Cathy Decker, Co-Founder & Principal, The Decker/Royal Agency, discusses how to create a welcoming environment and navigate the challenges of hospitality while staying safe. She sheds light on an agency’s role in working with hospitality brands, and how one can integrate with management to create the most customer value.
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: CATHY DECKER
DOUG: So, the name of the hospitality industry is hospitality, and that means being welcoming. But during this time of COVID and safety precautions and all the divisiveness surrounding that can be really challenging. So, how do you go about navigating that for clients?
CATHY: I think for us, in terms of communicating the way that we talk about health and safety protocols, regardless of your position on whether you want to wear a mask or you want to become vaccinated, so many of our clients have really had to institute health and safety protocols. One of our clients, Sandals Resorts, was one of the very first, and really lead the region in developing their health and safety protocols, which, regardless of your position, was imperative. And in fact, I think as we go forward, you’re going to see that these protocols are going to stick beyond this period that we’re in a pandemic.
But you’re right, hospitality is about making everyone who comes through our doors and our planes and our hotel rooms feel understood and welcomed. And I think we do that best when we lay a really terrific foundation and then respect the people that come, no matter what your rules are, whether your rules are that you need to be vaccinated or not. I mean, it’s just really about providing an opportunity for people to feel that they can relax and enjoy a warm welcome in your space.
DOUG: And people in polling are starting to say that they’re planning travel, they’re looking forward to it, they want to get back into it. So, how do you shift the messaging from the safety message? And is it better to shift it to more aspirational message?
CATHY: You know, it’s funny. I think that because we talk a lot about the narrative, I think that for some of the protocols, they’re going to become as necessary as…I was going to say toilets in the room again, but this is a terrible thing to say because nobody wants to hear Cathy Decker say about toilets in the room. But I think that…
DOUG: Actually I think that’s a cool thing. And I’m glad you’re the first person ever to go that way during one of these conversations. But I hear what you’re saying.
CATHY: I mean, the fact is, is that the protocols that we’re putting in place are going to become a fait accompli. They are going to become part and parcel of an experience that is well designed, that is welcoming, that is warm. People want to make sure, and we’re going to go beyond that. Right now, one of our clients, Wyndham Destinations, which is one of the world’s largest timeshare companies, they have developed a contactless touch for their guests and they’re looking at ways to innovate beyond that, too. So, I think these protocols are in place, certainly, but in terms of talking about them, now is the time that we have to move from what is expected, what people expect of the way that we deliver a service to the things that they really want to get. And I think that this is the summer, this is the moment of reunion, and getting together. My clients across the board, especially domestic, are blowing it out this summer. Bookings are ahead of where they were for 2019. So, this is the summer of reunion. So, while the protocols have to be in place, I think we can easily talk about this pent-up demand, and how leisure is really leading the industry’s return because it truly is.
DOUG: So, switching off to some keys for agency success, what’s your take on whether agencies need to have sort of a secret sauce that they market in order to be successful?
CATHY: Well, I admire the people that are creating a secret sauce, but I think that the most successful thing that you can do is to be a terrific partner. And that begins to make sure that the people that you are working with, the comms team, know exactly what you’re doing. Because I think oftentimes the communications team are reporting up. Everybody’s reporting up. And what you never want is for your communications person to not know what the agency is doing. That is the worst. That is a death note. Your comms person should be able to say, “this is what we’re pitching, this is why we’re pitching it, these are the next three things that are happening over the next three months and to go from there.” To be part of the team you have to prepare the people who are speaking above you. I really think that’s important.
DOUG: Yeah, and that’s huge. And we find that even in what we do, even if you have a proposal for a client about what you want to do, you’ve got to outline what the thinking is so they can present effectively to the next person who might sign off. So, you don’t get that problem back and forth where there’s a miscommunication, misunderstanding between different groups that are together. That’s an important relationship and part of the relationship to navigate. Another one that your experience is really unique in, in the travel, you work with some major brands, some of which are family owned and run, and others that are corporate. So, maybe you can share some of the tips for working with each group, and maybe there’s some lessons from each that might help doing work for others, for corporate versus family owned.
CATHY: There’s certainly a big difference between corporate and a family-owned brand. There’s no question about it. Because, especially with corporate, you have to be so very careful about what you say, especially if you’re looking forward with a publicly traded company. These things are imperative. The thing that I love about working with a family brand, though, is this sort of this founders’ mentality, because they the family-owned brand, they are in it in a way that is personal because it is personal. And so, I think sometimes… Yes, to further your point, there are many more challenges facing our corporate clients that make it more difficult for them to be as nimble and to move as quickly. And I think sometimes with public relations, so much of what we do is context of the moment. So, something happens, and you want to be able to seize the media moment. And with a family-owned company where the ownership is so close to the communications challenge, it’s much quicker to get an approval to take advantage of something like that. And I think that’s great. And in fact, it brings to mind, a few years ago when the last administration was talking about the Bowling Green massacre. And the funny thing is the Bowling Green is my client. We love them. It’s a small, really wonderful destination that is the only place in the world where Corvettes are made. But what we were able to do and do quickly there was to take advantage of this moment to say, well, in truth, there was never a massacre in Bowling Green. But these are the things that are happening in Bowling Green. And we had CNN down and we had tremendous coverage because we were able to seize the moment. And sometimes I think that corporate clients need to be much more careful for obvious reasons. They are beholden to other people. But when you can be nimble, I think that’s when you really get a great opportunity.
DOUG: And I think one of the things that the pandemic unfortunately forced is because corporate had to react so quickly, because the events were so catastrophic, it actually created systems that many of them hopefully will still be able to keep where they had to make faster decisions, because business survival was on that, and there was no way you could delay your response. You had to figure out what you needed to do and be willing to do something wrong to then correct is right. Any final thoughts you’d like to leave our audience with?
CATHY: I think as people start to come back to their businesses, they should be thinking as much about the way they communicate with their teams as they do with the media. Because right now, we have many more choices about the way that we work, the expectations for our employees. And I do think that as we start to come back, we want to bring a team that is as prepared and whose expectations are being met so that they can do the best work for us as well. These are interesting times. We’re all trying to navigate them, and I think is as much as we want to communicate with our clients, and we want to communicate with the media. I think sometimes the small business owners, we forget that we really need to be communicating as clearly and as effectively as we can with our own teams or delivering the messages that are so important to us. We really want to make these people feel whole and capable to do their best work.