The 2024 B-to-B Dream Team

The 2024 B-to-B Dream Team

NAME: Jennifer Q. Hughes
CURRENT TITLE: Director-Communications, Community Relations & Events
BRAND: AutoZone
DREAM TEAM TITLE: Director of Brand Storytelling
WHY WE WANT HER: An expert storyteller and communicator with a background in p.r., she knows how to reach audiences, build relationships, align with internal teams and draw executive buy-in.

Organization is key for Jennifer Q. Hughes in balancing her role as director-communications, community relations and events at AutoZone.

“For events, you can never start early enough,” she says. “I like to be prepared. I don’t like to be stressed about these things because I can’t; I have two other large responsibilities outside of my events role, so I must be buttoned up and on top of things.”

Hughes got her first taste of events in mall marketing at The Galleria in Houston, working on galas and seasonal experiences. Over 11 years at Hilton Worldwide, Hughes delved into larger events and honed her p.r. and communications skills, particularly around the launch of the Home2 Suites by Hilton brand. Next, she had a brief stint in communications at AutoZone before moving to American Residential Services, but she was recruited back to the automotive parts retailer in 2022. (Plus, Hughes’ husband is also a fellow AutoZoner, having worked at the company for 26 years.)

Out of AutoZone’s headquarters in Memphis, TN, Hughes leads a team of six: two in brand communications, three in store communications supporting more than 7,000 locations, and one meeting planner. On the events side, Hughes works with her team, agency partners and “core teams” made up of AutoZoners who volunteer to help outside of their full-time responsibilities to carry out three large annual programs, in addition to smaller events, holiday gatherings and this year’s 45th anniversary celebration.

First is the three-day AutoZone Vendor Summit in June, followed by the National Sales Meeting (NSM), the brand’s biggest event, at Memphis’ Renasant Convention Center in September. More than 3,000 AutoZoners converge for a week of “fun, meetings and events within events” at the NSM. Lastly, AutoZone recognizes its top performers with an incentive trip, the Sales Leadership Council, which is headed to Scottsdale, AZ, for four days.

The 2023 NSM was Hughes’ first, and there were a lot of considerations, from audiences to programming to a ceo transition.

“These are people who have been with AutoZone for a very long time, so they’ve seen many national sales meetings or won multiple awards,” she says. “My challenge is how do we keep it fresh and within budget? When you are held truly to your budget, and then for someone like me who wants to make it even better year after year, it’s quite difficult. But thankfully, we’ve been able to meet and even exceed that challenge, and from what our ceo said, it was one of the best ones that he’d ever seen, so I’ll take that as a win.”

Through surveys, Hughes has found that attendees love a dedicated event app to get their information. While it’s been a part of the NSM, last year was the first time an app was available for AutoZone Vendor Summit, and the feedback was positive. Self-registration and on-demand printing for badges were also recent experiments that paid off: “If you start teaching AutoZoners how to do these things on their own, it’s going to work out, and ultimately that’s where a lot of cost savings has come, too,” she says.

On the future of events, Hughes says she would like to see more micro-events and personalized experiences.

“You could make and build on so many more close relationships if events were smaller, and people can learn more because you’re not in a room with 500 of your closest friends,” she says. “Being in this business for a while, it’ll be great to see whatever comes along in sustainability, AI or even virtual reality.”


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