Bernie Punt, EAMC 2015 Hall of Fame Inductee and director of marketing and sales, Bryce Jordan Center; Will Ferrell; Bob Howard, GM, Bryce Jordan Center, State College, Pa.; and Demetri Martin. (Photo by Mark Selders)
The Memorial Day madhouse at his historic home in Boalsburg, Pa., is indicative of Bernie Punt’s work ethic – if you’re going to do it, go all out. Punt has worked at Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State University for 20 years now, for the last 10 as director of marketing and sales. He will be inducted into the Event & Arena Marketing Conference’s Hall of Fame during the group’s June 10-13 conference in Hollywood, Calif. Punt spoke with Venues Today, albeit reluctantly because he doesn’t like to talk about himself, while standing in a field in Altoona, Pa., where he was recharging after his Memorial Day marathon. It turns out Boalsburg is one of the birthplaces of Memorial Day, dating back to the Civil War, and Punt annually becomes and integral part of the daylong celebration. He loves events. He started his entertainment career as founder/operator of Go Bonkers, an attraction for kids and adults to play together, and hopes to end it as a teacher of venue management at Penn State. His secret to success: Don’t take it personally.
How did you end up in this business?
I had my own business in town, a play facility for adults and kids called Go Bonkers. It was a place the kids played for $5 and parents played for free. Parents would think, we brought 10 adults and one kid, what a bargain. But I had all that extra stuff you could buy, merchandise and food. Kids want places to play in the winter. Central Pennsylvania is very cold, very gray. I brought in lighting that gives them their Vitamin D, their sunshine. It was crowded every day and making a profit. In summer, I’d promote bone chilling cold, 68 degrees, and ice cream. Bob Howard, who is still manager of Bryce Jordan Center [he’s retiring in July] and Robb Larson, who was marketing director there at the time and is now with Oceola Heritage Park, Kissimmee, Fla., had kids and came to Go Bonkers. I was also going through a really nasty divorce and my ex-wife-to-be was my partner. When the divorce was going through, I asked Bob and Robb if they had a job and they put me on part time doing PR in 1996. When Robb left in 1997, I got the full-time job.
How did you hear about your induction into the EAMC Hall of Fame?
Kate Clarke, who works for me as marketing specialist, is very involved in EAMC now and is on the planning committee. She got really weird after the site visit to L.A. [for this year’s conference]. Then Vanessa Kromer [Nederlander Concerts] sent me a message, as well as Paul Iaconis at Madison Square Garden, New York, at the same time, telling us we were both being inducted. I was not expecting it. It was cool. I remember my first couple of arena marketing conferences in the late 90s, and getting to know powerful people like Tammy Koolbeck (VenuWorks) and Jim Delaney (Activate Sports & Entertainment). To this day I call them my idols. In sports, to be better, you had to play with people who were better than you. I had to hang out with these people because that’s how I’ll get better. One day Tammy just pointed her finger at me and said, “I want you to get involved.” And I said, “Yes ma’am, okay.” She’s a natural leader. I remember the effect Frank Roach [University of South Carolina, Columbia, formerly Feld Entertainment] had on me. He turned my career around when he said you have to know your market. What do agents look for, what do promoters look for? You represent your city or town. I didn’t know everything. He was right.
Now Bob Howard, GM there, is retiring. Are you interested in his job?
Bob is retiring at the end of July. Several people have asked, but I’m not interested in Bob’s job. I could see myself easing out in the sunset and just continuing teaching. Right now, I teach one course a semester in the school of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Management. For the past two years, my course, an introduction to Arena and Facility Management, is a required course for that major at Penn State. Years ago, Frank Roach influenced me to do this. He always came to EAMC and, at the end of his reign, he said he was going to start teaching. Now, I have a lot of former students who work in this industry: one for William Morris Entertainment in L.A.; one with the National Symphony in D.C.; one for AEG; another at Live Nation. These former students are like my kids. That’s the kick I’m getting out of it now. Now Frank Roach is retiring from teaching and maybe the next thing for him is the speaking circuit. That’s kind of what I want to do: teach, write a book and public speaking.
Have you always lived in State College?
I graduated from Penn State in 1984 but I’m from Philly. I’m really a Philly kid. After I got my career started with this industry, I almost went back to Philly. I was approached about working for Global Spectrum. And I thought, wow, I wish I knew about this when I was younger. I thought I’d never stay in State College this long. Now it’s my way of life.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t take it personally. That was from Bon Jovi’s tour manager. He’s tough to deal with. I wasn’t doing well that day. He asked for something and I couldn’t get it done. I took it to heart. He pulled me over and said, don’t take it personally. There are things beyond your control. If you sweat the small stuff, it can affect everything.
What advice do you give your students?
Find your passion and don’t get frustrated. The worst thing is feeling the pressure from your parents when you get a degree and don’t have a job. Don’t expect it. It happened to me later in life. I didn’t know where I was going, what I wanted to do. It’s not the end of the world; it will happen for you, too.
What has been the high point of your career so far?
Operation Salute in 2006. At that time, we were involved in war in the Middle East, there was a presidential election in 2008, and a lot of animosity about the war and the president. I was on this committee to host the men and women of the National Guard, Army, Air Force and Navy to have a homecoming for the troops. It was an assembly of about 20,000 troops and their families at Penn State. Security was huge because it was the largest mass of troops in Pennsylvania since the Civil War. My job was to get businesses to donate. We had over 2,000 volunteers and raised over $100,000 for food, t-shirts and gifts. The Beach Boys performed for free. It was probably the hardest thing I ever did. The military and the people I was working with called me brother, which is what people who serve call each other. They gave me this coin and said I can walk into any VFW across the country, slap down that coin and they will salute you. It is the highest civilian award you can get without being in the military.
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