR expertise at NASCAR

Interview by Christa CurreyStephanie Ackerman (BSJ, 2005)

Stephanie Ackerman (BSJ, 2005) is a member of NASCAR’s Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) team in Charlotte, North Carolina. When Ackerman, a native of Wheeling, West Virginia, started working for NASCAR in 2012, she could count on one hand the number of drivers she knew. Two years later she has grown to love the sport of auto racing and its fans. Read more about Ackerman’s career with NASCAR.

Currey: Why did you want to work for NASCAR?

Ackerman: Before joining NASCAR, I worked for the H.J. Heinz Company for five years. Heinz has a partnership with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I enjoyed working on that sponsorship and with a professional sport as one part of my job. When I saw the job at NASCAR, it looked interesting to me because I saw a lot of parallels between my job at Heinz and the one at NASCAR.

CC: What do you do at NASCAR?

SA: I am manager of stakeholder communications. We serve as a communications liaison between NASCAR as a sanctioning body and the teams, tracks and drivers. For example, if a team has a new sponsor and they need NASCAR support to help tell that story, they’ll call me and I’ll work with members of our integrated marketing communications (IMC) team to create a communications plan. Another part of my job is managing industry events at key times during the season and finding professional development opportunities for PR people who work in the industry and bringing those opportunities to NASCAR.

CC: What do you like about your job?

SA: I think the best part about my job is our team and getting to work with so many people from diverse backgrounds. It’s so much about diversity of thought and experience.

CC: Have you always been a NASCAR fan?

SA: I started working for NASCAR on a Wednesday and went to the track on Friday, and that was the first time I had ever been to a race. I wasn’t a fan before, I just didn’t know much about the sport. My first impression: I was completely blown away by the number of people and the amount of organization it takes to pull off a race, and this happens 36 weeks a year.

CC: Do you travel to all the races?

SA: I don’t. Last year I traveled to about 15 races and had a few other trips here and there, getting up to speed. This year I don’t have as much travel, but I enjoy it when I do, mostly traveling to race tracks and for industry events.

CC: What changes have you seen in the industry since you graduated in 2005?

SA: When I was in college, Facebook was just starting to take off and Twitter didn’t exist. There are so many opportunities in that realm of communications, so if you have any sort of passion for technology and innovation, it’s a great time to be in the field.

Also, the days of the traditional PR person who only focuses on pitching media are gone. We’ve seen a shift from traditional PR to an IMC approach where you have to have a seat at the table, and communications has to be a key part of every decision made along the way.

CC: How did your course work at WVU prepare you for your career?

SA: During my public relations capstone class we had to go through all the stages of a campaign from research to execution to reporting. Working on that in a team setting and seeing every detail from start to finish prepared me for what I’m doing now—and especially for my first job.

CC: What advice do you have for graduates entering the job market?

SA: Be pleasantly persistent and don’t rely too much on social media and electronic communication. Doing something simple like picking up the phone and calling someone or sending a hand-written note after your interview can go along way.