Spotlight: Macy's Thanksgiving Parade Producer Susan Tercero Is Booking While You're Cooking

Courtesy Photo
Susan Tercero 

"Music is always an intricate piece of the puzzle.... We want to make sure there's something for everybody."

It was 16 years ago when a fresh-faced Susan Tercero was hired by Macy's to work on their legendary Thanksgiving Day Parade. "I had just moved from Texas to New York and was only here a few weeks when I was fortunate enough to land the job," she remembers. "Not only was I working on one of the most iconic events in the world, but I was also in one of the most iconic cities in the world. It was all really breathtaking."

Since her first parade, Tercero has worked her way up to become the executive producer of the annual extravaganza, which is about to celebrate its 93rd year this Thursday when the parade kicks off on NBC at 9 a.m. EST. "It's an honor to be a part of it all," she says of the event. "What we do is so important to people across generations and this whole country, and we couldn't be more thrilled."

Tercero takes on a stacked legacy that began marching down New York's cavernous avenues in 1924 and was first broadcast on NBC in 1952. Along the way, it has featured balloons ranging from Felix the Cat (1932) to Frozen's Olaf (in 2017) while showcasing a wide array of the day's biggest musical acts and hundreds of marching bands from high schools nationwide. As such, it's become a cultural landmark immortalized in films such as Miracle on 34th Street and on classic episodes of shows like Seinfeld and Friends.

For Tercero and her team, putting together the massive production takes a full 18 months. "That's when we first start selecting the marching bands," says Tercero, who notes that even next year's band lineup -- an honor for middle and high schools across the nation -- has already long been decided. 

"When we're not in the middle of execution mode like we are now, we're in planning mode for the next events and sometimes we do that simultaneously," says Tercero who also concocts other Macy's events ranging from the 4th of July Spectacular to a springtime flower show. "When it comes to the parade, for most of the year we focus on planning and trying to develop concepts and designs, as well as getting talent in place."
 
This year's array of performers range the gamut, including the parade's first ever K-Pop act NCT-127 and Latin music star Ozuna, along with Billy Porter, Celine Dion, Chicago, Debbie Gibson, Kelly Rowland and Idina Menzel. Broadway will also be well-represented with the casts of Ain't Too Proud, Beetlejuice, Hadestown and Tina all slated to perform. This kind of variety is the overarching goal, says Tercero: "Booking the music is always an intricate piece of the puzzle. What we've tried to do, and I think we've done a fantastic job this year of, is find artists and performers that speak to a very diverse audience. We want to make sure there's something for everybody."

The cast of Sesame Street are also scheduled to appear with a prime slot as they'll kick off the parade to celebrate the show's 50th anniversary. "They've been a partner with us for a very, very long time and people have the same reaction to that group as Santa where suddenly people are transported back to their childhood when they see them," Tercero says. And then closing the event is, of course, Santa Claus himself, cruising in on the parade's final float to help usher in the holiday season -- a staple since the parade's earliest days. 

Timing is everything for both parade goers and for the NBC broadcast, which has become a science for Tercero and her team. "We know the parade will start at 9 a.m. and how many minutes it takes per block, which is something we chart in real time with volunteers along the route who pay attention to the pacing," she says. "We're also working with NBC so they know where everyone is at every moment and also if we have to have a last minute switch in the lineup. We have a great team and we're able to fix and make adjustments if necessary."

Beginning at the crack of dawn on Thanksgiving, the grueling day for Tercero (who's currently eight months pregnant) and her team doesn't end until 6 p.m., at which point they only care about "putting some food in our belly and then going to sleep." Then, tradition dictates that the team will have a proper Thanksgiving meal on Friday. "We'll gather in our parade studio in New Jersey which usually holds all of our costumes and bring our friends and family," she says. There, they'll reflect on both the year and parade that was. 

"It's all a humbling experience," Tercero adds, "and I don't take it for granted at all."

SPOTLIGHT:

A lot has changed, especially what we're doing to not only innovate with our design, but trying to reach a new audience. For the past three years for example, we've been offering a live stream through Verizon on their YouTube channel. So we're always trying to tap into an entirely different audience.

I've learned that the most important things in your life are your family and your health. While work is important, but it should be fun. But those other two things should come first.

The best advice I've received is that it's not about being able to plan for the expected, it's about being able to plan for the unexpected.

My big break was getting this job at the parade office in 2004. I applied, then they called me in and said, "When can you start?" I said, "Right now!" and they said, "We'll see you tomorrow at 9 a.m.!"

Something most people don't understand is that the parade is entirely produced and run by Macy's employee, from the builders to the designers and volunteers.

What's tough is not being able to control the weather. That's the hardest part.

Spotlight is a Billboard Business series that aims to highlight those in the music business making innovative or creative moves, or who are succeeding in behind-the-scenes or under-the-radar roles. For submissions for the series, please contact spotlight@billboard.com.

 


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