Chris Werle has been named Senior Associate Athletic Director for Strategic Communications at the University of Minnesota after more than 20 years of work with a variety of sports, corporate and public organizations in Minnesota and across the country.
Werle oversees Gopher Athletics communications and media relations functions. He also provides strategic advice on brand management, creative services and marketing, and stakeholder and policymaker relationships.
Werle is used to managing strategic communications and marketing for unique subsidiaries of large organizations. Between 2009 and 2012 he was vice president for global communications for Estee Lauder Companies, managing Aveda Brand communications. From 1999-2002, he managed the announcement of the Xbox Video Game Console while a group marketing manager of the games division at Microsoft Corporation.
In addition to his time at Estee Lauder and Microsoft, Werle was executive vice president of the consumer marketing practice at Weber Shandwick in Minneapolis from 2002-2009 where he worked for a number of organizations including the National Hockey League. From 1995-1999, he worked in multiple roles at Weber Shandwick's predecessor company, Shandwick International. Prior to that, he was a public relations manager for NordicTrack, Inc. in Chaska, Minn. Werle also currently serves on the executive committee of the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center. He is a native of Rochester, Minn., and a graduate of St. Cloud State University.
Q&A with Chris Werle
Q: You have very extensive experience leading communications and branding efforts with multiple large organizations...what was the draw to this position in college athletics?
A: The challenge and the people drew me here. I truly never saw myself working directly in college athletics. I have experience with NCAA athletics from the sponsor side with Coca-Cola, Allstate, General Motors and others, but never considered working on the academic side. Now that I'm here, I have no idea why it never occurred to me sooner. There is an opportunity here to take the work being done, at the University as a whole and in the Athletic Department and build overall positioning that will aid in recruiting, fundraising, student-athlete development and many other areas that lead to successful and winning programs. From a staff perspective, the energy and single-minded focus on moving the overall department forward was electric and has remained so in my first few weeks.
Q: As someone that grew up in Minnesota, what are some of your top moments watching Gopher sports?
A: Some of the earliest lasting memories are Tony Dungy and Kent Kitzmann at Memorial Stadium and Mychal Thompson's pooka shell necklace that I may or may not have tried to emulate as an elementary school kid depending on whether any photos survive. After that, it's the Tucker, Holmes, Breuer, Hall, Mitchell teams. Other highlights include the Women's Basketball Final Four Run, the Men's Hockey program under all of the coaches from Brooks to Lucia, the Women's Hockey dominance and all of J Robinson's All-Americans.
But by far, the moment I best recall was a long time ago when a guy broke out to the front of the Twin Cities Marathon early wearing a sweatshirt with a mildly risqué message. Midway through the marathon he strips off the sweatshirt to reveal his Minnesota Track jersey. It was a cat named Lloyd Ness. He didn't win and I don't know why I remember it so vividly, but it's truly one of my favorite memories.
[editor's note: Ness was an All-American in cross country in 1981 and the 10,000 meters in 1982 at the U of M.]
Q: What is your early take on the Gopher Athletics community?
A: Community is exactly the right word to describe it. I'm blown away by the level of teamwork and shared commitment to this Athletic Department. Something that hinders and slows any organization is a selfish attitude and that is something I just haven't encountered here relative to other organizations I've touched. When the first thought of everyone working on a shared task is, "is it good for the program" or "is it in the best interests of the department and university," it keeps everyone on track and tied to the objectives.
Q: Your career has taken you around the country and the world. Talk about a few of your favorite places you have visited.
A: I loved living in the Pacific Northwest and Seattle. Living and working in New York was also fun, for different reasons. But I always seem to end up back in Minneapolis. As far as business travel, few things are as educational as getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing other cultures; the challenge of quickly learning the different audiences to whom you're marketing and how to best reach and persuade them. You can certainly read mountains of research, but until you land in a specific region of Asia, Europe or anywhere else you can't truly feel it.
Q: What do you like to do most in your time away from work?
A: I enjoy being outside. I run, cycle, mountain bike, kayak, water/snow ski, etc., none of which as much as I'd like. I'll catch a band somewhere if it doesn't keep me up too far past my bedtime.
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