While marketing, we can’t ever control the product on the field, but we can control the product we put out from a fan experience standpoint.
Director of Marketing
North Carolina State University
The interview with Caitlin Hunnicutt 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 Director of Marketing for North Carolina State University. What does a typical day look like for you?
I started at NC State in September 2019 and in my current role as Director of Marketing for NC State Athletics, I oversee all marketing, promotions, fan experience and advertising for NC State Football and Baseball, as well as our department-wide digital marketing strategy. This includes developing external plans, writing game-day scripts, creating fun, unique and exciting game-day experiences for our fanbase, and collaborating with multiple departments to ensure a successful game-day.
I wouldn’t say there is ever a typical day in college athletics, but that’s what makes it fun. There are always a ton of meetings with different departments to ensure everyone is on the same page leading up to events.
One day I could be sitting at my desk writing scripts, developing plans and creating ads, and the next I could be at a video or photoshoot with our student-athletes, and another I could be at the football or baseball stadium testing out upcoming fan promotions. It’s a lot of behind the scenes work and the time commitment is often a lot, but I wouldn’t trade it!
In marketing and promotions, how important is it for you to be naturally extroverted? On the flip side, can someone be naturally introverted and work in a marketing and promotions role?
I’m not naturally an extroverted person. Events drain me and I need time by myself to recuperate after them often [laughs].
If I’m comfortable in a situation and around the people I’m with I’ll be more extroverted but typically I’m pretty introverted.
So I say that to say, you don’t need a personality type to be successful in this industry. You just have to work hard and put in the time.
For someone interested in angling into sport marketing, would you suggest they go the jack of all trades route, and try to learn many areas or specialize in a singular function and become a master at it?
A wide variety of knowledge is important in this industry, but not necessarily essential. Creating, developing and executing a marketing plan is one of the most important aspects of this job, but it breaks down into so many other areas from there.
I always encourage people early in their career or looking to get into sports marketing to have a basic knowledge of PhotoShop, video editing, digital marketing and scriptwriting. If you have those tools early in your career it will be easy to continue to add to your resume in those aspects.
Every sport marketing student has to learn about the 5 P’s of marketing (product, price, place, promotion, people). How relevant is that learning in the workplace for you today? What do you consider most important to successful marketing?
Everything boils back down to those 5 P’s in some form or fashion. While marketing, we can’t ever control the product on the field, but we can control the product we put out from a fan experience standpoint. You want everyone to leave, regardless of the score outcome, feeling that they had a good time and got the worth of their money.
While they are all important to marketing in general, I think out of the five it would be people. The fans have the ability to make or break you. Word-of-mouth travels far and wide now with social media to back it up. If a fan doesn’t have a good experience at an event, they will more than likely tell more people than if they had a positive experience. Ensuring that you’ve done everything possible to provide a fun, engaging, inclusive environment for the fan base is essential to successful marketing.
Tell us about your favorite pieces of marketing content or promotion you’ve worked on throughout your career. What made them so special?
When I was working at Penn State we hosted a social media night for women’s basketball. We were primarily targeting Penn State students to attend the game with this theme. All of the graphics featured our players Bitmoji (this was right around when they came out) instead of a still photo like we would normally use.
We offered concession discounts that were only posted on our social media handles but teased it in-venue to get people to follow us if they weren’t already. We had a student giveaway for this game as well, a t-shirt that read “This Is My Selfie Shirt” that if you looked at it head-on was backwards but if you took a selfie it would read correctly. We gave our student-athletes the t-shirts in advance so they could post pictures on their social channels to promote the giveaway to their followers.
We had a record number of students attend that game and had a lot of engagement on social media of our fans wanting the t-shirts as well. We knew our fans wanted them as well because of the social engagement so we saved 20 or so and did a surprise t-shirt toss with them during the last time out. All in all, it was a successful promotion for us and the t-shirt design won NACMA Gold for the Fan Giveaway category, and that was what made it so special for me.
I’ve always been big into giving back to the community and supporting community programs, so while I was working at Ohio State we hosted a Special Olympics Night at a women’s soccer game. Columbus, OH hosts the annual Summer Special Olympics so we had a good relationship with them. We invited all of the winning soccer teams to the stadium to get recognized on the field, walk out with our student-athletes as well as the visiting team, and got to scrimmage at halftime.
It was so great to see all of the Special Olympics Athletes get to interact with our student-athletes. The excitement that they had to be back on the field where they won their championship that summer was unlike any other. It’s something that I’ve always held close and will never forget.
One of my favorite marketing campaigns is actually still running, even though I’m no longer part of it. During my last year at Penn State, we had a turnover in coaching staff for women’s basketball and under the new coaching staff, we had to do whatever we could to reinvigorate the fan base and sell tickets for the upcoming season.
The Head Coach preached the acronym P.R.I.D.E. and with Penn State being the Nittany Lions it only made sense for us to somehow incorporate that into the marketing campaign for the season. We wanted to be creative with it and landed on #IgniteThePride.
We developed an extensive marketing plan around the launch of the hashtag and the fans responded well to it. From what I’ve seen on social media the fans use it in their social posts when talking about the team and are more engaged than ever!
While at Ohio State, we hosted Big Ten Men’s Gymnastics and NCAA Men’s Gymnastics two weekends apart so planning for two championships was a huge undertaking so early in my career. Our team ended up pulling an upset and winning the Big Ten Championship and to see our arena full with our student-athletes hoisting the trophy was a moment I’ll never forget.
Hayley's Final Thoughts
Caitlin is a collegiate sport pro! She’s worked for the University of Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State and now NC State as their Director of Marketing. Throughout her incredible career, she’s been a part of marketing promotions that have increased attendance, engaged fans and even won awards! One of the first things you learn in Marketing classes are the 5 P’s of Marketing. Having a university background in Marketing herself, Caitlin has utilized her knowledge about the 5 P’s to strategically target each facet. Although COVID-19 has cut NC State’s year short, I cannot wait to see what Caitlin does in the years to come!