As an extension of our #MatchYourAmbition series, we have spoken to a number of key staff members from New York City FC (NYCFC) to find out how they exert their influence at the Club. In this interview, Jen Knowles, Head of Marketing at NYCFC shares her career story and insights in to her role at NYCFC.
Can you talk us through your career journey to date and how you reached your current position?
Unlike many people across the Club, the sports industry is quite new to me, and I didn’t take a traditional path to get here. I started my career with McKinsey & Company, where I had the opportunity to work across industries and across functions. It was there that I learned basic business fundamentals and also realised I always gravitate towards opportunities that are entrepreneurial, and consumer-facing industries that are tangible, which I can relate to and are fun.
To bridge the gap from consulting to the client side, I started out leading the North America Consumer Market Insights & Analytics team at Unilever before transitioning into the brand side. Prior to NYCFC, I’ve had the honour of managing big brands at Unilever and Toys ‘R’ Us as well as advising smaller start-up brands.
What initially attracted you to NYCFC?
First, there is a real personal connection for me because my family and I are founding members of NYCFC. We have had season tickets since the first season and have loved going to the games together.
The second reason is the timing of the opportunity. This job was a chance to be a part of something special from the beginning, we just celebrated our fifth anniversary, we are only in our fourth MLS season and we hope to be announcing some exciting news about our new stadium soon!
The third is the connection I have with the leadership team on a philosophical level. As a Marketer, it was important to me to work with a leadership team that understands that increasing ticket sales and building the NYCFC brand go hand-in-hand. We were also very aligned around business objectives and strategically where the club wants to focus to drive fan growth.
To be honest, I always make career decisions with my head and my heart. When I saw that the Club was looking for a Head of Marketing, right when I was ready for a new opportunity, I literally couldn’t believe it. It sounded too good to be true!
Describe your typical day-to-day role and highlight the elements you enjoy the most
There is no real day-to-day and that is part of the beauty of the role and the Club. The marketing organisation is responsible for building and enhancing the NYCFC brand, driving fan growth, and driving revenue across all channels. We work cross functionally with everyone in the organisation and are hyper-focused on being fan-centric in everything we do.
As it is my first season working at the Club, everything is still so new to me but I am really enjoying that we’re able to leverage our extremely talented first team and coaching staff who have built a really special team culture and are true role models. I’m working with such an incredibly passionate group of people and we have so much opportunity, and as a team we constantly look to challenge ourselves and innovate. I really am learning and growing every day.
Have advances in technology impacted your role in the past few years?
This isn’t really new anymore, but mobile and the evolution of how people are using their phones, continues to impact how we can communicate and engage with our fans. Additionally, data availability and technology continues to improve our measurement of the impact of our activities as well as our ability to segment and personalise at scale across channels.
What challenges that exist today will be made easier by technology?
There has already been great progress in this area, but I expect segmentation and personalisation from data-driven insights will continue to get easier and more convenient, which is terrific, since it is becoming more and more important.
What have been the most exciting/innovative projects you have been involved with in your current role and how have these enabled you to grow professionally?
I’m still relatively new to the club, having been here just over six months. However, I’ve already had the pleasure of being involved in several exciting and innovative projects.
For example, we capitalised on the World Cup to grow brand awareness amongst soccer fans and continued to demonstrate that NYCFC is the soccer team for the City. We partnered with Telemundo and Rockefeller Center to set up an official outdoor viewing area surrounded by soccer activities on a custom-built soccer field and a vintage soccer jersey exhibit produced with Classic Football shirts, taking soccer fans through some of the most emblematic shirts in history.
Having previously worked on more national brands, the opportunity to do a local activation like this and see such a meaningful impact is awesome.
How do you see your current role contributing to the overall success of the business?
Our marketing objectives are a mix of longer term and more strategic with shorter term and more tactical, but as I mentioned earlier, they all ultimately ladder-up to building our brand, driving fan growth, and driving revenue across all channels.
Additionally, as a leader within the organisation, I take those responsibilities very seriously as well and understand the importance of communicating the Club’s vision, building the right culture (with transparency and collaboration across teams) and attracting, inspiring, and retaining top talent.
Do you think it’s important to continuously upskill, and if so, how do you do it?
Absolutely, the marketing ecosystem is so fluid, constantly changing. I read articles, listen to podcasts, subscribe to many brands’ various social channels, and I network.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
Feedback is a gift. Welcome it with open arms and make the time to offer it freely as well.
Is there a piece of advice you could offer to anyone looking to pursue a similar career?
Put the consumer (or fan!) at the centre of everything you do.
Do you have any advice for female professionals who are in, or are looking to work in a management or leadership role?
Be clear on what your ambitions are, but allow them to change over time. You should believe in yourself and surround yourself with friends and mentors who also believe in you, support you, and remind you of your strengths. Pay that support forward to other women looking to take on leadership roles as well!
What are you most proud of in your career?
The people that I’ve helped to create opportunities for and have been able to see flourish.
New York City FC (NYCFC) is an American professional soccer team based in New York City that competes in Major League Soccer (MLS) in the Eastern Conference of the league. Majority owned by City Football Group (CFG), New York City FC plays its home games at Yankee Stadium and has former US National Team captain Claudio Reyna as its Sporting Director and Domènec Torrent as its Head Coach.
As Official Recruitment Partner, Hays has been pivotal to NYCFC since the Club’s inaugural season in 2015 and has proved instrumental in helping to bring a brand-new soccer franchise to New York City. Together, NYCFC and Hays have developed a truly integrated partnership, with a strong understanding of the synergies between the world of work and elite sport.