Leadership / 05.25.22
Deirdre Naff Saddles Up Throughout Her Life in Ticketing
Scene in: flat long road, a lone horse and rider in the distance, dog trots alongside, cue sunrise, cue music.
If this were a movie script, the closing scene would almost certainly be of Deirdre Naff riding her favorite horse into the sunset. It would be the end of one narrative and the beginning of another for this veteran ticketing professional. Heading west from the flatlands of Kansas to a new career in the mountains of Utah, it would be a story of both loss and renewal.
“[My greatest achievement was] leaving a job of 15 years in Kansas, moving to Salt Lake City without knowing one soul, and surviving and thriving. I did not know I had that ability,” she says. “I did it after a divorce, which was traumatic at 40. I had that crisis, and I knew I needed to get away. Instead of getting a haircut, which is what a lot of people do when they have a big thing [happen in their life], I took a new job halfway across the country. My ability to be adaptable surprised me.”
The year was 1997 and while Deirdre did not really make the journey on a horse, she did bring her trusty steeds with her, as she has been riding and showing horses since she was a kid in 4H. In more recent years, she has also served on the boards of both the National Reined Cow Horse Association and the Days of 47 Cowboy Games & Rodeo.
Deirdre in sixth grade
“Horses have always been No. 1 since I was little,” she says. “I cannot imagine a life without horses in it. If you ask somebody what they know about me, they will [almost certainly] say my obsession with horses.”
Deirdre and Dodger.
And dogs too. Deirdre had a Kelpie for many years.
“He weighed 80 pounds but was still super healthy when he passed away just before his 18th birthday. It just broke my freakin’ heart. Even though I'd had him forever, I was just devastated. I still have tears in my eyes [when I talk about him].”
Rest in peace, Walter Clinton.
A year ago, a new dog came into her life. “He is an Idaho Shag,” Deirdre says. “I named him Hamish after Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick John ‘Hamish’ Watson. Hamish means loyal friend in Scottish.”
Hamish on that day that he and Deirdre first met.
Handsome Hamish today.
It should come as no surprise then that loyalty is the quality Deirdre most values in all her friends, human as well as canine or equine.
“I do not mean they are going to do no matter what or say no matter what, but I know that they always have my back, and because they have my best interests at heart, they are willing to tell me things that I might not want to hear.”
When it comes to her colleagues, Deirdre says she likes to work with people who are forthright and honest but “still have the ability to be diplomatic.” And in a leader, she needs a high degree of trust.
“I need to trust that they have the best intentions for the organization and for myself. That is key,” she says. “I also want to see a lot of positivity. When you work for somebody who is negative, that is something that rolls downhill. I recall a speech [where a sports GM said,] ‘If you have a bushel of apples and one is spoiling [and] getting rotten, eventually the methane gas infects all of them.’ So, I think a leader’s actions and reactions bleed down to everyone … I want somebody who is a cheerleader. I want to see a lot of positivity.”
Deirdre’s own positive attitude may be one of the reasons her career continued on its incredible upward trajectory after she left Wichita, Kansas. At the time, she was the assistant director of operations for Select-A-Seat, a regional ticketing company that she had started along with her boss 15 years earlier. It was one of the first computerized ticketing systems in the country. Deirdre was then offered a job as operations director with SmithsTix in Salt Lake City. “By the end of the year,” she says proudly, “I was president.”
And what a time that was. Salt Lake City was getting ready to host the 2002 Winter Olympics and, for the first time ever, the Olympics would be using ticket outlets. Deirdre found herself right in the thick of things.
“When they brought me out here, it was to get the company ready to help sell tickets for the Olympics,” she says. “We were a Tickets.com client, so we handled all the outlets. It was such an amazing experience, an absolutely incredible experience. The friends that I made in ticketing during the Olympics are still my friends today … At the medal plaza, we gave away tickets. I cannot remember how many we had a night when they gave away a medal, but we had top entertainment. It was a nightmare trying to distribute those through our outlets. So it was the scariest thing I have ever done and also the most incredible.”
Deirdre remained with SmithsTix for 22 years before it was acquired by AXS, where she continues to work full time. What has kept her going all this time?
“Getting up every morning with the ability to make a difference,” she says. “Making people happy, whether it is a client or a customer who lost his tickets two years ago. I do not want to make myself sound like I am a total people pleaser because I can be a hard ass and say no, but when I can and it is the right thing to do, it is fun to make people happy. At the end of the day, if we are in ticketing, we are in the business of fun and happiness and creating memories for people. I want everybody who is going to a show when we are selling the ticket, from the time they buy it to the time they go home, to have a good experience.”
Deirdre (left) with Darin Piccoli (The State Room Presents), Stephanie Streeter (AXS) and Chris Mautz (The State Room Presents).
Her move to Salt Lake City also gave Deirdre her first opportunity to attend an INTIX conference. This year marks her 25th anniversary as a member of the organization. She says she counts INTIX President and CEO Maureen Andersen as both a treasured friend and wonderful mentor.
“Oh my gosh, she is amazing,” Deirdre says. “I have known Maureen through her Denver [Center for the] Performing Arts days and through Paciolan. I was a client of Paciolan, and she did my conversion. Through thick and thin, she amazes me. Her writing, her personality, her ability to make everyone know they are special and feel such a part of an organization is such a gift. I always tell her that I want to be Maureen when I grow up. And all the other people who I have met through INTIX, whether it’s Fred Maglione, who I met back in the eighties, Matt Cooper, and the list goes on and on; I do not think I would have been successful at my job if it were not for the people who I have met at INTIX. When I need to know something, I know that I can call any one of them and they will call me back. They can help me solve a problem. I have never been in a community that is so willing to call somebody back within 24 hours and talk you through an issue.”
Like so many other INTIX members, Deirdre says she values the organization for networking, keeping up to date on current trends and building knowledge which, she says, she is more than happy to pass on to others.
“What I get from INTIX is a sense of security,” she says. “We have seen some amazing changes over the years. INTIX has been a lifesaver because ticketing has changed; there is so much more technology and involvement with marketing that none of us can be an expert on everything. But we can find an expert on just about everything somewhere within our organization. The level of information we have on our website and [the weekly] calls that we have [are incredibly helpful]. INTIX makes me look a heck of a lot smarter than I really am because I can go find an answer for anyone who might have a question about something. I get a level of security knowing that I have such a great support network out there.”
When asked about her most memorable INTIX experience, Deirdre hesitates for a moment. “Oh my God,” she says. “I can’t publish that one. You can write that.” She then says, “I can’t tell you, but it did happen in Washington, D.C., in 1997. Some of the bodies are still alive. Let me tell you. Oh my.”
Still in a humorous mood, Deirdre confesses that the talent she would most like to have is the ability to sing and dance and “having people stop on the streets and throw money at me.” Alas, she says, “I do not even dare try to hum a tune, it is so bad.”
When it comes to musicians, Deirdre admits to having become an unexpected fan of U2 during their 360° Tour in 2011.
“It took them a week or two to build the stage and, get this, the day before the show Bono fell off the stage and we had to cancel the show. This was after people had already flown in,” she says. “I was never a big fan of U2. They were just a band. We did that show, we did the ticketing, and so we were on-site, and I was just blown away,” she says, adding that to this day it stands as the best live event she has ever seen. “There was something about it, and I can't tell you why, but it just touched me. I just don't know. It was one of those religious experiences or spiritual experiences that I walked away from and just thought it was amazing.”
While that U2 concert was held at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, when it comes to venues, Deirdre’s favorite is no more.
“When I moved here, there used to be a venue in Salt Lake City called the Zephyr. This was in 1997. It closed sometime after the Olympics. It was back before there were venues on every street corner, and they had the best live music. They brought in Billy Bob Thornton [and many other musical acts]. It was one of those places that was crowded, it had an upstairs balcony, and it was just amazing. It was a very cool place, and nothing has replaced it in my heart since then,” she says.
Deirdre has, however, found room in her heart for a new favorite musician, singer-songwriter Jason Isbell.
“I have a newfound and massive love for Jason Isbell,” she says. “I love his music. There is something about his songwriting. There isn’t a song he sings that doesn’t just reach down into my heart and squeeze it.”
As Deirdre speaks, one can almost see her sitting in a favorite armchair in her Salt Lake City loft overlooking the nearby mountains, perhaps re-reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” (although she does admit that she generally only reads a book once) or settling into a new book from a long list of beloved authors, including Harlan Coben, James Patterson, Bob Woodward and Jon Krakauer. “It is hard to have a favorite author when you love books,” she says.
“There is also a New Orleans author who wrote a book called ‘Oyster.’ I actually picked it up when I was at INTIX in New Orleans … I think [the author John Biguenet] is actually from New Orleans himself. If it was my book, I would be shopping the screenplay. I think it would make a great movie … It was just a fluke I picked it up. I think the lady from the bookstore recommended it, and it is one of my all-time favorite books. I have given my copy away and I do not even know if it is still in print,” she says.
Other than the odd trip abroad (she lived in Italy for a while), Deirdre seems content to spend time at home in Salt Lake City. “I love this place,” she says. “The weather, the opportunity, the mountains. It is incredible here. I am not disparaging Kansas, but I grew up with tornadoes, humidity, mosquitos, fleas, ticks, bugs, wind, horrible cold and horrible heat. In Utah, it is really not cold. I have never seen a flea or a tick or even a June bug and the climate is amazing.”
The view from Deirdre’s backyard.
Sounds like the perfect place for an ambling gait on a favorite mare or stallion, perhaps with loveable Hamish trailing along. Horses and her dog are definitely great joys in Deirdre’s life, after all, but not the only ones. “There is nothing that makes me feel better, whether it is a colleague or somebody else, than being able to help others,” she says. “I like to feel like I can make a difference.”
And make a difference she has — in the lives of so many — along both her personal and professional paths.
Scene: road climbing into the mountains, a lone horse and rider in the distance, dog trots alongside, cue sunset, cue music, swell music, and scene out.
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