18 Jul 2014

Team Players

Even before the kickoff, Amy Aronoff Blumkin and Debora Lehrer were winners at Super Bowl XLVIII.
by Robert S. Benchley


"I'll take that bet."

Despite having come off a solid win as chief marketing officer of the NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Committee, Amy Aronoff Blumkin (MBA 1988), isn't talking about football. She's recounting what she told her boss at AT&T back in 1986, when he wagered $50 that she wouldn't get into HBS. He lost, and Blumkin, who was struggling to see a career path out of sales, headed for Cambridge to find out how the case study method might change her game plan.

"For a young woman who had grown up in a remote village in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom [Lyndonville, 2010 population 1,207] and had only worked in Boston, it was an eye-opening experience," Blumkin recalls. "Every day, we discussed a case in a different industry."

Her studies led to a career in marketing, first at big companies such as American Express and Walt Disney, and later through consulting and professional development. Blumkin also developed special expertise and a solid reputation in experience marketing. That, and the networking skills she had also learned at HBS, ultimately earned her a position on the roster of Super Bowl XLVIII.

"My husband and I had decided that one of us had to be on the ground when our kids were little," says Blumkin, "but they were growing up and I was ready to come back full-time. We live in New Jersey, and I heard about the job at the Host Committee from a friend who worked there. I knew it was just a two-year opportunity, but I also knew it would be all-in and a lot of fun."

When a city or region wins the rights to host a Super Bowl, it is required to form a host committee, Blumkin explains. "The NFL controls the game and all surrounding events. Our responsibility was to welcome guests into the region, help people get around and have a great experience, and help the NFL put on a great event."

What made the New York/New Jersey region a unique challenge was having two of everything—two states and their associated agencies (New York and New Jersey), two host teams (New York Jets and New York Giants), and two sides of the Hudson River from which to attract local fans to the game. The committee headquarters was set up at MetLife Stadium, in East Rutherford, NJ, with a satellite office in New York City.

Blumkin began working at the NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Committee in February 2012—a full two years before the game. The following month, as she began putting together her marketing team, she was introduced to Debora Lehrer (MBA 2012), then a second-year HBS student on spring break.

Lehrer had spent more than four years prior to HBS with the international division at Major League Baseball and while at HBS had completed a summer marketing internship in London with the Olympic Park Legacy Company. Her education and experience complemented Blumkin's, as did her roots across the river in Mamaroneck, in New York's Westchester County. Blumkin immediately signed Lehrer as manager of communications and digital marketing.

"The communications and technical skills I had acquired at HBS turned out to be critical in the position," says Lehrer, "and with both of us having been through the case study method, Amy and I often approached things from the same point of view."

The core marketing strategy that Blumkin and her team developed was based on the idea of the huddle—that the game and everything associated with it was a shared experience. With game day far in the future, however, what they were selling was the region and the excitement of the Super Bowl in general.

"The Host Committee had a 75-mile radius around the stadium to work with," says Lehrer. "It was an interesting challenge, because you have a limited amount of time to build the brand. Then it disappears. We had to develop a marketing plan that was all-encompassing, but that still got the right information to the people who needed it."

From the start, the strategy was to use digital and social media—website, Facebook, and Twitter—as the primary information hubs, in part because of their interactive capabilities, and to back these up with print promotion and special events throughout the region that would give fans a participatory experience and a feeling of personal involvement.

"It was a classic situation assessment," says Blumkin. "What do we need to do?"

The marketing plan she and her team developed broke down into four parts.

First, a robust website was built that focused on the game and event promotion, and here Blumkin chose not to reinvent the wheel. For example, because the Host Committee's state partners already had travel and tourism information on their own sites, the Host Committee's website simply included links to those specific resources. The website was also made mobile-friendly, which turned out to be a smart play. On game day, 80 percent of the site's traffic was from mobile devices.

Next, social media, in the form of Facebook and Twitter, became the information workhorse, serving two roles. Initially, social media was used to engage fans during the buildup to Super Bowl week. That included promoting philanthropic efforts, such as a coat drive—the game was the first Super Bowl played outdoors in cold weather—and a blood drive. In the final two weeks, its role shifted to guest service. A social media communications center was established and staffers responded personally to each of the thousands of tweets received during that period (including alerting law enforcement to any comments that seemed sketchy).

Then the Host Committee launched the "Join the Huddle" mobile tour, the first rolling roadshow associated with a Super Bowl. The centerpiece was an 8-foot by 64-foot tricked-out truck that made 48 stops throughout the two states to let fans explore a replica stadium locker room with Jets, Giants, and Super Bowl memorabilia, and a Vince Lombardi Trophy Room. A turf area was set up outside the truck that let fans take part in football drills.

Finally, as game-day approached, Blumkin and team helped produce a 48-page special section in the New York Times that had a commemorative poster of all of the Super Bowl rings, a 112-page commemorative magazine, and a variety of other promotional materials.

Tying together the final two weeks at the Social Media Communications Center was a 70-page handbook outlined the entire communications effort. "We had 100 volunteers who worked almost around the clock," says Lehrer, who also helped host visits from HBS's Business of Sports Club and the annual Tech Trek. "There were lots of people answering questions from the same brand, so we needed tight guidelines to make sure they were all speaking with one voice." That handbook now serves as a guide for future Super Bowl host committees.

With the game now part of sports history and the Host Committee offices closed down, Lehrer and Blumkin have both turned their attention to their own futures.

Blumkin believes she knows where her skills are strongest. "I'm a marketing professional who knows how to create great experiences for consumers," she says. "That's what makes my heart beat."

Lehrer, who says she learned a lot about digital marketing, contingency planning, and inter-organizational communications, wants to stay in sports. "I'd like something niche, something trying to push the envelope," she says, "a nimble, all-hands-on-deck, collaborative environment. And in New York."

There you have it: Two of Super Bowl XLVIII's MVPs are now free agents. They're rested, and they're ready.

And don't bet against either one of them.

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1988, Section B
follow @AABlumkin
Class of MBA 2012, Section C

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