March 1, 2012
Dan Higgins just celebrated his 12th year working for the Golf Channel, based in Orlando, Fla. He’s currently the senior director of public relations and corporate events for the company. Although he came to work in public relations “by chance,” the Ohio State graduate now “leads a team with a primary goal of increasing Golf Channel viewership, so most of my days revolve around strategy and media relations activities,” he says. “I’ve always had a love of sports, but the great thing about public relations is that your skills can translate to a variety of industries.”
Here, he talks about how the Golf Channel has evolved since its 1995 beginnings, how to keep golf fans engaged, the future of public relations and the latest social media developments with the channel.
How did you get your start in public relations?
I answered a help-wanted ad and ended up landing my first job handling promotion and publicity for a local public television station. But, it was my next job at an agency that kick-started my career.
Were you a golf fan or a golfer growing up?
My dad took me to the golf course for the first time when I was about 12, but golf was not that popular among kids when I was growing up and none of my siblings played, so I kept busy playing other sports. I didn’t get into watching golf on TV until college.
How do you find a work-life balance with such a demanding job?
I travel a lot, but it comes in spurts. Working golf tournaments has lessened over the years — although I still travel to the major championships and marquee tournaments on the schedule. I find myself traveling more for other Golf Channel projects and original shows. Finding balance can be hard, but I make a conscious effort to make family a priority.
How have you seen the Golf Channel evolve through the years since its 1995 launch?
The Golf Channel always has been considered the gold standard for other niche sports networks to follow, but in the early days, it was a fledgling network trying hard to acquire tournament rights, and grow its news and original programming offerings. Now, we televise more golf than all other networks combined. And because of the recent Comcast-NBC Universal merger, we became part of the NBC Sports Group, which provides us with a tremendous promotional platform for our programming and other businesses.
How far ahead do you have to start preparing for major events, like the Masters on April 5-8? Does your role increase leading up to these big tournaments?
Even though we don’t yet have the rights to air coverage of any of the four major championships, the weeks in which they are played are our busiest and most watched. We can air upward of 30 hours of live news programming during a week surrounding a major, which requires an “all hands on deck” approach, so we start preparing several months in advance.
How has the Golf Channel been using social and digital media to connect with its audience?
The overriding goal of our channel and digital businesses, including GolfChannel.com, is to connect the world to golf. In the social media world, our differentiator is instruction. We have collected years of video tips from some of the best instructors in the world that recreational golfers can access at a moment’s notice.
The real value is how we have been using social media channels to invite the audience to be an active part of the conversation by sharing their feedback and opinions on the day’s top stories while providing a direct opportunity to receive instructional advice directly from our shows and personalities.
Whether it’s keeping up with scores via our mobile app, the ability to book a tee time at more than 3,500 golf courses through our GolfNow tee time service,or taking a lesson online through our new SwingFix technology, we’ve got it covered.
How do you keep the Golf Channel brand fresh and interesting?
Because we try to keep our programming as current as possible, the biggest challenge may be keeping on top of developments as they pertain to production. We’re still a rapidly growing network, so keeping things fresh and interesting is not that big of a challenge — especially now that we’re part of NBC. Golf is a game driven by personalities. For years — and still today — Tiger [Woods] has had the capability of driving the sport. But there is now a new crop of young players with big personalities that have taken the sport by storm.
Also, the game is more global today. Many of these golfing “young guns” making a name in the United States come from Europe and Australia, so the fact that Golf Channel programming can be seen in more than 70 countries around the world — a number that continues to grow — helps the cause.
How has the media landscape changed in terms of coverage during the past few years?
In a more digital world, the challenges faced by newspapers also have influenced the way we approach and deal with the media. The days of the dedicated golf beat writer at every newspaper no longer exist, so we have had to find other ways to connect.
What advice do you have for someone looking to launch a career like yours?
Have a passion for what you will be promoting. A knowledge and appreciation for the game of golf can certainly help you but, first and foremost, you have to be a good PR practitioner with a nose for news and a strategic mind.
What trends do you see on the horizon for communications?
With multitudes of non-traditional communication vehicles out there, everyone is spread so thin these days. I don’t fear the demise of the traditional, but we have to acknowledge the notion that people will consume content when and where they want it, and on the device of their choice. Communicators that can deliver their messages in varying ways will benefit the most. Since the Golf Channel is a visual medium and people can consume video on multiple platforms, whether at home or on the go — the so-called “second screen” — we have to take advantage of that differentiation.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
The relationships forged over the years. I remember scratching and clawing for any type of media coverage in the early days. And even though our reputation makes it a little easier now, I still love the challenge of taking something small and trying to make it big.
Best career advice ever received?
“Learn to write and spell!” It’s amazing how many people don’t do that very well.
Favorite thing to do in your leisure time?
Watch my kids play sports
Any three dinner guests, past or present?
Former Ohio State University football coach Woody Hayes, current Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee and golf legend Jack Nicklaus
News Editor Amy Jacques interviewed Dan Higgins for this month’s member profile