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Inside Atlanta PR

Sharon Goldmacher might be the only person who can solve this winning PR formula: C21 + 2013 = Final Four

When Sharon Goldmacher of communications 21 was trying to decide where to start her career, she had a bit of a Goldilocks experience: New Orleans was too hot and the Baltimore/D.C. area was too cold. Atlanta, it turns out, was just right.

Not only is she celebrating her firm’s 20th year, she and her firm have taken on a second job of sorts: managing the operations and execution for the 2013 NCAA Men’s Final Four as well as providing marketing, PR and promotion services. That would be c21’s 21st year, coming of age just in time, naturally.

Sharon Goldmacher

“I tell people my full title is ‘Executive Director of the Atlanta local organizing committee and I have no tickets!’ ” (The NCAA has taken over all ticket distribution responsibilities, but you can enter a lottery for tickets here.)

As Sharon was preparing to graduate cum laude from Tulane with a double major in political science and communications, she worked part-time at the NBC affiliate, WDSU-TV. She helped provide coverage for Mardi Gras, the space shuttle Challenger explosion and a decapitation with an alleged Mafia connection.

“The coup de grace was a 12-car pile-up on a foggy Sunday morning. It was a very bad wreck. That was it for me,” she said. “I’m not a big emotional person, but for survival’s sake, I wanted to stay as humanistic as possible, so I decided to get out of TV News reporting in New Orleans.”

Born in California, Sharon had moved with her family to Orlando, Boston and Baltimore. “We were in Orlando and attended Disney the second day it opened, which was a great memory I will never forget,” she said. “But I didn’t want to go back to Baltimore and, after job-hunting in D.C., I decided it was too cold. My sister went to Emory and my college roommate was from Atlanta. It was the greenest city I’d ever seen in my life, so I moved here.

“After I did some volunteer work at an Atlanta PBS station, someone said, “You’d be great in PR.’ And I said, ‘Awesome – PR, what is that?’ ”

She worked for a small PR firm that handled commercial real estate before joining Knapp Communications, where her friend and mentor was William Pate, now president & CEO of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“I finally decided I wasn’t that great with authority, so after three years at age 28, I struck out on my own. The downside was I had no formal training in running a business,” she said. “From the beginning, I was very much focused on client satisfaction. After all, they are your lifeblood. When you’re getting started, you don’t have flexibility to say ‘I will work with you or I don’t want work with you.’

“I lost focus on the fact that people working with clients need to be happy as well and around my fifth or sixth year in business, I lost a couple of key people. So then I rotated 180 degrees: I learned you have to have great people and make sure they are happy. If the team is happy, then the client is happy. The work is there and if the employees are challenged, they will want to do best they can. So we do a lot of training and pay 100 percent of development and education.”

communications 21 has numerous clients, including the Southeast Dairy Association, Copper Development Association, Community Coffee Company and Quality Technical Services. But the firm’s big client is the NCAA Final Four, which will host the second largest sports event (behind only the Super Bowl) in Atlanta next April.

“Our goal is to have this be the best tournament ever, in honor of 75 years of March Madness in 2013,” said Sharon, who was the volunteer chair for marketing and PR promotions in 2007 and then helped prepare and deliver the Atlanta organizing committee’s winning pitch for the 2013 event. It wasn’t long before the committee asked her to be executive director of the Atlanta committee. “Our goal is to have the Final Four here every three to five years,” she said.

In addition to taking over ticket distribution, the NCAA has its own telescopic seating that it will install over the lower bowl of the Dome, making it a much more intimate setting than four years ago when only 50,000 seats were available. Not only will seating increase to 73,000, but the floor will be raised three feet above the benches and media. Also, instead of just three total games, the event will include a free music series (The Big Dance) and 89 different sports in the Georgia World Congress Center as part of Bracket Town – the fan fest event.

In addition to heading the committee, c21’s 13 employees will handle all marketing, PR and event promotions. Normally a host city has an executive director, a director of operations and a support person. “I told them they are getting 10 additional people for the price of three!” Sharon said.

– Chris Schroder


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