Rob Schaltenbrand, the Director of Marketing, Communications and Cultural Programming at The CORE: Club, has done just about everything. Seriously. Nine lives aren’t enough for this guy—he’s had at least a dozen. He’s been in a punk band. He’s been a sponsored skateboarder. He’s had three jobs while going to school full-time. He’s run the arts program at Microsoft. He’s a guy with an amazing amount of intellectual curiosity, a true explorer. For him, life is about never being complacent. “As long as there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t feel like both a student and a teacher, it’s a great journey to be on.”
Let’s begin with some basics. What is your official title at CORE:, and what does that job entail?
My official title is Director of Marketing, Communications and Cultural Programming.
It seems like it’s a little more complicated than that.
It is. Our business is really about experience, about a high-level of touch and service. I think about every aspect of the experience here, from the lighting when you walk in the door to the soundtrack that sort of sets the stage as you’re moving through the lobby to the second floor. I think about the smell. I think about the things that are on our walls. It’s just…common experience touch points for us. We’re not a conventional brand.
I came from the conventional brand and agency side. In the early part of my career I worked at Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal and Partners. During the next phase I worked for Nike on the Converse brand. And then I worked for Microsoft in their entertainment division. There has always been, whether it’s through the clients or through the brand I’ve worked with directly, a lifestyle thread that’s gone through it all.
And was that deliberate?
So it didn’t emerge suddenly out of nowhere, with the realization that you were apparently interested in lifestyle.
No. I grew up in Atlanta in an unconventional household. I didn’t go to school until late in life. I was a sponsored skateboarder, and I played in a band.
What band? Would I know it?
No. We played noise. We were referred to, for a period of time, as Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor.
Yeah. At the time we were inspired by a lot of noise. I’ve always loved the process more than the finished product. That’s the art. You’re going down that path, and you’re exploring new systems. New is the operative word. It’s interesting to go along this journey.
You were a sponsored skateboarder. Who was sponsoring you?
Foundation Boards, Tracker Trucks. There was a company called Zero Two that was referred to as a “vegan shoe company.” This was like ‘92, ‘93.
And then what happened?
I met a girl. She said that she was going off to school, so I thought, “Yeah, I’ll go off to school too.” So I moved up to Rutgers. While I was skating I did a lot of photography and shot a lot of video, and I decided that I was going to go to art school. I went up there and moved in with her. I took some classes in the summer while I figured out how to pay for it. I was working three jobs. The thing was, I didn’t get into school, so I started taking classes at what’s called the University College at Rutgers. I guess you could call it the community college at Rutgers. It’s a year-long program. After the first semester, when I took six classes as well as doing the jobs, I not only got into Rutgers, I got a free ride. One of the quotes in my high school graduation book was, “Smash the false teeth out of the establishment.” Me getting into the school and getting a free ride after they turned me down was a total fuck you, the old system is broken, just take it on a case by case basis. While I was in college I did printmaking, I did photography, I did design, and then I moved into business. I did free internships. One was with Johnson & Johnson in their marketing department, doing layout. The other one was with the New Jersey State Bar department, and then the third one was with a design and lifestyle magazine called Blur.
I remember Blur.
Blur was in the mid-90s, and it was Scott Klum, who did Beach Culture, and then did Raygun with David Carson and another guy named Gavin Wilson, who was sort of the artistic side. I worked there for a year and a half, two years. It was funny. The other guy I worked with was Ryan McGuinness, which was amazing.
That is amazing.
So I’ve got all the old back issues, and there’s Ryan and me getting credit in the masthead. He did layout and I did interviews, coming into the city from Jersey two or three days a week. It was amazing, because I got to see amazing shows and meet amazing artists. It was really my first indoctrination into New York. After I graduated my first job was working at a music company called Cductive.
I don’t know that company. What was their story?
Before the digital explosion got underway they licensed all the content from indie labels. You would go to their website, and you would make a custom compilation CD, and they would burn it for you.
So it was a little like Spotify before Spotify.
Right. They’d burn it for you, and they’d send it to you. They were acquired by eMusic, and I went over to work at eMusic. After the dot-com bubble burst, I went to work at TVT Records, which at the time was the largest independent label in the U.S. I was the director of new media business development.
So that must have meant Web, at that time.
Right. So I had to figure out how to take all of the artists and all of their content and digitize it and present it on the label’s website while also striking deals with other companies. Nike, for instance, had the first MP3 player, the PSA120. I worked with them to license our label content for the purpose of the player. That was an amazing ride.
What was your favorite thing about it?
Trying to figure it out as I went along. Carl Jung talked about twelve story archetypes, and for me, after spending time at Microsoft, where they invest a lot of time in individual development—I read a lot about those archetypes, and what I found out is that I’m the explorer, good, bad or otherwise. I think it probably has to do with family of origin stuff, because I lived in at least fifteen different places growing up. Atlanta to Pittsburgh to Wisconsin to living on a beach in Mazatlan with my mom.
How did you end up at CORE:?
Pablo, my predecessor, posted something on Facebook. So I met with him, had drinks, liked where he came from. It was great. What he was doing here as far as the programming…fantastic. I met with the team here. I had three lunches over four months. I loved the vetting process. Nobody was anxious to run right in, the attitude was more, let’s sort of date.
Let’s see each other for a while.
Exactly. Let’s see each other. Why so desperate? I had three lunch meetings, I met with the partners, and then I spoke with Jennie (Enterprise, the founder and chairman of CORE), who is the most amazing, sincere salesperson. She told me on the phone, “Anybody ever tell you that you have a sexy voice?” I said, “No, but I’ll take the job. Right now. You got me.” I had gotten to a point in my career where I was tired of selling stuff. People have enough shit. I always felt that the experiences were the most memorable pieces. Those are timeless. You’re making an imprint on somebody’s body, mind and soul. This job is absolutely the right platform from which be a teacher but also a student. I need and want to understand the nuances of this business. It’s about piquing my own curiosity. That’s what struck me: the combination of the familiar thread of culture and the curiosity about the community and category.
So I have one last question. Do you have a creative or life philosophy that guides your actions or thought process or the way you treat people?
There are four philosophies I try to apply. Number one, work hard and be nice to people. I’ve worked in too many environments where there’s a lot of posturing. Number two is the one I mentioned to you earlier, about smashing the false teeth out of the establishment. I also like Benjamin Franklin’s idea about doing the deeds of great men. If I’m to wear the corporate baron headdress at some point in time, I would apply something I learned from Bob Sillerman of Live Nation and SFX Entertainment. He said, “Number 1: Have fun. Number two: Make money. Number three: Have Fun Making Money.” The bottom line is that I want to make good shit that everybody’s proud of, that ten, fifteen years, a century down the road, people say wow, that was pretty amazing.