Jen Wenk details her former position as PR director for the UFC, starting her own firm, and working with the Blackzilian camp.
In this day and age, good PR is everything. It doesn't matter if you're a coffee shop or a combat sports organization, you can't really succeed without a reputable and reliable publicist. The good word has to be spread far and wide, and word of mouth is pretty much a thing of the past. These days, it's all about viral marketing and social media. The UFC recognized this early on, and has made sure they present a strong presence everywhere. Television, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and online forums are positively saturated with content, which has helped push them farther into the eyes of the casual fan.
Jen Wenk is known in media circles by many. She was the PR director for the UFC for several years and handled everything from organizing press conferences to making sure that sports media was offering sufficient coverage. When she first started out, there wasn't an MMA podcast on every corner, so to speak. There were just a few, and you could count them on the fingers of one hand. She worked closely with sponsors, production, and virtually every department in the UFC to make sure they were being catapulted as far into the mainstream as possible.
About 18 months ago, Jen took advantage of the opportunity to branch off and start her own firm. She gave her notice, left on extremely good terms, and started Star PR. Glenn Robinson of Authentic Sports Management zeroed in on her immediately, and retained her services to handle all PR related to his clients (the entire Blackzilian camp and Arianny Celeste). Scott Kent, owner and CEO of Lion Fights (Las Vegas based Muay Thai organization, sanctioned by the WBC), has also retained her services to handle all PR for the promotion. Between these two juggernauts, Jen's free time is a scarce commodity these days.
With the UFC, that's the phrase we liked to use. There's no off season. You are on their schedule. You can't work away from their schedule. They have fights scheduled on specific dates, and you have to leave on this date in order to make all the preparations for the fight, so you're on their time. Your life literally revolves around the UFC and whatever the current card is. It got to the point where we didn't clock time by dates or months. We clocked time by events, by what UFC event number it was. For example, my birthday was UFC 152 or Christmas could be 154, or someone's baby is due around 151 [laughs]. It was funny when people that didn't work in the UFC would hear our conversations, and they wouldn't understand how a person could lead their life by UFC event numbers. That's how it was when I was there, and I'm sure that's how it still is for the employees now. You have to follow their schedule because that's part of your job.
A big part of my job, and something I was very adept at, was handling the pace of the organization's growth. One morning I came in, and we had bought PRIDE. Days later, we signed Wanderlei Silva. A few days after that, we had the crisis with Randy Couture. Things were constantly happening at a very rapid pace. 'Oh, we're starting a magazine' or 'OK we're launching a video game'.
It's exactly the same thing over here with Glenn. He went from having just a few athletes to having over 30, and a lot of them are big stars. Now, Glenn has bought a clothing company. He's starting a supplement company, and he has another acquisition in the works. It's the environment that I'm used to. It's exciting to be a part of.
I had an opportunity to take the next step. In the back of my mind, having my own business, running my own PR agency, was the logical next step. It's been said that you don't really become the best you can be until you work for yourself. I worked very, very hard at the UFC. I would always strive for the very highest level of quality and excellence, but it's a completely different story when you're running your own business and putting your name behind everything you do. It was definitely the right step for me, and it's been a really good experience.
To say that I left the UFC on good terms is not a strong enough definition. I would actually say that I really haven't even left them. I am still very much involved with them through the fighters that I represent for Authentic Sports Management. My son play's on Dana's son's football team, and I see him more now than when I worked with him. I'm doing a different job now, but my heart and my soul is still very much with the UFC.
Working with the Blackzilians
I kind of came on board just as the camp was starting to come together. Fighting has always had this stigma attached to it, that the industry is sort of difficult to navigate because of some of the shady characters attached to it. Glenn Robinson just stands out because he's sincere and honest. He has incredible business acumen, and has demonstrated that he knows what he's doing. He's a guy that does what he says he's going to do. I clicked immediately with Glenn, and that was key to the decision that I made to work with him.
When we first started working together, he only had a few fighters, and here we are less than two years later, and he's got this incredible roster of marquee guys. We get calls all the time from guys that want to come out and be part of the camp, and I truly believe that our hard work has afforded Authentic with a lot of visibility. The work, itself, is outstanding. If you don't have a good product, and you don't believe in it, all the PR in the world isn't going to help.
Here, I found the perfect opportunity, because Glenn was already putting together something that was really special. With my PR expertise, I helped him navigate the UFC. It was very important to teach Glenn how to have successful relationships with all the key people. I showed him how things worked at events, how to get approvals done, who you call on the phone, as opposed to who you email or text, communication tactics and things like that. Now, not even two years later, we have done great things, and I can look back and know that I played a part in that.
Keeping a small client list
I only work with the Authentic and Lion Fights. It's not that I haven't been approached. I have definitely been approached. After I started my firm, and took Glenn on as a client, I was coming off six years of a blur of long days, constant travel and very hard work. I really didn't want to put myself back in the situation where I was working 90 hours a week and doing 10 different things. I really wanted to give Authentic a lot of attention and time. The whole first year, I decided to tell everybody else no. I just needed to take things down a few notches. It was the right decision to regroup and get my life back in order. Now, I'm ready to kick things back up a little, and I've picked up a little work here and there, with Titan and with K-1. I try not to take on too much, because I really try to keep my main focus on Authentic.
Jen seems to have found a comfortable place within the industry she excels at and the sport that she loves. While still firmly enmeshed within the Zuffa fold, she is cutting her own path and making a respectable name for herself independently. It just goes to show that with hard work, dedication and experience, there is definitely life after the UFC.
You can follow Jen via her Twitter, @JenWenk