Laurier journalism graduate Catherine Faas (BA ’10) leads a busy life as digital and social media lead for the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA). It’s unquestionably the perfect job for a passionate hockey fan with a love of digital media.
What duties does your job at the NHLPA entail?
I am the digital strategist behind NHLPA.com and its social media channels. In a nutshell, anything the NHLPA posts online is something I help bring to life. As a passionate hockey fan, it’s my dream job. As the editor of NHLPA.com, I manage a small team of writers and content producers to cover stories revolving around our membership – the players – on and off the ice. I also get to create a related social media strategy to distribute our website content, as well as produce photos, text and videos specifically for social media. In addition to that, I help players with their digital strategy and educate them on best practices for using social media, work to align sponsors and brands with appropriate content we produce and cover a wide range of events each year. Those events include everything from quiet player visits in small communities to creating fun content on the bench at the NHL All-Star Game. I also report to stakeholders with performance analytics to keep tabs on our numbers and ensure our audience continues to grow and engage with our content. I’m proud to say the NHLPA now leads all professional sports unions in online presence in terms of audience.
What is the role of the players’ association and what relationship does it share with the National Hockey League?
The National Hockey League Players’ Association is the union for all professional hockey players in the NHL. Its main function is to negotiate fair terms and conditions of employment for NHL players and it works to hold owners and teams accountable for not enforcing those conditions. The NHLPA handles all labour issues for its players, as well as the marketing and licensing of any products or sponsorship deals featuring NHL players. The NHLPA’s goal, from my perspective on the content side of things, is to promote the players on and off the ice and highlight the impressive athletic abilities, personalities, charitable efforts and hobbies that make them the unique celebrities they are. We are also responsible for keeping fans in the know about the labour issues we handle in the office.
What qualities and skills do you think are most important for your job with the NHLPA?
The journalism training I received at Laurier keeps me honest, ethical and forever married to facts. Those skills, and the lessons about what creates magical storytelling, have benefitted me in this role immensely. Above and beyond that, I’d say the single most valuable skill in a role like mine is the ability to be agile. The digital landscape and all of its trends move so quickly. If you’re not continuously tailoring your strategy to keep up, you’re going to be left behind. In order to keep things straight while adapting, you must also be hyper-organized. I’d also say to work in digital media you have to truly love it. The internet is both loud and nuanced. The constant flood of memes, emojis and hashtags matter, and if you’re not an active member of the community it’s going to be hard for you to gain the knowledge you need to reach audiences and resonate with them in a way that makes sense for your brand.
Is this the kind of career you envisioned when you began studying journalism at Laurier’s Brantford campus?
Honestly, no. In my first year at Laurier, I wanted to be a print journalist. I wanted to work in a newsroom, cover the technology beat and work my way up to one day replace Peter Mansbridge on CBC’s The National. Not literally, but you get the idea. Laurier’s professors did a remarkable job teaching us the fundamentals of traditional journalism while also managing our expectations and helping us adapt to an industry that was, at the time, shrinking and transitioning. I quickly realized that if I was going to make it, I’d need to shift my focus to cross-platform storytelling and wound up falling in love with it.
How did studying at Laurier prepare you for your position with the NHLPA?
Laurier played a fundamental role in preparing me for my career. I chose Laurier based on the fact that the classes were smaller than some of the larger journalism schools in Canada and that there would be a great opportunity for one-on-one attention from professors. Each professor I encountered was able to really get to know me, understand where I wanted my career to go and helped me tailor my experience to achieve my goals. Laurier is also unique in that it focuses on a balanced mix of theory and academia, as well as practical, hands-on training that is extremely valuable in an industry where experience is everything. Having tangible work experience under your belt that you can point to in an interview post-graduation will help set you apart in a competitive field. Laurier helped me gain that advantage.
Your work with the NHLPA involves a lot of travel. Tell us about some of the most interesting places you’ve been and people you’ve met.
The travel is one of the greatest perks of the job. I’ve had the unique opportunity to visit many incredible cities and communities in my more than five years at the NHLPA. My all-time favourite trip was covering men’s ice hockey at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. I’ve also been lucky enough to meet so many talented, wonderful people through my work. Getting to know and work with players I admire as athletes and people has been so fun and rewarding and helps me be better at my job. It’s also been an honour to meet and work alongside Hockey Hall of Fame member Ted Lindsay, who, in addition to his iconic Detroit Red Wings career, pioneered and laid the groundwork for the current NHLPA.
Are there any unique challenges you face as a woman working in a male-dominated environment?
Women working in sports do face challenges their male counterparts will never have to overcome. We’ve progressed, but the work isn’t done. I worked at the NHLPA when Don Cherry made his infamous “women shouldn’t be in the locker room” comment in 2013 and, though my employers have always been supportive of me, I’ve sat through many conversations where people in the industry sided with him. That’s just one example – sports is not always a welcoming space for women. Women have to work harder to prove they understand the sport, whereas men often get a pass and people just assume that they do. Female sports journalists are also more likely to be on the receiving end of unfair and unwarranted online harassment for “daring” to invade this male-dominated space.
What is something interesting that only an insider at the NHLPA would know about professional hockey players?
Everyone labels NHL players as quiet, humble, team-first athletes. That’s absolutely true and unique among professional sports. But in getting to know the NHLPA members over the course of my time here, I’ve been so pleasantly surprised to learn how many other hobbies professional hockey players have in their spare time. It makes sense that with such a large membership (approximately 720) that the players would have a wide variety of interests, but when you consider their schedules and the amount of time they dedicate to their work and families, it’s not always top of mind to think they’d be so passionate about other things. Whether it’s David Backes getting his pilot licence or Brent Burns’ love of reptiles and Harry Potter, it’s always incredible to hear about what interests players off the ice.
What are some of your interests outside of your work?
I really love travelling and seeing new countries. I try to take one great trip a year. I also balance out being active and playing sports with a lot of movie and television watching, reading and cooking.
Social media has changed the way individuals and organizations communicate. What do you see as the best and worst elements of that change in society?
Tough question! The internet and social media have gifted us with access to knowledge on any topic in an instant. They are also a powerful connector of communities that can truly empower those in need and make a difference. It allows us to rally around worthy causes and endlessly entertain ourselves. I could go on forever about how much I love the internet. In my opinion, the benefits outweigh the negative elements, but I do think we face complicated issues with non-factual information being spread globally with ease, privacy and security concerns and the way anonymity on the internet can breed online bullying and harassment. I also think we need to balance our technology use and remember that time without a smartphone in hand is important.