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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: ALI LUNDBERG
DOUG: We’re going to start by talking about culture. Ali, how have you found what works to maintain the culture of your team when everyone is all spread out?
ALI: Yeah, it’s been definitely top of mind. I think a huge intentional focus for us over the past year was just trying to find ways to bring the agency together. We’ve been working remote primary primarily this entire time, spread across the US and Canada and the U.K. And it’s been paramount to us to find ways to cultivate the culture that we’ve been so proud to build over the past 15 years. And we’re predominantly focused on the travel and tourism hospitality space, so you can imagine it’s been quite a challenging year, stress levels are running high, our teams needed each other more than ever. And so, we just we tried to find every opportunity we could. Thank you to Zoom, and the amazing technology platforms that really showed up for us, and I think for everyone this past year. We were still able to come together virtually and strengthen our bonds. There’s something to be said about going through a crisis together. And we did virtual team bonding activities, we were able to still celebrate staff achievements and life milestones like engagements and baby announcements and all of the wonderful moments that we had typically come together for, we still made time and created space for that.
DOUG: To that point, are some of those sort of techniques and tools that you’ve implemented to keep culture alive, are those going to stay even in a post-COVID timeline? And what are some of the things that you might recommend to others that they do that really work and can work, whether you’re all together or physically separated during the workday?
ALI: Yeah, definitely. I think we’re going to keep up these virtual bonding activities for sure. We are used to working bicoastally and across the pond. We have offices in Los Angeles and San Diego and New York and Toronto and London. We have team members in Scottsdale and Denver and Nashville. So, we were pretty spread out already, but we definitely had concentrated offices and gathering spaces. So, without those, there were those barriers for us of trying to get together. So, we found ways to do that, and I think we’ve gotten to spend more time with our New York team than ever before, but just not physically in another office with them. So, we’ve done lots of different workshops, we did a wonderful recentering exercise with Kaley Klemp, who brought the entire agency together, grounded us, recentered us and got us energized for this year, and we did not this past fall. And we’ve just been listening a lot to our teams about the skills that they want to grow and bringing in outside speakers and experts. I think we always try to look within and celebrate one another’s passion points and strengths, but sometimes we need to look from the outside too and really figure out what’s going to strengthen our team the most and where do they want to grow. We brought in Dr. Nika White she did this amazing DEI learning and development session for us. And the next step in the speaker series, we have another Dr. Jennifer Harstein, and she’ll be conducting an interactive session for us this spring. It’s all about stress management and coping skills and self care, things that are really important to us as a leadership team and areas that we’ve heard from our team that they want to strengthen and grow on as well. So, I think the speaker series has been really successful for us and something for sure that we can continue, and everybody gathers. We do it super early in the morning so the UK team can be there, and we have like virtual breakout sessions, and there’s a lot of sharing. And like I said, we just physically, we all can’t get over to London pre or post pandemic, but it’s wonderful sitting with our team members coast to coast.
DOUG: That is great because we always like making sure that we give people items they can take action on and share with others. And you’re inspiring me right there because I’m thinking with all these PR top pros that I’m talking to, I should do a trade and just get them to speak to my team, and these wouldn’t be sales opportunities, per say, but just to share what they’ve been experiencing, so you get a different view of what others are going through. That’s really a cool and powerful idea. And you spoke of travel that you’re engaged in that space, which is challenging. What are some of the things you’re advising clients as we hopefully transition to a post–COVID time or travel back is top of mind? It’s one of the top subjects that TV broadcasters in our survey want to be talking about. How do you think it’s best that they navigate that?
ALI: I think I mean hospitality for sure, putting people first. I think it’s part of what defines hospitality and travel and tourism, it’s all about people and experiences and creating memories. So, I think no matter what, continuing to put the traveler first and your customer first. Health and safety practices will still be so important. Those are definitely going to be a key speaking point and a key communications point for airlines, hotels, transit, you name it. Our consumer behaviors have definitely shifted over the past year. So, I think it’s just incredibly important to make travelers feel comfortable. And I think the sentiment is going to be really range. Those that are vaccinated now that are eager to get out there, and there’s those of us that are waiting in the wings who might be a little bit more timid to travel. So, I think whether it’s your website, your social media, the earned editorial coverage that you’re going after, it really needs to speak to that entire range and making sure that people are really comfortable and understand your new policies and procedures and putting that information out there so it’s really accessible. And then I think for this year, we’re still going to continue to see a huge interest in like outdoor recreation, our state and national parks, private excursions, and I think for sure, another summer of the great American road trip and just keeping it domestic.
DOUG: Is there going to be a place for sort of aspirational stories as it starts to emerge? What’s your take on that, and how can brands approach that?
ALI: Yeah, definitely. The bucket list is back. There is no doubt that there is a pent up demand. Travelers want to make sure that their first trip back is one for the record books. They’re coming through Condé Nast and Travel & Leisure and looking at all the awards. We’re seeing an uptick in bookings with travel advisors just because they want that trusted resource. So, whether they’re doing that research in a publication, or they’re working with the travel agent, they want to make sure that the first time that they get out there post COVID, it’s the perfect trip. And we are seeing the signs of recovery and an upswing. I think some parts of the industry are still, like I said, waiting in the wings a bit, but bookings are stronger, TSA counts are up in California where I’m based, attractions and amusement parks will be opening up later this spring, which is a great signal as well.
DOUG: And what advice, as we wrap up might you have for other agency leaders and brand leaders as well to help move their organizations forward for what’s been such a difficult time for so many people on so many different levels, especially with sort of the unequal, with some businesses have boomed, others have been hugely challenged? What’s their best way forward?
ALI: I think, I’ve been so proud of our team, I always am proud of our team, but this year in particular, we just we all showed up for each other. And I think the amount of growth that I’ve seen from our team members this year has been astronomical. And we flex every muscle that we possibly had and ones that we didn’t even know. We became so much more than a PR firm, right? I mean, we’ve always been a global communications agency, but we really stretched the definition this year of how to show up for our clients, too. And I think predominantly working in travel and tourism and hospitality and being a travel company of sorts ourselves, we just brought that empathy to every conversation. We not only were trying to get publicity and produce great content for social media, but we were we were counseling our clients in all sorts of different areas. So, I would just encourage other agency leaders to color outside the lines. Your team will show up for you in ways that you might not have expected before and just make sure that you’re constantly fulfilling that pipeline of their learning opportunities and whether that is bringing in experts, or extending new challenges and then just let them grow. I mean, my best advice for other leaders is always just to make space for others. And then in turn, you’ll have more space so you can have your own growth opportunities. I think as leaders we’re not done growing. And so therefore, we need people to step up and take on new roles and responsibilities. And what I found is everybody’s eager to do that. They want to impress, they want to get to the next level. And unless you make space for them, they’re not going to be able to achieve that on their own. So, you can’t do it all, it’s not sustainable. And when you do not make that space, my best advice is to empower them and just be open to things being done in a different way and encourage innovation always.
DOUG: That’s such great advice, and thanks so much for spending time with us and congratulations on your continued growth and success. It’s obvious to see why.
ALI: Oh, thank you so much. It was a pleasure speaking with you.