Master of promotion builds blue-chip roster

By Published on .

When Paula Balzer landed her first job out of college, she thought her career was set.

"I got this job on the 96th floor of the World Trade Center as a management trainee [at Sumitomo Bank], and I said, `Oh my God, have I got it made,' " recalls the now-chief marketing officer of SFX. "Then they stuck me behind a typewriter, and that's where I stayed for three months."


Ms. Balzer says she wanted more than the "working girl" life. And she knew a more high-powered career could be gained. Since most of her $7,800 annual salary went to the high rents of Manhattan, Ms. Balzer's nights often meant staying home to watch the TV serial "Dynasty," where she was exposed to the lifestyle of fictional PR executive Krystle Carrington.

Ms. Balzer decided to take a cue from Krystle and leave banking for the communications field. She worked at several different PR agencies and in 1986 was recruited by Kraft General Foods. Although she started out in PR at Kraft, Ms. Balzer eventually moved on to marketing assignments for products in the cereal, dessert and coffee categories.

In 1990, she followed an entrepreneurial urge and opened an East Coast office for promotions and event marketing company Contemporary Group. Eight years later, while in the midst of an acquisition binge, SFX bought Contemporary.

With Contemporary, as well as a slew of other purchases, entertainment powerhouse SFX now offered a diverse potpourri of services such as concert promotions, Broadway show production, TV programming and event management.

Top executives at SFX, a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications, took notice of Ms. Balzer's tenacity, as well as her interpersonal skills, and handed her a new challenge: to brand SFX and its many acquisitions as one client-pleasing organization.

"We had no branding, no positioning and no selling proposition," Ms. Balzer says. "All we were was an aggregate of 45 companies in the live-marketing industry."


She started out with no office, one cell phone and two staffers. But in less than three years, Ms. Balzer has built a marketing empire. The 44-year-old Ms. Balzer now oversees more than 100 employees and has created multilayer music and sports marketing alliances for blue-chip companies such as American Express Co., Procter & Gamble Co. and Levi Strauss & Co.

She recently struck a more than $30 million, five-year contract with Coca-Cola North America that made Coke the official non-alcoholic, non-malt beverage for SFX's music, sports, theatrical and family entertainment events such as concerts, Broadway performances and motorsports. Karen Gough, VP-marketing solutions at Coca-Cola, says Ms. Balzer's ability to "enhance marketing opportunities and create solutions" was key to achieving the deal.

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