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Top Golf Manager says Communication is Key: Interview with Mitch Blackburn

Entertainment is no longer just movies and family fun. It is now a booming industry, a media and entertainment market that reached $1.9 trillion in revenues in 2016. The career fields for media and entertainment range from business managers and entertainment venue directors, to producers and writers for television and streaming services.  Give this scope and diversity, management for this industry requires pluck and experience. Mitch Blackburn, the Manager of Top Golf Las Vegas in Las Vegas, NV, was kind enough to answer a few of our questions and convey what entertainment management requires, and just what goes into the pluck and experience expectations. Toward this end, Mr. Blackburn provided insight into the day-to-day operations of an entertainment industry manager as well as a valuable wisdom to motivate college students to work hard and pursue the more difficult challenges in life.

What is your professional history?

“I started my career all over the place. I was a golfer in college and at the time didn’t think I really had use for my management degree because I couldn’t imagine cutting golf out of my life. Once my athletic career ended, I moved around all over the country doing odd jobs and playing poker professionally. I ended up in Vincennes, IN in 2009 and started working for a golf course, Country Club of Old Vincennes, and giving lessons as well as substitute teaching. After about 5 years in Vincennes, I just took a long look at my life and knew I wanted more so I moved to San Antonio to take a position as a Guest Relations Consultant at Willow Springs Golf Course. My supervisor at Willow Springs had a friend who brought Top Golf to San Antonio and he got me a better job there. Since then, I have held two positions at Top Golf:  Training Crew Leader and now Manager of the Las Vegas cite which is our biggest operation.”

 

What writing advice do you have for professional communicators?

“Personally, I was one who hated writing throughout school. But communication is a skill that I have always thought was an artform. Knowing what I know now, I say that college students who dread those 5-page papers that are due soon should use them as a tool to perfect their writing.”

Like it or not, those of us in the business realm have to use writing and communication and do it far better than most.

What is your one pet peeve when it comes to professional writing?

“I would have to say the formality of it. Whether you’re writing memos or official requests, it feels like you spend a quarter of the time actually drafting content and then the rest just putting it in the proper format. I do understand why the formats are the way they are, but that doesn’t make less annoying.”

 

What kind of business reports do you read and/or compose regularly?

“My position involves more writing than reading I will say. I receive quite a few memos from the corporate office on changes in policy or new goals for the quarter.”

The most common thing I write are just basic memos to the station managers here within our cite on weekly updates and any messages corporate needs passed along. I also write request letters to our corporate offices for various needs around the site.

 

What are your writing suggestions to make those types of reports successful?

“My suggestion is to keep ideas concise. These types of memos are not the types that need too much finesse. They need to be clear and that can get misconstrued if too many words are thrown in there.”

What speaking advice do you have for professional communicators?

“Speaking, unlike writing for me, is a skill that needs some finesse. As managers, we have to know the situation when we are speaking and what the goal is of the speech or conversation, whatever it may be. If you’re talking to an employee one-on-one, that situation may require more subtlety than talking to your team. Know your situation and pay attention to people. The best speakers relate to all types of people, in my experience.”

 

Name one thing you wish you had known about business communication before your professional career?

“I would say the one thing that I wish someone would have told me is to take writing more seriously. Another thing would be something my boss in San Antonio told me. He said, “When addressing your team, speak with arrogance. Humble people who speak with arrogance always balance out to sound confident.” I’ve found that this is very applicable. Since starting my career, I have lead teams effectively using that advice every time something needed addressed.”

 

After assessing the Burning Glass list of Baseline Skills (2016), which skills not in the top 5 would you move into the top 5…and why?

“I would definitely say that Leadership and Planning should be ranked higher but it also depends on what your job is. My job is a lot of leadership and planning. In a position like mine, you have to have these because you work with people and decide what these people are doing and where they need to be. I would also add in critical thinking. When working with people you have to be able to think on your feet because things will always go array.”

Credit: Burning Glass Technologies

What team skills do you feel young professionals need the most?

“Professionals, young or old, need solid communication skills of course. I’m sure my previous answers have made the clear. On top of that, they need to be able to put their pride aside and hear different viewpoints. I’m not sure there is one word to put all that into. My point is, I often see managers, especially young ones, who are young and ambitious and are unable to accept when their opinions are bested. Be able to do your job and take criticism. This will only make you a better professional and an easy hire in my opinion.”

Key Takeaways

Many of the gray areas in this field became clarified upon talking to Mr. Blackburn. He emphasized communication very strongly and said it is one of the most important things in the business realm. Though it was prompted given the circumstances of the interview, he was adamant that these topics were necessary in his world.

I would say the one thing that I wish someone would have told me is to take writing more seriously. Another thing would be something my boss in San Antonio told me. He said, “When addressing your team, speak with (overconfidence). Humble people who speak with (overconfidence) always balance out to sound confident.” I’ve found that this is very applicable.

Mr. Blackburn is clearly someone who practiced in his communication skills. He also had a very keen ability to relate to college students in pursuit of careers like his and provide proper guidance. Talking with him certainly gave me an entirely new opinion of the management position and the role of communication in this world.

Mr. Blackburn also emphasized writing skills in his interview. He made it clear that a successful manager is one that can communicate both orally and through written word.

My suggestion is to keep ideas concise. These types of memos are not the types that need too much finesse. They need to be clear and that can get misconstrued if too many words are thrown in there.

He says that college students overlook the idea of writing with to much finesse. Writing with finesse and filler words comes naturally for students who try to meet page and word counts. It is almost counterintuitive for students to write concise. For those students, it is necessary to heed Mr. Blackburn’s advice.

After my interview with Mr. Blackburn, I gathered that he is a very successful individual. He essentially started at the bottom by working on a golf course but eventually worked his way up to being a manager at the biggest Top Golf in the United States. Some of his expertise comes from the ability to be able to communicate well with others. He knows that conversations that all conversations are different. Some can be informal while others need to be very professional.

 

 

 

Gannon Bobe is a student at the University of Southern Indiana. He is pursuing a finance degree, and should graduate in the year 2021. To learn more, explore his Instagram account.

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Written by Gannon Bobe

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