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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: KRISTEN VIGRASS
DOUG: Kristen, can you share some of your insights about the challenges of navigating travel communications both during COVID and during the post-COVID time period?
KRISTEN: Well, first, thank you for asking me to be on the show today. I really appreciate it. As you know, it was a very tough year for travel. Last year, it seemed to change overnight. Between March and April, the number of clients that went on hold was huge. If I can use that very unimaginative term, there was just a real sense of uncertainty. No one knew where we were going to be going. Obviously, borders were closing, people were just halting any kind of travel, business, travel, leisure. Now, as I’m speaking to you, a year after this, travel is starting to rebound, we’re finding that our clients are coming back. We have new clients that we’re signing up, we have hotels that are opening. I think there is a real sense of positivity and optimism not only in the industry, but in consumers. I think that what we’re seeing is 87% of people are planning a trip. They say that trip planning gives them something to look forward to. And they’re also, I think, one of the interesting things, this was recently from actually an American Express global travel trend report, but they’re saying that they’re looking to make up for some of the lack of travel last year and willing to spend more. 61% of respondents were looking to spend more than they normally would on a trip in 2021. So, that’s something that’s quite positive. So, it’s also quite positive in terms of our industry and in managing what is happening. The issue we’re finding is that there is going to be just this overwhelming amount of information that’s out there now. So, it’s making sure that we stay ahead of the game and really get ahead of the communication and the messaging for our clients, because not everything opens up,
DOUG: Because so many people have experienced this pandemic so differently, and they have different attitudes about going back what they want to do. How do you navigate the different voices that are required for different types of travel organizations?
KRISTEN: Well, I think that a lot of people are looking for safety, and what are the protocols that are in place. They, I think, don’t want to be at the forefront because I think consumers know and clients know now that that’s just a norm. You have to have protocols in place, you need to have adequate cleaning and adequate sense of space. But it really is different for a lot of our clients. Obviously, we work with properties outside of New York City that have actually seen really good years because they’ve got open spaces, they’ve got separate accommodations for people. They’re able to really keep things safe and distant. But it’s also just an understanding, people’s sense of security and their own personal sense of safety. We’re obviously working on domestic travel right now. We’re not looking at really an international travel. And if we are looking at international travel, it’s what are those protocols that the countries are putting in place. I think the Caribbean has done quite a good job in managing that. We have a number of clients in Jamaica, and they have done some really, really extensive protocols in testing and in overall quarantining. So, I believe that they have been doing some really good advancements, and that’s something to look at. The Bahamas is similar. So, I think that it’s going to take some time for people to want to travel. I don’t see big cities, unfortunately, being a big area of travel just now. Business travel is going to be a little bit slower in returning, big groups of travel, I think individual meetings and those types of things. So, it’s just looking at how we’re managing that messaging for each of our clients because they’re each different. What their focuses are different. And being able to be really creative in how we’re messaging those things and messaging what their attributes are.
DOUG: This is being recorded during Women’s History Month, and women in communications, especially in travel, have suffered layoffs at a particularly higher rate. What are your thoughts and any input you have on this situation?
KRISTEN: Well, we’re very fortunate that Melanie Brandman and I, Melanie founded the company 21 years ago, and I’ve been with her for 20 years. So, we’re very fortunate that we’re a woman owned business, woman run business. So, we have throughout the time that the office has been open, the agency has been open, we’ve been very aware of what women need in the workplace, and that’s maternity policies and time off for caregiving and those types of things. And that’s never going to change in terms of what we’re doing. We were very fortunate to be able to keep our senior team together. So, a lot of the senior team who have children to be able to manage that, it’s a different way of looking at work, remote working, being able to give people time to teach their children from home and work and balance that and really being able to accommodate their schedules. Another thing that we’re doing now is, we are seeing a lot of people who have lost their jobs, who are senior practitioners, who have been in travel, in the travel industry, who are looking to perhaps start their own practice, but don’t necessarily have the tools to do that, or the resources, or the background to do that.
DOUG: So, I think this is the Brandman Partner Program that you’ve been developing, which is really cool. Would be great if you could tell the viewers about that.
KRISTEN: Of course, of course. So, we created the Brandman Partner Program just recently actually. I think it’s one of those benefits, in a way, if we can say that, of what just happened this past year is creative thinking and the way that we have to think ahead of what’s going on. And so, we created the Brandman Partner Program, which is basically, we’re looking at it almost as it’s a branded startup in a way. We’re looking at practitioners who are senior level, who have a lot of experience in not just in travel PR, but in other disciplines as well, spirits PR, real estate, but who would like to partner and be the Brandman Agency partner. It’s similar to what a travel agency does where it’s a franchise in a way. So, they join us, there’s a retainer that they’re paid to receive services, be that invoicing, back-end services, we’ll help develop marketing materials for them. They would be a part of the Brandman Agency, but they’re able to work independently, they’re able to work on their schedules, they’re able to have their own clients. But really, it’s a sense of a resource and a sense of community, especially with senior practitioners who are used to working in a group. We give them that support and that background and in brainstorming ideas and also different resources, whether it be staff resources, like I said, invoicing. So, it’s really looking at what those individual practitioners are really looking for and what they need when they are looking to start their companies. And we’re also talking to other established PR professionals who have smaller agencies who are looking to change their models as well. And we’ve been speaking to a number of very well-established people and really tailoring those partnership programs and partnership offerings to what they’re looking for. But it really helps us if we’re looking at expanding into a different niche, in a different area of expertise, we’re able to use those partners and vice versa. They can look to expand into travel because we’re lucky enough to be working with some of the best brands in the world, and we are selected agencies for them. So, it’s a really good way for us to benefit and for our partners to benefit as well.
DOUG: And I think definitely one thing the pandemic has done is make people more open to the necessity, taking closer look at their model. Kristen, thanks so much for sharing your advice. We really appreciate you coming on the show.
KRISTEN: Thank you. Thank you so much. It was a pleasure to be here. Thank you for asking me.