Greetings from the Sunshine State: Danielle Courtenay, APR, discusses marketing and Visit Orlando

February 28, 2013

“From a travel perspective, as the number-one family destination in the world, our peak travel time periods are when school is out,” says Danielle Courtenay, APR. As the chief marketing officer for Visit Orlando, she focuses on global integrated marketing in the hospitality and tourism industry, expanding the brand and growing visitation to Orlando.

Courtenay received a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Auburn University and a master’s degree in communications and marketing from Florida State University. She previously worked for the company in global publicity and public affairs, and has also served as the vice president of The Zimmerman Agency and as a marketing associate at Jamis Bicycles. Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International has named her one of the Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Marketing.

“With a global destination like Orlando, we have opportunities that arise every day,” she says. “The biggest challenge is matching up the great opportunities with our strategic direction and plan.”

How did you get your start in public relations, and why did you decide to move from agency life to the tourism and hospitality sectors?

My interest was in sports marketing, so I started in marketing selling children’s bicycles, which allowed me to learn how to overcome objections. The sports connection landed me at The Zimmerman Agency because I had reached out about sports marketing and public relations.

The agency specialized in travel and tourism and resort marketing, which provided me with the experience I needed and is the reason I got the call to talk to Visit Orlando. (Then, it was the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau.) Orlando is a highly regarded tourism brand so I was thrilled.

What’s the state of the hospitality/tourism and PR industries right now?

The current state for travel and tourism is favorable right now.  We are seeing a high demand for travel products. And from a PR standpoint, the convergence of social, brand building through publicity, content, digital and strategic direction has ensured that public relations has remained an important part of the total mix.  Multi-channel always performs better than a single channel.

Are you particularly busy at this time of year with Spring Break, or is Orlando a popular place to visit year-round?

From a travel perspective, as the number-one family destination in the world, our peak travel periods are when school is out.  One of the advantages Orlando has is that with the mix of domestic and international travel and leisure and business travel, it flattens out our seasonality.

We are focused domestically in filling needs periods of May 1-June 15 and Aug. 15-Sept. 30.  It is a great time to come — with the weather, more time to do what people love to do and the fact that the fall is when the best overall deals to Orlando are in the marketplace. As a global marketing team, we are busiest getting out in front of the planning and booking time frame.

How has social media helped Visit Orlando drive audience and engagement?

Visit Orlando uses social media as part of our strategic direction to keep our brand in front of consumers all year long. Our social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, etc., help inform consumers of updates in the destination and drive them to the website. Nothing we do is stand-alone;  it is all part of overall initiatives.

What role does public relations play in building the  Visit Orlando brand and how does communications help raise its profile?

Public relations is a key element of our overall plan, whether it’s branding or specific programs driving overnight visitation.  We have a global team of PR professionals in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Germany, United Kingdom, Mexico, Argentina and China. Because the markets are so different, publicity plays a major role in brand building, extending our reach and keeping Orlando top of mind.

What particular skill sets do you look for in new hires? Do you have advice for those looking to break into tourism/hospitality public relations?

The skill sets vary by what part of the communications team the person is interviewing for.  First, they have to fit our corporate culture.  We have integrated marketing teams by segment and geographic market, and it only works if everyone contributes and works seamlessly together. Because they are brand ambassadors for Orlando, they have to fit our brand, be able to interact not only digitally but also face-to-face, and have a great work ethic and a positive attitude that makes you smile.

From a technical aspect — writing, writing, writing and figuring out how to connect with the media and what is relevant to them.

The best entry into our marketplace is through an internship.  We tend to be a very open industry, so once you have an introduction, the hospitality associates are always willing to help.

You’re APR certified and have been a PRSA member since 1995.  Why do you think it’s important to be accredited and to be involved in organizations that focus on advancing the profession and continuing education?

I am naturally curious and love to learn, which has been a big part of my success. I always wanted to know everything about a market, not just about the media outlets. I wanted to know who were the big players in the distribution channels, airlines, culture, hot buttons, etc. If you don’t know that, then there is no way you can ensure the best interaction with the media.

We should all strive to be lifelong learners. The APR certification helps validate and provide milestones for associates in our profession. But, people should not stop there.  We have designations in our travel and tourism industry as well. So no matter what industry you are in, you should always take the opportunity to learn more about your industry, and also about the entire business.

What’s the most valuable business or leadership lesson you’ve learned?

On the business front, make sure you think strategically and always know the goals and how success is determined prior to starting a program.

Understand the financial picture and how you will contribute to the bottom line.  Make sure that you measure and articulate the results and success proactively instead of waiting to be asked.  And think about the “why” instead of the “what.”

From a leadership aspect, hire good people and support them. Remove all barriers to ensure their success. Don’t have them do anything you would not. And, we are a fun product so have fun!

What is the best part of your job?

I have the privilege to represent the best travel destination in the world, lead the best marketing team in the industry and work with the smartest people in marketing [when working] with our partners. And, every day is different.

Managing Editor Amy Jacques interviewed Danielle Courtenay, APR,  for this month’s member profile.

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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