Image Credit: William Sanford
Today we’d like to introduce you to Ron Roecker.
Ron, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
“As a kid, if someone wanted to know what Darrin Stephens, Jon-boy Walton, Lionel Jefferson, Det. Cagney, Miss Ellie, and Fallon all had in common, what famous actors Harrison Ford beat out to play Han Solo or what the best-selling film soundtrack was, I had the answers,” said Roecker, the brand marketing and entertainment guru who is known as much for his creativity and individuality as he is for his eclectic roster of clients and impressive list of achievements. “Growing up in the Midwest, I rarely had use for all of this information I was collecting, but it didn’t matter because entertainment and pop culture were my escape. I always knew this ‘useless’ information would come in handy someday, I just didn’t know when or how.”
In 1996, Roecker’s partner at the time was transferred to L.A. and the two left Kansas City, MO, for the City of Angels. As soon as they landed, Roecker felt he was home and he knew his knowledge and passion for entertainment and pop culture was about to pay off!
The first few years in L.A., Roecker worked for two of the largest PR agencies in the world, MS&L and Ketchum, for which he credits his keen understanding of strategy, creative execution, research, and managing teams. He gravitated toward the pop culture and entertainment-related clients, such as Mattel (Hot Wheels, Barbie), Nestle (NBA) and Nike. One of the highlights was working with the producers and creators of “Will & Grace,” as they incorporated Mattel’s Cher Collectible doll into one of its episodes.
“If you told me the episode would involve the real Cher and would be the most-watched episode in the show’s history and that the doll would sell out before hitting retail shelves,” said Roecker. “I’d say you and Karen were drunk.” It’s funny ’cause it’s all true.
Music to His Career
In April 2001, Roecker received a call about a Communications job at The Recording Academy, who, he would quickly learn, produced the annual GRAMMY Awards – music’s biggest night!
“I was 20 minutes early when I went to meet with the President/CEO of the Academy about the position and I knew he was going to be intimidating and tough,” said Roecker. “I was as nervous as I was ecstatic to be there, and as his executive assistant was finally ushering me into his office, she said, ‘You have 12 minutes.’”
By the end of the 57-minute interview, Roecker had been told about the communications needs of the Academy, the GRAMMYs, Latin Recording Academy and Latin Grammys, 12 regional chapters, MusiCares and GRAMMY Foundations, Membership, Government Relations/Advocacy, international licensees, CBS, media, members and musicians, oh my!
“I was starting to understand why there hadn’t been someone in this position for more than two years in the organization’s 40-year history,” added Roecker.
Roecker got the job, and the next six years as Vice President of Communications & Artist Relations would be an amazing rollercoaster ride. He was faced with crisis communications situations, including the 2nd Latin GRAMMYs being scheduled for September 11, 2001, (cancelling the show and then creating the first fundraising event for NY Police Officers and Firefighters with the stranded international artists), a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the Director of HR against the head of the Academy, and the escalating fallout of “Nipplegate” (Super Bowl and “wardrobe malfunction” were on CBS, seven days later GRAMMYs were on CBS, Janet and Justin already announced to be on Grammys, CBS rescinded their invite unless they apologized, Janet didn’t show, Justin did; and that GRAMMYs telecast became the first live TV event to add a 5-second delay, which is now standard with all live TV broadcasts).
Despite the challenges, Roecker also worked with fascinating artists, including Madonna, Prince, Ray Charles, Loretta Lynn, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, John Legend, Kelly Clarkson, U2, Kanye West, Beyonce, Pink, Tina Turner, Common, and important initiatives including illegal file-sharing, radio and Internet performance rights, artistic freedom and more.
“I was honored to present this new, young, charismatic Senator from Illinois the first of his two GRAMMY Awards in Washington, D.C.,” said Roecker. “Barack Obama won for Best Spoken Word Album for his book Dreams from My Father, and he was gracious, funny and absolutely mesmerizing.”
In 2006, Roecker was named finalist for PR Professional of the Year by PRWeek, and the 3-year illegal file-sharing Consumer Awareness campaign he spearheaded with PR Agency Edelman, “What’s the Download,” was named “Best in Show” by the Public Relations Society of America.
Career (& Climate) Change
“It’s hard to believe it was 11 years ago (almost to the day) that I decided to kiss consistent paychecks, benefits and vacation days goodbye,” said Roecker. “But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with former Vice President Al Gore and Kevin Wall on Live Earth India, a global, live event for climate change with headliners Bon Jovi and Black Eyed Peas.”
The goal of this enormous undertaking was to get India to join the 100+countries that already had signed the crucial Kyoto Protocol, a commitment to reducing carbon emissions across the globe.
Knowing how devastating climate change was, Roecker understood the global impact of this initiative, and knew he was uniquely qualified to lead the comms charge. He accepted the year-long, independent contractor position, and, thus, Enfluence Group brand marketing and entertainment PR was born.
Roecker produced a press conference in Mumbai announcing Live Earth India with Mr. Gore, Jon Bon Jovi, Kevin Wall, and Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan. It was described as the “largest media event in India’s history.” Then after five months of planning and just days before Live Earth India was to take place, Mumbai was taken over and ravaged by the worst terrorist attack in India’s history.
“I was scheduled to fly to India that day,” Roecker recalls. “I spearheaded the crisis communications, while dealing with the fact that I had staff in Mumbai that we had to make sure were safe (everyone was, thank goodness) and then extracted.” The event, however, was cancelled indefinitely.
“It was devastating for many reasons, especially for the lives lost,” said Roecker. “But I simply couldn’t believe the role international terrorism continued to play in my own professional life after the September 11 attacks canceled the 2nd Latin Grammys a few years before.”
Engage & Influence
Over the past 11 years, Roecker has worked with some incredible global brands and initiatives, as well as start-up disrupters and artists from icons to indies.
“I have never done so much press than with Ron at the Grammys.
He knows EVERYBODY. He even introduced me to Gaga!”
– four-time GRAMMY-winning legend Roberta Flack
Music Artists/Celebrities Include: GRAMMY-winners Maroon5, Beyonce, OneRepublic, Ludacris, Black Eyed Peas, Bon Jovi, icons Roberta Flack and Taj Mahal, Pete Wentz, Lisa Marie Presley; Wouter Kellerman & Ricky Kej; Grammy-nominees Dave Koz, Deborah Cox, The Foreign Exchange, Hiroshima, composers Kyle Dixon/Michael Stein for Netflix “Stranger Things,” composer Nicholas Brittel and Score for Oscar-winning film “Moonlight;” composers Steven Chesne, Kevin Wood, Kitt Wakeley; indie artists Margie Balter, Manda Mosher, Aaron Abelman, Alice Wallace, Tina Malia, The HawtThorns; Zac Efron, Former VP Al Gore, and more.
Non-Profits: World Wildlife Fund, Playing for Change Foundation, MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Wounded Warrior Project, Dress for Success, Entertainment Industry Foundation, and more.
“We encourage our clients to always have a charitable component to everything they do – consumers expect it, the world needs it, and we all have to contribute,” said Roecker. “I am so proud about the important organizations we’ve been able to support through our clients and programs, including Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity, Susan G Komen Foundation, American Red Cross, ASPCA, Step Up to Cancer, UNICEF, Project RED, to name a few.”
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
“My life motto is by Oscar Wilde: ‘Life is too important to be taken seriously.’ That’s no joke,” said Roecker. “When I went out on my own in May 2008, I had been working very hard for a long time and I was enjoying my success. When the worst recession in U.S. history hit hard the end of 2008-2010, it devastated the public relations and entertainment industries.”
The people who were hiring Roecker were being laid off, while his contract with Live Earth ended five months early because of the cancellation of the event. Budgets were slashed, and independent contractors weren’t being approved for any projects by anyone.
“It was the scariest time in my life because I had absolutely no control over my success or survival,” explained Roecker. “I did everything I could to try to avoid, then plan for, then manage the avalanche.”
He tried partnering with several others who had been laid off to drum up business but even with twice the brainpower and double the network connections, there were no opportunities to be had.
Then Roecker got together with his long-time friend Joe Keenan who was a key player in marketing to the LGBTQ community. Together they created “Green with Pride,” an environmental initiative and official area of multiple Gay Pride events in Southern California, including L.A. Gay Pride and Long Beach Gay Pride. Multi-platinum recording artist Deborah Cox, who Roecker became friends with at the Grammys, agreed to be the spokesperson. “Green with Pride” was one of the most-visited areas during the weekend festivals, and then it was named Outstanding Environmental Event of the Year by the Public Relations Society of America.
“I was so thankful for the opportunity to create with Joe and do great work again,” said Roecker. “And I will always be so grateful to Deborah, who was such a huge part of our success and who joined us without hesitation.”
Little by little, the sun started to shine, people started finding jobs and Roecker’s phone started ringing again. In this new light, it became clear to Roecker, at least, that he had changed.
“That experience gave me so much empathy for people who struggle every day trying to make ends meet,” reflected Roecker. “For the mother or father who finds his/herself on the street in disbelief because of a perfect storm of events beyond their control or an addiction to drugs – most likely prescribed by their trusted doctor. It made me realize how horrible we make people feel who are down on their luck regardless of how they lost it or how hard they fought to keep it (or what it took to get it back). Tenacity, hope, stubbornness, resourcefulness, determination, moxie, chutzpah. All characteristics that I am so thankful to have been given.”
It all made Roecker more determined than ever to help independent artists and people launching brands and new initiatives who probably didn’t have $30,000 to create integrated marketing campaigns.
“I still believe my clients deserve global brand thinking without global agency costs,” said Roecker. “My partner Larissa Uredi and I get to provide just that and help really great, talented human beings be successful, while making a nice living. That’s the sweetest success of all.”
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Be Differently – what should we know?
Be Differently has the network of a seasoned publicist, the strategy of a brand marketer, creativity of a mad genius, digital prowess of a Gen Z-er, and the potential capabilities of a full-service agency without all the overhead.
Whether you are a global brand, start-up, non-profit, entertainment newbie, music legend or indie artist, Be Differently provides a smart, creative, strategic, customized, efficient, results-driven approach to integrated marketing — which includes branding, PR, social/paid media, messaging, Website design and analysis, SEO campaigns, content creation, media/influencer relations, public speaking training, crisis communications, event production, sponsorships and strategic partnerships.
What Does “Be Differently” Mean?
“I am always asked what advice I would give brands and artists about how to be successful in today’s world,” said Roecker. “I give the same answer to anyone who will listen: Be/Differently. BE who you are, live by the definition of your brand on every level, stay true to your ethics and morals, surround yourself with like-minded people/brands/activities; and then look at the world, interact with it, understand it, communicate with your consumers and fans and participate in it all DIFFERENTLY. That’s what I’ve done with my own career, so it makes sense that it’s now my company name.”
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
“Ron is a creative, passionate, high energy thinker who looks at the world a little differently than the rest of us. As a result, he is able to find new pathways to solve vexing challenges. He has a significant network that he uses effectively to bring the right resources into any mix.” – Kristen Madsen, Former VP, MusiCares & GRAMMY Foundations
Roecker adds, “I promise to always have your back, to always have one more idea, and to always tell you exactly how it is.”
And what about the answers to those questions he knew as a kid? Roecker can still rattle off the answers, “All TV characters who were played by two different actors; Burt Reynolds, Christopher Walken, Kurt Russel and Nick Nolte; and ‘Saturday Night Fever’ (until ‘The Bodyguard’).”
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