Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

April 2014

Rachel Gross: Building An Event-Marketing Company From Scratch

By Barbara Palmer, Senior Editor

I feel like I have had so many crossroads. Along the way, I have had experiences that have absolutely just been... I pinch myself sometimes, thinking I can't believe how lucky I've been. And that's not to say everything has been perfect.

I took a job where I knew in the first month that it was the wrong fit — and it scared the hell out of me. That was a crossroads. In my last position [at AOL], I was at a crossroads where I was making that professional leap from being a doer to being a leader. And I had with me an executive who encouraged me to take that step and to take that brave move.

When I made the decision to leave a nine-year career [at AOL], where everything was humming and I knew how to do that job, to create something from scratch — that was a crossroads for me. And without taking those [risks], I don't think I would be able to say that I've had a lucky career or I've had a fruitful career. I had to take the risks. And I'm better for it.

This summer, there's this little thing called the World Cup...

I've learned so much about soccer, which has been really fun. We'll have 125 people with us. And then we have about 140 engineers and staff running the 24/7 coverage of World Cup. So for the company, it's really special and momentous.

Our events are going to be centered around our most important sponsors and advertisers, and they'll be coming to Brazil with us. We'll be there for a seven-night program, and our clients will have the opportunity to experience soccer firsthand. What we really want to do is bring to life for our sponsors and advertisers what's happening on our networks — we want to give them such access to the World Cup that they'll never forget it.

We'll have about 15 event staff with us. And, as a way to leverage our team on site, we'll be working with a local university and using event students to help support us on site. It's a model that I know other companies have used, but it's the first time for me to do this. It allows us to take our core events team and then partner with hospitality students at the local university and give them a chance to have access to some of these special things that we're planning. I think from a career perspective they're going to love it.

[Students] will be staffing activities, and there'll be a consistent group that our customers will recognize — they'll be branded with us. They all speak Portuguese, which is another way to leverage [our team]. Sometimes when you have a hole in your own skill set, how do you fill it? And we're thrilled about this. So they'll be bilingual and able to speak English and Portuguese.

We're going to be doing a lot of immersion. People will be able to go to a samba school and see how the samba dancers prepare for Carnival. They will be able to go to a Brazilian bakery and they're going to make bread and interact with local chefs. We want people to walk away being smarter about Brazil. We have a full schedule of different activities and things that I think will really make people fall in love with Brazil like we have. We're thrilled to be there, and we're going to be giving back also to the community while we're there.

I want to give this team something memorable for themselves, so we're going to be doing a community service project on the days before our customers arrive. Jenny Stahl, CMP, who is the lead on the project with me — we're doing this as an investment in our team.

I think when you're in the events industry and you're in the service industry, we have to feed our soul a little bit, too. We've been working in this country now for — it will be 18 months by the time the program operates — and we're in love with Brazil. We love the people, and we want to make this special.

Thinking Differently

Successfully creating a new event-marketing division at a more-than-50-year-old company has meant taking time to understand legacy behavior, according to Rachel Gross. But it's also meant looking with fresh eyes at how things are usually done.

“As planners, we have to be willing to look at things differently,” Gross said. “And just because we've done something the same way — and kind of have been successful - that doesn't mean it's not okay to take a beat and evaluate: Is there a better way to do this?”

Case in point: Traditionally, Univision has had a standard footprint at The Cable Show, which is the cable industry's largest annual event. Gross worked with company executives to ask whether their investment was yielding the kinds of interactions they were aiming for. “You have to have the courage to ask, are we leveraging this partnership to the fullest potential?” Gross said.

Gross suggested that Univision plan an exclusive dinner with President Bill Clinton during last year's Cable Show. Almost all of the invited guests accepted. It was so successful that a similar dinner will take place at the 2014 Cable Show, around the theme of people who are changing the world.

“Having Univision lead that discussion is so exciting,” Gross said. “It really changes the model of people coming to a trade show, to now coming and having a thoughtful discussion with us. Having Univision be seen as the leader in that space is exciting.”

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