Why leaving the world a better place needs to be our collective goal
Kathryn Kai-ling Frederick is the Chief Marketing Officer at the Los Angeles Rams, a storied football franchise that finally made its way back home to Los Angeles in 2016 after a 20-year stint in St. Louis. Before tackling the gargantuan task of reigniting the Rams’ LA fanbase once again, she had built an impressive career creating impactful customer experiences at the likes of Live Nation, Ticketmaster, Modern Luxury, Yahoo!, and Distillery No. 209. With a background this diverse, The CMO Club couldn’t resist learning more about what really makes her tick. Little did we know what surprises she’d have up her sleeve to share. Here’s her story.
The story of a Taiwanese immigrant family (and more)
My grandfather (dad’s side) immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan to study engineering and, after getting settled, brought my dad along. He was only 12 at the time. My mother immigrated to the U.S. as well—but in her late teens. They didn’t live far apart from each other in Taiwan, but nonetheless, it took moving to Los Angeles for them to eventually meet at their local church, aka, the Taiwanese community “meeting spot.” They would fall in love in the years to come.
At the time, my grandfather (mom’s side) was a surgeon who owned a hospital. As a sign of dedication to both my mom and his future father-in-law, my dad decided to pursue the family business and go to med school. That’s what you do for love in typical Chinese tradition.
Fast forward to a few years later. My parents now had a family—including my younger brother and sister—and, by this time, my dad had established himself as a highly regarded medical expert. Because of his specialized focus and expertise, we tended to move often, bouncing back and forth between LA, Boston, and New York City for much of my childhood.
Around the time I was three, my dad started to see some unusual medical issues cropping up while working at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. It later turned out to be what we call HIV today. He then went on to play a key role in creating antiretroviral cocktail therapy, which revolutionized HIV/AIDS treatment and enabled people with the disease to live longer lives.
So, why even mention this? Because I’ve learned a lot from my dad’s incredible sense of tenacity. When he encountered the first HIV cases, he was determined to find an answer even though it was completely uncharted territory. But just because he hadn’t seen it before didn’t mean he couldn’t find a solution. He instilled this important lesson about “never giving up” in me at an early age. Simply put, if you’re tenacious and driven enough to break down a problem and work towards a solution, you’ll always find a way to make progress.
If you’re tenacious and driven enough to break down a problem and work towards a solution, you’ll always find a way to make progress.
Never be afraid of the unknown
The people who know me well know that I’m quite self-driven. I thank my parents—and their immigrant mentality—for giving me this sense of ambition. They had the opportunity to come to the U.S. and wield their passions to do amazing things. Having us kids continue their legacy was simply an extension of that.
That’s probably why I’ve always been driven by constant evolution. When I was younger, I often got into the mindset of “you probably won’t” or “you probably can’t” when faced with challenges. However, thanks to the quiet, defiant side my mother passed on to me, I learned that nothing could stop me if I really put my mind to it.
Still, my parents had high expectations of me, so I quickly learned to channel that defiant streak into curiosity and tenacity. This proved useful for tamping down feelings of imposter syndrome, which is something I’d end up wrangling my whole life—no easy task in an over-achieving Taiwanese immigrant family. You just have to quiet that voice in your head working against you.
But I felt a certain responsibility for carrying out my parent’s legacy, so I started college as pre-med. But was this something I really wanted for myself? Or was I doing it simply for filial piety? Did I want to live in the shadows of giants? My heart just wasn’t in it. So, I decided not to put a destination in the GPS of my life and, instead, pursue degrees in Neuropsychology and East Asian Studies. This was a good choice because I was deeply interested in learning more about how culture influences the way businesses interact with each other.
Little did I know how handy following my own passions would be. After graduation, I started a consulting gig that had me going back and forth to Singapore, working with the country’s government to establish a framework for innovation. At first, that little voice in my head started telling me that these government officials shouldn’t listen to a young, Asian female just out of school. Even more so knowing the role that women play in Asian culture. But they did listen to me because I was there to help them reach their goals. This was an eye-opening moment.
That experience alone taught me two things: 1) to never be afraid of the unknown and 2) to live a fearless life. That’s actually what encouraged me to get an MBA—an inaugural joint program between the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Harvard Kennedy School of Business—and officially begin my career as a marketer. While a far cry from my pre-med beginnings, it was the perfect outcome of following both my heart and my mind.
Making the leap from live events to football
Many people ask why I made the leap to the Los Angeles Rams after working so many years in the media, tech, and live events spaces. But I don’t really see it as a “leap.” It was more so an opportunity to take my learnings around scale and technology from Ticketmaster and Live Nation and apply it to a football franchise. After all, football games are some of the biggest and most celebrated live events across the country every year.
Additionally, I fell in love with “fandom” over the course of my career. I’ve always been moved by the love that fans have for their favorite performers or local sports teams. These indelible impressions weave into the fabric of our identities, and I’m beguiled. This is why I’ve dedicated a good chunk of my career to creating the best possible experiences for fans every single day.
And who better to do this for than football fans? Their unwavering love for their local teams often extends across generations. They bring together a deeply-rooted sense of admiration for their teams with an unrelenting sense of pride for their city. It’s quite poetic.
Today, the Rams are at an inflection point. Having just returned to LA in 2016 and then overcoming the hurdle of the pandemic before hosting the Super Bowl in 2021, the time is now to rebuild our fanbase to make the Rams an inextricable part of LA’s cultural identity once again. It’s no easy task in a city with such incredible diversity. Building a devout fanbase requires getting to the heart of what makes each and every community tick.
And on top of that, we’re poised to (re)define what it means to be a fan from a community perspective. As in, how do we harness the power of fandom to use the Rams as a catalyst for making the entire city of LA a better place for everyone? The Rams have a unique opportunity to be the example of how sports teams can truly invest in their cities and make a huge impact.
A different approach to work-life balance
People ask how I tackle work-life balance. In all honesty, I suck at it. But self-awareness is key, so instead of forcing it, I decided to embrace the notion of work-life integration. To explain what that means, I need to first talk about the role my family plays in my life.
I’m married to an incredible fella named Chris, and we’ve got two little princesses at home—Kylie (age 9) and Charlotte (age 8)—who mean the world to us. They give life purpose in ways that words can’t explain. But it wasn’t until the pandemic forced us all to stay at home together that I realized just how important it would be for me to spend as much time with my kids as possible moving forward. Let’s just say the pandemic gave this self-proclaimed workaholic the opportunity to “slow down” and reevaluate priorities.
First and foremost, I want to be a positive role model for my girls, someone they can look up to. I want them to be proud of their mom, but I also want them to understand the importance of investing their time and their passions with a purpose. But how could I model this for my girls with a distinct line drawn in the sand separating work life from personal life?
So instead, I figured out a really cool way to integrate my kids into my work life. Now, they come with me to every home game—including the Super Bowl when we hosted it here at SoFi Stadium. They absolutely love the experience and are always excited to pitch in and help on-site whenever duty calls. It’s also an opportunity for them to see their mom in action and root for something that’s meaningful and tangible. I hope it reinforces a sense of purpose within them, reminding them that they can achieve whatever they set their hearts and minds to. After all, if Mom can do it, why can’t they, too?
And although this is not your typical approach to work-life balance, it works for us—and it’s given me a way to spend more time with my kids. That alone is worth its weight in gold.
“I figured out a really cool way to integrate my kids into my work life. Now, they come with me to every home game.”
Helping me find and own my voice
Obviously, my parents have played a big role in shaping the person I am today. I still look up to them as mentors and cherish the many lessons they’ve taught me.
When it comes to mentors outside of my family, however, one person stands out: Amy Howe, former Global Chief Operating Officer at Ticketmaster and now CEO at FanDuel. She’s so put-together, incredibly smart, and basically has it all: incredible experience, great job, amazing family (three kids), and the list goes on. She is a bonafide badass—and she believed in me.
One time she told me, “I need you to stand up, I need you to find your voice. Don’t just sit quietly in the corner. They need to hear what you have to say. We all do.” That stuck with me.
Being raised in a Taiwanese family, you learn the lesson of humility at an early age. As I grew in my career, I often let my work speak for itself—and nothing more. But Amy taught me how to be bold. She empowered me to ask for what I needed, to ask for help, and to be vulnerable. That alone transformed me as a person, a leader, and a marketer. I always had that within me, but until meeting Amy, I let it bubble under the surface quietly.
Equally important, she taught me the value of being present. Once during a business trip, I felt guilty for leaving my then very young kids at home. She could sense I was thinking, “I should be home with my kids,” and quickly chimed in with a nugget of wisdom, “Be here, be present. You’re here now, so let’s get the job done.” These simple words were a wake-up call. I needed to live in the moment. There was time for work, and there was time for family. I didn’t have to trade one for the other. I just needed to learn how to dedicate 100% of my energy to wherever my feet were firmly planted on the ground at any given time.
We all need people like her who can intervene on our behalf and be a mirror to emulate. In both work and life, it’s easy to second-guess yourself or talk yourself into believing you’re not ready for a challenge. But when you’ve got the right support structure around you—a core group of people (my girl gang, my wolfpack, my small council) who truly understand you and support you regardless—you can break through your self-imposed barriers.
When you’ve got the right support structure around you…you can break through your self-imposed barriers.
Never a “focus group of one”
I’ve worked in marketing long enough to have built up basic instincts around what works versus what doesn’t. But I don’t always have the right answer for everything.
Am I going to understand the wants, needs, and preferences of someone living in a small town in the middle of the U.S.? Or someone who speaks a different language than I do? Or someone raised with different cultural customs? The short answer is, “Oh hell, no.” I might have some assumptions but even those need to be validated by data and a hypothesis.
I can’t be a focus group of one for everything I do as a marketer—nor should any marketing leader. The world is far too nuanced and complex to only trust your gut. You need data.
I learned this at Ticketmaster and Live Nation. If our goal was to sell 15 tickets per second on the platform, you can’t just leave it up to chance. You must invest in whatever will make that outcome possible. Because at the end of the day, the product must serve its intended audience or in other words: Get the right product to the right fan, at the right time, and on the right channel. You’ve heard this all before.
But this is often overlooked by marketing teams. Before even coming up with a hypothesis, you need to know what you’re trying to accomplish and then battle-test all of your options to see the kinds of outcomes they drive. An outcome-based approach to marketing is a far more effective way to engage consumers in an authentic way. Consumers tend to speak with their wallets. Getting them to do that is just 80% of the challenge. The remaining 20% requires engaging them on an emotional level. Sure, it takes time and energy, but that’s how you transform transactions into experiences.
This translates into how I run my teams. As a marketing leader, my role is to build the next generation of marketers. Showing my team (at all levels) that I trust data to inform decision-making (and not just my own gut) is how I empower them to be critical thinkers.
I also tell them, “You have to give a damn. Fandom starts at home.” If you can’t convince the people in your organization to be the most passionate fans imaginable, how can you convince anyone else to care? You can’t. This has nothing to do with instinct. It’s about committing your heart and soul to what you love, which mirrors exactly what fans do during a football game.
I can’t be a focus group of one for everything I do as a marketer…the world is far too nuanced and complex to only trust your gut.”
Leaving it up to chance?
I’m about to let you in on a little secret. To make a little money on the side while I was in grad school, I moonlighted as an underground poker dealer, very “Rounders-esque.” To this day, blackjack is still my true love in the gaming space.
Truth be told, I’ve had a proclivity for games of chance ever since I was a kid. Not a big surprise after growing up in a “traditional Chinese gambling family.” My parents would get us kids together around the dinner table to play all sorts of problem-solving-oriented games, like puzzles, brain-teasers, and counting cards (yup, you heard that right). It taught us to stay focused on the end game, which is really what problem-solving is all about.
Now, let me put my marketing hat back on. I consider performance marketing as gambling for big kids. We place bets on which clicks are most likely to drive the greatest conversion at the highest profit arbitrage spread possible. The only difference here is that marketers have access to a ton of data to help place “safer” bets. But even that doesn’t always guarantee a “win.”
That’s why I love performance marketing so much. It challenges me to interpret and act on the data in a thoughtful way, with the end goal of arriving at the best outcome(s) possible. In many ways, it’s essentially the grown-up version of my “vice.”
Setting intentions for the future
When I think about where I am today and the kind of legacy I’d like to leave—as a marketer, a business leader, and, of course, a mother—it comes down to one thing: Encouraging the next generation to share the same heart and drive I have for leaving this world in a better place.
I try to model this for my teams and my kids every single day—and I’m more determined than ever to make this philosophy infectious. Why? Because shifting to a “do more good” mindset can create powerful ripple effects that make a huge difference.