Strike a balance between specializing in the field you love, and keeping things interesting.
As a part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with my fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business or career. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Amy Draheim.
Amy Draheim is the founder of ABD Creative, a hospitality marketing agency, How To Share, a hotel marketing podcast, and Marketing In A Box, the first of its kind subscription service for hotel marketers, born out of the pandemic. After publishing her novel, which won a New York Public Library Award, Amy traded fiction writing for steaks and spas, launching her career in travel and hospitality. Amy’s multi-hyphenate status enriches her creative thinking and results for her clients.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We’ve got another decade to cover to bring us to the present moment, so I’ll share a mistake that was also a bit of a turning point for me.
About three years into my role as Director of Marketing for a small hotel group, I was asked to take part in a branding session for a luxury hotel in Telluride, Colorado. I was thrilled to jet off to Telluride with its majestic mountains, gondola, and picturesque mountain town. Of course, I packed my best business attire, remembering what my mentor had shared with me, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” I didn’t just look the part, I was well-versed: I’d read every Telluride visitor publication I could find, studied the history of the destination and the property itself, and when I walked into the meeting room for our first session, I was more prepared than I’d been since my bat mitzvah. A stunning buffet had been prepared by a chef. My boss smiled from across the room, as the executive team, the hotel managers, and the hired agency, poured into their seats. As the session was about to begin, the room silenced. From across the room, my boss called out, “Amy, can you take notes?”
My heart sank. To me, there were so many reasons that I shouldn’t have been the one to take notes. I was a wellspring, and I brought experience running the marketing campaigns for a handful of other properties in our portfolio. I was also one of two women in a room full of men, whose median age was close to twice mine. What I might have lacked in experience, I made up for in knowledge, interest, and creativity. But I was relegated to secretary.
Don’t worry, I didn’t learn to accept my place as secretary. About a year later, I broke away from the company. I’d climbed the ladder and realized the view from the top was just low carb breakfasts and Juliet balconies. I wanted more. So I went out on my own. In 2017, I founded my own hospitality marketing firm, and in 2020, I launched my podcast, How To Share, to bring more voices like mine to the conversation.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
I believe that moment in Telluride was the tipping point. I learned a lot from my boss, in fact, working for him was my first foray into hotels, and through that job, I gained a love for travel that I hadn’t fully realized. The tipping point really was that moment. As women, we deal with imposter syndrome, but there’s something different about being pinned by others in a certain way. For someone like me, I took inventory. Not surprising, I pulled out a notebook and wrote out all of the reasons I shouldn’t have been the one to take notes in that room. Then I went to my boss with the list. He explained that I was the most junior person in the room, period. It had nothing to do with my abilities or intellect or the fact that I was a woman. He’d diffused the tension, but a fire had been lit inside of me.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are?
I am grateful for my first marketing mentor who taught me a few basic things that stick with me. One was to “dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” I think I mentioned that earlier. In today’s world, where we’re all working remotely, how does that translate? It translates into business attire whenever you see my face in a business setting, but it also translates into building professional websites for my own businesses, and taking the time to invest in me. It’s about embodiment, but it really can be as simple as starting with the right clothes. Even when I work out, if I’m wearing appropriate gym clothes, I’ll get a better workout. The same applies for work, and maybe life in general. Now my husband would say, “What about appropriate shoes?” to which I’d say, I still have lessons to learn.
Consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. Where do you see the future of marketing headed?
The future of marketing is a paradox: it’s highly personalized and more inclusive than ever. Consumers are far more likely to trust a review written by a stranger than a glossy ad or editorial coverage. Influencers have been born out of this concept, and micro influencers are the next iteration. Think of them as the popular kids, you want what they’re wearing, saying, sharing, you want to go on the same trips, stay in the same hotel, eat the same food as them. Their power lies in their smaller, more targeted audience. You can take this influence to the bank, and this type of marketing is extremely cost effective.
On the other hand, I believe that marketing needs to become less targeted, in order to become more inclusive. We’ve been so focused on pinning down a single ideal customer — the guest most likely to walk through our doors — that we’ve left a lot of people out in the cold. We’ve doubled down on the best return on ad spend, and we’ve limited our customer base as a result. This year has shined a light on many inequities — we can meet the moment, make a difference, and reach new customers by making our industry more inclusive from top to bottom. Marketing is one small piece of this puzzle.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Strike a balance between specializing in the field you love, and keeping things interesting. I focus on hospitality, but I work with independent hotels all over the country, and beyond. Every destination is different, and every hotel has a different voice and story to tell. This isn’t a one size fits all approach, but the strategies are similar. There’s also a lot of learning that comes from working with a diverse set of hospitality clients, and I can apply what I’ve learned to continue to build on marketing campaigns. Things don’t get stale around here, nothing’s collecting dust. Even if you don’t have loads of experience, you can keep things interesting and avoid burnout by being an early adopter. Remain open and willing to try new things, like Instagram Reels and LinkedIn Stories. Clients will appreciate your focus and creativity, and you’ll learn through trial and error.
Great advice! What 5 things you wish someone told you before you started?
- ‘Newbie’ status is actually an advantage. I’ve approached many decisions fairly naive and it’s allowed me to accomplish a lot. From publishing a book at 25, going out on my own at 33, starting a podcast in the midst of the pandemic, and offering free marketing services to clients which ultimately led to the creation of Marketing In A Box, my subscription service. If I’d known I was leaping hurdles this whole time, I wouldn’t have made it this far.
- It’s never easy to lose a client. When I lost a longstanding hotel client over the summer, I was irrationally worried it was the beginning of the end. But even before the transition period was over, I had new business knocking at my door. Take time to sulk, pour yourself a glass of wine, and then pick yourself up and keep going. Opportunity is probably at the door, so put on your best mask, and step outside.
- Imposter syndrome is real. I’m a published author and a business owner, and this year alone, I’ve invested a few thousand dollars into online courses to make me a better writer and help me run a more successful business. I’m justifying it as improving my existing skillset, but I’m also filling in gaps that might exist only in my imagination. Along the way, I’ve begun to recognize my own talent.
- Reach out to people you admire. This year has opened doors that should’ve been open this whole time, but now especially, people are craving connection and human interaction. There’s never been a better time to reach out to people you admire, and let them know. They may become a mentor, and at best, they’ll certainly appreciate the compliment.
- When you help others, you wind up helping yourself, too. Take inventory often, see who you can help, ask what’s working and what’s not. Don’t be too proud to figure out what you can do better, because there’s growth in the discomfort. When you help others — from clients, to neighbors, to friends, and total strangers — you tap into stuff like purpose, meaning, and happiness. If you’re not there yet, maybe it’s time to plot a different course?
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
I used to joke that I got my news from Saturday Night Live. That’s before our world went awry. I read the New York Times and while that might not sound marketing related, this year has proven that our awareness of the world outside of our door, makes for effective marketing. In hospitality, we know that travelers mindsets have shifted, and we’re rolling out new guest experiences with social distancing in mind. Some of our most read client emails to date were written in response to the pandemic and recent wildfires. The alternative? Proceeding with business as usual and coming across as tone deaf. So, yes, it’s the New York Times to ensure the content we’re sharing is relevant and meets the moment.
Thank you so much for sharing these fantastic insights!