Jill Geer (USATF Chief Public Affairs Officer), the RBR Interview, by Kevin Mangan
RBR, # 1. How did you get started in the sport?
Jill Geer: In grade school, ribbons were given out in gym class for a variety of competitions. Although I was involved in just about every sport, especially basketball, I loved the pure competition of track. And loved beating the boys in gym class.
RBR, # 2. What was your high school experience in sports like?
Jill Geer: It defined my high school experience. Being “the jock” (and a nerd) was who I was. First I played tennis, basketball and ran track, and was always thought of first as a basketball player. I switched from tennis to cross country my junior year and won the Wisconsin Class B state cross country title as a senior. I was recruited more for basketball than track, but I ran track in college at the University of Arkansas.
RBR, # 3. What were your best marks in high school?
Jill Geer: I plead the fifth – my times were not impressive. My favorite stat is that I long jumped about 16-10 as a 14-year-old freshman. As a sophomore, the 4×200 I led off was fifth at state, and I was second in the 3,200 and third in the 1,600 both my junior and senior year. I never really had enough time to figure out any one event, but I seemed to figure out cross country pretty quickly.
RBR, # 4. If you could do anything over in college experience, what would that be?
Jill Geer: I wish the steeplechase had existed when I was in college. The 3,000 was my best distance, and it would have given me an opportunity to leverage my athleticism. But otherwise, I had a great college experience, academically and athletically.
RBR, # 5. What were differences between high school and college track for you?
Jill Geer: The mileage, the introduction of AT (anaerobic threshold) runs and the amount of rest between interval repeats. Lance Harter took over as Arkansas’ coach my junior year, and I’ll never forget doing 12x400m with 30 seconds rest and 10km fartleks in which I matched my PR.
RBR, # 6. What were your biggest experiences in college track?
Jill Geer: When we won Arkansas’ first-ever women’s Southwestern Conference title in any team sport, at the 1988 SWC Cross Country Championships. Individually, it was placing in both the 3,000 and the 5,000 at the 1990 Southwest Conference track meet as a sophomore. I was Jill of All Trades, Master of None: my freshman year I ran every event from the 800 to the 10,000!
RBR, # 7. Who is your favorite track athlete, past or present?
Jill Geer: John Carlos and Tommie Smith. I have especially gotten to know John. What they risked to stand up for humanity, in a time of great upheaval and, just takes my breath away. When I hosted a press conference when John was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003, I started crying while introducing him. Not my most professional moment, but I feel very strongly about both men.
RBR, # 8. How did you end up at USATF and in your current role of Chief Public Relations Officer?
Jill Geer: In early 2000 I came on board as Director of Communications and oversaw what was then a small department, which has since grown and evolved. In 2009, I became Chief Public Affairs Officer, where I was a senior advisor and focused on executive and corporate communications. At that point I did not supervise the communications staff and was more of a strategist, advisor and analyst. In the fall of 2011 we united the communications, marketing, broadcasting and membership marketing functions – anything that touches the public – into an integrated marketing and communications department. I now oversee that department. The scope, breadth and reach of my work has expanded substantially under our CEO, Max Siegel, who is stretching the organization and everyone in it to get us not just in a new direction but in a new way of thinking.
RBR, # 9. What are your duties as Chief Public Affairs Officer?
Jill Geer: I have executive oversight of USATF’s Integrated Marketing & Communications Department staff, handling marketing, sponsorship sales and fulfillment, communications, broadcasting, digital and social media, branding, and membership marketing. I am an advisor to the CEO and board of directors, the USATF spokesperson, spearhead many international relations efforts and direct crisis management. At this point, utilizing my experience in and knowledge of the organization and sport is also a major job function.
RBR, # 10. What is the most exciting thing about your job?
Jill Geer: It is never, ever, boring!
RBR, # 11. What do you think is the best way to keep American track fans informed about the happenings of USATF?
Jill Geer: Like everyone else, we have migrated more and more to social media. At this point, following us on Twitter and Facebook is the most timely way to keep informed. That said, we are working on innovating the way we communicate on new platforms and just launched a new app, which will continue to add functions.
RBR, # 12. I am quite curious, as are many of our readers, what goes into the selection process of choosing the host of the Olympic Trials and National Championships?
Jill Geer: Potential host cities are examined from a number of angles: their business plan, ability to accommodate and support athletes, coaches and staff, the adequacy of their facilities, hotel space, amenities, transportation plan, volunteer base, fan base and promotional capacities. There is no single formula that is the “right way” but being strong in those categories is essential.
RBR, # 13. For the 2016 Trials, which other cities submitted bids to host? What could those cities have done to improve their bids and potentially beat out Eugene?
Jill Geer: Several cities expressed interest, and under Max and our new Director of Events, Jim Estes, we are being much more aggressive about cultivating relationships with cities to educate and help guide them to be in a position where they are capable of bidding for our top events. What we have learned from our partnership with Eugene is that to stage a successful Olympic Trials, a city needs to have hosted several USATF National Championships, as well as other top-level meets, and demonstrated an ability to excel in the areas I mentioned above. That is not something that happens overnight, or even in 2-3 years.
RBR, # 14. What are some of the cities that USATF wished bid for the 2016 Trials that did not?
Jill Geer: We are happy with where we ended in 2016. In the future, it is clear we will have a wider range of cities expressing interest and submitting bids than at any time in the 13 years I have been at USATF.
RBR, # 15. How is USATF working to increase both the quantity and quality of Track & Field on television in America?
Jill Geer: While our broadcasting of competitions needs to continue to improve, where we will have the biggest impact is on “shoulder programming” – programs that elevate the visibility of the sport and its personalities and that support the event broadcasts. Max is a television producer and we are very aggressively working on new television content. With our Associate Director of Broadcasting Adam Schmenk, we are developing a new online broadcasting presence and are having conversations with reality-TV producers. Stay tuned for an announcement about a new USATF documentary show that will debut soon.
RBR, # 16. If you could change one thing to improve track & field, what would it be? Why?
Jill Geer: We would have a broader range of sponsors, in more categories. This is an area I now oversee and am focused on. With more money comes better support for all our programs, and the promotional support to increase public awareness. With a greater number of sponsors comes more partners who are likewise supporting and promoting us through their channels. We signed one new sponsor earlier this year in Neustar and have added two new sales positions this year, so we are now full speed ahead on the sales side. It can take years to reap the rewards of these efforts, but it is a huge focus.
RBR, # 17. What have been some of the biggest changes you have noticed in Track & Field since you started at USATF?
Jill Geer: Our sport is always the same, yet always evolving. Competitively, the huge improvements in the marathon. The rise of Jamaica in the sprints and of Team USA in the distances. And the evolution of the organization as whole to become more professionalized in many areas of our operations. I’d have to say the evolution of our board of directors has been especially remarkable, from a large, elected, constituent-based group to one half that size that serves far more of a true “board” functions of governance, providing expertise from outside of the sport, and providing leadership in vision that is shared with the National Office.
RBR, # 18. What is something you wish all track fans new about USATF National Office?
Jill Geer: We are extremely passionate about what we do and have smart, dedicated people who are trying to do the right thing. I can’t tell you the number of people who have come to the National Office who had a certain opinion about the National Office. But once they get here, they get a whole new vantage point on it.
RBR, # 19. What are some of the key lessons you learned early on at USATF that have helped you throughout your time there?
Jill Geer: To ensure that if I am not adequately informed on an important topic, to be proactive in remedying that. To always tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear.
RBR, # 20. Anything else you would like our readers to know?
Jill Geer: I have been incredibly fortunate to have a job that both reflects and shapes who I am. In a high school graduation survey, I said it was my goal to run at the Olympics. Instead, I have been to five Olympic Games and seen them from the inside out. If you are passionate about the sport, there is more than one way to be part of it.