Dreams do come true. That’s the message behind Elisa Padilla’s career journey. The daughter of two blue collar working parents, growing up in Newark, New Jersey Padilla fell in love with the sport of basketball as a little girl, and now she works as the Senior Vice President of Marketing for the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center.
Bringing over twenty years of experience in the marketing industry, Padilla oversees all of the marketing efforts for the team and arena, which include branding, advertising, merchandising, database research, creative, websites, and social media. She’s also the author of the award-winning branding campaign, Hello Brooklyn. Previously, Padilla worked at companies including AT&T, HBO Sports, Nickelodeon, the NBA and the New York Knicks.
She took some time out of her busy schedule to chat with Her Agenda about her career journey, lessons learned along the way and what’s next on her agenda. Read and watch for a peek inside the agenda of Elisa Padilla.
Watch the debut video in the “Peek Inside Her Agenda” series:
For the full text, and bonus clips, see below:
Her Agenda: I’m fascinated that the senior vice president of marketing for a sports arena, the only sports arena in Brooklyn, and one of the most talked about teams, is a woman. I’m sure when you tell people that that’s your job, they probably are so excited to hear all about what you do and what you get to experience. So, what would you say is the best part of your job?
Elisa Padilla: The best part of my job is that every single day is different. There is not a day that is replicated.
Her Agenda: Wow! That’s exciting, and that doesn’t happen a lot, because people get into this routine with jobs. In your current role as senior vice president, you oversee all of the marketing efforts for the team and the stadium, so that includes branding, advertising, merchandising, database research, creative websites and social media. But what does that look like on a day-to-day basis? What’s your everyday like?
Elisa Padilla: Everything that we handle in my group is everything that’s consumer-facing and also brand management. So on a day-to-day basis, depending on what’s happening, on the arena side, we really focus on upcoming events, really driving ticket sales, and the promotion of the Nets, because that’s how we’re measured. We’re measured on ticket sales and we’re also measured on fan and consumer engagement through the social platforms. On the team side, it’s a little bit different, because we have temporal moments throughout the year where we really know, “Okay, this is the start of the season, this is holiday, this is all-star,” so it’s really planning ahead, looking at the calendar, and saying, “Okay, you know what, what are the platforms that we need to promote to ensure ticket sales, to drive team re-ratings, and to really engage our consumer base?,” because our season ticket holders are our number one priority. But it’s also for the folks that aren’t our season ticket holders. “How do we get them so engaged that they want to continue to be part of the brand, that they want to come see us live here at Barclays Center, or they want to watch us on TV?”
Her Agenda: Well what does that look like when you go into your office? What’s first on your agenda?
Elisa Padilla: First on my agenda is- I’m usually in the office about 6:30 in the morning, and it starts off with, “Okay, what are the priorities for the day?”
“I’m usually in the office about 6:30 in the morning, and it starts off with, ‘Okay, what are the priorities for the day?”
So, whether its reviewing ticket sales reports–that’s usually the first thing that I do, is print out the ticket sales report for the team and also on the arena side–to look at how we’re doing with sales and then really identifying on the team’s side. If I see that there are couple games that are light- working with the team and saying, “Okay, how are we going to strategize to really push and highlight this certain game to drive ticket sales?”
Then on the arena side, it’s really looking to see, “Okay, if we have the event that we own and that we promote, what are we going to do to push ticket sales?” That will take probably about the first hour of my day.
Then on some days, usually I’m in meetings from like 8:30am all the way to 5:00pm, because I’m involved in everything, in terms of anything that’s consumer facing. Some days, I have to come to the arena to look at signage, to look at concession signs, or to work with the signage company to put up signs, because we want to make sure that everything from a brand perspective is consistent. That’s really important. So again, every single day is different. There are some days where my inbox is filled with emails, I’m on the move, and I’m trying to respond to emails in between meetings. It’s exciting.
“There are some days where my inbox is filled with emails, I’m on the move, and I’m trying to respond to emails in between meetings. It’s exciting.”
Her Agenda: And you respond to emails in your free time! I remember when we were emailing to set this up, you were so responsive. I’m like, ‘How is this woman, a senior-level executive of Barclays and Brooklyn Nets, and she’s emailing me back like this!?’ *snaps fingers*
Elisa Padilla: Yeah, well I think it’s really important, right? Communication. Also, I don’t define myself by my position. I feel that at the end of the day, you have to be respectful no matter who’s emailing you. Whether it’s the ceo of the company, or whether it’s an intern. I treat everybody the same, just in terms of my responsiveness and just being responsive to people, because that’s being respectful of their time.
Her Agenda: When you were a little girl did you imagine that you would be doing what you’re doing today? What was your dream when you were a little girl?
Elisa Padilla: I don’t ever remember saying, “I want to do this when I grow up or I want to do this when I grow up.” I fell in love with the sport of basketball, because my older brother played in high school. His games were family outings. I’d be on the bench with my other siblings cheering him on.
Then when I went to college, we were required to do an internship, and I originally thought that I wanted to do television. I wanted to do television production, and I was fascinated with TV and programming. I did an internship at a cable network, and I quickly learned, “Okay, I don’t like this.” But I sat next to the sales and marketing people, and I was like, “Well, I’m more interested in what those people are doing,” and that’s when I discovered sports marketing. When I went back to school after that summer internship, I took a marketing class and just fell in love with marketing. The thought of working on a product where there is a psychological twist to it, because you’re promoting something and you want consumers to really make your product their choice. That’s when I fell in love with marketing.
Her Agenda: But as we talked about earlier, you have over twenty years of experience in marketing. You’ve been across a lot of different companies from Disney to AT&T to Nickelodeon. So as you moved and maneuvered through your career, how did you know what the right move was to make, even if it wasn’t in sports marketing?
Elisa Padilla: So my very first job out of college, I was blessed enough to work for another professional franchise. My boss was incredible. I just looked up to her and I thought to myself, when I grow up, I want to be just like her.
I spent four and a half years at that sports team and then moved on, went to work for Disney in sports. That didn’t work out just in terms of when I got there, it was very short lived, the department I was working in. I came back and I started working for the league. So I spent over 10 years in basketball, and I thought to myself, I don’t want to pigeonhole myself in basketball, I really wanted to diversify my background. That was the goal, because I wanted to be a marketer with a diverse background.
Her Agenda: Did you imagine you would ever have the chance to manage the marketing for the team and the arena?
Elisa Padilla: No. (laughs)
Her Agenda: Does anyone else do that?
Elisa Padilla: I do have counterparts across the country. And I think that based on our success here, I think that a lot of other companies are really looking at that. For example, there is one, a counterpart for another team in New Jersey where she used to only do the arena side and now she’s doing both. There is not many of us who do it, but those of us who do it, I think we’ve been pretty successful at it.
Her Agenda: Rewinding to when you were at AT&T, how did you manage to still keep your ears and eyes open to what was happening in sports and get the call for the opportunity here?
Bonus Video: Getting The Call For Her Dream Job
Elisa Padilla: I definitely read all the trade publications. I wanted to keep my pulse on what was happening in sports, but believe it or not, the cal that I got from the recruiter was someone who I had met like six years prior, and I had kept in touch with her. Every holiday, I’d send her a card. I really, I wasn’t looking for a job when I got the call. It’s interesting when I even came in for my third interview, I didn’t think I was going to get the job. When they called me and said we would like for you to meet the CEO, it wasn’t like I was nervous, but I wasn’t nervous, because I was like ‘I’m not going to get this job, so why be nervous.’
Her Agenda: But it was meant to be it seems! Now we’re here and we’re doing this interview at the Barclay’s Center and you’re doing it! You were also behind the Hello Brooklyn campaign which I loved. What was the approach with that, how did that come together?
Elisa Padilla: When I started with the Nets, we were a year and half out from moving to Brooklyn. I was thinking about the brand and what moving to Brooklyn was going to mean for the team. We had research that showed that Brooklynites were very hungry to have a team to call their own. And internally with the team, we talked about what was our approach going to be. We didn’t want to be like the big bad guys coming in. With everything, with how long it took to build the arena, we really just wanted to come in and really be part of the fabric of Brooklyn.
When we started thinking about the brand voice, as we were talking we were like we want to have the voice from within the borough, we don’t want to speak to the borough. We thought that was important. Someone sent me a YouTube link, and the song was “Hello Brooklyn” by Jay Z and he wanted me to look at the graphics in the video. The graphics were great, and I was like wow, “Hello Brooklyn,” this is pretty cool. I literally wrote “Hello Brooklyn” on a post-it and put it on a Kleenex box by my computer and looked at it every single day. I thought well you know what, I like the simplicity of it, I like how it’s so humble. You say hello to everyone that you meet. We talked about it, we talked about it and we put a presentation together and showed it to upper management and it was approved.
“When we started thinking about the brand voice, as we were talking we were like we want to have the voice from within the borough, we don’t want to speak to the borough.”
Click through to page two to see what Jay-Z thought of the campaign.
Her Agenda: What did Jay-Z think of it?
Elisa Padilla: I don’t know first hand what Jay-Z thought of it, but I did hear that he was very pleased with the way that we launched the brand.
“I literally wrote ‘Hello Brooklyn’ on a post-it and put it on a Kleenex box by my computer and looked at it every single day. I thought well you know what, I like the simplicity of it, I like how it’s so humble. You say hello to everyone that you meet.”
Her Agenda: After looking at that poster for months, and when you finally saw the big billboard with Hello Brooklyn, how did that feel?
Elisa Padilla: Again, just, dreams do come true. And while people want to say Elisa you were the author, at the end of the day it was a team effort. I wouldn’t be where I am without my team. I have an incredible team that I work with and since we’ve gotten to Brooklyn we’ve doubled in size. It’s not just me, I’m part of a group where there are 27 of us. I work with a lot of smart and talented people.
Her Agenda: Has your management style changed over the years?
Elisa Padilla: So my management style is that I listen first. I think listening is very, very important. I don’t think a lot of people listen. I listen and I try to understand everyone’s role in my group and that was a skill that I developed as a marketing assistant when I had to work with the creative groups and the sponsorship groups. In order to get them to do what we needed them to do, I needed to understand what their day to day was like. I have an open door policy. I believe in full transparency, with me, what you see is what you get. What you see today is the same thing you’re going to get tomorrow. What you see tomorrow is the same thing. If I’m upset with you, you’re going to know it, if I’m happy with you, you’re going to know it. I set clear expectations so that everyone on the team understands what their little piece is of the puzzle. I can’t do everything, so setting clear expectations and if you have any questions you can come ask me.
“I have an open door policy. I believe in full transparency, with me, what you see is what you get.”
When I wake up in the morning, I think of two things. I think of delivering excellence to my boss, so that my boss can deliver excellence to his boss. And I think about my team, and I think about giving them every single opportunity and putting them in the best light to succeed. If my team is successful, that means that I’m successful.
Her Agenda: You’ve accomplished a lot, but you mentioned moments where you felt you weren’t going to quite get it. How do you overcome those moments of doubt and anxiety to still accomplish what you need to do?
Elisa Padilla: I keep myself in check. I feel that every single day is an opportunity to earn my chair. I don’t take my chair for granted and everyday I know that I have to be on my A game. I try to read, I try to understand what other companies are doing just in terms of how to garner not only brand affinity from consumers but also what people are doing to drive ticket sales. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming because I’m managing the marketing for a professional sports team and also for the arena, so sometimes it’s a little overwhelming. But at the end of the day, when I feel overwhelmed, I take a step back and I’m like okay, what are the priorities, what needs to get done? What do I need to accomplish? I really keep myself in check. At the end of the day, I want people to like me for me, not for what my title is. There are a lot of times where I’ll be in meetings or even networking events and I never ever say my title, because I don’t want that to be the first impression that you get of me.
“I think about my team, and I think about giving them every single opportunity and putting them in the best light to succeed. If my team is successful, that means that I’m successful.”
Her Agenda: You once said that it’s ‘one thing to launch a brand, and it’s another to maintain it.’ We’re in year two for the Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets, so how do you maintain the voice of the brand?
Elisa Padilla: I’m like the brand police, and everyone knows it. I reinforce it, I reinforce what we stand for and I reinforce not only from the brand voice, but visually. It’s funny, I now have colleagues who will be at the arena who will take photos and say “did you see this? this isn’t right.” They’ll tell on each other (laughs). And that’s okay because we’re all in it together. I think that’s the most important thing, when people think about the Brooklyn Nets, we want them to know that we’re hardworking, that we’re passionate, that we’re witty and that all we want to do is win. The people who come to our games, we want them to have a great experience. When I think about people who come to Barclays Center for events, we want to give them great customer service. We want to make sure they’re able to taste Brooklyn through our culinary experience. It’s repetition.
“I keep myself in check. I feel that every single day is an opportunity to earn my chair. I don’t take my chair for granted and everyday I know that I have to be on my A game.”
Bonus Video: Working as a Woman in Sports
Her Agenda: You are in a position not many women find themselves in — a senior management position — and in the world of sports, what has that experience been like for you? You’re also a woman of color, so how have you navigated and what’s that been like for you?
Elisa Padilla: I was raised by two blue collar parents who didn’t have an education and they drilled into me that education was very very important. So, I was the first member of my family to get my MBA, that was a huge accomplishment. And the second thing that my parents taught me is, you have to work hard. My parents got up every single day and went to work. No matter what they went to work. They really instilled in me, if you work hard, you know what, the rewards will come.
I’m very passionate about education as well, because my parents told me, ‘you know what, somebody can steal your lunch, they can steal your pocketbook, they can fire you from a job, but no one can ever take your education away from you.’ That’s really important to me. I thank my parents for what they instilled in me.
“…my parents told me, ‘you know what, somebody can steal your lunch, they can steal your pocketbook, they can fire you from a job, but no one can ever take your education away from you.’”
Her Agenda: And as you navigated and moved up in your career, did you experience any challenges that were unique to being the only woman in the room?
Elisa Padilla: No, you know what, I’ll share a success. I still sit in boardrooms, and a lot of times I’m the only woman, but when there is a project that’s really important and they say Elisa, you’re going to be the lead, that to me is success right? That to me is like okay I’ve demonstrated, I come in every single day and I work, and I work so hard to keep my chair, that it’s like that’s my reward. I look at some of my counterparts and their like ‘oh, you know it’s a boys club.’ I don’t look at it that way. Yea gender, absolutely, there are times when nobody in the boardroom looks like me but at the end of the day, I have a chair in the boardroom. I have a voice at the table, and I celebrate that. I try to tell people that it’s not about being a man or a woman, it’s really about the intellectual property because I was hired because of my intellectual property, not because I’m a woman.
Her Agenda: What advice do you have for any young woman who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Elisa Padilla: That she can do it. She can do it. If I did it, look, I’m an inner city kid. My parents were blue collar workers. I was a poor kid, but you know what, I did it. Anybody can do it. You just have to put your mind to it. You have to work hard, and not take anything for granted and not expect to be handed something. You have to work for it.
“There are times when nobody in the boardroom looks like me but at the end of the day, I have a chair in the boardroom. I have a voice at the table, and I celebrate that.”
Her Agenda: What’s next on your agenda? What’s going to be your next goal?
Elisa Padilla: My next goal is to continue to do what I’m doing but taking it to the next level. I really, really, when I think about Barclays Center, I want to put this place on the map. My goal for Barclays Center is to make it a global destination where if people are coming to New York and they make a list that says Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, that Barclays Center is on that list. On the team side it’s really to get people and develop that brand affinity to really make people and Brooklynites diehard Nets fans.
[Editor’s note: This post was published Mar. 24, 2014]