Jacqueline Parkes was almost literally born for her job in Major League Baseball.
The daughter of James C. Parkes, team physician for the New York Mets from 1974-1991, she grew up around the game. "I look at that Mets logo," she says, "and I see my life."
Now in her 17th year with MLB, Ms. Parkes in 2008 became the first executive in the 142-year history of the league to hold the title of senior VP-chief marketing officer. She went from puppets to pitchers, joining MLB in 1995 after working in marketing and licensing for Jim Henson Productions. Since then, she's helped the league to eight consecutive seasons of record revenue, including an all-time high of $7 billion last year. The last seven years have been the best-attended in league history.
For our interview, 45-year old Ms. Parkes is seated on a comfy white leather couch on the second floor space formerly occupied by the original Tower Records in New York's Greenwich Village. It's now known as the Fan Cave: part social-media experiment, part immersive fan experience, part MTV 's "Real World" and part baseball-junkie heaven. The league held a contest to pick a fan and a wingman who would live (but not sleep) in the Fan Cave and watch every single MLB game this year.
That's 2,430 games for those of you keeping score, and contest winner Mike O' Hara and buddy Ryan Wagner are enjoying all the luxuries that MLB's corporate sponsors can provide -- 15 Sony Bravia TVs; a Pepsi Cafe styled after a 1950s diner; a Budweiser Game Room with billiards, shuffle board and other bar games; Apple computers to check fantasy-baseball teams; and more. It also includes a lounge for private parties, a DJ booth and a style section where fans can get haircuts and get inked by guest barbers and tattoo artists.
This is baseball's top marketing initiative this year and the concept came from baseball's new ad agency, Hill Holliday; the Fan Cave itself was built by Endemol USA and designed by Paul DiMeo, one of the leading designers for the hit ABC-TV show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."
Ad Age : What was the impetus behind the Fan Cave?
Ms. Parkes: We went out and did an agency review and one of the priorities we gave the agencies was we have a tremendous amount of assets and resources -- we have an unbelievable season, we have an unbelievable star cast of characters and we'd like to find a way to more proactively engage fans and consumers around the world. The assignment all the agencies were given was to come back with ideas that delivered on that goal. This is part of a longtime strategy to share baseball with more people, more actively. Baseball, by the very nature of the game, is social. It's all about community.
FIVE THINGS YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME
One of my most prized possessions is Miss Piggy's amethyst ring (plastic version).
The Mets coaching staff used to babysit me and my sister. Plus the Mets won the World Series in 1986 on my 21st birthday -- good times.
I am an extremely price-conscious consumer. Unless I have a coupon that is 30% off or more, I am not shopping.
I love a good prank. One of the classics in our group is hijacking someone's BlackBerry and sending humorous emails under their signature.
I have traveled the world, and there is no place I prefer to be than at home with my family.
Ad Age : Talk about some of the content on the Fan Cave.
Ms. Parkes: What we think is so powerful about this is that players and personalities who come down to the Fan Cave interact in a very different way than they do on the field. For example, Jeremy Guthrie of the Baltimore Orioles came down ... [and] we found out that he's a huge fan of Justin Bieber and boy bands. Our guys in the cave couldn't get over it! So we did this whole segment on trying to get him to like traditional rock bands. Almost like an intervention video. In the end he says, "I don't care what these guys say, I'm going home to listen to a ton of Bieber." So we put the video out there and we tweeted the heck out of it. Justin Bieber gets a hold of it and he retweets it to his [10 million] followers.
Ad Age : People look at sports, at baseball, like it's always going to be there. Do you look at every season as something new?
Ms. Parkes: The season is no longer the season. Because of all the media platforms we have and the consumer interest, baseball is a 365-day property. It doesn't end with the World Series. There's hot stove and GM meetings and winter trades and spring training. Four million people went to spring-training games alone. The cadence of our sport allows people to integrate it into their lives. People think "I can't wait until Opening Day" because they want spring to come along. The All-Star Game is the quintessential part of summer, the Mid-Summer Classic. The postseason makes you think about the fall. Baseball is part of the seasons of people's lives and that 's powerful to us, so we try to offer up new perspectives to keep fans engaged. As Commissioner [Bud] Selig always says, the game is and always will be the best marketer of itself.
Ad Age : How have you evolved in how you take the game to market?
Ms. Parkes: Seventeen years has given me a lot of perspective. The media world has changed. We used to be focused on spots and dots. No longer are we focused on that . Our strategy is developing content, platform and promotion that consumers can share with their peer set. The consumers become the ambassador for our brand. It's not a push-pull strategy, it's a strategy of sharing. It's choice-based media vs. forced-based media. We think that 's much more valuable than content put in a commercial unit. We're not walking away from traditional advertising, but there's been an evolution in developing platforms.
Ad Age : Puppetry is different than baseball. Did you take anything from Henson that you can apply to baseball?
Ms. Parkes: The Henson philosophy is second to none when it comes to creative. They take seriously the product they put out. They did a lot of analytics, which they needed to do around how an adult would consume something and how a child would consume it. They were very proactive in addressing issues that others wouldn't address, be it divorce or racial issues. People may not take puppets seriously, but Jim was on the forefront of a lot of issues. It positioned me well with where I'm at with Major League Baseball, to help me think about my social obligation and what we do and how we do it.