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Off-Court Impact: A Conversation With Detroit Pistons SVP of Marketing Alicia Jeffreys

FEBRUARY 26, 2021

Alicia Jeffreys, SVP of marketing for the Detroit Pistons.
Alicia Jeffreys, SVP of marketing, Detroit Pistons | Courtesy of the Detroit Pistons

Born and raised in Flint, Michigan, a city with a storied love for basketball, Alicia Jeffreys comes by her passion for the game honestly. With a remarkable path through the world of sports, including forays into hockey, golf, and football, before landing with the Detroit Pistons organization nearly 20 years ago, she’s now at the helm of the team’s formidable marketing machine.

As the Pistons’ senior vice president of marketing, Jeffreys and her team are helping deliver exceptional fan experiences, creating marketing campaigns that speak to the can-do spirit of Detroit, and supporting an integrated vision of team and city—building a stronger community in the process. We sat down with her to discuss what nurtured her love for the game, how she connects the team and the city, and the marketing campaigns that have made a splash over the years.

Q. What drew you to the world of sports and basketball specifically? Growing up in Flint, were you a Pistons fan?

In the late 90s when I was in high school in Flint, we had four major city high schools, so the competition between schools was incredible. Basketball became a pastime for many people. Games were the place where everyone gathered from the community during the season, and basketball gyms were the place to hang out outside of school or in the summertime.

We had some incredible athletes come through Flint when I was younger—that definitely fueled my love and passion for the game. On a different note, I was definitely an athlete growing up—specifically a competitive gymnast and then a two-sport athlete (too short for basketball, though) in high school. However, I quickly realized that would end when I went to college, so I found a way to extend my love for sport, and specifically basketball, by making a career out of it.

The Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center.
The Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center. | Courtesy of the Detroit Pistons

Q. Since you started with the team in 2002, what has been your favorite campaign to execute? What project surprised you most, and why?

The first year I started with the Pistons we launched the “Goin’ to Work” campaign. It was developed out of a statement made at a press conference about bringing together a team of character players who wanted to go to work on the court each and every night. The brand ethos was written right there, and we took that as the inspiration to develop creative that supported that notion in a very authentic way, which I truly believe is the way the best campaigns come to life.

Over time, the campaign organically evolved and became about our fans and that they may physically go to work each and every day, but also were some of the best fans in the NBA on game night, putting in work cheering on their hometown team. This campaign lasted nearly ten years. The surprise success of this campaign was actually the customized song that became the background for many of our TV spots—sang by a local Detroiter, the “Goin’ to Work” song is one I’ll never get out of my head.

Q. In 2016, the Pistons won the first-ever NBA Team Marketing Campaign of the Year Award for the “Detroit Basketball” campaign, which connected the team with the Metro Detroit community and promoted its core values of hard work and togetherness. When you get a major win like that, how does it inform the work you do for the next season-long campaign?

I think the beauty and the challenge in having a successful campaign like that is that you do not want to disappoint the next time around. It’s like not wanting the sequel to flop. The heart of that campaign was rooted in a very strong and authentic message about the aspirational type of team we wanted to have for the city and, luckily, we were able to have our TV spot voiced by Detroit icon and former Piston Dave Bing to reinforce that message.

I think it was an honest acknowledgment that we wanted to live up to the hype of what Detroit basketball meant to us and to the fans. All of the creative assets that came to fruition around the campaign truly supported that.

Q. Tell me about the work the Pistons have done with the Detroit community. What projects have you worked on, and why did you choose them?

We are committed to continuing to support our local community in the areas that are most needed, but much of our programming supports one of our four community and social responsibility pillars— education, health & wellness, mentoring, and equality—with our flagship program being Basketball for All.

Exterior of the Detroit Pistons Performance Center.
The Pistons' new home: the Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center. | Courtesy of the Detroit Pistons.

Q. How important is it to you to partner with local Detroit businesses? What are some of the local brands you’ve partnered with and how did those partnerships develop?

Many local Detroit businesses drive economic energy that surrounds our facility and arena. They provide goods and services to many of the same people who enjoy sports and entertainment in our facilities, as well as our employees. We see the value in partnering with these businesses to continue to support their growth and that of the overall community, which we refer to as our neighbors.

Most recently, we launched a program with our employees to support small black-owned Detroit businesses. The program included our organization purchasing gift cards for employees to spend with these designated businesses to both show support and create awareness for our employee base of the wide array of restaurants and stores within just a few square miles of our facility. Some brands, to name just a few, include Detroit Is the New Black, Yum Village, The Lip Bar, Detroit Vegan Soul, and House of Pure Vin.

Detroit is rich with inspiration, and you do not have to go far to find it—it’s the people. The people of Detroit are inspiring.

Alicia Jeffreys

Q. The NBA always stresses the importance of players getting involved in their communities and giving back. NBA Cares is one of the league’s more renowned initiatives in that realm. Are Pistons players set up with local volunteer gigs or is that on them and their agents to organize? How does that process work?

Every season we make a concerted effort to understand player interests and organizations or causes that they feel passionately about supporting. It is a combination of those interests along with alignment with NBA Cares programming that drives the development of many initiatives our community and social responsibility team executes throughout the year. Our players have always been very committed and willing to participate in our community programming because of the tremendous impact they can make through their support.

Q. How important do you think it is for professional athletes to actively engage with their communities and help give back, even if their future in that specific city is unknown?

I believe our athletes have an incredible platform to make real impact, regardless of how much time they may spend with a specific team. I have seen players who have continued their commitments to our community even after they have moved on from our franchise.

Pistons players huddling up.
Courtesy of the Detroit Pistons.

Q. Are there any players you look up to who stand out as cornerstone volunteers in their communities? Who and how so?

It would be truly unfair to single out just one player in this regard—we have engagement across our entire roster and participation in so many of our initiatives, and we have so many incredible moments that we have captured between our players and the children and families that we serve. It is a tremendous reminder that we have had some incredible players on and off the court over the years.

Q. “D-Up” is a campaign to celebrate the city of Detroit and highlight the people in it. It features two secondary logos that play off the 313 Detroit area code and various storytelling elements that pay homage to Detroit culture and the Pistons’ history. How did the D-Up campaign come to pass?

The D-Up campaign was developed out of a very thoughtful process of us evaluating what we wanted our brand to represent and how we wanted it to evolve for the next chapter of our franchise. We spent a lot of time looking at the city of Detroit itself—not only its rich history, but also the current landscape and incredible energy in the entrepreneur, art, fashion, and music space. Having moved our headquarters officially to The Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center in New Center just 12 months ago, it was important to truly draw inspiration from our new home. From there, we had many discussions on the aspirational nature of our brand and finding a way to communicate the greatness in our history and the look ahead to our future. Our new secondary logos pay homage to the city with the inclusion of “313” and “DET” prominently featured. We’re officially home.

Q. What value do you think D-Up will bring to Pistons players, the city of Detroit, and the rest of the league?

For us, the campaign has double meaning by alluding to a mindset of play on the court and also that Detroit is rising in so many facets and we look forward to contributing to that. Our hope is that our players and our community embrace this thought process and we take this journey together.

Q. How have you seen the city of Detroit evolve during your tenure with the Pistons?

There continues to be incredible innovation around the city, and it has been wonderful to see the impact and economic growth. I have appreciated working for and with organizations/companies that have contributed to this economic growth but also acknowledge a responsibility to make sure that economic impact is felt for all Detroiters.

Q. What’s one thing you wish more people knew about Detroit?

Detroit is rich with inspiration, and you do not have to go far to find it—it’s the people. The people of Detroit are inspiring.

Hart Plaza, Detroit | Photographer: Leonid Andronov | Source: Shutterstock

Q. What’s your favorite thing about the city? If someone is spending a weekend in Detroit what should they see and do?

There are many hidden gems, but I love the different community parks that have created incredible environments for people to gather together.


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