In the business over 30 years, Cathleen Decker helps travel and tourism clients reach goals on time and within budget. Her efforts have garnered numerous HSMAI awards, including leading teams twice to the coveted Platinum Award. Active in the industry and in her home community, this mom of three relishes the solo travel trend.
How did you get into the industry?
There were things I knew. I knew I didn’t want to go to law school. I knew I could write, that I could be persuasive and that no matter what else happened, I was going to work in New York City. Being full of moxie, I went through the alumni binders (yes, binders – the kind that some good soul kept up) at my University and made a list of everyone who I thought was doing something interesting and called them. I ended up with informational interviews all over the City. People were so generous with their time, what they knew and gave their advice freely. One of my interviews was to have been a 15-minute meet and greet, but instead, my meeting with Jim and Barbara Furey who owned a media representation firm specializing in the Caribbean, turned to lunch and an introduction to my first boss and the country of Jamaica. That meeting changed the trajectory of my life. I know that for so many young people today, there is an expectation that upon graduation they must know what they will do, where they will go and what they will become. I’ve learned that knowing yourself, what motivates and makes you happy is probably a better, more trustworthy compass than going after a defined ending.
Any emerging industry trends?
In travel there has been a move to bring audiences closer to authentic “experiences,” to understand what is real from what is contrived. I think this goes hand in hand with a movement to discern quality content. We seem to be moving away from content that is superfluous, an endless listicle, toward richer storytelling and first-person accounts. I think this has influenced the great success of podcasts. We’re learning that great editors and great producers have great purpose and that most times, you do get what you pay for.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
Opportunity and challenges are two sides of the same coin. The technology – from media databases to cloud computing and website development, that has enabled Decker/Royal to compete well alongside the larger agencies has also required us to be resourceful in the way we care for our most important and precious asset: our people.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
For a long while, there has been a democratization of travel. Travel is no longer for the rich and wealthy but for everyone who is curious. It became a right and so as the audience expanded, the way travel stories could be told changed too. I think our business idea was born from a new way to be part of this storytelling.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We’re paying close attention to the role of influencers, the intermingling of paid and earned media and the continued segmentation of media and the rise custom publishing.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
I will say that as a company, we’re looking at the skill sets that our clients have appreciated and getting even better at them. And it’s not necessarily big stuff, but small courtesies that make a difference, like responding quickly and thoughtfully, being enthusiastic and meeting deadlines consistently. We see our success as inextricably linked to our clients’ and so we work hard to be an indispensable extension of their teams.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
Aside from starting the business four years ago, which at the time felt like the most terrifying thing I’d ever done professionally, ending a relationship with a client who felt like family was my most difficult professional moment. Upon reflection, it’s probably because it wasn’t professional, it was personal and therein lies the lesson.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
I think there are extraordinary PR people practicing in the hospitality space today. They understand the business, know the media and can help secure consistent and meaningful coverage. I think what distinguishes Decker/Royal is that when clients work with us, they work with me and my partner personally. There is no bait and switch and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We are excited by our clients who represent the different facets shaping travel today and appreciate the opportunity to share our ideas as part of their team.
How do you motivate others?
By giving them the opportunity to fail – albeit gracefully. It’s easy to motivate a person who is given the chance to try something, work at it until success is achieved and then be offered another challenge. Victory begets victory, but nothing is linear, and folks need to feel they will be supported if they make a mistake because we all do. Process and procedure are important, but if you want to build a thinking and thoughtful team of human beings, they need to adapt and sometimes take calculated risk.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Give generously; avoid being a cynic and celebrate others’ ideas.