GREAT FALLS - Heidi Browning has spent the last three decades at the top of her profession.
As a marketing executive, her career has stops at several influential companies such as Fox Interactive/MySpace and Pandora. But since 2016, Browning has served as the Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for the National Hockey League, helping the organization thrive in the digital world. Browning oversees three aspects of the NHL’s marketing: fan engagement, fan insights and social media strategy.
"When I joined the NHL, the company was celebrating its 100 year anniversary,” Browning said. “So our challenge was - how do we take it to the end of the next hundred years? How do we maintain relevance with young fans? How do we kind of push the boundaries? So that's where we are today.”
And her efforts have been remarkably successful. Under Browning’s leadership, the NHL has experienced a 33% growth in followers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. She spearheaded the introduction of eight new Twitter accounts, several on Instagram along with TikTok, Weibo and WeChat accounts. As a result of a focused strategy on video content, video streams have increased 111% across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
She’s developed the NHL Power Players Advisory Board, a panel made up of 25 fans ages 13-17 from the US and Canada who are bringing their best ideas to help grow the game with a younger audience.
But before she was a C-suite executive for one of the world’s biggest sports leagues she was a young girl growing up in Great Falls Montana with big dreams.
“I was born in Bozeman and moved to Great Falls at a young age. So I went to school at Meadowlark in grade school and then West junior high school, and then CMR,” Browning said. “I was an only child so my parents kept me busy with a lot of activities. I was an overachiever for sure. I was involved in orchestra, I played the violin, I sang in the choir. I was on the debate team. I just got involved in a lot of different activities.”
Her interest in marketing started after she graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder, while working at Kaplan Test Prep, and studying for the LSAT. She had originally planned on working as a lawyer in the foreign service.
“Kaplan gave me a scholarship that I worked off by working in the office. And one day I was working in the Kaplan office in Boulder, Colorado, and it was a beautiful sunny afternoon. And all my friends were out having fun, but I had to work,” Browning said. “And so I got creative and I essentially brought the inside of the office outside. I brought a desk and a chair and all of our brochures and our office was right on a walking street in Boulder. And I generated more leads for the organization that they'd ever seen before, just because I thought outside the box l. And so that was my first marketing award that I ever won and I thought, wow, this is pretty cool.”
From there her career took off, and she became a highly sought speaker and presenter at industry conferences for her expertise in digital marketing and social media. After a meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Browning joined the NHL. She was recently named one of Adweek’s Most Powerful Women in Sports.
Browning is a tireless advocate for gender equality in sports, and pays it forward as much as she can.
“I'd say that throughout my career, I have most often been the only woman in the room, at the table, in the meetings and in the board room. And so it's really important for young girls and young women in the workplace to see that women can achieve C-level positions,” Browning said. “I always quote Billie Jean King who said ‘If you can see it, you can be it’. And I make it a personal commitment to spend time with young girls, young women to help them. Give them feedback, give them advice and help them build confidence on their paths to the future.”
Browning's position in the NHL has brought her all over the world, and connected her to an untold number of communities, fans and players. But no matter where she’s been and no matter where she’s going, she’s never forgotten her Montana roots.
“I feel like Montana is responsible for my work ethic. My family has always been a hardworking family and I bring that with me wherever I go,” Browning said. “I also credit Montana for keeping me grounded in the real world. And then being a good person and, being kind to others. Those are all qualities that are from my childhood that I bring with me.”
Browning, whose parents still live in central Montana, hasn’t been able to visit recently due to a busy schedule and living bi-coastal in New York and San Francisco. But she recently followed Showdown Ski Area on Instagram and fondly remembers her family making trips to the ski hill during her upbringing.
"I was a big skier and we'd ski every single weekend, which is fun,” Browning said. “So it brings back all kinds of warm, fuzzy memories of those days on the slopes. I just love Montana.”