A Conversation with CMN’s Executive Vice President of Marketing Elena Sotomayor
As her patent black pumps click fervently across the slick hardwood floors, Elena Sotomayor appears omnipresent on a quiet weekday morning at CMN’s River West offices in Chicago. She stops at each of the cubicles along the way to confirm conference calls, schedule business trips and exchange ideas with the rest of her team, smitten by the executive’s seemingly endless energy to help set into motion another action-packed day at the company headquarters.
At only 5’3", Sotomayor’s presence is commanding. When she speaks, it’s with conviction. When she walks, it’s with confidence. And when she works, it’s with diligence. The CMN Insider caught up with the 37-year-old, Bogota native to discuss her path to success and a recipe for retaining clients. –By Juel Grange
JG: You were recently named to Crain’s Chicago Business’ “Forty Under Forty” class and have been a constant, driving force at CMN, leading the charge in sponsorship and marketing efforts, such as next year’s highly anticipated Billboard Latin Music Concert Series. To what do you attribute the company’s impressive growth?
ES: I think it is simply the company’s desire to continue developing really unique, innovative programs, especially in the areas in which we specialize, which is music and sports. We love new challenges and welcome the opportunity to make an impact for our clients. Our event marketing department and the company in general is rapidly growing, and that adds more momentum to our image as well as credibility in the market place.
JG: What has been the secret to keeping such a great client base?
ES: We strive to design and execute quality, flawless events for each of our clients. We enjoy going above and beyond what we were hired to do because we love what we do. It’s always a great feeling when a client comes back to ask us for more ideas.
JG: In your interview with Crain’s, you mentioned that you were faced with a language barrier when you first arrived in the U.S. How would you describe that experience and in what ways did it shape your future?
ES: I studied English at a school in Colombia for many years, and I thought I was fluent. But once I came to the U.S. and people started talking to me, as fast as they did, I found myself understanding only bits and pieces. Understanding the language obviously proved to be difficult, and so I would say “yes “to practically everything. So at one point I told one of my classmates that “yes” I would run for student council president, and “yes” I would go on to campaign. The next day at school I saw posters of myself with signs to vote for me for class president. I ended up being named class president, and it was like a life changing experience for me because I had a responsibility to help my classmates and it forced me to learn the language.
JG: You’ve worked as a model, dancer, and even as an actress in theatrical productions. What did you learn from those experiences that you might apply to your work in event marketing?
ES: That was so long ago! I loved it but there came a point in my life when I had to choose from the corporate road or the entertainment road, and I decided to take the corporate route. The other experiences were fun but I was doing it mostly to get me through college. There are definitely some things to take back from those experiences. I really enjoy being in event marketing because there is still so much room to be creative and make a great impact.
JG: Dealing with a lengthy repertoire of clientele and numerous nationwide events throughout the year, do you ever find it a challenge to stay organized?
ES: Absolutely. It seems like there’s always so much going on. Each project is important and then there are the details. I believe there are two main qualities that one must have in order to do this job well. One is common sense, and the other is organization. I have tried the agenda, the digital agenda, the folders, the labeled folders, the Blackberry, the Blueberry and the Boysenberry [Laughing]. I have my calendar on three different formats so I don’t loose it. I have my contacts on three different formats so I don’t loose them. I am synced from my computer, to my brain, to my phone, to my Blackberry. I also have gigantic boards on my office wall. I try to lead project managers to work under a similar environment, so that we are on the same page, otherwise, it can easily become hectic. We learn from each other everyday and we all have our own style in order to get the job done.
JG: What is the current state of event marketing?
ES: Well, we’ve obviously seen major brands cutting all sorts of budgets and needing to do more with less. Part of that strategy for some brands is to come face-to-face with consumers and spend their money more wisely with grassroots efforts such as sampling and experiential efforts, and that’s where we come in. We have been fortunate to be able to help clients become more cost-efficient now while continuing to get the needed results. I’ve had clients who had never tried event marketing before benefit from a simpler plan that literally brings them closer to their consumers. It’s a wonderful option that can still be impactful and one that has actually helped us during the recession.
JG: A lot of the promotional campaigns are so elaborate and visually appealing that one would think they’ve walked right into a dream world. How do you keep ideas fresh and is there something you look to for inspiration when drafting a concept?
ES: That’s the biggest challenge. We have a client vision and with that various expectations. The challenges that are presented to us can have many solutions, but we have to develop a concept that will work best for that particular client. Ideas come to me in various ways and at different times, even in my sleep! Sometimes I’ll listen to music or watch TV for added inspiration but I have a great deal of confidence in my team as well. We work well together and take pride in shaping ideas that work for our clients.