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Dennis Adamovich, USF alumnus and CEO of the College Football Hall of Fame, Talks Career, Marketing Strategies at Conversations with a CEO

By Keith Morelli

Dennis Adamovich and Moez Limayem

TAMPA (Feb. 15, 2017) -- With football season coming to an abrupt end during overtime at Super Bowl LI, Dennis Adamovich, the uber-busy CEO of the College Football Hall of Fame and Chick-fil-A Fan Experience in Atlanta, found a moment to take a breath. So, what did he did he do with his free time?

He flew to Tampa to be the guest speaker at the popular Conversation with a CEO series hosted by the University of South Florida's Muma College of Business. The informal chat between Adamovich and Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem played out in front of nearly 100 local business leaders, alumni, students and faculty in the USF Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation in downtown Tampa.

Though he has been at the helm of the hall for just under a year, most of Adamovich's story is in how he got there.

The USF business school alumni said he began his career while still taking classes, interning in the mail room of a large Tampa advertising company. He parlayed that experience into a learning moment when he realized he had access to everyone at the business from top to bottom. So, as he delivered mail, he would talk with all those employees to learn the landscape of a big advertising company.

He was hired on and soon was sent to Atlanta to handle an account for Coca-Cola, he said, and from that small beginning, his career took off.

"It's been quite a journey," he admitted.

Things were popping at Coca-Cola when he was approached to oversee marketing strategies at the nearby Turner Broadcasting. There, Adamovich used data and analytics and some creativity to come up with the "Very Funny" theme for TBS, and the Adult Swim programming at the Turner-owned Cartoon Network.

He talked about how researchers told his Cartoon Network marketing team, much to their surprise, that a third of their audience was young males and not children. They didn't believe the numbers and undertook a second survey, which showed the same results.

"We wondered, how can we monetize this," he told the breakfast audience, and the answer was adult-themed, original animated series shown only at night, when that demographic was watching. Revenue from the programming shift drifted upwards into the tens of millions of dollars within a couple of years, he said.

"We had identified a much-sought-after audience," he said, "that nobody else could get to."

Then, Adamovich found himself overseeing the operations at Turner Classic Movies, which shows commercial free classic films. At first, he said, he thought the audience was old timers.

"I thought the audience here was dying off," he said, but he couldn't have been further from the truth. He found that a lot of young people watch old movies; they draw inspiration from them and appreciate the genre. With that realization, marketing kicked in with TCM cruises and a TCM Film Festival.

And then came his move to the hall, a big career change from the corporate comfort zone to the ever risky, constantly looking-for-funding world of a non-profit.

"It's the most entrepreneurial thing I've ever done," he said. "I never would have guessed when I was interning while at USF, pushing a mail cart around, that this is where I would end up."

The hall is set up to be a treasure trove of marketing data constantly coming in. He said when patrons walk through the door, they register with their name, favorite college team, zip code and email address. This allows the marketing team to reach out to fans on an individual bases, about events at the hall. For example, patrons who are University of Alabama fans will get emails about an event the hall is sponsoring that features Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban.

"It's hyper-personalized," he said, and that can be a down side, with customers being irked at being targeted by marketers. "It's a little scary where big brother is going now, but it seems to be the wave of where (marketing) is headed."

Being successful in marketing, he said, is really more basic than all that.

"Do the job that someone asks you to do, and do it well," he said. "Don't worry about the money. Just do the job and exceed expectations and you will be recognized."

He told the young professionals that they should not be deterred by mistakes; that calculated risks are part of the equation of success. Sometimes decisions are based on data, sometimes on gut instincts, he said, and sometimes on both.

He also provided a few tips for career development. Be ambitious, take action and display good decision making abilities.

"It's ok to make mistakes," he said, "one or two maybe. But you have to learn from them. You don't want to see them happening again."

The Conversation with a CEO series is popular among alumni and local business leaders. The series began last year with Mark Mondello, CEO of Jabil; Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment and Bob Dutkowsky, CEO of Tech Data. The next speaker will be Troy Taylor, CEO of Coca-Cola Beverages Florida, a Tampa-based bottling and distribution operation that is poised to grab most of the Florida peninsula as exclusive territory.

Taylor acquired the bottling and distribution rights in central Florida in May 2015. It was the first time in six decades that Coca-Cola added a bottling company to its fold. Not satisfied with providing Coca-Cola products to the 19 counties around Central Florida, Taylor recently closed a deal to bottle and deliver Coke products to all of South Florida and he's about to ink a deal to cover the better part of North Florida, excluding the Panhandle.

The talk with Taylor, considered a rising corporate star in Florida and the nation, will take place at 8:30 a.m., April 13 in the USF Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation in downtown Tampa.