In a storied career that’s spanned several decades, Elisa Padilla says she’s currently at “the beginning.”
Since starting her marketing career in 1992, Padilla has led event operations, grassroots community efforts, and marketing and branding strategies for such well-known companies as the NBA, the NY Knicks and Nets, Disney’s Wide World of Sports, Nickelodeon, HBO Sports, AT&T, and Apple.
“My North Star was about being a diversified marketer,” she explains of her career progression. “Multi-cultural marketing is a gem. Affiliate marketing is a gem. I always looked at opportunities as collecting these gems because it’s only going to make me better.”
A constant learner, she found time along the way to earn her MBA in Marketing from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
In 2008, Elisa left HBO Sports for AT&T. For two years she focused on marketing to culturally diverse audiences, when a recruiter contacted her about an opportunity to return to sports.
In 2010, she began a 7-year “unbelievable” run, leading the transition of the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn, overseeing marketing for Brooklyn’s Barclay center and eventually becoming CMO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment.
That led to yet another beginning in 2017 when a former NBA colleague who had moved to Apple let her know they were looking for a head of product launch.
“When Apple calls, who says no?” she laughs.
She landed the job, packed up, and moved across the country to California.
“That’s when my life turned upside down,” she says.
It had nothing to do with work.
On September 19, 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. Elisa’s parents and younger brother live on the island. With cell communication scarce, she went two weeks without hearing from them. When she finally learned their sea-level village had been spared, she discovered that her mother, who is a diabetic, was running dangerously low on insulin.
“It was the darkest time of my life,” she says. “I was in panic mode. I was desperate to get them off the island.”
Commercial flights weren’t running. Private planes were prohibitively expensive.
Eventually, thanks to a lucky connection and a few vacated seats on a flight for contract workers, her parents were able to fly to the New York area and stay with Elisa’s siblings at the house in New Jersey she had yet to sell.
Elisa flew home to see them at Thanksgiving, but when she returned post-holiday to California, she knew her heart was on the other coast.
“I woke up the next morning thinking “What am I doing here?” she recalls. “I had to make a career vs. family decision.”
Apple wanted to make it work, offering a variety of potential remote solutions.
Elisa didn’t want to let anyone down. She resigned.
“I’ve always put my career first,” she says. “It was the first time I had to make a life change. I had to come back to the East Coast to take care of my family.”
“I don’t regret my decision,” she adds.
She landed a job as VP of Marketing for the Howard Hughes Corporation, working on the reopening of NYC’s Seaport District, and cared temporarily for her parents at her home until they could return to Puerto Rico.
A few months into the role, Elisa was asked by a former colleague whether she’d again relocate for a career opportunity.
“I said ‘Only if it gets me closer to Puerto Rico,’” she recalls.
The job was in Miami. Elisa moved there in June of 2018 as SVP of Marketing for the Miami Marlins.
Another new beginning
It was a great role with an exhausting schedule.
“Nobody warned me about the 180 games in baseball!” she laughs.
This past January Elisa returned to New York as SVP Creative Strategy and Partnership Marketing for entertainment company Roc Nation.
Then came COVID-19.
That was the end of the latest beginning.
In March, Elisa found herself among the employees furloughed.
“It’s scary,” she admits. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with my current situation. I’m just trying to make sure I’m in the best position and that I can tell my story in the most effective way.”
“How do I flip this narrative?” she asked herself.
She used the opportunity to launch a career and life blog, Kick It by EP, offering “authentic storytelling from real-life experiences to educate and inspire.”
Through the platform, Elisa encourages other women in the sports industry to share their stories and career advice.
“Sports is such a male-dominated industry,” Elisa explains. “How do I help women tell a positive story? Let’s just start these conversations.”
She’s grown the community to 300+ and has thus far shared several dozen stories on her twice-a-week Instagram Live series.
(Author’s note: I was fortunate enough to share storytelling strategies on a KickItByEP episode)
“People like to hear these stories and they look forward to the career insights,” Elisa says. “In my own little way, I feel like I’m paying it forward.”
She’s moving forward as well, looking for her next career opportunity, growing KickItByEP, and collecting those gems, ready to bring them to the next beginning.
She acknowledges success isn’t gained by landing the job or completing the project, but can be felt and enjoyed throughout the process.
“Success to me is waking up in the morning and having passion for the work you’re doing. And when you can help people find their strengths and lead them to success,” she summarizes.
“If you do work you love, everything else will come.”
Profile: Elisa Padilla, award-winning marketer in sports and entertainment
Title of current chapter: “The Beginning”
How do you get “unstuck”?: I zoom out and analyze what’s making me feel stuck. Really digesting what is the crux of this feeling and what’s in my toolbox to move on from this. What lesson have we learned and what haven’t we learned yet?
Motto: “When someone shows you who you are, believe them.”
Advice for others during this time: I refer to the Winston Churchill quote: “When you’re going through hell, keep going.
Read other inspiring Next Chapter profiles.
Valerie Gordon is a lifelong storyteller, author, former network television producer, and the founder of career and communications firm, The Storytelling Strategist. Through the power of strategic storytelling, she helps clients land the job, seal the deal, nail the presentation, and ascend the leadership ladder.