I tend to spend a lot of time dreaming up new ideas or strategies – much of this ‘work’ is not done sitting at a desk. Inspiration comes at odd times.
Chief Executive Officer and President
iSPARK Consulting Inc.
The interview with Krista Benoit was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
Tell us about your role as the Chief Executive Officer and President of the iSPARK Consulting Inc. .
In 2000, I left my full-time job as the Director of Marketing & Events at a national sport organization to start my own marketing & events firm – iSPARK Consulting.
I’ve taken my obsession with sport and business and built the company into the leader in leveraging sport as a catalyst for business and economic activity.
My role is to help sport associations, games organizations, private enterprises, and destinations to ignite engagement, spark interest, fire up passion, and drive opportunity.
I lead a talented team of seasoned subject-matter experts in strategy, event production, negotiation, marketing, communication, design, multimedia, public and media relations, logistics, and delivery. Together we create and manage all aspects of sport-inspired and gamified events, branding, sponsorships, bids, and activations.
As the leader of iSPARK, I am responsible for pitching clients, responding to RFPs for services, as well as developing the strategy and implementation plan for all projects and coordinating with the team members to deliver. I am very hands on with each and every project and play a major role myself in the delivery of the consulting services we offer.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Our team at iSPARK works remotely and we use an online collaborative project management tool. This tool is a key part of how I manage the business and make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
So, my day usually starts with a quick scan of the status of each project using our project management software. I review the upcoming tasks and deadlines. Then, as needed, I check-in with the team members assigned to pending tasks and then make small adjustments to my own work plan for the day before diving into the real work – getting sh*t done.
I usually divide my day into time blocks for each client and then work through my ‘to do’ list as the day progresses taking small breaks between clients to refresh and reset. I find my brain needs that break to switchover.
However, in the events business, there is always a lot of unforeseen, particularly in the lead-up to an event. So, there are days when my carefully crafted work plan goes sideways. I try to remain flexible throughout the day to respond to urgent matters while at the same time sticking as closely to the project timelines as possible while being fully available to all of our clients when they need me.
At the end of my day, or sometimes later in the evening, I rework my work plan for the next day or rest of the week and then it starts all over again.
My favourite part of the work we do is the creative side, so I tend to spend a lot of time dreaming up new ideas or strategies – much of this ‘work’ is not done sitting at a desk. Inspiration comes at odd times – during workouts, while driving, or in the shower.
When was the point you realized that you were meant to do this career? Take us through that realization.
I was involved in sport very early on in my life. Both my parents were athletic – my mother held a high school provincial track record for a few years and my father is one of the most well-known softball pitchers in my home province of Nova Scotia. Although I tried pretty much every sport at some point, I landed on my three favourites as a teenager – basketball, softball and track & field.
I played all of these sports competitively at various stages in my life with most of my sport accomplishments being attributed to softball (I was member of Nova Scotia’s provincial junior team and a Canada Games athlete). Fastball was in my DNA. I like to say that my love of softball started in the womb as my mom sat in the stands watching my Dad pitch no-hitters when she was pregnant with me.
So like many of my sports admin colleagues, in my final year of high school, I was initially leaning towards teaching & coaching. I felt that I was most likely going to become a physical education teacher who did some softball coaching on the side.
However, I also had a keen interest in business because I had grown up with an entrepreneur father. This internal conflict of business versus physical education was eventually resolved when a neighbour casually mentioned that a school that offers a business degree combined with a specialization in sports administration. It seemed like the perfect blend of both my interests and I was intrigued, but not 100% convinced.
My career in sports administration was officially cemented a few months later. The first event that I ever helped to organize was a high school 3-on-3 basketball tournament. It was part of the requirements for my leadership physical education course in grade 12 (or ‘Honours Gym’ as we liked to call it).
Honours gym was an elite group of 20ish students. The curriculum contained all the health promotion and sport science stuff. We also had to be a decent athlete in most sports and we were required to show off our leadership skills by stepping up and helping out with various projects in the athletic department at school. I loved honours gym – it was my favourite class.
The experience of coordinating that 3-on-3 basketball event helped me to figure out that I much preferred planning sport events over memorizing the names of all the bones in the human body and that’s how I swerved into the administration & business side of sport and physical activity.
Would you say your path to your current position was quite easy or rather challenging, and can you discuss why?
During my undegraduate, I worked for a provincial sport association in the summer months. When I graduated, I started working in pro sport – in the CFL with the now defunct Ottawa Rough Riders. It was there where I had a taste of marketing, game day promotions, sponsorship and the hectic, but adrenalin-fueled pace of events.
I moved into a role as the Director of Marketing & Events for a national sport association and was there during the 1996 and leading up to the 2000 Olympics. However, I was feeling unfulfilled and was craving something different.
This is when the entrepreneurship gene kicked in and I made the daunting decision to start my own firm. Running your own business is never easy. It is filled with ups and downs and stresses that most people can never imagine. I was fortunate that I started out with two great clients who kept me pretty busy for the first 2-3 years that I owned iSPARK. Solid referrals and positive word of mouth spread in the sport community and now, 20 years later, I can say that I have worked with over 30 different sport, games and event organizations.
Some days it feels like those 20 years flew by quite easily. Other days I honestly feel dead tired by the burden of it. This is the up and down rollercoaster of owning your own business. Every entrepreneur will attest to having good days and bad ones. I wouldn’t trade it for anything though. This job is fraught with stress and there is a brain-numbing amount of details and priorities to juggle, but it is absolutely the right place for me.
What are the some of the most challenging situations that you face in your role?
Managing client expectations is one of the biggest challenges. Most of our clients are amateur sport organizations. They often have lofty aspirations and little resources – a tricky combination.
Another challenge is keeping all the balls in the air. There are competing priorities and deadlines to manage while upholding our reputation for professional excellence, creative concepts, and flawless execution.
Sport is an ever-changing landscape – it is unpredictable with many highs and lows. This is what everyone who works in sport loves about it, but it is also what makes every day in my role both exciting and challenging at the same time.
What strategies you use to overcome those particularly challenging situations?
This is where my background as a competitive athlete comes in. I am a competitive person. I was raised to work hard and I have high standards for myself and others. I like to win and I am not good at sitting back and taking it easy.
Growing up my family motto was ‘when the going gets tough the tough get going’. This is always on my mind when challenges present themselves in both my personal and professional lives.
Over time, I have learned that I don’t always have to be the person to solve the problems. I have a circle of really smart people in my life who have good ideas and strong problem-solving skills. Entrepreneurship is a team sport. I rely more and more on my colleagues as I get older and this has proven to be the winning strategy when it comes to overcoming challenging situations.
Tell us about some areas they don’t teach you at school about working in the sport industry that you’ve picked up in your experience.
During my undergraduate, there were no courses on running your own business. I remember it felt like there were two main paths for someone working in sport – in amateur sport or professional sport.
These days, we know that the career options are broader than that. Looking back I wish there was an opportunity to learn more about small business and entrepreneurship specifically in the sports industry.
What surprised you the most about starting a career in the sport industry?
The pay! In fact, at one point, just before I started iSPARK, I considered leaving sport and taking a job in marketing and events in the tech industry. The main driver was the salary. I knew the skills were transferable from one industry to the next, but the pay scale was on a completely different level. I had three offers for non-sport roles – all related to events, marketing and sponsorship. I didn’t pursue any of them because ultimately, I couldn’t envision myself excitedly jumping out of bed every morning to organize an event in the high-tech sector.
Sport is what I love and this is what makes me happy. I knew that I couldn’t put a price on that and stuck with sport.
What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?
I love designing a creative element and seeing it activated. It brings me a lot of satisfaction to see an idea transform, ignite engagement, and drive opportunity.
Our tagline at iSPARK is: Sport Inspired. Business Driven.
It brings me a lot of satisfaction to see sport-inspired concepts and tactics drive business results.
Amanda's Final Thoughts
After working with Krista Benoit, I know how great she is with event management and logistics, so I just had to bring her on here for a little bit of advice on overseeing sport events. I was eager to learn more about what she does to be a “bossbabe” with logistics and what are the challenges of owning your own business. Mixing what I already know about Krista Benoit with the advice she gave our readers hammers down a simple point. To be a successful sport event manager, you must be able to ignite engagement, spark interest, fire up passion, and drive opportunity.