Growing up, USC alumna Kimberly Elchlepp religiously watched sports TV when she wasn’t playing volleyball or softball. The public relations graduate went on to make her women’s sports enthusiasm into a career at ESPN as a senior publicist on the college sports team.
Always keeping sports media relations in mind, she took a few detours in her career path. But with determination and skills she gained at USC's School of Journalism and Mass Communications, she eventually achieved her dream job.
“I loved the idea of still being able to be involved in sports,” Elchlepp says. “And women's sports is such an untapped reservoir of talent. It’s a passion of mine.”
The college softball season is ramping up — the Gamecocks kicked it off with an away game against Charlotte on Thursday. Elchlepp will be covering the season closely with ESPN talent such as Beth Mowins.
Her job involves writing press releases and talking points, pitching ideas, event planning, crisis communication and issue management — everything she learned in her time at USC.
“It's a grind,” Elchlepp says. “There can’t be a lack of passion for the job when you're in this world. It seems glamorous, but there's a lot of work that leads up to events and games.”
Throughout her college career, Elchlepp worked at Yesterday’s — the former Five Points restaurant. Not long after getting accepted into Georgetown University for graduate school, one of her regular customers spoke to her about her future.
“She was like, ‘Kim, what are you doing with your life?’ ” Elchlepp says.
The customer just happened to know the senior director for CNN’s PR department in Washington, D.C.
Elchlepp sent an email to the address she was given and the director responded within two hours asking to chat. Soon after, she was offered an internship where she worked during the day, while taking night classes at Georgetown.
“You think that job at a restaurant is just to pay the bills,” Elchlepp says. “But, you just never know who's going to sit down at your table and who they're going to know.”
After nearly two years at CNN and a brief stint in Nashville, she applied to be a publicist for ESPN’s SportsCenter.
She faced rejection from her dream job head-on as she didn’t make the cut due to a lack of experience in sports.
Instead, ESPN offered her a position as a content listings and information coordinator — essentially organizing the guide menu on TV.
Although it wasn’t exactly what she had in mind, Elchlepp made the most of it learning from people in her desired department.
“I want people to feel encouraged by rejection,” Elchlepp says. “It’s so small and it seems so obvious, but just ask. I just started knocking on doors like, ‘Hey, I’ll help you with that.’ ”
Elchlepp says she took any sports opportunities that became available, and on her first anniversary at ESPN, her colleagues announced her transition to the college sports team.
"By doing those different things that were outside of my job description, I set myself up for the next opportunity,” Elchlepp says. “I didn't get the job I originally applied for and, yes, that was disappointing. But, it got my foot in the door.”
After years of moving for her career, she asked if she could work remotely for ESPN in Columbia to be closer to her mom, while still attending events and conferences.
She’s happy, but she doesn’t regret all the packing, unpacking and U-Haul driving.
“The world is your oyster — that's so cliché — but it's just so true.” Elchlepp says. “I think if you limit yourself geographically, then you really are cutting yourself off. What if I had never gone to D.C.? I'd never be doing what I'm doing now.”
Her career is still young, but she feels she’s had great opportunities through that persistence.
She worked under Wolf Blitzer, stood in for Anderson Cooper’s election night rehearsals, ate snacks with Dana Bash and hung out with Lee Corso. She even worked the Women's College World Series with Mowins, Michelle Smith, Jessica Mendoza and Holly Rowe — idols she watched growing up.
“Little kid Kimberly met grown up Kimberly,” Elchlepp says. “Your dream job might not be the one you land right after graduation. It's important to be open-minded and willing to follow an opportunity.”