December 4, 2015 | By Jake Weber
"When you say you work for the Parade Company to someone who lives in Detroit, expect a handshake and a long conversation," says Evan Kneisel, '17. "People are really interested and are grateful for what we do."
The nonprofit Parade Company attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators to Detroit's annual Thanksgiving Day parade. Organizing it is a gargantuan undertaking, especially for a professional staff of just 17 people, along with two interns.
Kneisel, this fall's sponsorship intern, designed this year's grandstand tickets and also spent the week before Thanksgiving selling them. "I spent a lot of time on the phone, answering questions and helping people who wanted to buy last-minute tickets," he says. "You do whatever has to be done when it's a small team."
Kneisel's internship sprang from working with a Parade Company event while in high school. "I did setup and teardown for the Ford Fireworks show, and I liked the company and the people," he recalls. "I asked the director about internships, and working with sponsors sounded like something I wanted to learn about."
Furniture retailer Art Van saved Detroit's parade during the 1990s, and the Parade Company was founded to bring more corporate sponsors on board. Beyond organizing volunteers and creating floats, the Parade Company works with the local, regional and national sponsors who underwrite a significant share of the expenses.
Along with designing tickets, Kneisel designed PowerPoint slides displayed at the Hob Nobble Gobble, a major fundraiser for the Parade Company.
He also observed the sometimes delicate negotiations between sponsors and float designers, while working on the signage displayed on the floats. "I kept track of things like the color of the logo," he says. "These aren't things that other people are seeing, but they're important to the sponsor, so I definitely keep an eye on them."
And while the internship is part of Kneisel's Gerstacker Institute concentration, he found a communication studies class with Karen Erlandson to be particularly helpful. "I had to present information to 50 volunteer marchers at a time, and the class prepared me for that," he says.
"Some business executives sat in on my orientations, which was extremely intimidating. I had to get over my nerves pretty quickly," he adds.
The morning of the parade, Kneisel oversaw the sponsors' breakfast, complete with getting a number of CEOs to media interviews on time.
"It's particularly helpful for the revitalization of Detroit, since our events bring so much traffic to the city," he says of the Parade Company. "Being able to see all that goes into gaining new or extending current sponsor contracts was really very interesting. It's definitely a possibility in my career search."