About the Episode
When your work revolves around basketball, you learn a bit about teamwork. On this episode, we chat with Celeste Ballou, director of digital marketing at Pacers Sports & Entertainment, about how she's made her team more efficient so they can focus on the fans. With hundreds of diverse events and 20,000 seats to fill, how does Celeste handle it all? Listen now to find out.
Meet Our Guest
Celeste Ballou attributes her passion for basketball to her roots in Indiana. Her days are spent guiding the digital marketing team at Pacers Sports & Entertainment, overseeing communications, and strategizing how to connect with hundreds of thousands of diverse fans. "I'm constantly surprised by the variety of audiences we serve and our ability to provide a really consistent experience, no matter which concert, game, or show you're coming to."
Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect. A podcast from Formstack, revealing how simple decisions can have a lasting effect on others. I am your host, Chris Byers. Today, we're joined by Celeste Ballou. She is the director of digital marketing at Pacers Sports & Entertainment.
Now, for those of you listening, the Pacers are an NBA team located in Indianapolis. And if you don't know much about Indiana, you should know this--basketball is a passion. And for Celeste, that was a driving force for her pursuing a career with the Pacers. But as I'm sure you can guess, it's not all basketball. Her role supports a wide variety of sports teams, as well as the live events held in the arena of Bankers Life Fieldhouse. What I'm excited about for our listeners to hear today is how Celeste approaches her role.
Celeste Ballou: The thing we always say is, we are a global brand, but a local business, because we're a bit of both.
Chris Byers: The Pacers, and basketball in general, have a massive impact on the local community. It's something you almost have to experience. Although that's true, one of Celeste’s challenges goes beyond the game.
Celeste Ballou: So in addition to the basketball content, we're working on the business side too. Our team really touches every department here in the building and finding out ways to make their jobs more efficient, while also helping to reach fans or prospective buyers or clients and corporate partners.
Chris Byers: Before we jump into my actual conversation with Celeste, I want to take a second and share why we invited her to be on the show. You see, Celeste is a problem solver. She embodies the core value of what the show is all about: sharing the stories of those who have made an impact on helping others be successful. She's focused on working as part of the team and she's thinking beyond her job, her function, or even her exact job responsibilities.
Celeste Ballou: What can I do to be more efficient myself in my own world? But what are the barriers I can remove from my team? What can I do to make their life just a little bit easier? And then extending that to the rest of our company. What are the tools that we have in our digital team that could make somebody more efficient or make a process smoother or automated? That's the new favorite word around here, is if we can automate something, a way less manual process, it's better for everybody, more efficient for all of us.
Chris Byers: Yeah, you know, I'm sure you deal with this every day. We kind of think that this idea of paper left us many, many years ago. But as as most of us find out every day, it's totally in the middle of so many of the processes that we have. And we think we're way advanced, but we're not. And when we're just trying to get some some basic things automated, what are some examples that come to mind of some things you've automated to kind of make the team run easier or make somebody else's life work easier?
Celeste Ballou: We have a variety of tools that we use to automate approval flows, just something as simple as that. You've got to find the right platform that helps you with that because otherwise, up until recently, it was take this paper to this person to get signed. Now it's submit to a form and that person then gets emailed for approval and when they approve it, it emails back to you. So using some approval flows in there, even just manual things, that were very manual before for our our company, you know, just as simple as a time off request. Up until recently was also a paper form that had to be done. So the steps that you had to do just to get some of your PTO was crazy. And now it's an online feature that we've got within our company. So a wide variety from internal H.R. purposes all the way to our ticket sales team and those kinds of functions.
Chris Byers: I'm curious, how do you think about, you know, some of the challenges, I think to creating and automating more processes, actually the time invested because it's pretty easy to sit down and say, oh, I'd love to see this process automated, but as you know, when you dive into it, you realize, oh, I've kind of got a step back and maybe got to map the process a little bit or any. May not think of it that way, but you're starting to process how does this actually work and who does it interact with and when they do interact with it? What do they want? Because they want it different than I do. I’m curious how you've tackled that thinking or where you've run into it.
Celeste Ballou: You're right. And there's a challenge, too, especially when you're trying new ways of automation. There's a trust issue, especially with people. You know, you can't deny the piece of paper in your hand or you can't deny them the manual processes and how those can sometimes, the human touch can pay off. But alleviating some of those fears, showing the reliability, whether it's in our email platform, that by you know, by automating this, we are able to customize content to these fans or customers and showing how it enhances what we're doing, not just automating it to get off somebody's plate or something like that. So addressing the concerns, but then also looking at the different ways that it's an advantage to us and our employees and really ultimately our fans as well.
Chris Byers: How do you go about and it could be anything. It could be around improving process, could be around selling your next idea. How do you think about influencing the people around you and helping them basically get on your side and kind of addressing those concerns?
Celeste Ballou: Yeah, I think it starts obviously with relationships first. You've got to give it and take you've got to learn, listen and understand what your colleagues or even, you know, executive level. The challenges that they're facing or the concerns that they have so that you know and understand what this solution may be addressing. Not going to act like it's all smooth. You know, there's plenty of resistance you can meet anytime you're trying to enforce some change. But knowing how it may solve some issues that affect the audience that you're talking to, whether that is your colleagues or up to executive level, you know just listening to their concerns is where I start and then figuring out how our tools and processes can put them at a new level of comfort, even if it is something that's different and out of the ordinary for them.
Chris Byers: I think as I was in school, as I was growing up, I was early on in my career, I didn't realize that influencing people would be important. And I kind of thought if I learned my skill, I do my skill and everything just works out. But you do have resistance throughout processes, throughout kind of your day to day. And so learning how to overcome that is definitely important. As a marketing team, every day, or often, you're trying to engage with fans, with, you know, with people who might attend a concert. They kind of, to a degree, are your customers. What do you guys talk about in your marketing team? What about those people and what is it that drives you to to engage more with them?
Celeste Ballou: We've got such a wide variety of audiences that it's important for us to have an understanding of who these people are. Because who we may be marketing a show or really creating the social media video or those kinds of pieces for a concert, may be totally different than the story we're trying to tell on the Pacer side.
We keep those considerations in mind all the time. And honestly, then when you get down to social media, the platforms too can differ. You know, we will talk about how we write a caption for Facebook and how it may be different on Twitter. Do we even post that on Instagram? Those kinds of things that we really try to take a deep dive in understanding our audience.
And that's one of the great things about digital, is you get metrics. You know, for good or for bad, you know, instantly! You know, how much web traffic you're getting or how many likes you have on a post, how many emails are being opened. And we try to use those analytics too in a way that helps us improve or cuts out things that aren’t efficient. You know, this isn't really resounding with our audience. So maybe we don't try this, or put it on a different platform. But also looking at the behavioral side as well. The opens, clicks and social engagement, web traffic and trying to use all of that to shape what we're doing now, but also what we're planning for as we move forward.
Chris Byers: Yeah, it's going to take a lot of energy, a lot of right thinking and problem solving to reach those specific audiences. So I could see that being a big challenge. What's been the most surprising or exciting like you didn't think you could reach the audience very well, but it actually worked extremely well.
Celeste Ballou: It's funny because, you know, our Pacers audiences, we've got those hard core, reliable fans that are always here as well as, you know, some fringe maybe basketball interest fans. It's concerts where the variety gets so different that, yeah, you're caught off guard where, you know, we could have a Christian act one night, a hard, heavy metal the next, and then, you know, an ice skating show the following. So I'm just constantly surprised by the variety of audience that we're able to get while also providing like a really consistent experience too. We want, no matter which concert or show you're coming to, they're having the best time. It's seamless from when you leave your house to park in the parking garage, to walk here, to have your ticket scanned, to get to your seat. As much as we can smooth out that process for you, that's always our goal. So I'm just always amazed at the job that our own building does as well as our team to and making sure no matter who these people are or where they come from, that we're consistent in our approach to them.
Chris Byers: One thing that I know has been important for Indianapolis is really helping grow and continue just to be a great sports city. I hear there's some exciting news for Indianapolis here kind of next year. You want to talk a little bit about that?
Celeste Ballou: Yes. Twenty twenty one. In February that year, we will be hosting the NBA All-Star Game. And it's really, I should say, All-Star Game, but it's really All-Star Weekend. It starts with games and events on Friday night, slam dunk contest, three point contests on Saturday and then the actual All-Star Game on Sunday. And plenty of lead up to that as well.
So as far as entertaining we’re really excited and proud we're going to be hosting the events here. We're the host committee of sorts in bringing the stars from all over the NBA, celebrities as well, to Indianapolis to show them what our hospitality is all about, what a world class venue we have and all of the fun pieces that come with visiting Indianapolis.
Chris Byers: Yeah, I know that Indianapolis is a great surprise for people who show up for the first time and have not experienced it before. Again, as somebody who came from Oklahoma, which I get it, you don't know where Oklahoma is. You've never been to Oklahoma City. You may have, but some other people have not. It's not a super well-known place. It's kind of the same thing for me when I arrived for the first time in Indiana. But it is just an amazing city, so much great culture and great to celebrate. And very cool to hear that the Pacers gets to be a part of so much of that.
How much do kind of on the back office, how much do teams actually communicate? Because you are on the other side, you've got your enemy over there, that you know, the teams are running up against. But behind the scenes, is that more? Is that a different type of relationship?
Celeste Ballou: Yeah, across the NBA, is that what you’re asking.
Chris Byers: Yeah, exactly.
Celeste Ballou: Yeah, it's interesting. It's a competitive business, as you can imagine. Obviously not a surprise there. The league does a really good job of ranking us. You know, our web performance against the other teams, our social metrics against the other teams. So we're in constant competition. I want to say, well, we get plenty of metrics of how we stack up to other teams. But behind that, there's some really great collaboration, especially on the social and digital side of figuring out, you know, constant communication, relationships between social and digital teams of what content is working. What ideas have you guys worked out?
We're all in this together kind of mentality, too. So helpful to work through our content strategy and things like that or even, you know, sharing ideas and things like that. They've got a great relationship there. But it is funny that we've also had a bit of a competition like, well, we did better than you guys last week or whatever that is. But it's really a great relationship and a great family because there are only 30 NBA teams.
So there's only 30 other businesses operating quite like we are. But everybody's different in their own way, too. So it's a really great competition, but we also get along really well.
Chris Byers: Yeah, that's great. I guess at the end of the day, there's so much of an audience that is still not into basketball. You know, as much as we think it's a foregone conclusion that everybody pays attention and is around. That's that's probably not true at all.
Celeste Ballou: Right. And that's why we're trying to reach a variety of fans too. Maybe if you don't love basketball, maybe you're interested in fashion or shoe culture. So how are our players tied into that? And if you're coming here, if just for a family night, you know, bringing kids and stuff like that, where you don't care what's going on in the game, but you want your child to meet the mascot. So we're trying to engage a wide variety of people, and it's a challenge that, you know, the others face as well, too. So figuring out how we all address those challenges.
Chris Byers: That collaboration is super helpful. And I'd say the same thing is the case for us. We have plenty of times kind of reached across lines and said, hey, to other companies that are doing very similar things, let's tackle a particular problem where maybe you've got somebody spamming every company and are kind of in our world or whatever and still can be helpful. And yes, we want to win a lot of business. But on the other hand, we are all people and we all want to to be able to help each other as needed.
One of the things you have talked about is some of the great impact that your team has with fans and with, you know, especially those diehard Pacer fans. I'm curious, any great examples of where your team put some great content out there, created an experience, kind of did something that those core fans responded to just really well and said, wow, this is a great new way I've been able to experience the Pacers that I hadn't been able to in the past.
Celeste Ballou: Yeah. So as we've kind of mentioned here, our department touches every department. So there's that great collaboration between ticket sales and game operations. So the whole presentation in game to our facilities team and guest relations for, you know, making sure somebody has a great time and if they don't, how we correct it. So for us, it's been helpful to have some more automation and processes in place to help with creating the best experience for when somebody comes to a game. And like I talked about this, that's not just when they walk in the door, that starts all the way back when they decide to come to our game or event and they buy a ticket. How do we communicate with them between that time to when they come in the door? How do we help them prepare for traffic that might be in the way or help them find the best parking? What communication do we have in place there, whether it's a social post to know about the game or an email that they get about that to help them prepare ahead of time to when they get in the door.
Like I mentioned, working with our guest relations team. If we've learned on social somebody, no joke, we once got a tweet of somebody having the roof leaking on them, which was not a great moment for Ellis. But a really terrible experience for a fan that we're able to then use some of our processes just to quickly alert. Take that tweet, alert our guest relations and facility seems to relocate that person. And how do we make it even better for them, do we move them a lot closer than they were and things like that.
All the way to when they leave, you know, when the game is over, how do they how are they getting out? How are we most efficiently routing people out of the building so that from the end to end experience, we see it as our responsibility to make it the best experience ever. And so between our digital communication and our touch points with our guest relations to providing a really great in-game entertaining experience, that's that's our goal. And honestly, it's been great. We've been ranked one of the top teams in the NBA for several years in a row now in having the best guest experience. So that's something we just really pride ourselves on in making this a great show, an event that people want to come to. And then really the goal of getting them to come back too.
Chris Byers: Yeah, love that appreciation for hey, let's take a look at that wider experience, because every time we can enhance that, it actually reduces stress in people and it creates such a different moment for them. And so that's that's a great way to think about it.
Celeste Ballou: That makes a much more personal experience, but also keeps us on the business side more integrated and spending less time manually looking up and pulling things and more time spending, taking better care of our customers.
Chris Byers: Yeah, that is the goal. We love to eliminate hose paper processes, reduce inefficiency, save time, save money. Those are all just kind of fun, fun things to be able to be a part of. Well, Celeste, thanks so much for spending some time with us today. It's been great to learn a lot more about what you're doing and about how Pacers Sports and Entertainment is kind of helping not only drive basketball in Indianapolis, but so much more. So thanks again for taking time today and looking forward to continuing to watch your journey and how you continue to just help those around you.
Chris Byers: Celeste talked to us about a couple really interesting points that I know I have noticed a lot in my life, and that is how every one of us has lots of audiences in our life and our ability to work together as a team, to craft our message, to craft our story, to craft our product, is rarely just to one group.
It's often to lots and lots of different audiences. And it really requires that both teamwork, but also the perspective that there is no one buyer of my product. There is no one user of my service. We have a lot of very diverse and valuable customers that we're reaching out to. And so to create great customer experiences, we need to speak to all of them.
As you head into your week, here's what I'd love for you to think about. What are the ripple effects that you're causing? What decisions have you made or what decisions could you make to create those better customer experiences or really impact that next person down the line that you are dealing with?
There was a story we talked about when people come to the games, the NBA games, when they're getting in the car, when they're heading to the stadium. They're beginning to think about the game. And that experience begins then. And so Celeste talked about this idea of stretching all the way out to that point in time, even when people are leaving the game and having an impact on them all throughout those points. Those are places we often fail. We kind of say, hey, use my product and hope it all goes well and we move on. But really thinking about who is the person we're trying to impact and how can we take some steps toward helping them achieve a better result?
We would love to hear from you and hear about the stories you've got about impacting the lives of others. You can reach us on Twitter @Formstack. We'd love to hear from you and can engage around some of the exciting stuff you are doing to impact others.