Episode 49: Winning More First Time Visitors, with Josiah Brown
In this episode, you will learn how regions don’t influence a travelers decision on where to go, and how to get them to come to your destination from Josiah Brown.
Josiah Brown is best known the New York Sherpa and has logged over 600,000 miles throughout New York State over the last 13 years. He is the brain and the passion behind New York’s Best Experiences. The Sherpa lives for recommending the best-kept secrets New York has to offer. He coined the tagline “because we’ve been there,” well, because he has. Josiah is President and CEO of New York Welcome’s You. He is a public speaker and trainer offering workshops to the tourism industry on topics including: winning first-time visitors to a destination, branding first, and the future of the group travel market.
More on Josiah’s Background
Thank you for joining me, Josiah.
It’s wonderful to be here, thank you, Nicole.
I am really glad that you’re here today. I know as you logged those 600,000 miles, you logged quite a few miles over the weekend having been up here in my neck of the woods in the Finger Lakes region and attending the hunt races. I’m really excited to learn from you today and to hear more about your perspective. Before we get started, would you mind telling us a little bit more about your background and sharing your story with us?
Yeah, sure. I really was that natural entrepreneur, a lot of people have asked me through the years can you teach entrepreneurship? I still kind of am not sure that I have the answer to that question because I think most entrepreneurs have some story that starts like mine. I was 13-years-old and I went door-to-door knocking on doors and asking people what they needed help within their yard, and by 14 or 15 I had a very large, and for that age, lucrative, yard work and landscaping business going. Entrepreneurship has kind of always been in my blood and through a series of contacts and friendships when I left college, I started in the tourism industry and that was about 14 years ago. Again, I think what most people would say about the tourism industry is that it gets in your blood, and it really got in my blood very quickly. I was blown away particularly by New York, its assets, and its people.
I had kind of a unique beginning because I worked in a company that owns New York Welcomes You, the brand. That’s primarily what I focused on and we did video production and advertising for tourism, and it was all revolved around selling New York. The company also did brand consulting, and I really got a master education in branding. By around 2011, 2012, I was running New York Welcomes You as a division and also sitting in on some major branding projects. I was able to learn from some very successful companies how powerfully branding re-shifted their focus or helps them understand themselves better. It was around late 2011, early 2012 that I began to have a passion to pursue New York promotions full-time.
That’s really what I loved about everything I had done. I would find myself flying back from Kentucky or somewhere out west quickly to get back to New York for a tourism conference for this other hat that I wore in New York Welcomes You. When I would get to these events and meetings, I just felt like I was around my people and that this was my tribe. I approached the partners and said, “I would love to just take this division and make it my own.” They were copasetic, and in early 2012, I incorporated New York Welcomes You as its own company.
From there, which I’m sure we can discuss more, I really started to apply a lot of the philosophy of what I believed was needed in New York tourism and tourism promotion in general. That’s what gave birth to the New York’s Best Experiences brand. Somewhere along that road, I got this nickname New York Sherpa because I had kind of made it my mission to go everywhere, be everywhere, and see everything. Really the first time I heard it, it just stuck and have kind of enjoyed that title since.
That’s really cool. It’s so funny how things come, right? The New York Sherpa, which I believe when I first was introduced to you, you had already had the title. I only know Josiah Brown as the New York Sherpa, but how things evolve in that way. Can you talk a little bit more about the New York’s Best Experiences brand and what you do with it?
Sure, yeah. I took over the company and there I was sitting at my desk. We did video production, and we had done a lot of tourism video production. At that point, I had been a producer on over 100 different projects. New York Welcomes You runs the video network coming up the New York State throughway, in those rest stops when you see the tourism videos playing, that’s us. I sat there and I said, “I don’t feel like I am giving focus to what I truly believe.” What I truly believe in is tourism, and this is shared by the whole industry. This doesn’t make me unique, but I really know that travelers don’t travel by county or even region. I have always believed that they travel by personal interest. That’s the genesis of doing something. That personal interest might be wanting to see the baseball hall of fame, or that personal interest might be hiking, or that personal interest might be a family getaway. That’s the genesis of it.
Then the consumer tries to find where to go based on that personal interest. More and more in our busy lives and in our very, very crowded media environment that we live in, all the noise of the world we live in, I also believe that recommendations really tear down the wall of fear of trying something new. I looked at those two things, I said I believe people travel by personal interest and I believe that recommendations are what people are really looking for. It’s why you’re sitting on Trip Advisor at 12:30 at night looking at other people’s reviews before you book the resort for the family. I believed that I could do something with that, and my a-ha moment really came from I had for years been the person that people reached out to and said, “I want to do such and such in New York, where would you suggest I do it?” And I would make a recommendation.
I sent my parents to the Finger Lakes on a three-day trip, probably back in 2010. They came back and said, “That was the best vacation we’ve ever been on.” I said, “Come on, you guys have been all over,” and they said, “No we have never been on a trip where morning, noon, afternoon, night for three straight days we went from best experience to best experience. It was perfect, it was this perfectly curated trip where nothing went wrong. It was epic.” My dad looked at me and said, “You’ve got to find a way to make that a business model,” and that became the a-ha moment. Then I had to figure out how to turn that into a brand. What we really did initially, and what we’ve still done (it’s about five-years-old as a brand now), is we’ve started a roadshow.
We took a mobile visitors center, meaning a giant wrapped truck and a big booth, whether that was inside or under tents outside, and we went out to the greater East Coast area and we talked about, not regions and counties, but hiking, fishing, wine, spas, family resorts. As people came in and saw what they were interested in, we were then able to make a recommendation and take that wall of fear down of trying something new and leave them with a recommendation. I’ve been now working to build that beyond the mobile tour. We launched our own travel guide, we’re in the midst of really launching our website in earnest because for the first four years we just really weren’t a web brand, we were a mobile tour. Really, it’s been my way of applying the philosophies of what I believe works into a brand that can help win first-time visitors, and they’re the hard ones to get. A first-time visitor is 11 times harder to get than a return visitor, but they bring in more money and it’s how you grow. That’s a little bit of a nutshell of how it began.
“A first-time visitor is 11 times harder to get, but they bring in more money.” - @newyorksherpa #podcast Click To Tweet
That’s really awesome. There were a lot of actually good nuggets that you just shared with us, and I want to make sure that our listeners caught so many of them. First, starting with the whole concept of making it easier for people to travel and breaking down those barriers by providing those recommendations to curate a trip as you described it for your parents, I think is very enlightening and so, so important. Then beyond that, the way that you kind of have evolved this idea of New York’s Best Experiences first into that kind of mobile visitors center, and now evolving it into more of a mobile experience, how you organize things by experiences and think about them in terms of experiences and not necessarily by regions or by counties.
I think that that can be a challenge sometimes, especially for a lot of the people that you and I both work with who are charged by just the very makeup of their organization. That they need to think about their county lines or their regional lines, but then to translate that into something that the consumer can understand and really buy into. Then the last point that you just made, which I think is really important, is that whole idea of getting that first time visitor. That it’s 11 times harder to get that first time visitor, but once you get them, being able to get that repeat visitation. For you to be so focused on this is what you’re doing, you’re the Sherpa, you’re aimed at getting those first-time visitors because you know that they’re going to come back time and time again. I think that’s really awesome.
Yeah, that was really the greatest challenge for me as a brand was exactly what you said. The way that the funding has been set up in New York, and actually many other states, is that it’s given most cleanly funding can be transferred to a county because that’s just this municipal reality that we live in that the state often gives funding out to counties. It’s very efficient at a state level to do that, but as that has boiled down in several of these states that function on that model, coming from a branding background I know that the essence of branding is the emotional reaction in the heart of the consumer. When you say Las Vegas, or Branson, or Myrtle Beach, immediately those are evoking a feeling inside of you. That feeling is a brand, and that’s how people leverage and build their brands is by managing the feeling that someone gets.
County promotion runs against everything that a brander believes because you being to bundle un-logically connected assets. Saratoga County, Saratoga is the oldest sports venue in the nation at Saratoga race course. It’s hollow ground, 20-30,000 people come a day during race season. There are 100 restaurants downtown to accommodate for that influx. There is just that general feeling. Saratoga for me is kind of the Hamptons of the North but in a more relaxed and upstate way. Saratoga County also touches the bottom of Great Sacandaga Lake, so the county model runs against branding philosophy. Our greatest challenge was how do we realize how this industry is funded and embrace that, but also bridge that to the consumer.
We found that in talking about personal interests because if your personal interest is to have a romantic getaway, I can tell you exactly where to go do that without feeling like I have to tell you everything else that county has. The counties really embraced that, they really embraced the idea that you’re going to pick some of our stars and you’re going to talk about them. you won’t be required to then mention all the other favorite children because the county has 100 favorite children. it has really worked, I think it’s a public-private type of partnership that really has worked to bridge two very separate worlds.
Yeah, very interesting.
Why Brand is All About Emotion
This conversation has actually taken us right into the subject of our first question, which on this podcast we like to focus on both creativity and collaboration, and certainly, you usually can’t talk about one without the other. You just, of course, mentioned this public-private relationship or collaboration between your company and these counties. Before we talk a little more about collaboration, I’d like to dive a little deeper on the creativity side. One of the things that we like to explore is how destinations or attractions stand out from the crowd. It sounds like you’re taking us down this path of saying one way to stand out is to talk about personal interests. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that and maybe some things that you’ve seen or that you’ve even done to stand out from the crowd?
Yeah, sure. I always lead with branding philosophy because of what branding really teaches. One quick way to think about branding is to think about everyone you knew in high school. Usually, everyone you knew in high school had one general title to them or reputation. Of course, everyone was more complex than being the jokester or being the jock, but they all kind of got this one category in our mind. That’s really where branding begins is that if you think of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. If I say Lancaster, Pennsylvania to almost any room I speak with I say “Give me one word,” and they say “Amish.” And I say, “That’s right, Amish. We think Lancaster, Pennsylvania we think Amish.” Really that is unbelievably powerful when you are able to have a singular word that represents your destination or represents your brand. What are people actually buying?
“Your brand is the one word people think of when they think of your destination.” - @newyorksherpa #podcast Click To Tweet
They’re buying Amish kind of, but with a brand, there’s the surface and then there’s what’s underneath. What is underneath in that particular brand is this feeling that we all have that somewhere buried in our brain we believe that a simpler way of life and an agrarian life would be a happier life and a more peaceful life. We go out to Lancaster and we watch people driving buggies and we watch people hand cutting fields and we tap into an emotion for a weekend, or for a week. We tap into a feeling that they have curated there. That is the most successful way of branding and then marketing that destination is to chase what that singular focus is. The public dollars will always say you have to talk about everything. Really, the most effective way to bring in visitors, which brings in bed tax, which then satisfies what that public ask is for that investment in dollars, is to really chase a singular focus.
Really make sure that you are answering some inherent hearts cry with that promotion. Where Lancaster sells to that slightly wild side of us who envisions that, Vegas sells virtually the opposite, which is that place that you kind of go play and don’t post any Facebook photos from your trip. What I work with everyone on is a singular focus. Someone said to me one time, “This is Josiah and he gets to play God with destinations because he just tells people what their singular focus is regardless of what the whole goes campaign goes on.” I kind of chuckled because when I talk about Corning, I talk about it as the glass city, you need to go see the story of us and how it’s told through glass and things like that. I am able to, through my role, boil it down. It does start with personal interest, but it really starts with what is the emotional connector to your destination and can you be disciplined enough to get it to one core emotion?
That’s fantastic. What a great illustration of how you can take that one step further. I just love that, thank you very much for taking us down that road. You’re really great at being able to illustrate not just your point and talk about principles, let’s say, but then to be able to paint that picture of this whole idea of the Lancaster, and Amish. We’re not really going to see the Amish, we’re really going because we want that simpler way of life, and you tie it back to the emotion. I think that’s just fantastic.
Educating People About Your Destination
I’d like to change gears just slightly because I always like to look for examples of where creativity has appeared in the face of a challenge or of adversity. We’ve talked a little bit about a challenge and that is in funding structures and county lines. Is there a challenge that comes to mind that you can use to share with us? Then maybe illustrate a creative solution that came from that.
I think the one that comes to mind, and I’ve kind of talked around it a little bit, but I think the greatest challenge that I have faced in business has really been the idea that when you’re more than an hour-and-a-half outside our borders, if you say New York, everyone things New York City. In many ways, that has almost been the consummate challenge that I have faced for most of my career, is how do I get after that? That really illustrates a greater branding problem in the state. I think that that’s probably been the thing that I’ve come up against the hardest. This weekend we’ll be at the Hartford Travel Show, I do the Boston Travel Show, etc., but when you’re at these shows they will say things like “Cooperstown, is there anywhere to stay there?” Or “We’re heading to Lake Placid this weekend, is there anywhere good to eat there?”
That coupled with this reaction that New York equals New York City seems to come with also a complete lack of awareness of anything of quality of the state that is called the Empire State. We kind of have defined quality for generations. That has been the thing that I think I have attacked the most. A lot of what I’ve talked about has been some of our tactics to attack that. You would think it was easy to sell New York, but really once you’re an hour, hour-and-a-half outside of our border, it’s not. You get people who just don’t have a clue. I’ll talk to destinations who say “Of course everyone knows about New York,” and I’ll kind of stop them and say, “You know believe it or not,” and I’ll use a hypothetic because it’s not like an actual conversation. I’m like, “Believe it or not, not everyone knows that Niagara Falls is in New York.”
Again, that’s not an actual conversation, but it’s hypothetical of when you’re an hour-and-a-half, two hours outside of our borders, and I believe all of what I’m saying really works for any other state, any other destination. The knowledge of what’s there just collapses, and the knowledge that we know so well just collapses. I think that’s the thing, I don’t even want to say I’ve come up with the solution, I just know I have a lot of tactics to attack it. That you say New York, everybody thinks New York City, and that’s the upstate challenge in marketing.
Yeah. I think having been born and raised in upstate New York myself, even before being in the tourism industry, you would travel anywhere and meet new people outside of the state and say “I’m from New York State,” and they would automatically think you were from the city. There’s this kind of upstate New York complex we have as residents as we live here. As I’ve gotten into the tourism industry over the last 20 plus years, it’s a blessing as well though because we have this iconic attraction in our state, which actually gives us a conversation starter almost or gives us that recognition. Oh yeah, New York City, absolutely that’s part of our state, I live about four hours from there and this is what we have going on. Tell me, how do you respond to those questions when you’re out at these shows and trying to get folks to think more about the rest of the state?
A lot of it is pretty easy in the sense that I attend an outdoor show in Springfield, Massachusetts that is a very heavy fishing focus. The state has been very helpful in allowing us to brand that whole aisle as a New York and we have an I Love New York fishing aisle. People come into that aisle and say, “Where do you fish in New York?” I kind of look at them and I say, “Well we have 11 fishing zones as designated by the DEC in our state, and about half of those zones are larger than your state.” Then we both kind of chuckle, and then it’s a very simple process of saying, “We have world-class fly fishing, we have two great lakes and the ocean, we have world-class bass fishing, the Bass Masters Tournament comes.” 30 seconds into the conversation, they’re all of a sudden transfixed because they can’t believe that they are two hours from really good off-shore sea fishing, three or four hours from really good Great Lakes fishing, and then there’s these bass fishing and fly fishing stories across the state that are world-class as well.
It’s why I kind of still believe that humans are the best app. As soon as you engage someone at one of these shows, they just can’t believe it. They just cannot believe the level of assets that they have been so close to, that they didn’t know. That parlays right into the craft beverage, I tell people there are over 400 wineries, there are over 300 breweries, 150 distilleries, they just stare at you. If I’m in Philly, for example, they’ve heard of the Finger Lakes as a wine region, but that’s about their knowledge of craft beverages in New York. To help them understand that it is exploding and we have national and international winning brands virtually every month now in the state, they just didn’t know. That’s probably one of the biggest things I get back at all of these shows is, “I just had no clue.” It’s just a simple, it seems like it’s simple maybe it’s not, it’s a simple matter of just educating them to what’s there.
Getting People to Take Action
What’s next after the education? How do you get them to be that first-time visitor? I know you’ve talked to us about some different tactics, but in your mind do you have a clear path to how you get them there? Or is it just these different touch points and eventually they make the decision to travel?
No, I’m glad you asked that because we actually have a philosophy, they need five recommendations and one starting address. I had a friend who told me this hilarious story about going to the Finger Lakes for the first time on a bus, and it was just a comedy of errors from the bus company, and they took them to three wineries. She said, “The wineries were amazing, but the bus…” They got on this bus at 5 AM. I kind of stopped her and I said, “You’re two hours from the Finger Lakes. Why didn’t you just fill your car and go?” She said, “My whole life I’ve been two hours from the Finger Lakes, but I just didn’t know where to go. The wine region doesn’t make any sense without a wineries address.” That was fascinating information for me.
“Travelers need five recommendations and one starting address before they take action.” - @newyorksherpa Click To Tweet
What we have done, is once we inspire someone we say, “Roscoe Campsite Park is a newly renovated campground with 30 cabins right next to the Beaver Hill River. Go to Roscoe Campsite park, bring your fly rod, you’re going to be able to walk right out of your cabin and fish in the Beaver Hill. There’s a distillery up the street, there’s a brewery down the street, and start in Roscoe.” If we can get them to one place, to one address, it’s what American Pickers would call breaking the ice. If you can get that first $5 sale from the guy then he’ll sell you the whole barn.
We really work to implant one destination and one address in their mind that fits the question they asked, and you’re more likely to get them. We find people writing this down, sticking it in their purse, sticking it in their wallet, taking notes on their phone. Beyond just putting something in the bag they got at the show, they’re really energized that they have gotten that singular focus that answers their questions. Five recommendations, we don’t like to go over, we don’t like to go under, and a starting address.
That’s really awesome. Do one of those recommendations usually include a place to stay, or is that not as important?
Yeah, certainly. You really need to give people a sense of what the question they’ve asked, a place to stay, a very strong food recommendation, and then a few other things that you’re really working to. I’ve watched body language for years and talking to people, and really most of my public speaking has evolved from the fact that I talk directly with 10,000 travelers a year. I watch their body language, I listen to the questions they ask, and it’s become a master class in what travelers actually care about. First, you’ll watch the key turn in their head, when you say “Saratoga Race Course, Broadway was named as one of the top downtown’s in America. There are over 100 restaurants in downtown Saratoga. Then there are even some things like plenty of shopping.”
Somewhere in that list, you’ll watch their body language open up, and you’ve got them. You’ve said enough things to watch them open up, and then you can just make casual lodging recommendations, and then usually a really strong food recommendation. it’s always between three or four things, and I believe in the philosophy of you have to mention the three or four famous things and that’s what pushes the fear level down. They say, “Oh okay, if it’s the oldest sports venue in the country and the award-winning downtown, and there are 100 restaurants,” they’re there. Now they just need an actionable place to start and a strong food recommendation.
That’s wonderful, that’s a great formula. I love how focused, again, it is. It sounds proven because you talk to 10,000 people a year and you watch the body language. I find that a lot of times folks come to visit say the Finger Lakes vacation region, which is where I live and where a lot of our clients are, it is a hard region to actually navigate if you don’t know where to start. You could make a list of 100 recommendations, but that’s just overwhelming, so I think this is just wonderful.
Yeah. A wonderful formula with five recommendations, a place to stay, a good food recommendation and then three other, I like your term philosophy of the three other famous things that they may be able to relate to and find interest in. I think that’s awesome.
At the end of the day we know as soon as they’re on the road, Trip Advisor is open, Yelp is open, Google, Facebook, all of these other locations and place-based apps are going to begin doing their job. We just kind of believe that for Yelp to do anything for a consumer visiting Cooperstown, they have to first be in Cooperstown. We have kind of studied, and this is kind of a rabbit hole, but I’m actually going to be changing the name of my company from New York Welcomes You to Famous Destination Marketing. Famous Destination Marketing is kind of the term I’ve come up with for our philosophy because really that philosophy has been on a tour, but the public has educated us on the tour of how they think. Now the challenge that I’m working on is putting that philosophy into a travel guide effectively, and that philosophy into a website effectively.
I probably won’t make friends by saying this, but I’ve said it to enough people and they agree, is that what really is a region? The regions are pretty cohesive mostly, but if we’re really honest about it, a region is a funding zone. Every county gets money and then they have to put back into a regional pot. The regions make sense at a core, and then on the fringes, a lot of times, they don’t make sense. We still even have to keep in mind that in the consumer’s mind, the branding of regions has helped, but it still is not a mover because of how broad they are. What we have found is that when people visit a region and have a good time, there is this incredible brand loyalty of “I want to go back to the Finger Lakes because I hear Corning Museum of Glass is in the Finger Lakes and we love the Finger Lakes.” And I’ll ask them, “Why do you love the Finger Lakes?” They’ll say, “We went to a music festival there three years ago.”
Somewhere along the road, they learned that that music festival was in the Finger Lakes and it created this love of that whole product set, so now they want to go do other things. We have found if someone hasn’t been to a region yet, the region means almost nothing. It’s almost not even in the deciding factor unless you’re talking maybe Swiss Alps or the Rocky Mountains, some of these regions that people kind of yearn to go to. I would say the one region in New York that is a little bit different than what I’m saying is the Finger Lakes because it’s so synonymous with wine. It has a cache that a wine region must have food, and a wine region must be bucolic and gorgeous. That is the one region that kind of trumps what I’ve said. We have to focus on a product, and address for that product, a great food recommendation next to that product even more than believing these regions are really selling proactively for us. I’d probably get shot for saying that, but I went ahead and said it anyway.
Oh, no I agree with you actually because at its fundamental you’re right it’s a funding mechanism. Especially New York State, the vacation regions were designated by the state legislature in I believe it was the 60’s. It’s just this old funding mechanism at its core. It also helps organize the state, even in the visitor’s mind let’s just say. Because rather than having to think about 62 different counties, or I don’t even know how many different cities or what have you, at least I can get myself geographically thinking about some section.
But it’s not going to make my decision necessarily, I completely agree with you. It’s a way to organize, it’s a way to maybe explain geography, but it’s not going to be that motivating factor that’s going to get your first time visitor to come give it a try.
Right. We really find that the regions work very well for a return visitor who’s had a good time. They begin to seek more things out in this brand or this product set called the Catskills or called the Finger Lakes. Our whole world really revolves around the first time visitor, and a first time visitor doesn’t even know where the regions are. We have taught many times a destination that they need to be disciplined about their distance and sense of place. They must talk about we’re 90-minutes directly north of New York City on Route 87 the throughway. We are three hours west of Binghamton. It’s the discipline of giving sense in place because the first time visitor has no clue where we are. We’re not really a map society anymore. That return visitor there does start some brand loyalty in these regions if they’ve had a great time, which is why we’re so focused on their first being amazing because then they’re just brand loyal to that all the time.
Yeah, I think that’s really great. Josiah, you are giving us so much great information.
Great Partnerships are Based on Synergy
Before I move onto our next topic, which is collaboration, I’m wondering if there are any new projects on the horizon that you’re really excited about? You did give us a little bit of a glimpse into perhaps a renaming of your company. Do you want to elaborate more on that or is there something else that’s coming in the future that you’re really excited about?
I can probably anticipate your question on collaboration, that’s what’s new for me, I have a very cool collaboration. We can probably dovetail the answer of that one right into the next one.
All right, well let’s go. Go ahead and share that and then we’ll dive into collaboration.
I’ve listened to your show before, so I know that co-opetition is something that you talk about, and I love that word by the way. I have I think a very cool perspective, or cool story, of that. About two-and-a-half years ago, maybe it’s three years by now, I got talking with Tom Martinelli, who’s is the publisher of “New York By Rail”. “New York By Rail” is the in-flight magazine for the Amtrak trains. You sit down on the train the magazine and the sheet back is called New York By Rail for all of the Amtrak trains that move around New York State. About three years ago, we got talking and realized that we were in the same industry with virtually the same clients, but in a non-competitive way. That’s unique, that’s actually very unique. We said there must be an opportunity here to collaborate and to work with each other and to help the economies of scale of our businesses.
We started doing that, simple things kind of rose up with sharing an office and sharing a copy machine and things like that. What we really saw was that there is this world of content marketing that is growing rapidly. We’d been talking about content marketing and marketing for longer than I’ve been alive, but very often content marketing meant a magazine, or it meant a newsletter. It seems to be taking on this new form, which you see several large companies around the country doing, which is that advertising has kind of been the way most messages were spread. That has become more competitive or more challenging, and the traditional models maybe have collapsed in some of those areas. Then PR was always looked at as the holy grail, but you’re kind of relying on someone else to tell your story. This middle world of what people are starting to say more and more often now of content marketing where you skillfully write a story that might not be opinion driven.
It might just be a really good curation of your first-time visit to or your fall trip to, you really write that story and then you push it digitally through multiple channels. It reflects the same cost of an advertising budget, but it really is your story told well. We saw that emerging and really myself I’ve kind of looked at myself as a bit of a content marketer in the way that we communicate to the public. Tom certainly had a long history of being a content marketer, so we decided to launch a new division that would serve both of our companies called Content Studio.
About a month ago, we cut the ribbon on a grand opening of Content Studio, and really that’s what Content Studio is going to do is tell stories and then push them digitally. It’s kind of been this amazing collaboration because I still am this first-time visitor brand traveling the East Coast, and he still is this train eyeballs brand, but together we’ve cooperated on so many different things that have really provided a good brain trust and a really good economy of scale for our companies.
That’s really awesome, I like that story on so many levels. First of all, the whole idea of co-opetition, and I like that word a lot. this whole idea of you finding someone who might be a perceived competitor in this New York By Rail publication, you produce a publication, you could be perceived as competitors. to realize that you’re not competitors and then to look for ways that you can work together. Can you tell me a little bit more about the Content Studio and the types of content? You had mentioned it earlier in our conversation that you started in video with New York Welcomes You, is video part of this studio project as well?
We’re going to grow into really all forms of content marketing, video … It’s kind of funny because I like to think that video’s in my back pocket, but that world has changed so radically, but the storytelling aspect hasn’t. I laugh because when I was in video production, we had about $60,000 worth of equipment that is now less powerful than the iPhone in my pocket. That world, the collapse of the traditional publishing model in that world has changed a lot. What we really want to tell, we’re launching a product called a destination story seller, meaning we believe your best sales tool is your story. We just finished a project for the walkway over the Hudson. they had a video, so what we really did with walkway over the Hudson is that in Poughkeepsie the Amtrak and the Metro North Train stops in Poughkeepsie. For people out of the city, they can take either train up to Poughkeepsie, get off the train, see the whole walkway over the Hudson.
“Your best sales tool is your story.” - @newyorksherpa #WhyCollaborate #podcast Click To Tweet
For anyone listening who doesn’t know what that is, that is an old railroad bridge that has been turned into a park that spans the whole width of the Hudson River at 212 feet above the river. It’s a dramatic view, it’s an incredible experience, and there is an elevator that takes you from the bridge down to the water level where there’s a lot of ability to mingle around restaurants and things. We wrote a story about, we sent a writer there and they took a ton of photos, and then we helped craft the story of your trip to the walkway by train. You do have to be sensitive to keep a lot of opinion out of these articles from an ethical standpoint. They really need to be a guide and a curated list, so to speak, not a list but a curated story. We wrote a perspective of what you can experience by getting off the train in the morning, doing the greater walkway experience, and then having dinner and getting back on a train to the city.
We published that story as a New York By Rails story, and then they put a big digital budget behind it. So now consumers can kind of come into seeing this helpful article that is in some ways the new media, it’s really being pushed by an advertising budget, but it’s all factual and it’s all very helpful. That was one of the first stories that Content Studio told. Traditionally, content marketers were, “I need a magazine or I need a whole video series,” and that’s not as much our focus. We really want this to be a boutique shop for tourism stories primarily, and be able to help destinations fulfill a little bit of that storytelling need. There are other companies doing this, but some of those other companies are flying reps halfway across the country to come and talk to people in New York. That’s the state I know and love, I might as well run an agency that does that too.
That’s cool, that’s really awesome. The walkway over the Hudson sounds like a phenomenal experience, it’s been on my bucket list for quite some time now. I haven’t been able to have that experience yet myself, but I can see how the story writing and the content that you produce can be very helpful. I also see how the way you described it, you’re still fulfilling your mission, which is helping those first-time visitors understand the experience and how they can experience it. I love that it involves taking a train out of the city and getting them out into more of the state, but it’s something that they can consume in a day and then be right back into the city. That’s really cool, I’ll be interested to see how Content Studio builds and where you and Tom take that. It’s pretty exciting.
Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.
Yeah, I’m sure it is. In terms of a partnership, do you have any thoughts on how best to manage a partnership and how to set it up for success? What are some things that you and Tom put into place as you were looking at this new venture together?
Someone said to me a while ago, “There’s no such thing as an equal partnership, one side is always going to get something more out of it than the other.” That was kind of, I thought, a very jaded view of partnerships because usually if somebody’s knocking on your door and saying, “We really should have a partnership, we really should have a partnership,” maybe that is what’s about to come next is that they really see an advantage for their business. I think true partnerships really have to start on paper and they have to start on spreadsheets, and they have to really analyze is there synergy here or are we just wasting time? Are we two ships that really are never going to make sense being tied together?
For us, we found economies of scale and also the fact that, I think this is very important in partnerships, is that we found the list of where we felt we both could get equal value but we really are on different sides of the brain spectrum. I am creative and oftentimes creative to my fault, I can be too creative, I can complicate things too much. Tom, he’s an MBA and tends to be a very disciplined analytical. that’s an incredible brain trust because I get beat over the head about spreadsheets from him, and he gets beat over the head about this color and font from me. That’s a true partnership when you have identified your weakness and have filled it with a partnership. I think partnerships need both, I think they need to have that “spreadsheetable” list of we are truly both getting an advantage out of this.
“A true partnership is about offsetting each other's weaknesses.” - @newyorksherpa #WhyCollaborate #podcast Click To Tweet
If you’re not complimenting or bringing something together that is not as strong separately as it is together, again you get into that who’s benefiting more from this partnership. I’m very fortunate to be in that environment where Content Studio is really where we’re collaborating right now, but you know how when you share an office you just through osmosis you pick up a little bit of hey, I think Tom’s got a lot better filing instincts than me. I got this giant pile of stuff on my desk and he’s got that pile in a cabinet. conversely, I’ll see a proof of something he’s working on in his company and I’m going, “You’re not going to lead with that picture are you?” And he’s like, “No this is still creative, but what do you think?” It just kind of happens because we really do, we run our own businesses but there is some center ground that we meet about projects.
Absolutely, I think that’s great. I can absolutely relate to that, here at my company Break The Ice Media, we share an office with Clark CSM, and definitely can see where those synergies happen running two businesses out of the same office space. I want to make sure listeners picked up on some of the gold you just shared because I thought there was some really great insight. Just in summary to start, you suggested starting on paper, and you mentioned paper and spreadsheets. whether it’s spreadsheets or a plain old word doc or just writing it down the good old fashioned way, I think that’s just a really great, great way to start in terms of what would this look like and spelling it out. Sometimes especially I’m imagining, I don’t know how you did it, but if each of you were to write it out and then compare notes to make sure that you’re on the same page. I think that’s really great advice. Then this whole idea about making the list of where each of you will get value. Finding those areas where you compliment each other or make up for weaknesses to make a stronger team. I think those are just two really great, great points. Getting it written down and then looking for those areas where you can complement each other, so thank you very much for sharing that.
Josiah, this has been a fabulous conversation. I knew it would be, it’s very interesting. I learned a lot myself actually and I know our listeners have as well. Before we say goodbye, are there any final thoughts that you would like to share?
I think the final thing that I just always try to say whenever I’m speaking in tourism is we’re just engaged in such good work. There are probably over 40 communities that I go to throughout New York that rely solely on tourism, they rely solely on the work and the campaigns that we put together. I think sometimes we can get buried in the minutia of running a marketing company and forget that this work really matters. There are destinations across the state, and destinations across the country, that if they lost some tourism it’s okay they have some other things. There are many, many more than that list that rely on tourism for their lifeblood. That’s why I’m passionate about getting up in the morning is that this work is making a difference for communities, it’s making a difference in people’s lives.
We also hold something very truly American in our desire to go vacation two, three, four weeks a year. We’re not the only country that does that, but it is a part of the American story to put the family in the car and drive a couple hours to a family vacation. If you looked at those nations that don’t have that vacation model in place, the suicide rates are through the roof. It’s been a part of our culture to sit back and relax, to de-stress, to connect as family, to connect with the outdoors. so people involved in tourism are both helping their communities, and they’re paying a vital role in society. I’m just so proud to work with people who are engaged in that pure of a vocation. Hats off to the industry for that.
That’s really awesome and what a perfect way to end our conversation. I agree with you that we are engaged in such good work. Thank you very much for being with us today, Josiah.
Thanks so much for having me Nicole, appreciate what you do.