From Ballgirl To CMO: Melissa Proctor On How She Has Redefined The Sports Industry

Open, creative, and resilient are the three words that Melissa Proctor, Chief Marketing Officer of the Atlanta Hawks, uses to describe herself.

This marketing guru and girl BAUCE first got her start in the industry as a ball girl for the Miami Heat. Not fully aware of the change she was making as the league’s first-ever ball girl, Proctor says that she was not always aware of how monumental her role was in not only shaping her as the girl-boss she is now but redefining the game of basketball in its entirety. That’s right, she is the reason that they even eliminated the term “ball boy” in the first place.

Today, she serves as the Chief Marketing Officer for the Atlanta Hawks where she says no two days are ever the same. Proctor is a mother, a go-getter, and an inspiration for other women who may be looking to embark on career paths where there aren’t always people who look like them.

Not only are you a native of Miami, but this is where you made history as the league’s first ball-girl, what was that experience like?

Melissa: I would say that because I was in high school, I was 15 at the time, I don’t think I understood the weight of what that was.

Initially, when I reached out to the Heat trying to get a job, I was discouraged. I was told that it was grunge work, all mop and sweat, folding towels, and coming in early just to leave late, yet I was still interested.

It was great because once I started, the team owner’s daughter would sit on the sidelines every game and although her brother was a ball boy. she never saw herself doing that work because before she had only seen her brother and other males in that role.

When I started as a ball girl she ended up coming and working on the court with me and from there we both became team attendants at the same time and I think I realized it as a full-circle moment when The Miami Heat magazine reached out during my second year there and wanted to do a story on both she and I as “women who made their way onto the court,” because before then women weren’t allowed in the locker rooms, there were no female referees in the NBA and so we literally had to be on the court.

They used to call me “Queen of The Court.”

Wow, that’s quite the accomplishment – especially at such a young age. With so much success and accolades under your belt, including making Sports Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 this year—what’s something that motivates you and keeps you going?

Melissa: My daughter is now my motivation. She’s kind of like my why now.

Initially, and it still is, learning and growing and wanting to take on new challenges and things which is probably the natural curiosity that got me into marketing in the first place. I’m in this position because I don’t know exactly know what I want to be when I grow up, but because I’m always interested in learning different things – that’s what keeps me going.

I always believed that once  you say that “you’ve made it,” you’re dead because you have nothing to aspire to and because I have a six-year-old daughter who’s depending on me for everything, I know that I can’t let her down.

If you could define what success looks like for you in your career today, what would that definition be?

Melissa: To me success is happiness.

I always say that life comes before work and I really believe in that because at the end of the day we only have one life to live. What’s important for me now is looking at how many people I can help and have a positive impact on.

In writing my book, “From Ball Girl to CMO,” even though I wrote it for my daughter, I also wanted to provide a tool or manual that could help others on their journey.

Speaking of your book, what are some key points you want readers to walk away with?

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Melissa: Most importantly, the power of guiding principles.

I defined some core values to me early on in my career that have kind of helped lead me down a path and they’re the non-negotiables and almost the filter that I use for every opportunity that comes my way.

Secondly, I want them to know that anything is possible! I’m just a kid from the hood in Richmond Heights, Miami. My parents are immigrants, I didn’t have any hookups, and I didn’t know anybody or anything but knowing that anything is possible through hard work, resilience, taking jobs that not anyone else wants, and really building good relationships with people throughout it all is important.

Lastly, I would just say to be an asset. Think of how you can be a resource to other people. Figure out how you can leave a legacy, what’s your superpower? At any job or position you’re in, what can you do to leave it better than you found it.

It sounds like a book that everyone should read! Lastly, tell us what advice you have for aspiring girl BAUCES who don’t always see themselves at the forefront of their industries?

Melissa: First and foremost, the most vital thing that any girl boss can do is be the best at your craft!

Grow your skillset, figure out how you can do the job you want before you have it.

Do your networking, build relationships, because that’s important and will set the foundation for any role that you may get moving forward.

I would also say not to get discouraged, I myself have heard my share of “nos” and have had doors closed on me and while I didn’t understand it at the time, I didn’t allow it to affect me in a way where I decided to not do anything. Instead,I decided to look through windows when the doors were closed and it opened me up to many opportunities.

You may not see it all of the time, but there’s always a reason for everything!

To continue to learn more about Melissa Proctor and how to get your hands on her book, “From Ball Girl To CMO”, visit her website here.

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