Grooby’s longtime marketing and editorial director, Kristel Penn, has a lot on her shoulders.
Not only is she accountable for nearly all aspects of the TS adult entertainment company’s marketing but the big three-day awards program it puts on each year, as well as the Trans Adult Industry Foundation, which provides life-affirming support resources to the population.
I really love that I’m tasked with looking for ways to support the community we work in.
Penn’s a pillar to the company, which this month is celebrating its 20th year in business, and she’s also a pillar to the TS community.
XBIZ World, with this Executive Seat interview, takes a look at how Penn, along with her boss, Steven Grooby, have helped shape one of the grooviest lifestyle brands to hit the internet.
XBIZ: Your title appears wide-ranging — marketing and editorial director. You must wear a lot of hats. What exactly are you tasked with at Grooby?
Penn: My skills and interests are varied, and since we’re a small company I do a little bit of everything at Grooby. I handle the bulk of our marketing and brand visibility, like press releases, editorials, copy for advertisements and long-term marketing strategy. I am also the main organizer of the Transgender Erotica Awards, which takes about six to eight months to plan. The TEAs are now a three-day event, so that all takes quite a bit of planning to run smoothly.
In recent years, my job has expanded to include more philanthropic pursuits as we further diversify Grooby as a lifestyle brand, which I personally love. We are doing more educational outreach, with sponsorship and participation at conferences like the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit. I’ll be presenting a workshop there on destigmatizing and demystifying the industry and porn consumption. I really love that I’m tasked with looking for ways to support the community we work in.
XBIZ: Grooby popularized transgender porn content two decades ago and continues to be a leader in the space. How did the company build and maintain such a grip in the marketplace?
Penn: Anyone who knows Steven knows he is a very smart businessman. He’s a calculated risk taker and I think we’ve been successful in our genre because he’s unafraid to try new things. For every successful product we’ve launched, we’ve also had others that haven’t panned out and we’ve used this knowledge to refine and develop our future ideas.
He took a risk with Mona Wales’ directorial debut, “Real Fucking Girls.” Her collaborative vision was something that had never been done in our genre before, but Steven had confidence in it and the performers she casted. I went up to San Francisco for filming and I was moved by everyone’s dedication and excitement for the project. I think the risk really paid off — the finished product, my opinion, is revolutionary for our genre.
XBIZ: Does Grooby have any new products or services coming up?
Penn: We’ve upped our DVD release schedule to four a month, so we have some fun titles in the works right now. I just saw the cover for Buddy Wood’s upcoming release, “Tranny Vice,” and I think it’s going to be a big hit.
XBIZ: Where are we at with GroobyVR? Are we close to a launch?
Penn:I can’t say much, but we are close to launching. I’m really excited about this product and promise we’ll be posting more information at Grooby.com when the time comes.
XBIZ: Grooby celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Does the company have anything special planned to commemorate the occasion?
Penn: We’re throwing a private party at the Bardot — which is the same location we use to host the TEA After Party — to celebrate the occasion. It’s an opportunity for us to thank those who have helped us along the way, industry folks and performers and, of course, to toast to hopefully 20 more years of success.
It is also Shemale Yum’s 20th anniversary, so we’ll be featuring some of Yum’s notable models throughout the years in brand new scenes. I think our members will really enjoy this nod to our history.
XBIZ: When do you start gearing up for TEA? And what does it take to get all the pieces in place?
Penn: It’s getting earlier and earlier each time around! I generally begin planning in late summer and start reaching out to potential sponsors during then. Given the size of our show in comparison to the size of our staff, the TEAs end up taking nearly a year to plan and host. In addition to our normal work duties, we end up working overtime to guarantee the show is a success.
Last year we had around 50 sponsors, which takes a lot of work to ensure every company and performer is represented at our events. A couple of months before the TEAs, Dan, Dev and I meet weekly to piece together the show from start to finish. We barely sleep in the weeks leading up to the show and fuel ourselves on pizza and caffeine. With the addition of our fan convention, TEA Con, last year, the TEAs have become a three-day event. I slept for days when it was all over.
XBIZ: What’s a typical workday like at Grooby?
Penn: Because of the time difference, Steven and I meet online in the early mornings and then I spend the day on social media, planning our upcoming events, writing press releases and other editorial content for our latest products, or taking meetings.
My time divvies up depending on the project I’m working on, so on certain days it can be very Grooby-, The TEAs- or TAIF (Trans Adult Industry Foundation)-focused. A big perk is that I work from home, so my workday often begins and ends with me wearing pajamas. Also, I can take as many chocolate breaks as I want.
XBIZ: When not thinking about Grooby, what do you like to do?
Penn: I used to play in a band back in Hawaii and although I’m petrified to perform here, I still enjoy playing music (much to the dismay of my neighbors, I’m sure) and attending concerts around town.
Before Grooby, I also had aspirations on becoming a fiction writer. I still write every chance I get, even if it’s just journaling or something equally informal. I’ve had some of my short fiction published, but I’m hoping one day to publish a collection of essays about my adventures in the industry. I figure my life now is stranger than fiction, so why not?