Acrisure Arena’s Coachella Valley Firebirds’ Gina Rotolo Amplifies Voices in Sports Communications
One of the rare instances where there are considerably more women than men in a profession, the public relations and communications industry has been at the forefront of creating one of the most gender-equal ecosystems. From encouraging and creating opportunities for women to develop their management and personal skills and providing funding to attend events and conferences to promote career development, the public relations industry has made great strides in investing in the growth of female professionals.
Meet Gina Rotolo, vice president of marketing & communications for the Coachella Valley Firebirds, the AHL’s 32nd Franchise and the affiliate of the Seattle Kraken, who will call Acrisure Arena home, Southern California’s most anticipated 11,000-seat live entertainment and sports venue. Rotolo’s portfolio with the Firebirds includes building marketing, public relations, and social teams along with overseeing facility presentation and broadcasting personnel along with a mandate to drive revenue generation across all areas of operation.
Q: How did you get to where you are today?
GR: My career path hasn’t been a direct line, but I think all the twists and turns and unexpected and often unpaved paths, have helped shape me personally & professionally. I started my career working in public relations which took me from the international art world and museum life to agency life. I landed a series of clients, mainly focused in entertainment and hospitality, which was a stepping stone into my passion—music, sports & live events. My PR career evolved into a marketing & PR role over time, allowing me to expand my skill set and relationships. From there, I took on booking & programming duties which really helped me understand revenue drivers for tours, events and venues. I have been fortunate to be on the tour/promoter side, on the artist side, on the venue side and now on the team side of the business. Over the past 15 years I found myself involved in start-up projects, working to launch tours, create & build festivals, open venues of all sizes from clubs to stadiums, as well as launch a variety of professional sports teams. My background & experience from marketing & PR to booking and production aspects has made me a nimble player for a variety of organizations and allowed me to collaborate with some of the most impactful leaders in the live events space. I am excited to bring that collective experience to my current role with OVG, working as the VP of Marketing & Communications for the Coachella Valley Firebirds as well as being able to collaborate with the opening of Acrisure Arena.
Q: What’s one way you’ve broken the rules and challenged the norm in your career?
GR: I didn’t often have the opportunity to really have professional mentors, so I took it upon myself to make myself useful in order to learn all aspects of the business. As a female working in live events, you’re often surrounded by colleagues who don’t understand your path as it doesn’t often look much like the path of your male counterparts. I have made it a point to listen and observe in all situations as well as to make sure that if I am invited to the table, that I use my voice and perspective to contribute to the conversation. I am not interested, nor am I willing, to just fill a quota as a female voice. I spent many years trying to conform to cultures or expectations that simply were in conflict with my own value systems. Those things took me to some career high points, but left me feeling unfulfilled and ultimately, unhappy. I decided to take a step back, in order to take some important steps forward by really defining the qualities and characteristics that I felt were important as I defined success. Taking that time and investing in myself, putting my mental health first, was the absolute best career decision I have ever made. I emerged as an unapologetically authentic version of myself first and foremost. I choose to show up authentically every single day and lead with empathy & accountability. And most importantly, I look to build teams and organizations that covet similar core values so that the next generation of industry professionals have the opportunity to learn as well as contribute to keeping the live events industry alive & thriving.
Q: Can you share a situation in which you’ve been unfairly characterized in the workplace, due to unconscious bias? How should women address these micro-aggressions and slights when they occur?
GR: I have spent years as the only woman in the room and often, there have been many moments of “required conformity” which candidly didn’t work for me. Those behaviors start with how you address colleagues, creating different expectations & sets of rules within the workplace and often remain in place as you climb the professional ladder. Calling out those inconsistent behaviors is key. Finding ways to set, and more importantly, enforce boundaries are also important. You have to be consistent in word and deed or else that’s how the exception often becomes the new rule. We have to be able to have courageous conversations about these inconsistencies and issues and it’s imperative to have those conversations when you experience or witness actions that feel off. We need to be champions for providing, as well as accepting, constructive feedback in order to all grow together.
Q: What is one thing we can start doing today to help close the wage gap between men and women?
GR: A great starting place is to have the same set of requirements for candidates. While core duties are easy to check the box on, bias around the perception of leadership and skill as it relates across the organization as well as from a larger industry perspective, often causes large gaps in salary consideration. Look at the balance of leadership within the C-Suite and executive teams. Do you only find diversity within a few key roles? What does the male to female ratio look like across all areas, departments and levels of your organization? Where are you heavily placing focus for recruiting? How many employees are offered opportunities to grow in their career path? What education opportunities are you providing across all levels of your organization? How are you helping staff grow into major leadership roles? What value systems are you rewarding? It’s not a simple fix, rather this must be an on-going, evolving conversation within your company as well as within the industry in order for real change to have lasting impact.
Q: The past two years have proven to be challenging for our mental health. How have you prioritized your own mental health?
GR: I actually decided to take a major step back and leave a job and environment that was no longer healthy for me. I had been through some extremely challenging and traumatic events, the kind of events that change you at your core. I needed to remove myself from an atmosphere that was exceptionally triggering and invest time in healing. Unfortunately, those two things couldn’t coexist with the job I was in at that time. It was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. I was deeply concerned that not being a consistent part of the conversation within the industry would render me obsolete in a career path I have coveted above all else. As a female, I had worked harder than many of my male counterparts in order to get where I was, so it was a huge risk, personally & professionally, to make this decision. I had to learn to slow down and be present, to focus on one thing at time and not worry about pleasing everybody else and placing their needs ahead of my own. I needed to feel and deal in order to heal. I needed to find my voice and listen to what I needed first and foremost, in order to show up in a healthy, productive way. I had to accept that I was so much more than my job and toss the nagging idea that I was only as good as the last thing I had accomplished. It wasn’t an easy or popular choice, but I am so glad I put myself first for a change. I continue to prioritize my mental health, placing and enforcing boundaries that allow for me to focus on my core values.
Q: What’s one effective way you’ve seen companies address the existing need for diversity-related initiatives?
GR: You have to talk about the hard things and learn to get uncomfortable because when you stop bringing hard subjects to the table, it’s really easy to retreat into the shadows of conformity. Create conversations, create opportunities to learn and grow, ask questions and know that in doing so, you’re moving things forward for yourself as well as providing colleagues and your organization to grow. Diversity & Culture aren’t just words you use in a sentence correctly and get credit for creating impact. It’s on-going conversations and action that truly influence and create real, lasting change.
Q: Tell us about one major setback you’ve had in your career – how did you handle it?
GR: I have had several across my career! Too many to list but that’s the nature of live events, you spend countless (and often thankless) hours working to build something and it can all disappear in an instant. Things happen and you don’t always get a say in the process, so you have to learn to adjust and adapt quickly. While each set back in my career provided opportunities for learning and growth, they didn’t always feel great. I will say that for me, when you get past the emotional aspect of the setback, there’s always been a way to re-emerge stronger and better. I remind myself and my team quite often that “failure” is the space where we learn the most so let’s take the fear and negative connotation out of that word and adapt to make “failure” work for us rather than against us.
Q: What’s the single best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
GR: Don’t take yourself too seriously. Take time to laugh and find the joy in every situation. Life is short and most of it you’re not really in control of anyway so you might as well have fun and enjoy the ride.