Forward 2022 Event Recap

Written by Luis Estrada

The second annual Forward Summit is in the books, and what a great experience it was. Starting with a reception welcoming our guests to the beautiful Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, FL, attendees got to experience the best of South Florida for a few exciting days.

Beyond the sunset welcome event, the summit commenced with a complete slate of speakers and panel discussions on Monday, highlighted by the keynote address delivered by Faron Kelley, VP of runDisney, ESPN Wide World of Sports, and Disney’s Water Parks. Kelley shared his insights on leadership as well as overcoming incredible challenges on the fly, such as weather-related race cancellations and the unprecedented NBA and MLS “bubbles” during the height of the pandemic. His 7 tips for success were both easy to follow yet greatly impactful.

One of haku’s biggest goals for Forward is to bring together speakers that represent different industries and can share stories in various areas of expertise. Not only can these lessons translate to the running and event industries, but it presents a fresh vision apart from the experts that our partners are typically accustomed to hearing from. In this mold, here is a look at the speaking sessions and panel discussions throughout the 2-day event.


Evolution of Brand Strategy: Michael Shaw, SVP - Head of Brand & Innovation, Miami Marlins

Michael walked through his experiences in trying to mold a brand strategy that focuses on the highlights of coming to a baseball game beyond the product on the field. He discussed the differences between targeting avid sports fans versus showcasing entertainment at the forefront. Food and beverage upgrades, music, social areas, kids events and other methods could draw people to the venue once, and hope they stick around enough to love the game, as opposed to a smaller target market coming for the game and hoping they explore the rest of the amenities. He also emphasized the importance of feedback campaigns and acting upon valuable comments.

Getting Customer Loyalty Right - Randy Crooks, Director of Loyalty, Barry’s

We took a detailed look at the membership loyalty program recently implemented at Barry’s fitness studios. By showcasing the popularity and success of loyalty programs throughout all industries, Randy made it clear that this is a great concept for the endurance event industry as well. He aligned a clear strategy for how to conceptualize and start a unique program, as well.

Driving Conversion Through Storytelling - Meaghan Praznik, Head of Communication, AllTrails

In this session, we learned about the importance of storytelling, especially the effectiveness of user generated content (UGC). Meaghan highlighted the success of AirBnB campaigns, her gold standard of building a brand through stories. She also shared some incredible data to show why customers buy from specific brands and how connections with feelings can jump brands over their competitors.

Building Best-in-Class Partnerships - Zena Keita, Partnerships at The Athletic

Zena taught us that “ISB into Synergy” means that intuitive, solution oriented, best-in-class partnerships create a synergy that drives tangible benefits for both the organizer and the partner. We looked at 30 years of advancement in partnerships, especially visible branding in the most watched events, as tv and online viewership exploded in this time period.

Best Practices in Using haku - Michelle La Sala, President, Blistering Pace Management and Amy Frostick, Race Director, J&A Racing

Our first panel discussion focused on how to get the most out of the haku platform throughout the event lifecycle, from pre-registration all the way through post-event day, and leveraging haku’s industry-leading customer service at every touchpoint with participants.

The Business of Green - Ian McKeown, Sustainability Professional, Loyola Marymount; K.Denaye Hinds, CEO, JustaTAAD; Michael Laas, Managing Partner, Sustainable Futures Group

At the start of day 2 of the event, this panel discussed sustainability efforts to impact branding, investors, recruiting, and costs, with creative solutions and risk mitigation for ESG.

Consumer Trends & haku Product Development - Adam Wolford, Head of Product, haku

Adam explained how the haku platform is growing and evolving along with customer needs to become more personalized and seamless. He detailed ways in which haku affects each step of the participant journey, and provided insights into some of the notable advancements in the product, some to come soon.

Building a Brand Through Customer Experience - Orlando Gadea, Global VP of Customer Experience Transformation, Stanley Black & Decker

Our final session looked at how feelings, experiences and values affect the way a brand is perceived vs competitors. Orlando analyzed the relationship between cost, price, and perceived value. He also shared his concept of a “cookie,” which is a differentiator for an organization, sometimes very tangible, sometimes very small or a token item, but always impactful in the perception of a business.


But what kind of haku event would it be without some fun? Day 1 concluded with a little surprise beyond the traditional dinner and drinks, as dancers, neon lights, live music and crazy costumes filled the room. It’s called “hora loca”, Spanish for “crazy hour”, and it was an incredible hit with those who had and had not been part of this experience before.

Overall, it was two days filled with networking opportunities, quality and diverse presentations, a historic and beautiful venue, and fun with our closest friends and partners.

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you to everyone who joined us. Forward 2023 should be an even bigger and better spectacle and we can’t wait to show you some of the ideas we’ve already got in mind.