Melissa McGhie Proctor is the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of the Atlanta Hawks & State Farm Arena. In this role, Proctor oversees the day-to-day operations of the club’s marketing, Hawks Studios, live experience and production, brand merchandising, creative services, corporate social responsibility, brand communications and basketball development teams. She also works closely with executive leadership to provide strategy for the organization.
Proctor joined the organization in June 2014, when she was named Vice President of Brand Strategy.
In her former role, she was responsible for brand development and building marketing & business plans that propelled the organization’s long-term strategy. Throughout her tenure with the Hawks, she has played an instrumental role within the company, spearheading internal corporate employee initiatives and executive communication.
Noire sat down with Proctor to discuss her remarkable background and career trajectory in sports.
On her background and what motivated her to start a career in the sports industry:
I was born and raised in Miami and my mom is from Belize and my dad is from Jamaica. I grew up knowing nothing about American sports or any sports for that matter. I was an artist who loved to draw and paint and because of my focus on the arts, I was unable to play any sports.
When I was about 14, I started watching Miami Heat games with a cousin of mine and I really enjoyed them! When I was 16, I asked my mom if I could get a job and she did not understand why. I did not have any bills or anything, but since all my friends were getting jobs, I wanted one too!
She finally agreed to let me get a job but she said it had to be based on something that you know you want to do for the rest of your life. Since I knew I liked watching basketball, I told her that I wanted to be the first female coach in the NBA and she promptly instructed me to go get a job in the NBA.
I started writing letters to the Miami Heat and calling them incessantly. I finally got in touch with someone who suggested I contact a guy who manages the team who may have a job opening for an equipment manager.
I contacted him and he really discouraged me by saying that he did not have any job opportunities for girls. He stated that they had ball boys who wiped up sweat, folded towels, handed out Gatorade, came in early and stayed late and I immediately knew that is what I wanted to do.
So, I kept calling him about the job and he told me if I kept calling him he was not going to hire me, so I stopped calling for a while. After a little time had passed, I started calling him again and he told me that I had a lot of heart and he invited me to come in for a preseason game.
Stepping into that arena felt like I was in a whole new world. I had never been in a sports arena before and when he gave me a uniform, you could not tell me a thing! They really embraced me even though there were things that the ball boys could do that I could not do.
While they were walking the players to the locker room and holding their bags and getting tips, shoes, or memorabilia, as a girl, I had to stay on the court. This pre-dated women coaches and referees, so I could not go into the locker rooms like the boys could.
I did get something out of it though. They wanted to help me. They taught me how to rebound and how to pass properly and Stan Van Gundy was the assistant coach at the time and he taught me how to set a pick and I ran drills with the players and that was how I really began to learn the game.
Ultimately, they asked me to come back. I enjoyed my time there. I got to know the players well, they knew about my artsy side and would purchase some of my artwork. I also got to know a lot of folks on the basketball operations side and made developed some great connections.
When I graduated high school, I went to college at Wake Forest but every summer I would come back to Miami to work for the Heat. I was there when they launched their WNBA team, when they finally got female referees. It was cool to see the evolution of the NBA.
After my senior year in college, of course, I wanted to pursue a job in the NBA. I knew I was not going to be a coach because I had never played but I still wanted to be around the game. I applied for a management training program at the league headquarters in New Jersey with glowing recommendations from personnel from the Miami Heat and I was confident that I would be accepted into the program.
After a great interview and feedback, I was told that I was too creative and therefore was not a good fit for the job. I did not understand it at the time, but now I see that back then, it was all about licensing and contracts and the nuts and bolts type things that go into the backend of the sports industry. I had no experience with that.
After it did not work with the NBA, I turned back to Wake Forest to apply for grad school and they turned me down saying that while they loved me, staying there and hiding out in school was just a crutch. The felt that I was destined for bigger and better things.
A woman who worked in communications at Wake Forest told me about an internship at Turner Broadcasting. I had been at Wake as a communications major and a studio art minor on scholarship so I thought this internship would be a great opportunity for me to show my artistic side when applying for the job.
I put together a TV Guide all about myself showing me in various departments of Turner. I portrayed myself as Cleopatra for TCM, as a ball girl for TNT, and as a black Power Puff girl for Cartoon Network. I thought it was a great way for them to see my personality.
During the interview, an executive told me that I did such a good job selling myself to them that they could see me being successful in selling their content to consumers.
At the time, I did not know what marketing or branding was, but I was able to brand myself through this project and that was how my career in marketing started. I worked for TNT Marketing where I would market movies that were no longer in theatres.
That same year, the All-Star game was in Atlanta I got to work on the marketing task force at Turner to understand how we cover the market during the All-Star weekend and with the NBA.
I got really involved with all the activities and was able to see first-hand how the NBA comes in and literally takes over a city in preparation for the event. It was a tremendous experience to have right out of college and I was thankful for it.
When I got laid off from Turner, I was 8 months pregnant with my daughter and I had no clue what I was going to do. About 1 ½ months after I had her, I went to the Arena for a Draft Party as fan and ran into an old mentor from Turner who had left to become the CEO of the Atlanta Hawks.
He remembered that I had a passion for brand strategy and basketball so when he saw me, he said that he wanted me to help him come build a brand with the Hawks.
He introduced me to a lot of members of his leadership team and they all seemed eager to work with me. I started out as a consultant for about 4 months and then was hired on as the Vice-President of Brand Strategy for the Hawks.
On her role as Chief Marketing Officer of the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena
When I took on the CMO role, a lot of it was around marketing operations. I was preoccupied with getting the team ready and creating processes where we have campaigns involving other work groups and needed to make sure that everyone knew who our targeted audiences were.
We worked heavily around advertising promotion working with our media buyers and planners for appropriate marketing execution.
I developed a new team called Marketing Integration and Operations. They are like the spokes to the wheels that keep everything moving forward. I akin it to marketing project management where every campaign has a start and end with a designated leader.
My scope grew to also include our creative pieces. We have an amazing live experience and production team that puts on the actual game itself and that is everything from talent, to Harry the Hawk, our dance team and everything in between.
We also have a brand experience team where the street crews are out promoting Hawks games. They too play an integral part in the overall marketing of the organization.
The Atlanta Hawks is a community asset. That is who we are and that is what we want to continue to be.
On how she has been able to effectively navigate her career in an industry that is largely male dominated
In the time that I have been in this role with the Hawks, women have had a larger footprint that in years past. I go to NBA meetings now and I see women present in various different capacities.
Although it has evolved significantly, it still is not equitable, but there is definitely representation and awareness. I think of all the league has done to try to champion diversity and inclusion and having the right people at the table so I am encouraged by that.
I certainly cannot say I do not see any challenges, but I do not think it has impacted my ability to grow. It all starts with leadership. I want to be able to look at my team and see how I am doing in this space and making sure that I am a part of the conversation.
I feel like a lot of the right type of work is being done and that it will only get better!