Q & A

Jean McFaddin:
Macy's Departing Event Maven

Jean McFaddin
Outgoing senior vice president of public relations and events, Macy's

First job: Gift-wrapper in Lufkin, Texas, in the eighth grade. "I love to wrap gifts to this day."

Favorite magazine: People.

Hours of sleep per night: Tries to get 7 to 8.

April 2, 2001, 12:00 AM EDT

Jean McFaddin's events are so big they end up in the Guinness Book of World Records.

And we're not even talking about her best-known event, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which she has overseen since 1977. No, the record breaker is Tap-O-Mania, an event McFaddin, Macy's outgoing senior vice president of public relations and events, came up with more than 20 years ago. Each August, Macy's brings thousands of would-be tap dancers to West 34th Street to perform a choreographed routine together in front of the store. In 1998, the event broke Guinness' record for the largest assembly of tap dancers in a single routine (6,708).

McFaddin's current project is this year's Flower Show, a huge floral installation on display at the Herald Square store from April 8 to 21. This is her final event as a Macy's staff member. Although she'll still serve as a consultant to the company, McFaddin is leaving Macy's to start a new firm, McFaddin Event Associates, which will draw upon her vast experience coordinating some of New York's biggest events.

Tap-O-Mania and the Thanksgiving parade have put McFaddin's work in front of millions of consumers. The store's corporate parent, Federated Department Stores, won't say how much the events affect sales or how much they cost, but anyone who has ever watched the parade on television--and who hasn't?--knows it's a huge undertaking. So how does McFaddin handle such pressure? “I have an extremely high energy level,” McFaddin says. “My creative energy thrives on these demands. I also learned years ago that you're only as good as the talent you surround yourself with.”

McFaddin's staff grew from four when she joined Macy's in 1977 to 70 today, as her responsibilities grew from just running special events to overseeing all in-store events, publicity and promotions for all 90 stores in the Macy's East division. In addition to the parade (a tradition since 1924), Tap-O-Mania and the spring flower show, McFaddin planned its Fourth of July fireworks and Miracle on 34th Street Christmas celebration.

To keep herself from becoming overwhelmed by job pressures, McFaddin says she just adds more work: “I balance myself with diversions. I've rebuilt my house in Connecticut, I work in the garden. I just generate more work for myself that's different.”

A tall, outgoing Texan who has never lost her drawl, McFaddin studied theater in college (Stephens College in Columbia, Mo.) and graduate school (the University of Texas at Austin), and worked in summer stock productions. She eventually became the artistic director of the James Joyce Liquid Memorial Theater at the University of La Verne in La Verne, Calif., an interactive theater that created party-like celebrations and sent her to New York and Europe. It was, for her, a seminal experience. “I discovered a whole new.phpect of what the theatrical experience could be, something I didn't know existed, that it could be event-driven,” she says. “I loved the spontaneity and audience involvement [of the theater].”

That element of audience involvement still affects McFaddin's planning. She says the key to her success is “knowing the audience [I'm] doing the event for, making sure the appeal is right for them.”

“For example, the Thanksgiving Day parade won't be wonderful if every float and balloon is new,” she says. “Part of the appeal is the sense of tradition. It's important to decide what your icons are, when you can rotate them and when you cannot. I listen to my audience.” McFaddin talks to children (including her nieces and nephews, who visit from Texas often), watches their favorite programs and reads the press coverage of her events.

So what's next for McFaddin? She hasn't signed any definite clients yet--she's still officially a Macy's employee until April 20--but she is planning some well-deserved vacation time in Texas and Europe.

Posted 04.02.01

Portrait photo by Anna Persson

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