2016 Powered by Women

DBusiness readers nominated eight metro Detroit women who hold leading positions in the automotive industry, sponsorships and event planning, health care, logistics, insurance, and nonprofit organizations.


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Tavi Fulkerson


The Fulkerson Group, Birmingham 

Employees:  9 | Revenue: NA

Tavi Fulkerson has played a pivotal role in changing the face of Detroit’s major events landscape. From a relative backwater in the 1980s, with only the (at the time) Detroit Auto Show, Detroit Thunderfest hydroplane races, and the Thanksgiving Day parade to show for itself, Detroit today is home to world-class industry, sporting, and civic events thanks to Fulkerson’s ability to match events with appropriate sponsors. 

Next year, Fulkerson will have represented 25 North American International Auto Shows, and grown the number of sponsors from zero to 140, while this November’s America’s Thanksgiving Parade, now with some 200 sponsors — including Art Van Furniture in Warren — will be her 20th on record. 

In addition to those two major events, The Fulkerson Group arranges marketing partnerships between an array of sponsors and the Ford Fireworks Detroit, the Detroit Jazz Festival, and the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. Fulkerson’s company also represents the annual Fuel: Detroit leadership summit and
Christmas Village Orlando in Florida, which is modeled after a traditional European Christmas market. 

After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1974, Fulkerson worked in Ann Arbor at public radio station WUOM-FM, and as a rock-and-roll DJ at WIQB-FM. “The radio station got sold, changed format, and everyone had to find new work,” she says. “I put out a shingle because I had a natural ability for promotion by connecting the dots between companies and events. I started staging events like fireworks displays, air shows, and Eastern Michigan University football. I was hired by the hydroplane races in the late 1980s to help them celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Detroit Gold Cup. I sold a six-figure sponsorship to a Chrysler-Jeep dealer association in 1990 and never looked back.”

As Fulkerson networked through the Gold Cup crowd, she met local car dealers who opened the door for her to connect with the Detroit Auto Show. “They asked me to help the show secure sponsorships and work with the Tier 1 auto suppliers who wanted to be involved,” she says. “I started selling NAIAS sponsorships in 1993, and they’ve been a client ever since.”  

The Fulkerson Group markets and sells events, negotiates contracts, and assures fulfillment — that is, making sure the sponsoring companies get what they’ve paid for, including credentials, hospitality chalets, displays, 

brand presence on websites and in advertising, and “VIP experiences” like access to the paddock at the Grand Prix.  

“When we meet with companies, we try to match them up with events that make sense for them from a marketing and a philanthropic point of view,” Fulkerson says. “At the NAIAS, Tier 1 suppliers want to be close to the 5,000 media who attend. For those companies and foundations that want to give back to the community in a way that’s visible and special and appeals to all ages and 

demographics, you need to be with The Parade Company, the granddaddy of civic events.” 

“Tavi just doesn’t take a property and go out and sell it. She collaborates with the property to ensure that they’re creating value for the sponsors,” says Jack Riley, senior vice president and marketing director at Fifth Third Bank. “She consults the property and says, ‘This is what
sponsors are looking for, and here’s what you’re going to need to do to make this great.’ Then she works with the sponsors to drive the value they should be getting out of the asset.” 

Fifth Third Bank, which recently moved its regional headquarters to downtown Detroit, last year sponsored a float in the Thanksgiving Day parade. It also has spent more than 10 years as title sponsor of the Turkey Trot races that are held in conjunction with the parade. “We do surveys that ask about awareness and feelings for sponsorships that we’re involved in, and we get very high marks on that,” Riley says. “In our most recent survey, we increased our score by six points.”    

Fulkerson sees major events as antidotes to modern culture’s obsession with all things digital. “They have enabled our community to have gathering points, or a time to get together,” she says. “It’s not online or via email; it’s person-to-person. This is the greatest time I’ve experienced in Detroit in terms of how people are working together to make it a very exciting place to live, work, and play, and attend events.” — Tom Beaman

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