Entertainment brokerage brings Stokes full circle — and then some
Lisa Stokes took a career leap nearly 15 years ago into the world of entertainment brokerages and has made her mark in the industry.
In 1999, Stokes acquired Bruce Rohrbach Productions, now Dauphin County-based B.R.P. Entertainment. The firm has grown from having no casino business to casino work being the majority of the work B.R.P. does.
As with many other industries, the entertainment brokerage industry is male dominated. Stokes said that might be because male musicians with business sense often transition to agent or broker roles after their on-stage careers are over.
"They are still in their passion and they can keep doing something with it. And most of them are men, for whatever reason," she said. "It's probably a great study for one of the entertainment programs in college."
Stokes attributes her success in the industry to her marketing background and experience within the gaming industry, having a great staff and other support, and being able to see the big picture.
B.R.P. takes over booking acts for clients, who are dealing with a lot of other needs.
"Entertainment is just a little part of it," she said. "So when I go in, that's what I say. 'I want to be an extension of your team.'"
At the same time, once on the ground at an event, Stokes and her staff leap in to help with whatever needs to be done, whether it's helping a stressed employee deal with a long line or even setting up a buffet.
Before taking the leap into business ownership, Stokes was marketing director for Penn National Gaming and worked for the company for 18 years.
After a while, Stokes said, she started getting restless, even though she enjoyed working for the company. In the late 1990s, the opportunity came up to look for a business to buy with the help of an investor, she said.
A business broker introduced her to Bruce Rohrbach. He and his wife, Holly, ran the business with a lot of integrity, she recalled. As part of the agreement, she arranged for Rohrbach to stay on for the first year so he could introduce her to the client base he had built. Her marketing background taught her the importance of relationships, she said.
The company brought with it a great book of business in corporate events and association conventions, Stokes said.
And for nearly 10 years, she never reached out to Penn National.
Then, as Penn National geared up for the opening of Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in 2008, she got a call from a former longtime co-worker, Fred Lipkin.
The opportunity resulted in an ongoing client, and Stokes has leveraged the experience and the significant investment that it took to become a licensed casino vendor.
Once she made the investment, she visited the opened or soon-to-open properties in the commonwealth to gain clients. Booking entertainment for casinos in Pennsylvania as well as in other states has grown to about 70 percent of her business, Stokes said.
"That whole part of it's just been one of the things I just didn't envision when we bought the business, but it sort of exploded," she said.
Lipkin, now director of marketing for Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, worked alongside Stokes for many years while he directed publicity and public relations.
Stokes has a professional demeanor with all kinds of people and is a terrific business owner, he said.
The subsequent relationship between Penn National and her company was unexpected — there wasn't the same need to book acts as there is today with a casino on the property — but it has been a great development, Lipkin said.
"She knows genres, she knows age demographics, she knows what's hot and what's not. And it's been a wonderful relationship," he said.
B.R.P.'s clients also have included Dauphin County-based Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co.
Stokes is a consummate professional who has taken a great leadership position as a woman in business, said Kim Schaller, executive vice president and chief marketing officer with the company.
Schaller traveled to Minneapolis to see Stokes speak when Stokes was president of Executive Women International.
"She made me proud, because she's there obviously representing women, but she's also representing this part of the country," Schaller said. "I think she has really extended herself professionally in a way that I have a lot of respect for."
About Lisa Stokes
Education: Bachelor’s degree in special education, Millersville University
Career: Worked in marketing at Penn National Gaming before buying what is now B.R.P. Entertainment Inc.
Organizations: Executive Women International, International Entertainment Buyers Association, the Hershey Partnership