Father knows best: Advice from dad on Father’s Day

With Father’s Day coming up just around the corner, our team, along with consultancy Nina & Pinta, started a thread about the best advice we’ve received from our fathers. Although we meant it to be general advice, much of it ended up being relevant to the business world.

Some of it was sage, some of it was funny, but we thought it was all valuable and therefore decided to share it with you below. 

If you have any wisdom you’d like to share from your own father (or father figure), we want to hear it! Please share with us in the comments below.

Chris Crowley

From my Dad: “Don’t be afraid to share your knowledge. If someone wants to pick your brain, let them. At the same time, don’t take credit for other people’s work. That way, you will always have people’s trust and your knowledge and expertise will be valued.”

And the best bit of advice from my uncle who ran a large pharmaceutical company in Germany: “Don’t let them buy you. Don’t accept free gifts, packages, stays or incentives unless paid for by your employer. If a supplier, client or official offers you something for free — it’s not. What they are purchasing is you.”

Katharine Farrell

“Strike the right balance between saving and spending. Don’t let your desire to save hold you back from taking advantage of a good business opportunity.”

At the same time, “Make sure you have enough savings to walk away. Don’t put yourself in a position where your financial situation backs you into a corner or drives you to compromise your professional integrity.”

Jo Lloyd

One was “Always protect your integrity – it’s all you have.”

The other was “If you are in a hole – stop digging!”

Abby Pharr

“Your reputation matters. You only get one and you can’t always start over.”

“People like to talk about themselves. Always ask questions and be a great conversationalist.”

I also definitely learned the value of an Excel sheet from my dad! Katharine understands. 🙂

Julie Sickel

My Dad always impressed on me the importance of asking questions and speaking in terms other people could understand. He’s worked around hardware and machinery his whole life and he can seamlessly switch between speaking to engineers and silver-haired grandmothers without alienating either. He also uses analogies to make a point — not something he ever pointed to as a business lesson, but certainly something I picked up!

I also remember he gave me a dedicated lesson one day in how to politely interrupt people, which I’ve found so important as a woman in journalism and business. 

Mark Williams

“You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Always put in the effort to dress your best and look your best.”

“Don’t over-manage or micro-manage people. Give your direct reports plenty of rope and expect them to perform. With that said, hiring the right people is critically important. Be thorough in the hiring process — conduct multiple interviews and ask candidates to make several trips to the office prior to extending an offer.”

Four things COVID-19 taught our company

Our company felt good heading into 2020.

We were riding high off our annual meeting in Atlanta, Ga., in December. In addition to spending time together over some good food and drinks, we had revisited and tweaked our value proposition, taken company headshots and set ambitious financial goals for the year ahead.   

Plus, it looked as if we’d have a new, talented team member (Julie Sickel) joining us in January from London, a move that would give us a foothold to expand services into EMEA. 

Less than three months later, COVID-19 hit.

The impact on our client base was swift and, in some cases, brutal. It’s no secret that the corporate travel industry has been devastated by this pandemic.

With many of our clients pulling back on our engagements, it left a lot of time for our team to do some soul searching. 

Let me pause here. There have been a lot of articles I’ve come across about what we all should or could be doing during this pandemic. My intent is that this is not one of those articles.

In fact, the self-reflection we underwent was somewhat unwelcome for me personally. For the first time since the company’s founding, we weren’t slammed with client engagements and pursuing new business. Not only did that halt the growth goals we set back in December, but it also meant stopping to take a hard look in the mirror and ask, “What are we really doing and why does it matter?” That can be uncomfortable.

Despite all the stress and uncertainty and, yes, discomfort, we’ve undergone in recent months, I now feel better about our company than I ever have before.

Much of this is due to the hard work, leadership and expertise of my business partner Julie. When we first met several years ago — she was a reporter and I was a young marketer and PR professional — I always appreciated the smart questions she posed to my clients. Now, we’ve been able to turn her smart questions on ourselves, and really dig into the answers, with a method and an urgency that we hadn’t practiced before, even during our annual meetings.

They say “never waste a good crisis,” and even though the past few months have been really (really) hard, I truly believe we are going to come out of this a better company, with a clearer vision and more passion to serve our current and future clients.

There are many things this pandemic has brought to light for me, both personally and professionally (for example, despite my ability to work completely virtually, I miss the office). But in terms of our company, the past few months has really drove home the importance of the following:

1. Asking the hard questions should be an ongoing practice.  

It shouldn’t take a crisis for us to pause and ask, “Are we on the right track? Who do we want to be and will this help us get there?” I personally plan to incorporate them into everyday decisions to diligently keep us on the right path.

2. Making time for ourselves is important.

I don’t mean this is in a personal sense (although that’s important, too). Rather, we need to save some creative bandwidth to push our company forward every day, not just when time allows between client work (because, let’s face it, time never allows).

3. Sharpening our focus better positions us for success.

Again, back to those questions. Asking “What are we really good at?” and “What kind of work do we really want to be doing?” has helped us hone in on the services where we most excel. Will we expand in the future? I believe so. But for right now, we’ve stopped trying to be all things to all people (to the benefit of prospective clients and our company).

4. We live and die by our relationships.

This point is a little touchy feely for me and I almost didn’t include it. But it’s true. Our relationships with our clients, our network of travel industry peers and, most importantly, within our team have carried us through this tough time. In the past, we’ve done a good job, I think, of appreciating our relationships. But never have I felt and understood the importance of this element of our business as I have recently. I plan to better recognize and acknowledge them moving forward.


Despite the reopening of several European countries and all 50 states in the U.S., we’re not out of the woods yet. I am, however, hopeful that our world will recover stronger and use the lessons learned during this time to our benefit in a variety of ways. I know our company will move forward on more solid footing and with a better sense of purpose incorporating these lessons into our post-pandemic operations.

It’s Time for Travel Management Companies to Take Creative Risks in Their Branding

What do you do when you’re confronted with selling a parity product?

You can’t talk up price or technology or service because they’re pretty comparable to your competitors. You can maybe speak to the geographical scope of your offering, but that only gets you so far.

So, what do you do?

If you’re a travel management company, it seems you get your team together and go through an exercise where you confirm, yes, there is parity with your competitors. Bereft of options, you settle on the one thing you think is your differentiator: your people.

You talk about your agency’s expertise and its experience and its humanity (because, people are human, right?). Maybe you even throw “authenticity” in there somewhere for good measure.

And then you decide that, in addition to having the best people, you’re going to talk about things that seem really important to prospects right now: innovation, collaboration, customer-centricity, adaptability, simplicity.

I’m sure more time and effort and money goes into the process, but that’s fairly irrelevant given how often most TMCs end up in exactly the same place.

It doesn’t seem to matter that people can (and do) leave companies. Or that calling yourself innovative, simple, service-oriented or customer-centric (as opposed to customer-ambivalent?) doesn’t make it true. Or that everyone else is calling themselves those same things.

Most TMCs have been content to push out this samey samey brand messaging lacking any creativity. The problem is, it means very little to anyone outside the company, and much worse, it’s not memorable. Prospects are left trying to tell apart a bunch of three-to-four-letter acronym brands all claiming they have the best people…and the best service, and the greatest partners and superior innovations.

Let’s not mince words. The current COVID-19 crisis is decimating the travel industry. Many small corporate travel agencies, and perhaps even some large ones, will not survive it. Thousands of TMC employees have been laid off or furloughed.

For those TMCs who remain, now is the time to re-examine your brand, take risks and change for the better. Doing so will ensure you’re already in the mind of potential customers when business travel demand eventually returns.

Don’t Be Different; Be Distinct.

There’s a long-held belief, both within marketing and outside of it, that being different is what makes a brand succeed.

Brands like Apple are held up as proof that differentiation matters. Time and money is spent analyzing product features and customer benefits versus the competitive set in order to identify the unique selling proposition (USP) as if it’s the marketing equivalent of a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory.

Here’s the thing. It’s all BS.

Brands do differ from one another, but meaningful differentiation rarely exists. In the TMC space, offerings are more about matching competitors than they are about differentiating from them. And even when meaningful differentiation does exist, that’s not what drives consumers’ purchasing decisions.

This isn’t speculation. It’s based on research conducted and compiled by Byron Sharp and Jenni Romaniuk of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science and outlined in the book How Brands Grow (2010).

For example, when Apple first launched its colorful iMac computers, back when PCs were still all the same off-putting beige, 77 percent of Apple users didn’t perceive the brand to be different or unique from its competitors. Turns out, they didn’t purchase it because they wanted a computer that was radically different, they just wanted a computer that was useful—same as every other person purchasing a computer. (There’s a discussion to be had about the power of Apple’s brand building and positioning creating a kind of differentiation, but I’ll leave that to Mark Ritson.)

Some months back I spoke to a travel industry marketer who questioned why, if meaningful differentiation doesn’t exist, companies should spare a single cent on marketing.

That, I responded, is exactly when marketing matters more — not less.

If you’re selling something that isn’t significantly different than your competitors, the way to win is by being prominent and memorable. Distinctiveness is more important than differentiation.

Brands do differ from one another, but meaningful differentiation rarely exists. In the TMC space, offerings are more about matching competitors than they are about differentiating from them.

Let’s go back to a time when we could all go to the pub. Put yourself there in front of the bar, rows of liquor bottles lining the wall behind the bartender. What are you ordering? How do you decide?

If you’re my husband, you have a quick glance at the selection and order a Maker’s Mark. Here we are in the United Kingdom, land of exceptional Scotch whisky, and Kentucky bourbon is his go-to order.

I asked him once why he always goes with Maker’s, assuming he would talk about taste. Instead, he said he could easily spot the bottle by its red wax seal. He knew he could look behind the counter and more often than not it would be there. And he wouldn’t be ordering something too expensive or of poor quality.

Prominent. Memorable.

Whiskey makers have long understood they couldn’t use rational points of differentiation to get consumers to choose their brand. Legendary ad man David Ogilvy said he even tried it once: “It didn’t work. You don’t catch Coca-Cola advertising that Coke contains 50 percent more cola berries” (Ogilvy on Advertising1983).

You may say, “Well, TMCs are B2B brands and marketing and branding is different for B2Bs.” That’s a false assumption.

There may be a longer timeline for customer acquisition in B2B, but according to recent research from Les Binet and Peter Field, it’s just as important — if not more important — to invest in marketing effectiveness (long-term brand building) as it is to invest in marketing efficiency (short-term lead generation and activation). That’s true regardless of whether you’re in B2B or B2C.

And what drives effectiveness? Emotion-driven marketing bolstered by creativity.

It’s time for TMCs to give up their fixation on differentiation and focus on genuine brand building. That’s not an exercise of examining product features versus competitors, but of establishing something lasting in the mind of buyers and customers that allows them to think of you above other brands.

It’s shaping an image. It’s finding a style. It’s adopting symbols or characters. It’s embracing your logo. It’s taking a risk or two.

Simply put: it’s investing in creativity. And it’s not something you do for one or two quarters and see if it works. It’s something TMCs need to start doing consistently over years.

Now, here are some tasty morsels to help illustrate a few points:

Mastercard’s ‘Priceless’ Campaign

Before this campaign launched, Mastercard was in decline; Visa was eating its lunch. Mastercard knew it needed to turn around perception to win back consumers and banks and it wasn’t going to be able to do it by making short-term rational arguments. It needed to connect its brand with emotion. More than 20 years after the ‘Priceless’ campaign launched, it’s still part of Mastercard’s DNA.

‘It’s Toasted’ from Episode One of Mad Men

(Skip to 3:13 in the clip) This scene from Mad Men is the equivalent of an Italian chef kissing his fingers. Realizing that Sterling Cooper had to find a way to market a parity product, Lucky Strike Cigarettes, Don Draper turns to a nostalgic, emotional brand image. It’s not poisonous, it’s toasted! I know this feels ethically ooky given we’re talking cigarettes, but the same principles apply to any parity product. We can’t ignore the effectiveness of, say, the cowboy image used by Marlboro to set the brand apart for decades.

Comparethemarket.com’s ‘Compare the Meerkat’ Campaign

This one almost defies logic, but that’s kind of what is so wonderful about it. As an American, I had no idea what was going on the first time I saw two Russian meerkats talking about car insurance. But this campaign, first launched in 2009, is creative and fun, and it has kept what could otherwise be a pretty forgettable website top-of-mind for consumers in the U.K. for more than a decade.

Sharpen your Communications to Cut Through the Noise

How’s everyone doing? Good?

Just kidding. I know this week’s been a dumpster fire. But you’ve clicked on this post for a reason, so let’s get into it.

Chances are with COVID-19 hitting everyone everywhere, you’ve felt more pressure than ever to communicate effectively at work. That’s true whether you’re a senior executive or manager of a small team or an entry-level employee.

And with everyone feeling this way, you not only have to be clear in your communications, you also have to compete with all the other messages banging about in every inbox and in every corner of the Internet.

So, some tips.

Tip #1: Be as direct and brief as possible. 

We’re all feeling a lot of feelings. You may want to share yours and empathize with others. That’s nice. But doing so at length waters down your communications when people are craving straightforward information.

I like this note from the workout app Aaptive:

No alt text provided for this image

Four sentences, yet information-rich.

OK, maybe that’s not your style. Here’s what you can do instead:

  • Write down everything you want to say, then go back and remove at least a third of what you’ve written. I promise you can do it. Start with removing “that”; it’s almost never necessary.
  • Use the active voice. See which sounds sharper: The premises have been searched by the authorities (passive) OR The authorities searched the premises (active). Look for “by” or “have” phrases to spot passive voice. More here.
  • Read what you’ve written aloud. Saying it and hearing it will help you catch any verbal tangles or run-on sentences.
  • Keep your sentences short. Look for commas. If you can replace one with a period and still make a complete sentence, you can reduce filler words and keep your writing tight.

Tip #2: Write for both scanners and deep-divers. 

I hate the claim “nobody reads anymore.” Not true.

The reality is there are people who skim and others who comb through every terms and conditions statement ever put in front of them. The trick is to write for both.

How?

  • Make use of bold text. Highlight the key points in your communications for those who skim.
  • Make use of bullets. Yes, like I’m doing right now. See how much easier it is to track each new point?
  • Make use of subheadings. I’ve seen a lot of CEO messages this week that use solid blocks of dense text. Stop it. Separate ideas with unifying subheadings to make text easier to read.

Tip #3. Don’t bury vital information. 

OK, I realize the irony of making this the third point. But if you follow the first two tips, you may not need this one because you will have cut all the throat clearing.

Just in case: Do not wait until the end to say the important thing.  

Ever notice how news stories tell you the most important stuff up top? That style emerged so editors could easily chop stories from the bottom-up to fit newspaper space. It ensured they didn’t cut the who, what, when, where, why and how.

The readers of your communications will do the same editing exercise with their attention spans. Yes, even if you’re the boss. Make sure you tell them the critical stuff as early as possible.

Tip #4: Include a call to action and next steps. 

What would you like people to do after reading your communication? Should they call a number? Write an email? Stay at home?

Make sure you’re explicit about what you expect of them and about what they can be doing during this time.

In the same vein, let readers know what steps you’re taking. Be specific.

“We’ll be doing everything we can” may seem like a nice thing to say, but it’s not terribly informative or helpful. Detailing even the seemingly small stuff can go a long way to make your audience feel informed.

There they are—my top tips for how to ensure people actually read your communications. Use even one or two of them and your writing will be a cut above much of what’s out there right now. Promise.

Times are difficult for everyone in our industry. If you’re looking for support or advice or an extra set of eyes on something you’ve written, don’t hesitate to reach out.

It’s going to be critical for you to keep the lines of communication open with your teams in the coming weeks. For more information on crisis communications next steps, check out this post from Dots & Lines Inc. president Katharine Farrell. 

What Now? Four Things to Consider in Crafting Ongoing COVID-19 Communications

The recent COVID-19 crisis has put a spotlight on corporate communications and elevated their importance in a way not seen in recent memory. By this point, most organizations have likely sent out at least one, if not several, emails on COVID-19 to both internal and external audiences.

That’s a good move. According to a recent Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report on COVID-19, employer communications were cited as “the most credible source of information about the coronavirus.” That ranks, by the way, higher than “government and media” and “business in general and NGOs.”

Now that your initial crisis outreach has been sent, you may be taking a deep breath and asking, “What’s next?”

Crisis communications pre-planning can be helpful for initial messaging, but as the situation evolves you’ll likely run out of prepared content. With several more weeks of social distancing or home quarantine expected, how can companies continue to communicate with internal and external audiences effectively?

Here are four factors to consider:

1. Accuracy

Since employer communications are considered the most trustworthy, it’s doubly important to make sure your sources are credible. News from respected, verified media outlets (such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and others) and updates or guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization are just a few that can be used for updates.

The fine line between prudence and speed is one communications professionals must walk during times of crisis like this. Internal announcements should be verified via the appropriate channels, whether that’s your CEO or another executive. There may be pressure on you or your team to get communications out quickly, but getting an approved message out a little slower beats speedily sending out an inconsistent, inaccurate or confusing message.

2. Consistency

Be sure there’s consistency in both the information being shared across your organization and in the  manner or tone you use to deliver it.

Make sure you nail down who needs to be kept up-to-date on outgoing messaging and you set up some kind of approval system to make sure there’s an acceptable level of alignment.  Establishing a daily touchpoint with this group could be a good path forward to get a plan in place for the next several weeks.

Beyond the involvement of those already responsible for corporate communications, there may be a need to train managers or supervisors within your organization on how to respond to questions from employees so messaging stays consistent.

Another consideration is to create a COVID-19 landing page on your website. This can contain the latest updates and information for your organization and serve as a resource for employees or customers and partners.

3. Frequency

This is no time to be squeamish about frequent communications. According to the previously cited Edelman study, employees are hungry for information from employers, including how the virus is affecting the organization’s ability to operate, as well as “advice on travel and what can be done to stop the spread of the virus.” That means what you’re sharing doesn’t have to be limited to your organization; in fact, broader information will likely be appreciated.

Consider using different channels to communicate as well. The Edelman study found employees differed in how they wanted to receive communications: 48% preferred email or newsletter; 33% wanted posts on the company’s website; and 23% favored phone or video conferences.

4. Culture

Corporate culture shouldn’t go out the window in a crisis.  Are you a happy hour kind of office? Do you have regular lunch and learns? Communications teams, in partnership with HR and other departments, should provide resources and guidance for activities such as virtual meetings, lunches and happy hours. Setting meeting leaders up for success by sharing best practices in this area can make a huge difference in their effectiveness.

This situation opens up opportunities for employees to get to know each other better and form closer bonds. Case in point: I had no idea a woman I work with has a large dog — who also has a habit of snoring loudly in the armchair next to her desk at home. After a good laugh about the background noise, the colleague shared a photo of her work-from-home companion. This example is just one of countless across the country. Getting to know more about the lives of your bosses and colleagues by being (virtually) invited into their homes can bring teams closer together — a silver lining in an otherwise challenging environment.

 

As we navigate this surreal situation, I hope the points above provide some guidance on how to stay on top of  COVID-19 corporate communications. More than ever before, they are critical.

If you need help drafting messages, creating a communications plan or coming up with ways to keep your company culture strong during this time, please reach out to our team at info@dotsandlinesinc.com and we’ll be in touch. We’re in this together.

Think your company is too small for an annual meeting? Think again!

If you’ve been in the workforce for more than a year, there’s a good chance you have attended an annual company meeting. Typically, this means a face-to-face event where everyone from the company (or a certain team/department  for larger organizations) gets together to discuss last year’s progress and plan/set goals for the year ahead. 

In today’s working environment, as more and more employees work remotely, the importance of in-person meetings is increasingly important, not only to reinforce your company’s culture and employee engagement, but for team building and bonding among remote employees. 

It’s interesting speaking to people about annual company meetings. I’ve spoken to individuals who say, “My company is far too small for an in-person meeting. We Slack/talk to each other all day every day anyway!” Others have taken issue with the expense – “We just don’t have it in the budget right now.” 

At Dots & Lines, we could use both excuses, but we’ve held an in-person annual company meeting since year one. Why do we feel so strongly about this? Here are a few reasons we’ve found beneficial in holding annual company meetings, no matter the size of your company:

Increase your team’s engagement and satisfaction. 

As humans we are all wired differently; some of us are talkers, some of us are action based, and some of us just want to be in the room, taking it all in. Understanding the differences among your employees also means understanding the different nuances to celebrating, brainstorming, and growing with each individual. Quality talent needs to feel appreciated and respected by their company. Investing in team meetings, whether annual or more frequent, shows your team that you value their contributions and can help bolster an employee’s confidence, moral and drive.

Review your company purpose.

Holding an annual company meeting at the end of the year allows everyone to focus on what your company means to them, and to explore the company’s values, its culture, with one another in person. In a perfect world, everyone would know and live out their company’s core values on a daily basis. In today’s modern environment of information overload, however, it’s important to have a discussion with your employees to make sure everyone is on the same page in what they are collectively working towards. After all, multiple studies have suggested that employees place greater value on completing work with meaning than a higher salary without a mission they can get behind.

Set your goals and develop a game plan to achieve them.

Sharing what your company’s goals, ambitions and future plans are for the next year is, for most organizations, the main reason for having annual meetings. Holding an annual meeting allows everyone to discuss their ideas and have input in the goals for the company, including what they want to see changed, expanded, or improved in the next year. Discussing this face-to-face puts your team on the same page for a great start to the new year. 

Take a moment to recognize your hard work.

Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of everyday work, you forget to stop, take a look around, and recognize the good things your company or department has achieved over the past quarter or year. I know I have been guilty of “finding” impressive documents in my files that I later remember I myself created! Needless to say, an annual company meeting is a great time to not only recognize collective successes but celebrate individual accomplishments. 

Enjoy each other’s company!

Last but certainly not least, introducing new team members, or discussing new projects and clients/customers in person is so much more meaningful than through cyber communication. Having new additions meet veteran team members face-to-face allows everyone to get a feel for who they are working with on a daily basis, and allows them to work better together on team projects, proposals and engagements. 


If your company is small and you don’t think it is “worth it” to get together at least once a year for an annual meeting, I hope you’ll reconsider. It’s an investment that not only has the potential for significant positive returns in impacting employee engagement and retention (reducing turnover costs), but is our team has found incredibly beneficial.

Best Practices for Visual Storytelling

When I was a kid, my favorite bedtime story of all time was “What Was I Scared Of?” from Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches and Other Stories.  More than 50 years have passed, and I can still recite almost the entire story verbatim. Why is that? I’ll admit that the story is compelling with a classic Seuss moral ending (the tale of an unnamed character who frequently encounters an animated pair of empty pale-green pants in spooky places), but how does it stay so fresh in my mind? Why do I remember this story above all others from any other time in my life? What can I quote from my years at college? And why is it that I cannot remember half of what I read just this morning?

My answer: visuals. We tend to remember things better when they’re compounded with meaningful and memorable images. Graphics have been around much longer than the written word – the earliest cave drawings were about 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, while the earliest forms of writing didn’t come until around 3,500 BCE. We instinctively know visuals add more potency than pure text.

In the field of marketing and communications, one of our jobs is to craft compelling stories that promote the value of our clients’ products and services. We could do that with just words and allow the readers to imagine the rest, but adding visuals helps us to compound our message and make our stories more memorable. We tend to remember about 10 percent of what we hear, 20 percent of what we read, 30 percent of what we see, and 60-70 percent of what we see and hear.  So, a good bedtime story.

For the past few years (25 give or take), I have been earning my living by helping clients with visual storytelling. It used to be called “writing presentations,” but the terminology has evolved into “visual storytelling,” which makes sense – we’re helping to create an unforgettable narrative with a beginning, a middle and end told mostly through pictures.

Visual storytelling is my vocation and my passion – however; it doesn’t come naturally to many. The following are a few pieces of advice to help you tell your stories.

#1 Craft a story.

Your audience will know if you’ve thrown in a bunch of random slides thinking that they’ll explain what you’re talking about. As a presenter, your job is to tell a story – and every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end – bring your audience along as if you’re taking them on a journey.

Additionally, a good story requires some form of conflict – if not, then there’s a journey, but no tale. In marketing, conflict explains why the product is relevant – what problem is being solved? What makes it interesting? The climax is the solution: the product or service being sold. The story’s resolution then becomes the campaign’s call to action.

Once you’ve written your story, it’s then time to choose imagery which directly reflects the message. This way, the audience finds it easy to see how points are interlinked, thus intensifying your message, ensuring people remember what you’ve said. Those pale green pants again.

#2 Tell the tale.

It’s classic – and I’m amazed that you still see it out there – a presentation that is nothing but a written narrative for the speaker to read directly to their audience. Who the heck wants to sit there and be read to, especially if you can read 100 times faster than that odious “reader.”

To me, a great slide has the viewer perplexed when they first look at it – “what does that mean?” When the presenter explains it through their story arc, the slide will resonate even more. Your script and your slides are two different things – by combining them, you can captivate and engage your audience by telling them the story.

#3 Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse.

A good thing to remember is that the presentation has been created for the audience, not for the speaker. It’s there to help deliver the message, reminding you of what to say, not saying it for you. You want to offer something compelling, not boring your audience to death by reading through the slide. Nor do you want to confuse them by being unprepared and not being able to provide enough explanation.

A good storyteller captivates the audience verbally as their minds follow along by looking at the visuals. But, all of those bullet points are gone! What am I going to read? How am I going to know what to say?

The only way to do this is through practice. Practice. Practice.

We tend to equate spontaneity with honesty – and only when you’re free of the reliance on a script or notes can you begin to feel (and sound) spontaneous. If you know the subject inside and out, you’ll have the confidence to add details or examples that will help the presentation sound more off the cuff (and unrehearsed).

Interested in learning more about how Dots & Lines helps our clients tell their stories? Click here or email info@dotsandlinesconsulting.com.

New Kid on the Block: A Gen Zer takes on the Corporate Travel Industry

The latest entrants into the workforce are now part of Generation Z. Like other generations before it, debate over the exact date range that accurately identifies Gen Z reigns. Many sources quote the mid-1990s to early 2000s for the birth years that constitute Gen Z, while others push the starting date back to 1997. I was born in 1995, so technically I could be a Millennial or a Gen Z… but given that I have no memories of Y2K or living without the Internet, I feel I fall firmly in the Gen Z category.

Given that the corporate travel industry has been widely recognized as one made up predominantly of Baby Boomers, being the “new kid on the block” has presented some interesting challenges. So, without further ado, here are some of my impressions, recommendations and advice for others in my age range looking to get into this amazing industry:

“Wait, so what do you do?”

I was lucky enough to be exposed to the travel industry early; I held two internships with a mega TMC (travel management company, or essentially a really large travel agency) during my time in college. I really enjoyed my experience and was eager to back into the corporate travel industry after graduating.

Presently, my biggest hurdle is describing to friends, family, and other young professionals what exactly it is that I do. I have found that the corporate travel industry is one that your average young adult doesn’t even knows exists. The closest I have gotten to a fellow young professional understanding what corporate travel is was when they recognized a major player in the space, in this case, SAP Concur.

Corporate travel is much than an OBT (online booking tool) or expense report! I will say, however, it’s understandable; most young professionals don’t have the job requirements or status that necessitates travel for their job. Even if they are lucky enough to travel for work, they then have no concept of the technology, contracts, people, companies and other factors that go into making each trip happen.

Why is that? Why do most of the recent college graduates have little or no experience, knowledge, or even awareness about this $1.4 trillion industry.

This industry has a lot to offer with amazing benefits you cannot easily find elsewhere, including a supportive, close-knit global, the opportunity to travel for work early in your career, a need for younger and newer talent to take over roles currently held by retiring Baby Boomers, and an exciting, innovative field that often promotes from within.

Fish out of water

Let me be clear; once you get your foot into the door in this industry, it is no cakewalk. I have found a few difficulties entering this niche trade. As a consultant, I need to understand the entire travel process from the traveler perspective, from booking to submitting expenses. Additionally, I need to be familiar with the companies, services, technologies, and other offerings that enable each trip to take place.

Full disclosure: it took me almost six months before I was semi-confident that I understood all of the acronyms correctly.

Because of its close-knit nature, I’ve found the business travel industry can be somewhat hesitant of newcomers (and, it seems, especially young ones!). For every warm welcome I received, I had someone doubting my skills and abilities.

Granted, I am sure this happens in every industry for every young professional. What I do believe to be different, however, is that those who were welcoming showed me just how amazing this industry could be. Many of the industry veterans have worked together for years. Even across competitor lines, everyone is friendly and most likely worked together previously.

As a 24-year-old, I feel privileged to have experienced industry leaders value my presence, opinion, and my skills. I’ve had successes with clients on a range of projects, as well as a few low points that taught me great lessons. I can honestly say that after my first full year in the corporate travel industry, I feel like I am officially part of the gang.

A few tips for those wanting to work in this industry

  1. Be patient with yourself.
    Like I mentioned earlier, this business is complicated, layered, and full of lingo that is hard to pick up. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or clarification.

  2. Seek out a mentor.
    I was lucky enough to work with a great boss that not only developed my marketing and PR skills, but took time to teach me about different companies, technologies, industry leaders, and all the basics I needed to succeed early on. Having the support of someone more experienced not only speeds up your successful entry into the industry but opens many doors to you as a young professional.

  3. Read the news.
    There are many travel trade publications with daily newsletters. Subscribe to them and read them! Initially, you may not understand 50% of the information, but you will slowly understand more and more. It’s easy to get “in the weeds” in your particular vertical; don’t limit yourself to one area of expertise at the risk of limiting your future impact and career growth.

  4. Have confidence in yourself.
    No one is looking for another wallflower. Introduce yourself to people you want to meet, ask to take on new projects, develop new skills, and don’t be shy about offering your opinion on a project. Be proud of yourself and what you have to offer.

  5. Be a generalist.
    Corporate travel is a small industry in regard to personnel; companies tend to promote and hire from within because of the time it takes to understand and learn the intricacies of this business.  It’s ok to have specialties or areas of knowledge that are deeper than others (in fact, it’s a good thing!), but there is a real strength in being well equipped to speak knowledgeably on the many different aspects of travel.

Again, this is a great industry that has impressive technology, innovation, and best of all… great people. They hold diversity in high regard, and the work culture is unlike anything I have ever experienced. I have been lucky to work with a group of talented and smart individuals at such an early age and can’t recommend my chosen field enough. I look forward to setting my goals higher in year 2!

Attracting the Next Generation of Corporate Travel Executives

Recently, a few interactions I had made me think about how we are attracting the next generation of corporate travel professionals to our industry. The first was a discussion at GBTA with an industry colleague who talked about their interaction with college students looking to enter the hospitality industry. According to this person, the vast majority of students aren’t aware of the corporate travel sector as a potential career path; instead, most students interested in travel/tourism are focused solely on the leisure sector.

The second instance was during the interview process our team recently conducted in hiring for a new employee. It’s been a really exciting time in our company as we’ve expanded a lot over the past year. One thing that seemed to be commonplace among those we interviewed, however, was the lack of awareness of the corporate travel industry as a career path. Although pretty much everyone agreed it sounded cool (it is cool!), before the interview it was pretty rare anyone had conducted a corporate travel focused job search.

Both of these experiences led me to wonder, “What are we doing as an industry to attract and foster the next generation of corporate travel executives and leaders?” 

I’ve had personal experience with a few programs but decided to do a little research to compile a more comprehensive list. That being said, there are some I may have left out. Please drop us a line if you have more and I’ll add them as I’m able!

Here’s a short synopsis of what’s out there for young professionals or those who are new to the industry:

GBTA Ladders
Full disclosure: this is a program that’s near and dear to my heart as I’ve been involved since 2016. Ladders is a unique team mentor program that offers GBTA members an opportunity to not only expand their professional development within the travel and meetings and events industry but gain true lifelong colleagues and friends. GBTA Ladders is a group of managed travel’s emerging industry leaders joining together for the dual purpose of: mentorship, education and collaboration; and leveraging collective talents to help shape the next generation and the evolution of the industry. Learn more here.

WINiT 1:1 Mentoring Program
I have also participated in this program, which has greatly expanded since my involvement. WINiT 1:1 Mentoring is a self-service program for Mentors and Mentees across all categories and locations in the travel, meeting, event and exhibition industries and is open to women and men. Both Mentors and Mentees can ‘hand pick’ their selection based on a quick match questionnaire. Learn more here.

Phocuswright Young Leaders Summit
Each year, Phocuswright brings together the industry’s best and brightest travel leaders aged 35 and under to be part of an elite group of Phocuswright Conference participants. This elite program is a launching pad for the next generation of travel luminaries to connect, debate and collaborate. Check out the eligibility requirements and find more information here.

SITE Young Leaders Conference (prior to IMEX America)
The SITE Young Leaders program prior to IMEX America presents an opportunity to meet young professionals from around the world and gather to learn, energize and focus on both personal and career goals. This opportunity is focused on those interested in, or within the first five years of, pursuing a career in the incentive industry. Learn more here.

ACTE Around the World Traineeship and Development Programs
The ACTE Around the World Traineeship Program is open to soon-to-be college graduates and recent college graduates looking to dive into the world of Corporate Travel Management through a six-week comprehensive training experience that develops future professionals for careers in the global business travel industry. The Around the World Development Program is open to business travel professionals looking to gain one-of-a-kind, hands-on immersion training focused exclusively on how corporate travel is practiced and managed in one or more distinct regions of the world. Learn more about both programs, including FAQs, here.

Professional Certifications
Like many other industries, managed travel has a few commonly recognized professional certifications. Two are available through GBTA, the GTP® (that stands for Global Travel Professional) and GLP® (Global Leadership Professional). There are others that are more specific to certain verticals, for example, the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation from MPI. Depending on your reporting structure there are certifications outside of travel that may be of value, such as the CSCP (Certified Supply Chain Professional) for procurement specialists.

All in all, there are a lot of great opportunities available for young professionals or those new to travel, but the first hurdle we still need to overcome is a lack of awareness. It’s up to us to be ambassadors for our industry, to communicate not only the opportunities available today, but the potential offered for a long and full career in the space. 

How can you help?
Reach out to local universities and high schools in your area. Offer to come in and give a short lecture, or (if you are feeling ambitious) offer to develop a course. Take every opportunity to talk to young people you encounter in your everyday life about your career. Make sure you are making an effort to talk to young people in your organization and imparting advice to them before you retire (young people, make sure you’re actively reaching out to more senior peers in your organization as well – it’s a two-way street!).

The reality is, our industry is an aging one. If those of us in the industry today want a say in the direction it takes and who’s at the helm, we need to be active participants. 

Did I inadvertently overlook any great opportunities? If so, please drop us a line!

5 things not to say to a travel journalist

tips for press interview

Disclaimer: As an ex-journalist, I may be slightly biased…

Journalists aren’t influencers or publicists. They are paid to ask difficult questions and to fact-check. In recent years the profession has gone through many changes, resulting in more pressure on fewer journalists to produce more stories. Publications have folded, while others have flourished online.

Despite blogs and social media providing free content, people continue to turn to the press for verified information. A story written in a trusted publication continues to carry much more weight than a thinly veiled advertisement or article based on questionable information.

All that said, public relations is crucial for companies in the travel industry.

Unfortunately, not everyone respects the profession. Sometimes, executives and marketers view reporters only as generators of “free advertising.”

As PR professionals, our job is to guide our clients in finding the best angles to pitch their stories to the press and to help the media understand the news element and value of our clients’ announcements.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when conducting a press interview.

1. “Did you receive my press release?”

Chances are that, yes, your press release is buried among a hundred others in the reporter’s inbox. Journalists are working under pressure with stressful deadlines. Asking questions like this will only put you in a bad light. If your release has value for the publication it will be sorted and you will be contacted. If you’ve developed a proper PR strategy, you’ll already know the best ways (email, social media, phone, text messaging, etc.) to reach reporters working on the topics that affect your organization. If you don’t, get to know the reporter and his or her preferences. Above all, learn to pitch your news so that it stands out.

2. “When can you publish my press release?”

Remember that most journalists won’t take your word on face value. They won’t publish a story with a single source. Your press release might be published as a short brief on its own. If your story calls for a proper article, reporters will conduct interviews and contact other sources. Journalists rarely have a say on when a story might be released. It is for the editor to decide based on other news. What might seem urgent for you will probably be much less critical for the news editor.

3. Don’t say “No comment.”

If you do, be ready for the journalist to start digging. If you believe you might one day be in an awkward position, prepare for it in advance. Other people will be happy to provide comments so do your job and control the discussion.

4. “Are you speaking to my competitors?”

As we’ve seen above, good journalists aren’t publishing single-source stories. Chances are the reporter you are speaking with has or will reach-out to competitors so don’t bother mentioning it. However, you can build trust by offering sources to beef-up the story. Clients using your products are always appreciated, as are independent consultants or renowned experts. The journalist will welcome saving time on research and will probably return the favor.

5. “Let me check your story before you publish it.”

Each publication has its internal policy about this issue. As a rule of thumb, news media are free to publish what they want. They don’t have to let you review their story or even your quotes.
Expect not to approve the story before it goes to press; this is why you must be extremely careful during the interview. Make sure to speak clearly. Never use jargon and double check that the reporter understood you. Not everyone is an expert in your field. It might be the first story the reporter writes about your industry. Reformulate complex issues and offer to send additional information by email. Use this opportunity to rephrase essential facts. Pay attention to the reporter’s note taking. Pause when needed to let the journalist catch-up.

I could go on forever about the do’s and don’ts of PR. The best way to conduct an interview is to come prepared and to be honest and empathic. The best interviews are discussions between trusting professionals.

Learn about the journalist and the publication. What is the reporter usually writing about? Who are his or her readers? Keep this in mind to craft your message and find the right angle for the interview. Remember that journalists work on deadline be ready to give impromptu interviews when called. If you aren’t prepared to answer their questions, they will find someone else.

Contact us to learn more about our media training workshop.