2023 Distinguished Alumni Awarded to Danny Chi
Danny Chi, senior director of communications and west coast publicity for ESPN, has been selected for the University of Utah’s College of Humanities Distinguished Alumni Award. Chi received a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication with an emphasis in public relations from the U. In his role at ESPN, he is responsible for a variety of media relations initiatives, with a primary focus on leading National Hockey League communications strategy, media relations and collaboration across The Walt Disney Company’s functional teams, while managing league relationships with NHL Communications. Chi also oversees all communications aspects for the X Games franchise and action sports properties, including domestic and international events, digital and social content, event development and crisis and issue management. Below, Chi answers a few questions about his experience at the U and provides some important advice for new graduates.
Q: Why did you choose the U?
A: As I neared completion of my high school education in Salt Lake City, I felt it was important to attend an in-state university based on where I was in life at that time and in order to still be near friends and family.
As a first-generation son of parents who immigrated to the U.S. for graduate school in the ‘60s, my father moved our family from California to Utah while I was still quite young for a job opportunity. As a professor of Chinese and Linguistics, he was originally offered a position to teach Chinese at BYU in the ‘80s, and as such, I spent a fair amount of time on campus there as a kid. After six years at BYU, he was offered a position at the U, and ended up teaching nearly 30 years in the Department of Languages & Literature (six years as chair and three as associate Chair), where he retired in 2016. During that time, I fell in love with the campus and its football and basketball teams.
More importantly, I viewed the U as being the premier university in the state of Utah. Having spent time on several college campuses, the community, culture and diversity of thought was just a better fit for me, and I ultimately felt a lot more comfortable in the U’s environment. It didn’t hurt that the campus is beautiful nestled on the foothills of the mountains, and I loved the proximity to downtown Salt Lake City.
Q: Why did you choose to major in communication?
A: It took me a few years of trying different courses and fields of study before I realized that I could apply one thing I’d always enjoyed and been strong at towards a degree – communication, itself. I came to realize that any and every profession – or really any space I found myself in – required communication. As I learned more about the program, I was drawn to the public relations sequence, and at that point dove right in and never looked back.
I’m proud that I majored in communications and PR and have actually used my degree and built a career from an interest that started and began to develop at the University of Utah.
Q: What did you enjoy most about being a humanities/comm student?
A: For starters, when I selected communications as my major, I felt I’d found a home – from the faculty to my student peers to the courses offered. Additionally, I finally felt that my natural strengths and intangibles were well suited to the skillsets and experiences I was developing through the program, and it inspired me unlike anything I’d experienced to that point in college. I had some great professors and teachers that not only inspired me, but also challenged and pushed me to grow beyond what I’d thought possible. It excited and reinvigorated me to really push through my last couple undergraduate years, and ultimately drive me to want to be a successful pro in the field.
Q: What type of opportunities did you take advantage of as a student? How did these opportunities impact your future career?
A: Initially, I didn’t take advantage nor really think of internships and opportunities beyond the classroom, but as I neared graduation, I had a moment of panic and felt unprepared for life after my undergraduate studies.
In my final semesters, I paid a visit to the Student Services building and met with an advisor. It was that meeting that informed me of an internship opportunity with Nike (my dream company and brand) and their communications team for the 2002 Winter Olympics. It was a competitive application process open to every college in the state, but I received a lot of encouragement and advise from my advisor and eventually was offered one of only two positions. It was that opportunity that took my inspiration and drive to the next level, working with one of the top global brands.
From that internship experience, I witnessed and learned the levels at which comms professionals operated, and it was also during that internship that I met one of my mentors that led to my first real job in PR – taking me back to Los Angeles after graduation. And after four years working in entertainment as a television and sports publicist, I took on ESPN as a client when the X Games and ESPYS moved to LA. From there, ESPN offered me a full-time position and I’ve been at ESPN for nearly 18 years now. So, I can really say, that it all started at the U for me, with one opportunity leading to the next, and ultimately sending me on a career path that I could’ve only dreamed of.
Q: What skills did you learn as a communication student that have been the most beneficial throughout your career?
A: As a communications student, I was given the opportunity and supportive spaces through my course work to strengthen my skillsets – whether it be my writing, public speaking, organization and storytelling. It taught me that communication wasn’t just written or spoken word, but could also be non-traditional, non-verbal and visual. I really began to learn and see the potential as a 360 communicator, and it opened my eyes to endless possibilities and gave me the passion and drive to seek out the next level of opportunities as a professional.
Q: What advice do you have for students in their search for a career?
A: Unlike what I initially did, look for as many internship opportunities as possible in various fields to get a taste of what the job might entail. Then ask yourself if it’s something you could envision yourself doing for years to come.
Don’t be afraid to network and reach out to professionals already working in fields that interest you. There are so many more resources available to students now than when I was a student. Chances are, they’ll encounter some solid pros who have been mentored and are happy to give back and pay it forward.
Do your homework. Make sure you really have an understanding of what the day-to-day of a certain job might entail. Like anything, there are glamorous parts and certainly parts that are not so glamorous. You have to be able to take the good with the bad and understand it’s called work for a reason. Hard work and work ethic are simply a pre-requisite, and without it, you’re not likely to get very far.
Approach the process understanding that you don’t know what you don’t know. Students may have an idea or think they know what they’d like to do career wise, but they have to keep an open mind and not be afraid of putting themselves out there and extending beyond their comfort zones. Failing to succeed at something new is just as important as succeeding when you’re just getting started.
Identify and lean on your intangibles. What are your intangibles? It might be your charismatic personality, your energy, your presence, great instincts – things that can’t necessarily be taught, but rather things you’re naturally gifted with. At the end of the day, in business and career, beyond qualifications…often times, people are simply hiring people they want to work with. In social circles, people choose to spend time with those they’re comfortable with and simply want to be around…and with all things being equal, your intangibles are often what set you apart from everyone else. So, embrace your intangibles and what makes you unique.
Equally as important, you need to have some luck as well. Even when luck falls in your favor, make no mistake, it’s still just an opportunity, a door that’s cracked open. That is, until you make the most of it. Be humble, seize that opportunity, do the work, struggle and grow, excel and kick those doors wide open, respectfully, letting the world know you’ve arrived. Only then will you truly be in a position to maximize your luck. And when luck doesn’t seem to be in your favor, don’t be afraid to make moves and change your luck – whether that’s exploring a new job field or moving to a different market with more opportunities.
Lastly, students should remember that you truly never know what’s right around the corner. Are you as prepared as you can be for when your opportunity or moment presents itself? Have you done the work? Have thought about what you’d say and how you’d present yourself? Be as prepared as you can for the unexpected.