Choice Hotels International, Inc. | 1 Choice Hotels Circle, Suite 400 Rockville, MD 20850
Michelle Holmes - VP, Digital, Media and Customer Aquisition
Give us some insight on you and how you came to Choice:
I was actually interested in being a doctor during college, so I did a lot of my coursework in microbiology and chemistry. But I also had a passion for journalism and writing. So in my junior year I started taking marketing and writing courses as a second major. I was interested in science because I was very analytical and I liked to understand how things worked. My role in digital allows me to do both, because we’re always working with the art, but everything we do is backed by the science, which comes into play with the Artificial Intelligence and analytics.
I’ve always been a planner and mapped out my life and my career. I stayed in marketing, and then during the dot com boom, I was very interested in digital, and worked with Walgreens and then Accenture. I also thought that the digital boom was interesting and innovative, and likely to stay. So I kept on the digital track.
So why Choice?
A mentor of mine who was a senior marketing personage in Chicago used to coach me and say, “You need to observe what these CMOs and these leaders have done in their careers.” One thing I noticed they’d all done in their careers was work on the agency or consultant side. At that time, I had only worked on the client side. I decided to take a leap of faith and go to business school with the goal of being able to work at a consulting agency. I went for my MBA and simultaneously found work as a consultant. So I’ve had some luck, I’ve met some good people, but I also had a plan.
So why Choice? I always wanted to be a CMO. I went and got the consulting experience, and then I went and worked at an agency. I figured, as I was at the 15 year mark in experience, it would be a good time to transfer back to the client side where I could surround myself with more seasoned executives who could help me on my track to CMO.
I am very interested in marketing, but I also think to be a CMO you have to be an effective business leader and know how all of the businesses work across an organization. You may be making marketing decisions. I came to Choice because I thought that it was the right size and had the right number of brands, and the right amount of interesting work. This would allow me to focus on marketing and have exposure to how the business works at large. Sometimes you don’t have that opportunity at larger brands, where there are large groups which focus on very unique tasks or functions.
What is it about Choice that you felt like this was the right fit?
It was the size of the company, it was meeting with leaders, and also doing research on my own to understand that it was culturally changing to one that is very performance driven, and that is at the core of how we operate in digital marketing. It aligned with my core capabilities but also with the climate of the organization.
So being new to Choice, what surprised you, how did you adapt, and what would you want candidates to know?
What I needed to adapt and change is how I thought about the business. When you’re a consultant you go in and out of companies, you solve problems, and then you leave. You never really get to see the fruits of your labor. You have to nurture client relationships because it helps you drive bottom line revenue. It’s something they always taught us at Accenture; you have to manage relationships as much as you have to do your job. I was reminded of that when I came back in-house: that nurturing relationships is just as important. It’s about changing your mindset that you’re going to be here for the long run.
What is also surprising is the number of talent that Choice has brought in. How smart people are, how engaged people are, how passionate they are, and how willing people are to help each other and collaborate for the collective goal. It’s very different from the consultant side where sometimes you’re just out for yourself. What I found here is that people are really here to help you succeed. It is competitive and you need that competitive drive with each other to be successful, but at the core, people want to see each other succeed.
How would you summarize what you do, and what you’re doing to drive Choice?
The way it comes together today is that we use our devices for everything. Customers are very aware of the amount of data they are sharing with us. That means their expectations have risen in terms of what they expect from us. They expect me to serve them an ad that persuades them to book a room that is based on their individual preferences. Gone are the days when we used to mass market to people. Now I need to say: “This is Michelle, who is on her mobile phone, who was first looking at a pair of shoes at Nordstrom’s, but also has a child, and is a business traveler, and is traveling during the week. They take a break and go exploring. What room should I offer her? At what rate, do I need to give her an offer, what is going to get her to convert and what is going to meet her expectations? ”
What were you doing 10 years ago that influenced where you are today?
Ten years ago I was working for Career Education Corporation. I was hired, one of two people at this start up, in the marketing department. The charge was to go and help us find students, and build the brand. We were having a conversation with Google. We were thinking about whether or not we should invest in Google before they went IPO. I had already made the transition to digital and I was at an inflection point in my career whether I was going to be in marketing communications or if I was going to stay in digital on the acquisition side. I made the decision not to stay with the company, but to stay with digital.
It was the best decision of my life. It was a training ground, because when there’s only two people in marketing for a significant amount of time, you end up doing every single job. I am able to say to the people who work with me all the time, I’ve actually done that job before. If you’ve been in a startup or even digital in an established organization, those groups are always small and entrepreneurial. I was fortunate enough that I’ve had to do a lot of the things I’m overseeing now. So no regrets. It was a training ground, and I had my big break a couple years thereafter.
So talk to us about current demands being placed in your area of expertise, and what you see coming.
On the consumer side, buyers have more buying power, so customers are actually influencing what strategy is. Consumers are expecting very personalized experiences from brands no matter what they are, whether in advertisements, on property, in their room, or calling on the phone. Customers in our area of expertise are demanding that we provide them with personalized and unique experiences across the consumer journey.
On the corporate side, because we have so much data that is available to us because we have to be so sophisticated in digital, there is a growing interest in us improving the bottom line with the budgets that we have. Because you have the data and know the customer, we expect you to be that much smarter to drive incremental revenue. To do more with less.
We also have to be on the cutting edge in terms of marketing technology. That requires me, outside my job, to really be on top of what’s happening in technology. There may be something new or innovative that we should be testing or be a part of to ensure that we’re at par or even leading in our category.
As a business person, what would you look for in an IT professional?
There’s very little I can do in my world now without IT. We are increasing our knowledge of what the IT capabilities are that we need, but we also need our IT partners to understand as much about our world as we are learning about their world. We need IT to understand why the decisions and requests we have are so important and why we need them so quickly. I run search marketing. I can actually tell you that every minute our site is down, how much money I’ve lost. I don’t mean soft dollars, I mean real bottom-line revenue. Then I can tell you how that translates into staff, I can tell you how that impacts our franchisees. So to an IT person, that translates to why I need site stability. Why I need to be cutting edge. Why we need to have a failsafe in place. Why we need to have new talent, the best platforms. So I think the more we can learn about each other’s worlds, the better. The truth is, we really are all in it together.