Melinda Adams — friends call her Mel — has a disarming way of making her whole career sound like great fun driven by loads of good luck. Outgoing with a boisterous laugh, she’s blended her work experience into a mixed-media resume that features the common notes of marketing, sales, event planning and public relations while fueling her personal passions for music and horses. In her current role as senior division manager of marketing and sponsorships for Waco’s Extraco Events Center, she gets to do all of that and more — plus happily talk up the selling points of her beloved adopted city.
Wacoan writer Susan Bean Aycock sat down with Adams to chat about juggling complicated logistics, playing to natural strengths and fusing passion into work-life balance — and how that all comes together in a job where no day is the same. Which is just fine with her.
WACOAN: So, what do you do in this job? What’s a typical day — or is there one?
Melinda Adams: I really don’t have a typical day, week or month — especially during Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo season. I’m responsible for marketing the Extraco Events Center facilities, as well as marketing each of its individual events. We may rent out the facility to a group that pays just a rental fee and plans all their own logistics, or we may run the whole event in-house, including ticketing. All of our sponsors and contracts, payments and deliverables — which include signage and branded items — are coordinated through my department. We have more than 150 sponsors who each do something a little bit different, depending on their business needs. It can get a little stressful during large events trying to juggle setup and logistics, but we’re blessed to work with some really amazing community partners.
WACOAN: What events do you put on? How do you plan it all?
Adams: We have nine multi-day events each year that our staff plans and produces in-house: Elite Barrel Racing in March, July and November; One HOT Reining in February and July; the Career Development Events contest in March; the Back to School Bash in August; the Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo in October; and new this year — the North Pole Palooza in November and December.
Each of those events requires a lot of planning and coordination months ahead of time. The Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo alone has over 500 volunteers. During the fair, our staff duties change, and each staff member is assigned a volunteer committee to assist with. My department works with the Back Porch Club Committee (we also handle memberships and catering), the Golf Tournament Committee, the Junior Committee and the Public Relations Committee. We’ve got a great group of folks this year, so we’re excited!
WACOAN: What do you love about your job?
Adams: It’s never boring. One day I may be shooting video reels of a horse event in the Show Pavilion, and the next setting up for a basketball tournament, followed by a concert in the Coliseum. It’s pretty common for us to be hosting two events or more at the same time in our facilities. I’m also a musician, so concerts here are definitely some of my favorite events.
WACOAN: What about your personality and skill set is a good fit for what you do?
Adams: I’m pretty extroverted. I grew up with a dad who was a planner; I had to plan my girlfriends’ sleepovers at our house a week in advance and run the agenda by him. That planning has always been a useful skill in the music world, because it’s rare to find other musicians who are good planners. My dad was very left brained, and my mom very right brained; they were almost complete polar opposites. I’m lucky to have gotten traits from both of them, so besides being a planner, I’m also creative. I would say experience from my previous jobs has also been a contributing factor in learning how to plan with groups, planning events down to the last detail and marketing to cities and organizations to bring them to Waco to see all that we offer.
WACOAN: Tell me about your upbringing. Who or what were your early influences?
Adams: I grew up in Cypress, Texas, on the north side of Houston, and graduated from Cy-Fair High School. That stands for Cypress-Fairbanks; I know, it’s a weird word combination. It was a 5A school when I went there — now, I think it’s 6A — and I was really involved in music. In middle school, I both sang in the choir and played flute in the band. In high school they made me choose one, and I chose band. The 281- area code on my cell phone is still from Cypress.
My dad’s side of the family is from Kansas, and my mom’s side of the family is from Brownsville, down in the valley. My parents split when I was 6, and I have one biological sister and a stepbrother. Besides my family, one of my earliest strong influences was my high school band director, Skip Martin, who was one of my biggest supporters and one of the main reasons I became a music major.
WACOAN: Wait — you were a music major?
Adams: After high school, I got a music scholarship to Blinn College in Brenham. Then I transferred to Baylor on a music scholarship, and my flute professor, Helen Ann Shanley, was absolutely amazing. My major was actually music education, which is typically the path you take to be a school band director. I knew by my junior year that that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go, but I was so far into my degree that I decided to go ahead and finish it. I loved music and kids but realized that the band director’s life was just not for me. I love playing, but I was more interested in the commercial side of music. So, after I graduated from Baylor, I moved more in that direction and began singing in local groups and with my church.
There was a band who needed a bass guitar player, where my now-significant-other, Curt, was the drummer. I thought, ‘How hard can it be to learn bass? I took string methods in school.’ So, I bought a cheap Fender Squire bass, taught myself the basics and played with them for a couple of years. The band was called Sul Ross Band, not after the famous Sul Ross but after the band leader, who was actually named Sul Ross.
We put out an album and shared the stage with some larger names like Cody Johnson, and then the band broke up, and I began singing more, mostly Country Western but also some classic rock. I played under the band name Station Creek for a couple of years; we put out a few songs and played Waco’s Brazos Nights as well as the Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo, where we got to share the stage with Texas country artist Roger Creager. I guess that’s full circle back to Heart O’ Texas. Eventually I decided to perform under my own name so I could pursue more acoustic gigs, and once I did that, I had the opportunity to share the stage with Ted Nugent and to play music overseas.
WACOAN: How did you end up in Waco?
Adams: After I graduated from Baylor, I got a job with an oil company in Houston. But after only six months there, I really missed Waco — so I applied for and got a job in HR [human resources] with the City of Waco and ended up moving back. I love Waco, especially the people.
WACOAN: So, you were a musician who became an accidental businesswoman?
Adams: Pretty much! Going to college to study music went against my parents’ express wishes. I remember the exact conversation I had with my dad when I told him I wanted to major in music. He said, ‘Well, it’s going to close a lot of doors.’
I’d always done the marketing for bands I was in: promo, booking, websites and socials. That’s a shameless plug — check out our stuff at MelindaAdamsMusic.com. I always had a day job all the time that I was performing in bands. My experience in HR with the City of Waco helped me in marketing and booking bands. I also created websites and did graphic design. I didn’t have any formal education in that; I just picked it up and taught myself — YouTube can teach you anything you’re willing to take the time to learn.
WACOAN: What’s the short version of your career path to your current job?
Adams: I was with the City of Waco for almost four years. And because I worked in HR with new hires and separations, I made connections with a lot of people — there were about 1,500 employees then.
One day, I got a phone call that there was a job opening at the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau [CVB] that could be a good fit for me. So, I applied for and got the sales manager position, essentially selling Waco to event planners in Dallas, Austin and Houston. I worked with all of the local hotels in what was called the SMERF market — social, military, education, religious and fraternal groups, all association groups. I worked with every hotel partner in Waco, booking two to three years in advance, and working with the event planner on every single aspect of their upcoming event. I was with the Convention Bureau almost five years, but when Covid hit, events really slowed down and then almost stopped. The city reassigned staff to different departments to keep them employed, and eventually I was the only salesperson left at the CVB. During that time, we were trying to host events as best we could, but we had so many restrictions, trying to keep people six feet apart, cleaning bathrooms, making sure we had everything covered. It was tough to do that without the full team there to help.
WACOAN: So now you had sales and marketing experience on your resume. What next?
Adams: The City of Bellmead had an opening for its director of community development, so I applied for that job and got it. I did marketing and PR for the city, managed the hotel and motel budget, just really took the job and ran with it. The question was, ‘How can we market this city and change public perception for the better?’ So, I started to get involved with the community. We started Burgers and Brews, a fun community event with vendors, and helped start other events, partnering with Sidekick, a third-party marketer. We hired them to produce a video called ‘We are Bellmead’ in 2021 and filmed a whole segment of citizens from firefighters to Little Leaguers talking about their city. That was a really fun project, and we got such a positive response on it. I loved that job!
Then, when this [Extraco Center senior division manager of marketing and sponsorships] position came available, two friends — Jason Elliott and Mattie Hawthorn — that I had worked with previously at the CVB called me and really talked it up. I started here in July 2022, so I’ve been here just over a year.
WACOAN: What are the biggest challenges in your position?
Adams: One of my biggest and continual challenges is deadlines. I’m always juggling multiple deadlines between events, which are driven by chronological things that have to happen for each event to go forward. There are so many deadlines and minor details with large impacts that I’m always worried that something will fall through the cracks. My phone calendar is my lifeline. Sponsorship sales in our current economy are a little tougher this year than in the past, and we’re so grateful for all of our current community partners.
WACOAN: How do you keep forward-thinking about the next trends in marketing?
Adams: Everything now is digital, digital, digital; video, video, video. Because of the TikTok world we live in, no one has a long attention span and video is king. When I started in this job, we didn’t have a lot of video and now we’ve partnered with Sidekick to shoot more video for all of our marketing. In today’s world, it’s hard to sell an event that people can’t see. We want people to see a video clip and think, ‘Hey that looks like fun! I want to go check it out!’
WACOAN: What are some of the exciting events coming up at the Extraco Center? Most everyone knows about the rodeo, but did I hear something about an ice rink?
Adams: That’s right — the fair and rodeo are right around the corner, October 5 through 15. I always tell people that it’s an 11-day-long event with five major moving pieces — concerts, the rodeo, the livestock show, the HOT Shops Marketplace in the BASE [Business, Arts, Sports and Entertainment center] and the carnival. This year I plan on bringing my RV up here, which gives a whole new meaning to living at work. A month after the fair is over, we’ll jump straight into the Elite Barrel Race and Women’s Pro Rodeo Association World Finals from November 9 to 12. After that, we have a brand-new event this year, the North Pole Palooza, which will take place from November 24 to December 17. That event will be an amazing Christmas experience inside the Extraco Coliseum, featuring an ice rink with real ice, a snow playground, all kinds of Christmas crafts in Santa’s workshop, photos with Santa, shopping, holiday food favorites, a live nativity scene and special theme nights. You can purchase tickets for that event at NorthPoleWaco.com once they’re available.
WACOAN: What about the venue name? Many people still call it Heart O’ Texas.
Adams: It’s commonly referred to as Heart O’ Texas by those who have lived in Waco for a long time, and it’s still called the Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo. Extraco Banks bought the naming rights in 2010 and that’s when we became the Extraco Events Center, which at the time included two facilities, the Extraco Coliseum and the Extraco Show Pavilion. We opened the BASE in 2020.
WACOAN: What’s your idea of a good time?
Adams: Music and horses are my two loves, and my idea of fun is something that involves both, though maybe not at the same time. It was a huge selling point in taking this job to be around both horses and concerts. I’m definitely a horse girl; I grew up with them. When I was about 6, I took lessons on a pony named Pony Pony. Then I rode a palomino gelding named Taco, and finally got my own horse, a sorrel gelding named Sunny Boy. These days when I have time, I love to go horseback riding or go to the lake, any lake. We don’t have a boat, but we’re blessed to have friends with boats, which is even better. Music still takes a lot of my free time, and I still perform a couple of times a month; I used to have a gig two or three times a week pre-Covid. I listen to everything: rock, alternative, soul, country, blue grass. If there’s four on the floor — that’s when the bass drum hits the quarter note beat four times — and a slide guitar, I’m gonna love it.
I love to travel. My dad was an oil and gas executive for Conoco-Philips and he and my stepmom moved to Singapore for a few years. I loved visiting them there and seeing some of Thailand and Malaysia. Travel lets me try new things and meet new people. For birthdays and holidays, Curt and I don’t do gifts — we just give each other memories by planning trips and doing fun things together.
We also bought a used KZ Sportsmen® pull-behind in April; we had tried the motorhome thing a few years back and completely gutted and renovated one. It was awesome to have, but not feasible to bring along a car or take larger music equipment with us. The pull-behind has been great to be able to unhook and go explore. We love to take it and go stay with friends or glamp [glamor camp] at the lake.
WACOAN: What’s something that not many people know about you? What skill do you wish you have that you don’t?
Adams: Many might not know I’ve been skydiving, twice. And I once did a two-and-a-half-week tour in France with two strangers who were also musicians. We started as strangers, but they became friends pretty fast. We played in eight different French cities in July of 2019, and those audiences were so well-mannered and really appreciated the music. We were planning another trip in 2020, but then Covid hit. I wish I could fly — like fly on my own power. Or if it has to be a realistic skill, I wish I knew how to pilot a plane.
WACOAN: What gives you hope?
Adams: Seeing people genuinely be kind to each other and not expect anything in return really gives me hope. It moves me to see kindness that’s not posted on social media, just something that someone does with no expectation of payback or recognition.
WACOAN: If your job didn’t exist in Waco, what would you be doing?
Adams: If I didn’t have this job and I wasn’t worried about money, I’d be a traveling singer. My dream venue to market would be the Grand Ole’ Opry in Nashville, and I’d be playing there too.