40 Under 40 2016: Keri Potts

Senior director, communications, ESPN, 39

Anything Keri Potts’ bosses toss at her, she knocks it out of the park. The sports fan and former college athlete has helped reinvigorate some of ESPN’s most important and historic properties as the sports media behemoth continues to undergo a transformation in the digital age with new competition popping up at every turn.

When ESPN dipped its toe into reality television, scripted dramas, documentaries, and more, she quarterbacked the projects, which necessitated completely different thinking about how and where ESPN promotes itself. Many of the shows were big hits, and colleagues credit her ability to quickly embrace new audiences and find creative ways to get in front of key influencers — always driven by results — for their success.

She parlayed that success into establishing new ways of promoting the ESPY Awards and rapidly established herself within Hollywood business circles. Next up? She led PR efforts around a newly created 30 for 30 ESPN Films division, painstakingly building out a reputation for an unfamiliar brand. Tapped to lead communications for ESPN’s largest new business, its SEC Network, she shepherded the college sports content network through its first year of existence, was instrumental in the launch of the College Football Playoff (a major priority for the company), and coordinated fan favorite College GameDay.

The new 24-hour college sports network is now a powerhouse for ESPN and was dubbed the "most successful network launch" in the media. "She simply drives success," says a colleague.

And at a time when the world has zeroed in on sexual violence against women and how it plays out in sports, entertainment, and our culture, Potts turned a difficult personal situation into a lesson and warning for others. If you haven’t read her 2010 story on how she escaped a would-be rapist on the last day of her Italian vacation by punching him in the face and leaping from rooftop to rooftop and then staying in the country to be sure he was prosecuted, you should.

She spoke out publicly on TV, at sexual assault awareness programs, including RAINN, and launched a blog and Twitter feed, supporting and guiding other victims of assault.

- She was co-captain and first-time Academic All-American on Syracuse’s volleyball team, finished her undergrad in three years, and then signed up for grad school. 

- A certified rape crisis counselor, she volunteers regularly at hospitals.

- She’s frequently asked to speak on panels, particularly to student groups and numerous colleges, where students often reach out with a tweet or email of thanks.

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