Martin Ryan and Richard Sterbenz

Super Bowl Special - Gino Giovannelli is Host Committee's Online Wizard

All eyes will be on Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday with thousands of football fans arriving early to partake in game-related activities in the days leading up to the big event. The Minnesota Super Bowl Committee Host website is the first stop for many out-of-towners traveling to the Bold North and local folks, alike, looking for information and guidance during the festivities.

The person behind the host committee's high-profile website? St. Thomas’ own Gino Giovannelli, a digital marketing guru and an Opus College of Business Distinguished Service Faculty member.

Giovannelli’s involvement with the project began a few years ago when plans to host a Super Bowl in Minneapolis were in their infancy. He was hired to lead digital marketing for the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee including the website and search programs supporting 52 weeks of events leading up to Sunday's game.

Over the course of the project, Giovannelli gave his students a behind-the-scenes peek at his work.

“It’s been fun for the students,” said Giovannelli, an East Coast native with a mechanical engineering and marketing background. “I start every class by saying, ‘You want to know what’s going on with the Super Bowl?’ I’m going to miss that because we would spend the first 15 minutes of class talking about what was happening.”

An interactive marketing expert, Giovannelli created Miles Interactive more than 10 years ago. Along with the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, his clients have included the University of Minnesota Alumni Association, Caribou Coffee, SUPERVALU, Famous Dave's, Life Time Fitness and Sun Country Airlines. Prior to striking out on his own, he served as vice president of Carlson Interactive, an interactive agency within Carlson Companies.

Even though he has worked on a myriad of websites, from a world stage point-of-view the Super Bowl is his biggest project yet. He’ll also be shift lead in the social media command center run by The Social Lights in days leading up to the football’s premier event.

We caught up with Giovannelli – who, in his spare time, is a drummer in the rock band Twin Star Rocket – and asked him about his Super Bowl involvement, classroom observations and the world of digital marketing.

What's it like overseeing the creation of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee website?

It’s fun. It’s exhilarating. It’s  a blast. It started with just a few of us including the CEO, the VP of sales and marketing, an admin and me. We started out working on building out the infrastructure to support the website. Over time, more people joined as we continued to evolve the site. It’s up to more than 30 people now. It felt, ironically, very much like a start-up at first. Now it feels big because we have the NFL, we have the host committee, we have 10,000 volunteers and the city.

What has been the most rewarding part of the process?

Seeing it come to life. On the website, we have this countdown clock. I remember when it had a couple hundred days. Now we’re less than a week out. It is such a visual reminder because it’s on the homepage. Then it’s all going to be done.

What have you learned from working on the website?

I’ve learned to be nimble, more so than ever. I usually play the same role on projects. Strategist right into project managing a big website build. With this, I’ve learned I need to be more focused on whatever is needed. Fortunately, I like that. I love being the person that can do a variety of things. I like to use my head some days of the week. I like to use my hands other days of the week. It’s a great blend and balance. This project – more than any other I’ve worked on – it is so important to be able to be willing to jump in and help out in areas that aren’t in your wheelhouse. I’ve learned a ton because I had to.

Digital marketing can be key in a company’s success (or, in some cases, failure). Why do you feel it’s important for a university to have digital marketing courses?

The big one I’m shocked about is that about 70 percent of companies doing digital marketing daily do it without a strategy. Imagine doing anything without a strategy. Companies actively doing social media, email, mobile marketing or websites are doing it without a strategy. That’s a big part of what I teach – figuring out what you should do versus what you could do.

When students take your course, what do they come away with at the end?

They have developed a digital marketing strategy and a marketing plan for either a concept business or a real business. Every single student, working in teams. I want to make sure everyone knows how to create a strategy. I tell them to bring this strategy to their job interview. Ask that employer, ‘Do you have one of these?’ Because 70 percent of them will say no. Then you say, ‘Do you want one of these? If you do, hire me.’

They also each individually build a website following the same methodology I used when I built the Super Bowl website, the University of Minnesota’s Alumni Association website, Caribou Coffee, Sun Country Airlines, Radisson Hotels and Resorts. Usually they create a website to promote themselves to employers.

They build a website, do the strategy and do a marketing plan. Then they do deep dives into each of the five digital marketing channels. That's for the undergrad class. Many MBA students choose to create a website for their current employer or a business idea they are considering on the side or sometime in the future.