An Interview with NBA Marketing Director Emma May

I'll never forget the time my friend Allison called me in NYC to tell me that she had just served me at a bar in Murfreesboro. I laughed and told her it was my friend Emma and not to worry, she was cool. Emma and I were sorority sisters and there was a tradition of passing your ID down to someone younger when you left. Someone had done this for me, so I paid it forward and gave Emma my ID when I graduated and moved to NYC.

Emma doesn't know this, but she is one of the reasons I started this series. When I was thinking about all of the ladies I know killing it at their 9-to-5's, Emma was top of mind. After a long, successful stint at Red Bull, Emma was snatched up by the NBA. Yes, that NBA. In addition to being a badass business babe, Emma's soul, much like my own, is nourished by fine wine, good rap, and dirty dancing. It is my pleasure to introduce to today's bitch, and the world's biggest Magic Johnson fan, Emma May!

What is your job title and where do you work?

My job title is Director of Marketing - NBA and I work at Turner Sports in Atlanta, GA.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I’ve been in the marketing field since my first full-time job out of college at Athlon Sports, which at the time, was a paper sports magazine. Honestly, I had never taken a marketing class in my life or thought of it as a career. My experience was in working in political campaign offices or as a production assistant on video/commercial/movie shoots. The fact that they pay people to come up with ideas, or provide anecdotal thoughts about consumers, business, etc. was completely foreign to me. It still is, honestly. 

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

At some point, it clicked in my head and I realized that the most important skill to being a good marketer is to understand people and what drives them. Whether that is an aesthetic, a product feature, a brand promise, or a price point - it just clicked.

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

I would dare say there has been no path. More like I’ve been riding a wave of sorts - sometimes it was a big wave and sometimes it would break too early. In 2012, I moved to Atlanta by way of my third marketing focused role with Red Bull. I fell in love with Atlanta and made a decision to focus on different parts of my life that I hadn’t really made a priority before, like owning a house, planting a garden and getting a dog. I knew I wanted to work equally hard, but I wanted to travel a bit less and I started looking for opportunities outside of Red Bull. After a few non-starters, I ended up with an amazing opportunity to manage the marketing for Turner’s partnership with the NBA—that includes our broadcast rights on TNT, but also the NBA’s Digital business (, the NBA app, NBA LEAGUE PASS and NBA TV).

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

Fail forward. The risks taken when you’re innovating and trying new concepts don’t always work, and that’s OK. Being afraid to take risks and fuck up sometimes will lead to stagnation.  

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

When I first started out in business, I struggled with taking accountability. I learned the hard and fast way that there was no room or time to play the blame game. I take accountability for my mistakes immediately and move on.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

I just smiled so big thinking about 2 more hours a day! I would read more and spend more time outside. 

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

Hands down my greatest success is the success of the amazing people I’ve had the opportunity to manage or mentor. There is no greater honor than having someone leave your team to go on to do something bigger and better.

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Well, I wake up to a screen of alerts and Twitter notifications from NBA TV and the NBA on TNT, so once I digest the news of the NBA that happened when I was sleeping, I head to Twitter, Instagram, FB, NYTimes, and Gmail. 

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

If I didn’t work out in the AM I try to get to an indoor rowing class and then cook myself a nice dinner. I may or may not also watch a considerable amount of TV. Hey, I’m in the entertainment business!

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

The NBA is a sport that runs 365 days a year, while many people think the season is from October-June. But once the finals end, we go straight into the Draft, Free Agency, Summer League, International Play, WNBA coverage and then it’s time to start all over again. It never stops!

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

When I worked for Red Bull everyone asked me if I drove the Red Bull car. Come on, people! I couldn’t fit into that car if I tried.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Oh Lord, it’s impossible to pick just one. My favorite show of all time is The West Wing, but right now I’m super into Homeland and Game of Thrones.

I don’t think of tea as a snack, but every afternoon I treat myself to a cup of tea with a little bit of milk. It’s my daily afternoon time to breathe and ramp up for the remainder of the day. And it’s the only caffeine I drink all day. But for a proper snack, I love any and all fruit and pistachios.

All photos courtesy of Emma May

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Real Estate Development Project Manager, Natalie Gualy!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

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