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Next Woman Up: Emily Starkey, Social Media Manager for the Tennessee Titans

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Women are rising up the ranks throughout professional football, earning positions of power in a space that for too long was ruled almost exclusively by men. We're seeing more and more women breaking barriers in the sport, but what are the stories beyond the headlines? Who are the women shaping and influencing the NFL today? Answering those questions is the aim of the Next Woman Up series. While the conversational Q&As are edited and condensed for clarity, this is a forum for impactful women to share experiences in their own words. Without further ado, we introduce:

Emily Starkey, Tennessee Titans

Position: Social Media Manager

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The NFL schedule release has become a huge event, and your video was a massive hit. Take me through the process of how you came up with and executed the idea for the video.

Schedule release is huge for social media teams. As a creative group, we worked on a video for all of the social platforms, but we also wanted something platform-specific for TikTok, which is the main account I manage. We were tossing around ideas, and nothing was really sticking. We went back and forth for several weeks, and after a long day of brainstorming, an idea came to me. I was driving home from work, and I thought: What if we just had people on Broadway Street guess the teams? I sent a message to Katie Moseley and Jeanette Morley -- both of whom I dragged into this project with me -- and we spitballed all of these ideas and ended on our one idea for the video.

The man-on-the-street interviews have been huge on TikTok, and "guess the logo" videos were also wildly popular. We decided to combine the two and immediately thought it would be successful just based on those two trends. We made a PowerPoint presentation to present to a larger group of people who weren't necessarily familiar with these video trends, laying out the process of filming and what the end product would ultimately look like.

We went to Broadway Street two times. We went for five hours the first time, and rejection therapy is no joke. I was recording, Katie was holding the flash cards and Jeanette would go up to people asking if they wanted to be in a video. That day took a while, because we didn't have the process down yet. We got some people who knew every single answer. The second time we went back, we first asked if people knew anything about the NFL before asking if they wanted to be in the video.

I knew it would do well on TikTok, but it's hit or miss when you bring TikTok trends over to other platforms like Twitter or Instagram. The day before the schedule release, we showed some people in our department who weren't familiar with TikTok. They were laughing and loved it, and that's when I knew it was going to do well. I was super happy with how it did.

You said you expected it to do well, but did you ever expect the video to go viral?

I've had several viral moments before while I was at Kansas State, but definitely not to this extent. For me to say I totally expected it to blow up the way it did wouldn't be true, but I knew it would do well based on the trends. I didn't expect the entire NFL to buy into it like they did, either. The Atlanta Falcons changed their name on Twitter to "Red Stallions" and the Indianapolis Colts to "Not the Cowboys", and the league had some fun with it. When you take trends and execute them -- and considering the schedule release involves 14 other teams -- it will do well, but it was definitely a pinch-me moment.

We put the video out on TikTok first, and it didn't do much in the first 10 minutes. We had a plan to put the video out on other platforms later in the evening, but Nate Bain, our director of social media, noticed it was starting to make its way to other platforms from viewers, so we posted it on Twitter and Instagram. Twitter was where it really took off, with all of the retweets and quote tweets. It was so fun to see people engage with it.

Social media is constantly changing, so how to you stay ahead of the curve?

Everyone who works in social media is trying to do that. For me, I spend an insane amount of time on TikTok so I see the trends and wonder how I can make them my own. The "man on the street" and "guess the logo" have been done a million times, but pairing those ideas with Broadway Street, which is unique to our fan base, really resonated with our organization, city and fan base. I would say 80 percent of my job is keeping up with trends, and it's a lot of trial and error.

Let's talk about your day-to-day schedule. What do the busy times of the year, such as training camp and season, look like for you?

I started this job 10 months ago, one week before training camp started, so I've almost done everything once. In my role, I'm not the type of person who enjoys collecting and distributing content. I want to be creating and ideating. I want to be in the middle of it. My main focus is TikTok, Instagram and reels, but I've also been able to help out with our photo team.

So during training camp, I'm shooting photos during practice, and I will get TikTok videos after practice with a player if I have a good idea. That rolls over to the season, when I travel with the team to games. From kickoff to the end whistle, I am taking photos. If a fun social moment happens during the game, I will put on my social media hat and capture it with a video, which I can then use for TikTok or other platforms. During pregame, I'm doing live content captures -- taking videos on my phone, getting fun player moments and players talking to the camera. After the game, I am doing celebrations -- hopefully -- and getting players to talk to the camera.

Titans head coach Mike Vrabel and running back Derrick Henry celebrate during an NFL football game in 2022. (Emily Starkey/Tennessee Titans)
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel and running back Derrick Henry celebrate during an NFL football game in 2022. (Emily Starkey/Tennessee Titans)

How did you get your start in a career in football?

This is one of my favorite questions to answer, because I get to talk about everything that I love. My mom had this film camera and was always taking photos, and I would always steal it and use all the film. When I was 6 years old, I took a film camera to a wedding and took photos of the actual wedding. It's something that always stuck with me. Then in high school, I was the editor of the yearbook and the only photographer for it. I started shooting high school football games my junior year. That's when I was drawn to football, because it's such a unique sport. The athletes truly give everything they have for it.

One of my friends at the time, Colton Hitch, his dad passed away one morning, and he ended up playing in our school's football game that evening. It was really heavy. That night, I captured this photo of Colton, who had his dad's initials written on his wrist. He was pulling his helmet off his head and was so emotional. That photo for me encompasses the why of what I do.

I went to Kansas State for college and knew I wanted to photograph K-State football. I didn't know what else I was going to do but knew I was going to do that. I ended up going into journalism and worked for the school newspaper the summer before I arrived at school. The funny thing is, I've actually never attended a K-State football game as a fan; I have always worked the games.

I worked for the Kansas State Collegian and a 24/7 affiliate during the first two years of school, and that's when I became aware that football teams had creatives on their staff. I had no idea that was a possibility, and I decided right then that I was going to be a creative for K-State. I ended up doing an internship with the athletic department during my junior and senior years, and I learned so much about graphic design, video editing, motion graphics, social media, etc. I would not be where I am today without that internship. By the end of that internship, the athletic department created a position for me, and eventually I was director of creative media for K-State football -- and the only female creative director for football in the Big 12. I created most of the social media accounts and grew their followers.

I worked for K-State for two years in that position, and I had this idea that I wanted to work in the NFL because it naturally feels like the next step if you work for a college football team. I loved my job at K-State, but I'm thankful that I took the leap. I actually had two NFL offers -- with the Titans and Denver Broncos. I had never been to Nashville before, but something about it just felt right. I went out there sight unseen, and I have loved every minute.

What would you say is the most challenging part of your role?

As a woman in sports, there are always challenges. I've learned that the loudest voices in the room aren't always the ones with the best ideas. I work hard to come up with and share ideas, because all ideas should be welcome. Just because you may not be the loudest voice in the room doesn't mean your idea isn't good. Ideas come from everywhere.

Starkey, shown here in the tunnel during last season's Week 9 matchup between the Titans and Chiefs in Kansas City, says part of her job is watching for moments in games that will play well on social media. (Donald Page/Tennessee Titans)
Starkey, shown here in the tunnel during last season's Week 9 matchup between the Titans and Chiefs in Kansas City, says part of her job is watching for moments in games that will play well on social media. (Donald Page/Tennessee Titans)

What is next for you in terms of what you want to accomplish?

I want to continue to love what I do. If you asked me what my favorite thing about myself is, it's that I'm creative, and that's not just a job title. It's something that I am. So personally, I want to be able to that and be that every day. Professionally, I want to make more viral moments, continue to represent our organization well, convert some more Titans fans. When I first started this job last July, we had nearly 720,000 followers on TikTok. Now we have over a million. To be honest, when the viral moment happened, it was kind of a relief to me. It validated that I know what I'm doing and that I belong here.

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