40 Under 40 2017: Rick Rhodes

EVP, director of sports and entertainment, Zeno Group, 38

Rick Rhodes hit a milestone in 2016: After just three years, the sports and entertainment practice he founded at Zeno Group passed the $5 million mark, and it engaged some of the agency’s largest and most high-profile clients — Anheuser-Busch, Intel, and Pilot Flying J.

Throughout his time at Zeno, Rhodes has delivered significant revenue growth while navigating the nation’s biggest events, from the Super Bowl to Sundance, the Daytona 500 to The Masters, and the CMA Awards to the World Series. His banner year in 2016 closed with Anheuser-Busch clocking in as Zeno’s third-largest client — a brand relationship that started with a lead from Rhodes in 2013 and had grown to encompass more than 12 brands plus NFL-related work by 2016.

Rhodes helped build Zeno’s celebrity and athlete partnership roster, which includes Kerry Washington for Allstate Foundation Purple Purse, Madison Bumgarner for Jockey, Smylie Kaufman for Natural Light, and Sophia Bush for EcoTools. He’s also been effective at bringing clients onto major public stages and rethinking and representing their brands in powerful new ways to expand audience reach and impact.

The sports and entertainment director led the Zeno team that recruited Washington as spokesperson for the Purple Purse campaign against domestic violence. The program raised $50 million through fundraising events and sales of purple purses designed by Washington to support better financial education for women. It also helped more than 1 million survivors of domestic violence recover their financial independence.

Rhodes also headed the team that brought on NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Smith for Anheuser-Busch’s Responsible Drinking campaign and convinced Smith to go public with his own experiences of DUI. The program pioneered a unique partnership with Uber for ridesharing after the Super Bowl, featured a PSA with more than 100,000 views, and generated 168 media stories that showcased the essentials of responsible drinking.

  • He played a key role in helping Pilot Flying J, the nation’s 12th-largest privately held company, organize and execute the Battle at Bristol football game that drew 153,000 people, the largest attendance in college football history.
  • Rhodes is a winner of six Silver Anvils and has been shortlisted for a Cannes Lion.
  • He co-launched Cohn & Wolfe’s first sports and entertainment practice and managed AT&T’s entire sports sponsorship portfolio with FleishmanHillard’s St. Louis-based sports and entertainment practice.

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