My role as a temporary freelancer for New York Road Runners as their Photography Project Manager for the 2023 TCS NYC Marathon ends on December 8th and this opportunity has been an invaluable experience.
As the Photography Project Manager my role was to assist in the over 20 race week and marathon race day logistics which included shot list creations, location assignments and details, deliverable outlines, oversight of the Getty photographers, and intake and processing of 25 photographers.
My experience as a Media Director for a couple of small events was vital in stepping into this role. But I also did my research. After I interviewed I studied their website in depth, learned more about their various programs and races, and learned about their teams. After a Zoom call, when asked about my familiarity with the marathon, which I knew of but was not from an actual racing standpoint or the atmosphere, I found a (unauthorized) video on YouTube® and watched, yes watched, the whole marathon on a Sunday afternoon so I could immerse myself in what makes the NYC Marathon special. I firmly believe that to successfully work with someone you need to not only understand the who but also the why. NYC is a fantastic city, but the marathon and race week is electric.
If you know me, you know that I value leadership in a way that connects but also collaborates. This organization puts on a significant amount of events throughout the year culminating with the world's largest marathon, an event that this year surpassed over 51,000 marathon finishers. There are so many working teams to ensure this event is a success and to be a small part of this team was an experience I truly enjoyed.
The biggest learning aspect was being part of an elite-level sporting event of this magnitude and seeing how they work together to ensure success. The collaboration between departments was direct and focused but there also was an atmosphere of togetherness.
I've been in spaces where that isn't always the case. I've been in spaces where control was so important that collaboration took a back seat. Any successful event has to have teams that work together.
Simply put, micromanagement has no place if an event is going to be successful because it causes frustrations, disagreements, and anger. Trust me when I say that even the contractors with very minimal roles witness that and feel the discord.
The Director and Photo Specialist I worked under fostered an environment of direction but also one of independence. As someone who has a vast variety of sporting experience from the professional to the recreational level, both in shooting and in direction, but also independently runs two businesses, this leadership style was the most positive learning experience I've had when it comes to a professional event.
Please don't misconstrue to think that I've not experienced positive elements in my many experiences with bigger events throughout the years, because I have, but not one that was mutually positive throughout the organization as a whole.
I believe that for events to be successful you can also realize some components can be improved upon and throughout the week those were identified and earmarked as targeted adjustments moving forward. To recognize that you can improve is vital. I've always said that if I step away from an event and I don't feel like I've gained some valuable insight on how I can improve, whether it be as a creative, leader or general person, then maybe it's time to consider whether or not I want to continue working the way I do.
Showing up and shooting sports is the easy part, which I know will offend some but it's the truth. Shooting sports is not hard. Sure some people elevate in how they shoot, but when it comes down to it, it's not hard.
The connection and vital understanding of how important the other factors, sponsorships, partnerships, associations, charities, and organizations are, will not only elevate your work but elevate the event as a whole. A simple reminder is that our jobs wouldn't be possible without all of the other contributions that come into play on an event level.
A few big takeaways that I can apply to my business:
- How can I elevate the whole? I always think 360 when I am shooting but am I noticing the small, intrinsic details that will reflect on those contributors that help create successful events?
- Facilitating shot lists with partners and more consistent timelines for deliverables. Some partner requirements were same-day delivery and that should be an industry standard. Doing that elevates the partner/sponsor relationship. Of course, one always has to be mindful of the actual content (specifically whether or not an athlete can be in an image), but most of the requests are straightforward and focus on the brand.
- Information is key. Successful deliverables are only so because of an itemized shot list. Specific details that will help enable the creative element but ones that will also fulfill the directional vision. Every single person you hire should have a scope of work and a shot list even if they've worked for you for years.
- TRUST. I was put into a position that required me to dive in and take ownership, but that also required trust on their part. There are no secondary roles. Everyone has a vital role to play and the idea that one person is less important on the team than another has no role in a company.
- What you can control. Events with over 51,000 finishers are always going to have aspects that may seem uncontrollable, but how you handle those is what sets different organizations apart.
- I am worth so much more than I've sometimes felt in certain working atmospheres, whether it was the idea that a certain role wasn't as important or how I was talked to. This experience valued what I had to bring to the table from the start. No work you do should be anything less.
This type of role is one I'd seek out again. I love the logistics of helping create a working environment that contributes to a bigger vision. I truly enjoyed the office atmosphere, walking the streets of NYC each morning and night to and from the office, the office environment, and most importantly the team I got to work with. Thank you Tanner and Cyndi for trusting me to be a part of your team.
I hope to see you again soon NYC.