Bob Roll Interview - BobkeInk, websites, podcasts & just who is Jessi?
As Tim mentioned when we started this venture I don't have a hardcore cycling background. I really didn't start following cycling until about 6 or 7 years ago. So, my only point of reference for Bob Roll is what he's done during Le Tour coverage on OLN, which is fantastic and the main reason I watch Le Tour coverage each July evening on television after I've listened to it live on my computer at work.
A few years ago I wanted to get in touch with Bob to talk about a promotion for Interbike. I asked a mutual acquaintance if he had Bob's agent's number. He didn't, but gave me Bob's email and said he thought it would be ok if I sent him an email directly. So I did. I nicely asked for his agent's contact info. I didn't get an email back. Days went by. Maybe a week or two even. Then one day, I picked up the phone and heard, "This is Bob Roll." Well allrighty then. We've worked together ever since and it's been fantastic. Yes, he's the fun guy you see on the television commercials and the witty commentator but he's also a devoted dad and just all around nice guy.
Recently, Bob's launched a website, started a company and partnered with a firebrand, Jessi Pacetti. What's going on here?! Curiousity got the best of me as a marketing person so I asked for an interview to learn more about the marketing of Bob Roll. Jessi and Bob politely indulged my request (even though they thought I was crazy with the amount of questions!). What follows is an email interview with both of them - yes, email - you try to get Bob in one spot for more than 10 minutes this time of year!
This isn't the cycling interview that you may have seen many times over with Bob. This is, I hope, a little different, especially since this is a bicycle industry marketing blog! Ok, Tim asked me to put in a few cycling related questions because he just couldn't help himself, but most of this will be related to the marketing of a celebrity.
Before we start, I must thank Bob and Jessi profusely for all of their time. You guys rock!
Now sit back with a cup of tea and enjoy the interview with these two dynamic people.
Bob, let’s start with an easy question set. How long have you been doing Le Tour on television? How did that come about?
Since 2001, though I didn’t do 2002, so this will be number five. The original executive producer was Rick Lacivita and he read some of the stories I wrote when I was racing and asked me during the last year of bike racing if I was interested in doing TV. That was 1999 and OLN covered the World Mountain Bike Championships that year and asked me to be a commentator. It worked out well and I found I enjoyed it and the rest as they say is history.
Was there an audition?
My first job was 18 hours of live TV. Straight into the deep end. I think that was audition enough.
I would think that the OLN gig gave you a visibility to an audience that didn't know you before (the folks like me!) when you were racing. Did you see a dramatic increase in requests for appearances right from the get-go?
It took awhile, I would say as my television role has grown, especially starting in 2004, when I had my own show – it’s been an avalanche since then.
Did book sales radically increase?
They did actually. The first book I wrote, which is now sold out, gets amazing prices on eBay because it’s out of print.
Your your athletic achievements were numerous, but truly you have an incredible gift of captivating an audience with stories and cycling facts. When you retired from racing did you have the idea to market yourself as a personality/celebrity?
No. I had the idea to work in the Durango Lumber Mill. I had filled out an application and was hired. Television saved me from that. I still don’t feel like a marketable commodity, but it seems as if the requests are more numerous than I could handle. The speaking engagements are a fun way to connect with the people who watch me cover the cycling races.
I know from experience that you do fabulous talks in front of cycling enthusiasts like the one you just did at Century Cycles in Ohio for Kryptonite (shameless plug!), but what are some of the fun events you have done?
The fun comes when people are excited and the crowd is energetic. It’s easy to feed off of that. I always meet some great people on the road.
Ones that have meant something to you personally?
The Lance Armstrong Foundation rides and Livestrong rides have meant a lot on a personal – not so much personal – on a personally significant level. Every talk is unique and every group of people is unique and the people have a lot of fun.
And, of course, what wouldn't you do or is there a type of event that you really just don't want to do. No naming companies, just generalities.
There’s no cycling related event that I don’t enjoy. Things are easier now.
How do you prepare for 'An Evening with Bob Roll'? Do you wing it or have notes or a general flow of thoughts before you step into the spotlight?
I have a general flow of thoughts that I organize in my mind in the days before the talk. I don’t like to repeat myself even though some of the stories are in the general consciousness of cycling. I don’t like to repeat myself. Did I already say that?
Although you don't show it, do you get nervous before getting in front of a group of people?
It’s not a nervousness that I recognize, but my senses are definitely more alert. I used to get really nervous – not to the point that I couldn’t sleep the night before. I just wanted people to laugh at my stories and if not, I hope they were educational.
Ok, because it was so talked about last year, I have to ask about the trainer commercial. What kind of impact did that have on things?
For Kinetic it was great. They had so many people go to their website during the Tour that it crashed their server. That makes me feel good because the sponsor got a good response. For me personally, it’s kind of uncomfortable having my naked body across the TV screens of America, but everyone who saw it laughed their keister off. That’s all good.
Did you get asked to do all kinds of wacky things after that?
Not really. That was about the limit. I was in San Antonio this last weekend and got to do “monkey bike races.” That was fun. There was a silent auction and the winners had the chance to race me on the little bikes and if I won, they had to pay double. Good money for the charities which feels good.
(Note: I believe Britton Bicycle Shop was involved in Bob's trip to San Antonio)
Do you think that the trainer commercial helped or hurt your celebrity?
I think it helped. It Americanized the sport and brought a more outrageous American feel to a 150 year old European sport that can be quite stogy at times.
And, because everyone wants to know, I'm sure....how many takes to get that done (without busting up laughing).
It took all day because we couldn’t stop laughing. On the other hand it was odd . . . .
If someone is interested in having you come to their event now they can go to your website and put in a request there, but how did you get leads for events in the past?
That was sort of random. They came in all kinds of different ways. One organization knew someone who worked in Gatorade promotions and Gatorade called OLN. Mostly people just used word of mouth to find me which wasn’t very effective.
Would you connect with folks at the events you were already doing?
Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes a representative of an organization would see me at an event and book me for something else.
Before you and Jessi started to work together how did you keep your schedule straight?
My schedule was a disaster and I’m sure I missed out on a lot of opportunities, but now things have become a lot more manageable schedule-wise. Mostly because I only know about a third of what’s to come.
Every time I'd call you to talk dates, you'd rattle off your schedule for 2 months out. Do you use a big wall calendar or day planner or just keep it in your head?
A desk sized monthly calendar with really big squares.
I was always impressed with how you could rattle off your schedule and you'd been doing all of this for years by yourself, why take on a partner now?
Because the profile of the Tour de France has become unmanageable for one person and I was running myself into the ground fielding all the requests. I was uncomfortable during negotiations. Be real, I’m a bike racer.
And now....enter Miss Jessi.....
Bob, give us one word to describe Jessi.
Jessi, besides being a cycling fan and bonding with Bob right from the get-go, what is in your background that helps with what you are doing now?
Honestly everything and nothing. I was a waitress, a bartender, an outdoor retail manager and most recently worked in the office of a construction company. I think the people skills came mostly from rationalizing with drunk people (I don’t recommend it) and the retail management gig. I learned a lot about contracts and business from the construction company. I’m not the gal to chain to a desk, so this deal with Bob was what I really needed to keep my juices flowing and be excited about my day to day. I am really lucky to have this gig – it’s amazing how great it feels to have your skills used and exercised on a daily basis.
Who is Jessi???
I’m a crazy ex-party girl who married a cycling fan and has two awesome little gals at home now. I refuse to drive a mini van and fall into the stereotypical preschool mom thing. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that - it just ain’t my bag) I’m also quietly pursuing my art career on the side. Very quietly.
Tell me a little bit about your cow project and how that got started. Are you an artist by love or trade?
I checked a few years back and I was a year away from graduating from college with a degree in Art Education so I guess you could call it a love of the trade. I’ve always been creative and artistic. About a year ago I was working my butt off to put together my art portfolio and the Cow Parade open call came out in Wisconsin. My mom found the call in the newspaper and was really adamant about me submitting an idea. I mean, REALLY adamant. God bless her. The woman knows me. Instantly I had the idea to decoupage her with Wisconsin maps. I have done a lot of decoupage in the past, but nothing like this. It took over 30 hours and 49 Wisconsin Highway Maps. More than 300 applicants were submitted and they picked just under 70 to actually make a life size cow. It has really been a great experience. The best part is that Bob would tell me not to work for days at a time so I could finish her. I had a great support system in my husband, Bob, my folks and some close friends. That meant a lot.
I know your husband rides, but do you ride, too?
Not professionally. The first time Billy Biker Boy (my husband) took me cycling we had been dating for a few months. We live in Wisconsin and started dating in the winter, hence the delay. He took me on this ride that was about 4 ½ hours long – huge hills, long highway stretches, questionable areas of town. We were nowhere close to home and I had to bartend in less than an hour. Billy had to call his buddy to come get us because I had to get to work. We got into our buddy’s car and Billy rubbed my shoulders and was like “good job today – you’re really a trooper.” I responded with a long line of explicit words inappropriate for this website. I do like cycling and have been on the trainer for the last few months AND got my first road bike for my birthday. (Thanks Bill!) I am anxious to get out there this year.
Jessi, give us one word to describe Bob.
Bob and Jessi - just what is BobkeInk?
JP: That’s our company. It started with just me and Bob to organize his schedule with the goal to expand eventually. To what, we weren’t sure at the time. We have talked about a lot of really cool things, but I think we need to pare it down to a few and be good at them. Where we’re at right now is a real stepping stone to the huge ideas we have lurking in our crazy heads.
BR: That is the parent company of http://www.bobroll.com/, my three books, my schedule. It’s just the name for the bank to cover everything we’re doing. We are looking to add additional cyclists to the BobkeInk family.
It's a play on words that I think is great, by the way. It makes me assume that there is more writing to be done...another book perhaps???
JP:We are pretty smart, aren’t we? The writing thing is up to Bob. I could write a book . . . not sure anyone would want to read it.
BR: I have three books in my mind in addition to two children’s books. When I get time I’ll get them written. Maybe have Jessi illustrate the children’s books.
Jessi's based in Wisconsin and Bob's based in Colorado. What are the challenges and advantages of that working situation for you both?
BR: The obvious challenge is that I can’t yell at Jessi when I need to. (laughs) The distance involved sometimes hinders our communication and traveling schedules. The obvious advantage is that I can get a nap by simply turning off the phone.
JP: Challenges? Bob has many skills. Current technology isn’t a primary part of his skill set. Advantages? I get to hit preschool duty and kids’ doctors appointments without feeling guilty. I can work at night and screw around all day. I’m not chained to a desk. . . . I have windows and can go outside, take a class at the gym, or do my art whenever I want. I love the freedom. I also know I will have a least one enlightening “Bob Says” conversation every day.
How are you marketing the company? Through traditional media (press releases, interviews with publications etc) or through electronic media or a combination?
BR: A combination of all those plus being able to mention the website during speaking engagements and tv appearances. We are also networking through other cycling sites and companies.
JP: It also helps that we’ve made some great contacts at the stores and events we’ve been to. It feels good to call a week or so after an appearance and find the shop still benefiting from Bob’s visit. Good PR never hurts. I can name at LEAST 3 people from every store I’ve visited with Bob and we keep it personal. I think that goes a long way. This last weekend I even acquired an adopted family in San Antonio. I’ve always wanted siblings! (Here’s a shout out to the Harris Crew!)
The website launched a few weeks ago. How is that going; is traffic good?
BR: Traffic is fantastic and universally positive so far.
JP: We have gotten great traffic. We had some technical difficulties in there, but I think we’re good to go now. Blog-ke entries based on the emails we’ve gotten from the site hits are our main priority right now. A lot of the questions center around a few recurring themes so we’re going to tackle those first.
How do you like being a blogger, Bob? Are there any plans to turn that into a true blog where people can leave comments to specific posts?
BR: Well, not being a true blogger and having a blogging assistant, you’ll have to run that by her.
JP: Bob, did you know what any of that meant?
BR: Actually, no.
JP: I’m looking into that this week. Stay posted. I think being able to respond to blog entries will really spark some great conversation on the site. It will happen very soon.
I see that there is a section for merchandise. What's that all about and what is the time frame for that?
BR: We want it up and running in time for the Tour DAY France!
JP: I’m currently designing some really great apparel that will be 100% Bobke Approved. We’re crafting some smartass tshirts, hats, a hoodie, socks, maybe a toddler tee and there are a few other surprise items in the works. I have revisited some classic Bobke art and phrasing from back in the day to incorporate with new designs. So far things are looking really fun. I’m working with a great printhouse and am really excited about this part of our journey. We want to have it all up and running in time for the tour rush. My goal is to keep it simple because I will be running it out of my garage on my own – at least to start with.
Are there any other plans to add other functionalities to the website? Podcasts from events or Le Tour? Video at all?
BR: Eventually as the technology evolves I would enjoy commentating on the big bike races without worry of political correctness.
JP: Bob, you didn’t answer the question.
BR: I didn’t? Podcasts? Absolutely. That’s what I’m talking about. I think it would be fun to record one of my speaking engagements and put it up.
JP: I think we can swing that. I’ll put it on my to do list. . . . .
I would think that the nature of marketing a personality/celebrity is such that a personal connection is paramount. Bob sells himself. How are you going to balance that now? Bob can't be everywhere so I understand Jessi dealing with logistics of events and appearances (and there are many!) but will Bob still be accessible to those people who need a little more personal connection before booking him?
JP: Bob typically calls each place I book him to get a vibe and check in. I think that’s a rarity. I would be surprised if Terry Bradshaw did that.
BR: (laughs) Also, the bike confraternity is such that personal contact is essential for a successful visit.
What do each of you see for BobkeInk in 5 years?
BR: That’s a good question. I would like it to be a resource for all cyclists including the highest end of racing, grass roots participation, trail advocacy and commuting. Maybe some touring excursions.
JP: You’ve got some broad goals there, partner. Better get those job applications out! I see us having 4 or 5 current racers and be the proud organizers of BobkeFest in Durango Colorado. THE BEST BIKE FESTIVAL IN ALL THE LAND. We talked about that a long time ago. . . . maybe it’s time to resurrect that one. . . (Jessi drifts off, gears churning) Outside of those realistically achievable short term goals, there are some REALLY big things we’re discussing the possibilities of doing. I shoot pretty high and get there step by step. I take one thing at a time. We definitely have some remarkably exciting opportunities we’re looking into. Things I never thought I would do, but am really looking forward to their conception.
Bob, traveling as much as you do gets exhausting, I know. Do you see yourself keeping up this pace for years or will there be some time in the future where you just say "Uncle" and stop or limit your appearances to only a few each year?
I’ve been at it for two decades and feel pretty good. I have gypsy blood.
Note: 10 rapid-fire questions & answers coming soon.
Posted by Donna Tocci at 4:13 PM