Friday, February 23 , 2018, 1:10 pm | Fair 58º


Michelle Rodriguez a Fine Fit at the Helm of Santa Barbara French Festival

The self-professed Francophile uses her passion for design and technology to help streamline the annual event

Sometimes it’s hard to see where a job — even a career — will lead, but eventually all the dots connect in a confluence of purpose. Michelle Rodriguez, the new head of the Santa Barbara French Festival, is uniquely suited for the job after touch points that include music marketing, magazine publishing and Web site design. Oh, and she’s a self-professed Francophile.

Rodriguez grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from UCLA with a degree in musicology (the history of music). She landed a coveted internship with Interscope Records, where she met numerous A-listers and learned the ropes of publicity and marketing. That job led to a position as a college representative for Mercury Records.

Between classes, Rodriguez organized news conferences and record signings for such heavy-hitters as Madonna, KISS and Cake. In this capacity, she was also tasked with designing the promotional fliers and posters — something she would later revisit.

After graduation, Rodriguez took a marketing job with Miramax, where she planned movie junkets and staffed celebrity interviews. Next, she came on board with a boutique public relations firm specializing in European film promotion. She traveled to all the major film festivals, including London, Cannes and Milan, and later moved to Belgium where she could use her French and enjoy the European culture.

While Rodriguez loved her time abroad, she decided to return to the United States to pursue a design degree — her other passion — from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Next, she combined her interest in fashion, travel and design by introducing a line of travel clothing. Rodriguez wrote a travel blog to promote it that eventually turned into Hip Compass Escapes — the first national digital travel magazine. Eventually, running the magazine overtook her fashion line, and Rodriguez along with an army of contributors turned out the popular e-zine.

Ahead of the trend of tablets, Rodriguez tried to convince skeptical advertisers that people really would read content on a hand-held digital device.

“I had nearly every big ad agency in New York tell me I was crazy to pursue this, and now all the magazines have moved online,” Rodriguez said.

She recently combined her love of technology and design into her own company, Loli Studios, a local firm that integrates marketing and design. She produces marketing campaigns, logos, print and Web advertising, along with ad word campaigns and search optimized Web sites.

With Cuban parents, Spanish was Rodriguez’s first language. She picked up French while studying in Paris after graduation and says she became obsessed with France, and Paris in particular. She recalls feeling an immediate affection with the culture that led to numerous visits in the following years. Rodriguez attended the Santa Barbara French Festival numerous times over the years and welcomed the opportunity to take over this spring as head of the 24-year-old celebration.

Founded by Steve Hoegerman on a love of all things French, the event is one of the longest-running French festivals in the world. On average, 20,000 people attend the event to celebrate with a variety of entertainment, including cancan and Moroccan belly dancers, grand opera, Cajun and classical groups, folk dancing, Tahitian dancing, jazz, and cabaret music in the tradition of Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier. Attendees can also expect wandering mimes, jugglers and accordion players as well as a poodle parade, which often includes poodle look-alikes.

In looking for a successor, Hoegerman said he wanted someone who would keep the festival’s traditions and culture intact, and he saw Rodriguez as the perfect fit. In addition to being well-traveled and French-loving, she has ideas about how to streamline the festival using design and technology. For example, she is automating the registration process for volunteers and giving advertisers many more opportunities to reach the community in advance, via the newsletters and Web site.

“Attendees won’t see a huge difference, as most the changes I’m making are internal, but the festival will run smoother and advertisers will get more exposure,” she said.

The Santa Barbara French Festival takes place from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 16-17 (Bastille Day weekend) in Santa Barbara’s Oak Park. Admission is free. Click here for more information.

Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to see more of her work. Follow her on Twitter: @jennkennedy.

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