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Communication is a C-Suite Responsibility

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

It’s a Brand New Day, indeed.

A few weeks ago, at the Annual Convention, Destination Marketing Association International introduced the new management team at the Mothership…and a renewed sense of purpose, professionalism and passion that was palpable. It’s something for which our industry had been missing for a while.

Beyond the sensational networking with old friends and new (which has always been a hallmark of the event) the educational content took several steps forward. That the new team had only four months to put the program together hints at what’s in store for attendees next year in Montreal when they have a full 11 months to plan the event (c’mon, they deserve a month to catch their breath). But, even with only four months of preparation, there we were, listening to names like Airbnb’s Chip Conley, digital maven Jay Baer and renowned chef Andrew Zimmern.

But, it was one of the breakout sessions that has really stuck with me these past few weeks. And, while the topic was ostensibly about crisis communication, the bigger take-away for me was the critical need for us all to prepare for eventualities long before they manifest.

Which means that we shouldn’t view this as “crisis management” at all. It is, at its core, simple communications. And New Orleans’ Stephen Perry said it best when he suggested that “communication” isn’t just something that the Marketing and Communications Director does.

“Communication (with a capital C) is a C-Suite responsibility,” he said. Along with case studies from San Diego’s Joe Terzi (the T-BID Wars) and Baltimore’s Amy Calvert (Race Riots), Stephen shared his lessons learned from Katrina and a State’s attempt at a Religious Freedom Act. What I heard quite clearly was the critical need for the next generation of DMO CEOs to be, above all, adept and continuous communicators, socially and politically engaged at all levels of our destinations.

In one of his break-out sessions a couple years ago, I remember Searchwide’s Mike Gamble noting that a majority of the Boards that engage his firm to locate their next CEO say they want an accomplished salesperson. Yet, when Mike doubles back around in six-months to see how the placement is working out, he rarely learns about the big City-wide the CEO has helped land. Instead, he often hears the Board’s take on how well (or not) the newly minted CEO has connected with community leadership.

As we continue to evolve, I believe the successful DMO CEO will be less of a Sales and Marketing expert and more a master of Community and Political Affairs. To be sure, the CEO will need to have a broad understanding of the latest strategies and tactics that power Sales and Marketing. S/he will need to be present to help close pieces of business and know their way around the digital realm. They’ll also need to (as Jim Collins said in Good to Great), “get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and the right people in the right seats.”

But, at its core, this is about relationship building with elected officials, business leaders, community activists, co-creators, culture leaders, hospitality industry partners, artists, the local media…and residents. From the most influential person in town to the Busboys (not the band…the guys in the back who get no respect), the Next Gen DMO CEO will need to know them all.

I saw this in action earlier this summer as I met a DMO CEO for lunch at one of his destination’s hotels. I expected the obligatory greeting with the hotel GM and DOS during our time on property. What I didn’t expect was that he high-fived the two bellmen out front as we departed the hotel. Lest you think this CEO high-fives everyone, they greeted him by his first name.

That’s what I’m talking ‘bout. Shaking hands, kissing babies, being there before you gotta be there and knowing the front and back of the house. And, then…be ready to take a stand for what is right.

As Stephen spoke of the Religious Freedom Act fight in Louisiana, he urged us all to stand up for what is right. “We are for everyone and against no one (except those who mean us harm),” he said. Indeed, when asked whether the high cost of calling for the removal of the Confederate Flag from the Statehouse was worth the loss of his seat, former South Carolina Senator Paul Thurmond (the son of segregationist Strom) said “doing the right thing is never at a cost.

But, one only gets to do the right thing in the face of significant opposition if you’ve paid your dues. And that means being visible, communicating the success of the DMO and the value of the Visitor Economy and forging relationships with people who will be proud to have your back.

This will be the hallmark of the next generation DMO leaders…because it should be the hallmark of today’s CEO. And, for those currently occupying the Big Chair and for those who aspire to be, I have just one question.

No time like the present to get started, eh?

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