Indianapolis, Indiana

At Visit Indy, Four Butler Alumni Help Create the City’s Brand

By Katie Grieze

As teams, fans, media, and other guests from across the country descend on Indianapolis for March Madness® 2021, Hoosiers around the city are putting in extra work to make the tournament one to remember. For staff at tourism organization Visit Indy, that means thinking ahead to how the spike in national attention can boost Indy’s brand, even after this year’s champions leave the basketball bubble.

And four Butler University alumni are leading the charge. Chris Gahl ’00 (who is also a current Butler Trustee), Morgan Snyder ’07, Nate Swick ’16, and Becca Schmiegel ’19 all work together to promote and support the city through positions on Visit Indy’s Marketing & Communications team. By helping Indianapolis successfully pull off the majority of a 68-team tournament—especially amid the complexity of a global pandemic—these Bulldogs hope to show the nation that Indy is the ideal place for hosting other large-scale events. We touched base to learn more about each of their careers and what they’ve been working on this month.
 

Chris GahlChris Gahl ’00
Senior Vice President of Marketing & Communications, Visit Indy
Butler major: Communications

What is your role at Visit Indy?
I help oversee our community, public, government, partner, and media relations.

What have you learned from helping plan other major sporting events in the past?
This will be the fourth NCAA Men’s Final Four® during my tenure at Visit Indy, each providing a unique perspective on how best to utilize a major sporting event to market a city. I’ve learned that without question, trust with community partners is the most valuable tool to have in place. The ability to call on partners in the city in a moment of need and ask for help is so important.

How did Butler prepare you for this?
During my time at Butler, College of Communication Lecturer Scott Bridge encouraged me to read local and national news each day to stay knowledgeable on current events. This is still built into my daily routine. I also learned the term ‘servant leadership’ while at Butler, leading to my genuine interest in studying this mindset.

What has your career path looked like?
After graduating, I worked at a public relations agency in Honolulu, where the majority of our clients were in the tourism industry. After a few years, I became part-owner, helping market the islands of Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island. My wife, Catherine (also a 2000 graduate), and I moved back to Indy in 2005. I’ve been with Visit Indy since then.

Most rewarding aspect of your work?
Over the last 15 years, it’s been rewarding to see our city’s tourism infrastructure grow. Part of this process has been advocating for why our city needs to grow key tourism assets, and then marketing each of those. From a new airport terminal to the Cultural Trail; from building Lucas Oil Stadium to expanding the Indiana Convention Center. And connected to this physical growth has been the growth of tourism-related jobs, which is equally rewarding.

Favorite thing about Indy?
Sitting at White River State Park as the sun sets over the water, listening to a live concert.

What are you most excited about this March?
I’m looking forward to watching a game inside Hinkle as part of hosting the tournament, seeing visitors admire this historic place synonymous with basketball.
 

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Morgan SnyderMorgan Snyder ’07
Director of Public Relations and Film, Visit Indy
Butler major: Integrated Communications

What is your role at Visit Indy?
On a day-to-day basis, I work with national media to help tell the Indy story. If you ever read a lifestyle article about Indianapolis in a magazine or newspaper, it’s my job to help get that story placed. I also work with our convention clients to inform their attendees about all things Indianapolis and drive attendance to the conventions. Finally, I work on behalf of our Film Indy marketing initiative to recruit film and television production to the city.

What have you learned from helping plan other major sporting events in the past?
Back in 2012, I worked very closely with the Super Bowl Host Committee to serve on their Speaker’s Bureau, which meant going out in the community to speak on behalf of the Super Bowl team, giving residents and organizations a glimpse of what to expect when Indy is on the national stage. I also served on their PR Committee and worked with media who were reporting on the Super Bowl. Through that experience, I learned there’s no better city than Indy to host big events. We’re truly the most collaborative, all-hands-on-deck place. I also learned best practices for engaging with A-List media to tell stories about Indy outside of the game.

How did Butler prepare you for this?
I truly believe The Butler Way is a mentality that is instilled in the experiences Butler provides. I hope I’m able to exude those skills in my career today. I’m also thankful that the journalism school required internships in order to graduate, as it forced me out of my comfort zone and provided real-life opportunities that led to my career path today. I held several internships throughout my time at Butler, including American College of Sports Medicine, Hetrick Communications, Arnold Worldwide, and Visit Indy.

What has your career path looked like?
Upon graduation, I worked for Hirons and Company on the Indiana Office of Tourism Development account, then moved over to the Conrad Indianapolis hotel as their PR and Marketing Manager for three years. I then returned to Visit Indy and have now worked here for ten years in PR and Communications.

Most rewarding aspect of your work?
I love landing national media attention for our partners in the city—restaurants, small business owners, retail, or hotels who might not have the opportunity to have an on-staff PR person, but still have a great story that needs to be told. There are wonderful people doing incredible things right here in Indianapolis, and I want to find those story angles and tell the masses.

Favorite thing about Indy?
There is always something new to explore. This city never stops creating or wanting to be a better version of itself. As residents, we get to reap those benefits.

What are you most excited about this March?
I think being a part of unchartered territory is fun and challenging. Never before in the history of this sport has the entire NCAA March Madness® tournament been hosted in one city. There are also so many fun stories brewing out of Indy hosting The Big Dance®, and I look forward to the opportunity to tell them to the media who will be descending on the city.
 

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Nate SwickNate Swick ’16
Communications Manager, Visit Indy
Butler major: Strategic Communications

What is your role at Visit Indy?
I work with local, regional, and trade media to tell the Indy story. I collaborate with our tourism and hospitality partners in the city to find unique stories and individuals before sharing those stories and telling the world why they should visit. What’s the newest hotel, or the newest exhibit at the Children’s Museum? If people from Nashville are coming up to Indy for March Madness®, what should they do while in the city? I’m essentially a storyteller by trade—and Indy has no shortage of stories.

What have you learned from helping plan other major sporting events in the past?
While in college, I worked two spring semesters as an extern with the NCAA® Women’s Basketball Championships team, traveling down to Nashville and Tampa Bay for consecutive Women’s Basketball Final Fours®. This was the first time I really had a chance to learn the ins and outs of what it takes to put on a major sporting event.

I’ve also assisted with Indy 500s and Big Ten Basketball and Football Championships before, alongside NCAA® Regionals. It is remarkable how many volunteers and community partnerships it takes to pull off a massive event like this, and it’s always fun to see Indy come together as one community and one city. Truly, no one does it better than Indianapolis.

How did Butler prepare you for this?
My time at Butler taught me the importance of community and relationships. I’m also thankful for internship requirements because, without them, I likely wouldn’t have worked at the NCAA or interned with Visit Indy and made my way back after graduation.

What has your career path looked like?
After graduation, I joined the Visit Indy team as Communications Coordinator in fall of 2016, and I’m now Communications Manager. I also stay involved at Butler by speaking with classes each semester and serving on both the Butler Young Alumni Board of Advisors and the Butler Career Services Advisory Board.

Most rewarding aspect of your work?
I still get a little bit of a rush every time I land some ink for one of our partners in the city. Working on a story from start to finish and then seeing it in a newspaper or magazine is always rewarding. I love to think about the impact that these stories have on local businesses, too.

Favorite thing about Indy?
Besides the people, it’s tough to choose between the sports, the parks, and the beer scene for me. My ideal Indy day would probably include a long run at Eagle Creek Park, followed by a baseball game at Victory Field and a stop at Indy’s best dive bar, The Dugout. 

What are you most excited about this March?
With all eyes on Indy, I’m most excited for more people around the country to get a taste of how great this city really is. My main role will be working with visiting media. We have a unique opportunity to help shape their stories and perceptions of the city. I also thrive on the natural buzz that takes over downtown when there are major events in the city. Sure, it’s a little bit different this year, but people are still looking for ways to be a part of the action and the energy.
 

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Becca SchmiegalBecca Schmiegel ’19
Digital Marketing Coordinator
Butler major: History

What is your role at Visit Indy?
It’s my job to plan our social media content calendars, posting multiple times a day on our channels to increase engagement and encourage viewers to visit our website or plan a stay in Indianapolis. That includes curating content from our partners, updating guides and articles on our website, and managing a team of local freelance bloggers to help tell the stories of Indianapolis. In broad terms, a lot of what I do is handle how the brand of “Indy” is seen online.

What have you learned from helping plan other major sporting events in the past?
In my first week of the job, back in May 2019, I learned very quickly how much marketing effort goes into large sporting events. That week was the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500, and the social chatter—understandably so—was crazy. There was always something to share and engage with on social media. That’s definitely been something I plan to incorporate into my strategies this month for March Madness®—knowing that each piece of content adds more value to how we’re perceived online.

How did Butler prepare you for this?
Studying History and having that strong liberal arts education really has helped me working now in marketing, because I use that second lens gained through the History and Anthropology Department to empathize with and predict how my audience will perceive my marketing tactics. It’s added so much value to my career, being able to think one step ahead on how our brand and our messages will be uplifted. When you study History, you do a lot of digging to understand different perspectives, and, in a way, that’s what I’m doing each day on social media.

I also had the opportunity to complete internships at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, the Public Affairs Department at the Indianapolis Airport Authority, and Visit Indy.

What has your career path looked like?
Right when I started my internship at Visit Indy during my final semester, I realized how much I enjoy the organization and our mission. Then a position opened up right when I was looking to plan my next steps. I’ve been working as the Digital Marketing Coordinator since graduation.

Most rewarding aspect of your work?
For me, it’s extremely rewarding to have my hat thrown in so many different rings around the city. I keep tabs on restaurant openings, the best things to do on a Saturday afternoon, upcoming sporting events, and the more technical, governmental side of tourism.

Favorite thing about Indy?
The juxtaposition of a small-town community with the big-city energy is my favorite thing about the place I now call home. There’s always something going on to get excited about, whether it’s a new restaurant, a cool exhibit, or, of course, March Madness®! But at the same time that you’re out experiencing all Indy has to offer, you’ll probably run into some familiar faces along the way. That community is just so special to me.

What are you most excited about this March?
Our marketing department is working with the NCAA on a fun campaign celebrating basketball in Indy. I’m working on sourcing social media content using specific hashtags from our community partners, which the NCAA will then compile into videos touting our city and our brand, shared all across social media. I’m also looking forward to seeing players, friends and family, and fans explore downtown. Overall, I’m really excited to see social media chatter sharing everything I love about Indy!

At Visit Indy, Four Butler Alumni Help Create the City’s Brand

These Bulldogs see March Madness® as a chance to showcase all Indianapolis has to offer