When I first met Laura last year in a meeting, I knew I wanted to introduce her to you. Why? Well, first, she’s the nicest person ever and we just really love nice people at the studio. And second, our jobs are pretty similar.
Laura is the Director of Marketing for The Standard Hotel group, which means she works on the communications and promotion around The Standard brand (I’ll let her explain ;)). It’s not too different from the way I work with all of the people on our team and our different agents and collaborators to make sure all of the work that we do on the blog and on projects reflects the Studio in the way that we want.
Also, like me, Laura is in a job that she really loves at a young age — she’s only 29 (yeah, guys, I’m just 25), and I’m always really happy to meet young people with such great careers who have really gone after what they want. You can feel her passion in the way she talks about her job…
What is your job title?
Marketing Director of The Standard Hotel Group
When you were growing up what was your dream job?
It changed frequently…but the ones I can really remember are flight attendant, because I would fly alone a lot of the time and they just seemed like the nicest people. And the idea of being able to fly from one place to another all the time seemed so cool. And then later, I wanted to be an actress, and then it started to turn into writing and photography.
In high school I started to learn about the 1920s and advertising and thought that was really cool too, so by the time I got to college I was majoring in marketing and also photojournalism.
Where did you go to school?
Emerson College in Boston.
And where are you from originally?
I was born in Zurich, Switzerland and my mom is Czech and my dad is German. So a little bit of a mix, especially because promptly at the age of 5 I went to New York and I grew up with my mom here, and visited my family in Europe every summer.
What did your parents do?
My dad is a journalist and now he’s writing books, he just finished his fourth book and lives in Berlin. And my mom is a photographer. She grew up in the Czech Republic, moved to New York and now splits her time between New York & Prague. There was a lot of traveling which is how we ended up here because she loved New York so much.
Well it sounds like they had a little bit of an influence then in what you were interested in.
For sure. I think both of them had the common denominator, despite the fact that they didn’t stay together for very long, of this zest for good living and this hedonistic lifestyle. So good food, good music, travel… all of that was engrained in me at a pretty young age.
Would you say that actually having studied marketing in school really set you up for what you do now? Has it really impacted the way that you work?
It has, it definitely gives you a nice structure for how you’re supposed to approach things. But the nice thing about Emerson is they also really encouraged internships. I think that was super powerful because that real life experience, and the fact that we were in Boston, made it easier to get those jobs. At first I really wanted to do marketing for magazines, so I thought if I’m not really going to do photo journalism then maybe I can be a part of that environment somehow. That’s why I ended up working at Boston Magazine at the time, and that kind of real life experience is what really helped trigger and set the foundation for marketing.
So I think yes, the classes were great, but I don’t think anyone can really jump in from school and be well versed in marketing. Especially because when I got out of school that’s right around the time social media started happening. So all of the sudden what everyone knew to be marketing was uprooted and everybody’s understanding of what a press release was and how PR is done and how you get buzz was almost outdated. Advertising in general. The whole foundation of marketing was uprooted because of the digital landscape.
How would you define what a marketing job is? Or what working in marketing actually means?
It’s definitely different for every single industry, how companies are structured, how collaborative it is or isn’t. I think essentially—and this is where people have a hard time with marketing because it floats through so many different departments—it’s really about how you’re positioning the brand and also how you’re treating promotions.
So sometimes it’s set into two camps: there’s the sales marketing side and the brand marketing side. At The Standard in general we definitely lean more towards the brand-side. But depending on that, the common denominator is still how you talk about yourself in the right way and making sure that you’re consistent. That means you have to work with every department; you have to work with the creative team and the people who are setting the vision for what the hotel is supposed to be and the people who are doing the events and obviously PR, so it’s super collaborative.
What is marketing on a more granular level?
Every company interprets marketing in a different way. For the company’s I have worked for (and like to work for!), overseeing the marketing, means you’re in charge of how the company is branded, how people receive and engage with the communication from the brand and how all the pillars of the company are strategically aligned. Marketing means mixing all the ingredients, in this case, the ingredients are partners, advertisement, social media, mailings and promotions, in a way that’s interesting, exciting and aligns with the brand values.
So how did you end up where you are now with The Standard?
I had a bunch of internships and I was able to get a really amazing internship when I came to New York. That was also the time when you had to intern after school—there was that weird shift where your family is like why aren’t you working? You have an internship? So I was definitely doing a lot of waitressing while holding an internship and my first one was at New York Magazine, which is still one of my favorite magazines. I interned there in the creative services department.
Afterwards I had a freelance job at Blackbook Magazine for like 2 months. Then a friend was like, “Hey I have this position at the SoHo and Tribeca Grand to do marketing there.” That was the first time I realized a hotel can be kind of like a magazine. I do think that what attracted me to magazines is that there’s all this stuff going on—there’s music, there’s art, there’s film, so you don’t have to say I’m just interested in this one industry. It’s super robust and there’s a lot of stuff going on. So a hotel is kind of like that idea coming to life. You have the events, you have these projects and these partnerships, there’s definitely an advertising component and a creative side.
So I jumped at that and soon after I moved to 60 Thompson for another position. There it was less about marketing and more about understanding how the hotel operates. There were certain circumstances—all of a sudden I was learning so much more than I thought I would about how to run the hotel, how the front office works, checking people in, dealing with big groups, dealing with sales clients, dealing with VIPs. And that was kind of a crash course in working in a hotel.
…a hotel is kind of like that idea coming to life. You have the events, you have these projects and these partnerships, there’s definitely an advertising component and a creative side.
Just because the team set up was very different?
Yes, and also there was a lot of movement and it was small enough and I was there long enough. There’d be gaps where people weren’t working there sometimes where I’d be jumping into things that I had no idea what I was doing.
But when I left the Grand, I was actually interviewing at the Standard and Thompson. The Thompson responded first and The Standard responded nine months later. And nine months later they were like hey do you still want this marketing gig? On a marketing level, obviously with The Standard there’s so much more room to play. The tone that they take is so unique and the projects that they take on are unusual and different, and a lot of times people follow suit afterwards. So being at brand that’s at the forefront of these things was definitely appealing.
So right away, even though my family was like you can’t leave you just started a new job, I was like, “I’m leaving, my gut is saying I have to go and this is the right brand,” so I started there and stayed there for 3 years. And then went to work at Madewell and J.Crew.
What was your title when you were at the Standard before?
Marketing manager. At the time we were a much smaller team too, so you got to take part in other things that at bigger companies there’s one person to do that. Then I got to experience that at J.Crew and Madewell.
That opportunity came up and I had never really considered retail, but I was definitely interested in doing something new and getting to be part of a totally different industry. And also a much bigger company just to see—I was always curious to what it means to work at a company like that.
I always say those 2 years were like business school for me. There were all of these acronyms I had never heard of, these different ways of organizing a lot of people—so a lot of excel sheets—that made my eyes bleed a little bit. But now I use them all the time and there’s life saving efficiencies that I learned there. And the team there is so incredibly talented.
What were you doing while you were there?
I started as social media manager. I think the whole concept of social media is so bizarre because no one majored in social media. So that’s a phenomenon in itself and everybody grew into it. Then people started to realize that you can’t have interns doing your social media. Now I call Instagram the new TV.
So I started with social media and a few people had left the marketing department so I quickly moved into the marketing branding team, and oversaw a lot of the store marketing and some really cool campaigns that went on. I was definitely in over my head but that was so fun. I had no idea how clothes functioned—that people designed one year out, that merchandisers then had to pick it, and just how this whole machine works and the creativity that’s involved in that too.
It was an interesting time for Madewell because they had this really amazing group of loyal shoppers but the awareness wasn’t there entirely, so like how do we get awareness in? That’s where social media—instead of becoming a siloed department—instead of attaching it on to this massive organization, we were able to integrate it more because I was talking with the director of the store, or I was organizing a new store opening in Portland and then all of the sudden the conversation about Instagram and what do we do on Facebook and advertising on Facebook and all of these things that we were able to test and explore and see what works.
Then the Standard called me 2 years after I started there and was like, “Hey we have this director position, would you be interested?” and that was probably the hardest decision I ever had to make. I’m a libra so big decisions are innately challenging, so making that call was just a matter of instinct. Which I always talk about—especially if you’re a libra you just have to go with your gut instinct. And so I did, and I don’t regret it at all.
…people started to realize that you can’t have interns doing your social media. Now I call Instagram the new TV.
How long have you been back at The Standard now?
So what are you doing now in your role? What does it mean to be the Marketing Director at The Standard?
Again back to the whole collaborative environment, we have so many amazing people, and now there are more people too. There are a lot of core things that we make sure we’re doing correctly, like our editorial site. We were one of the first people from a brand perspective to have something more robust than just a blog. We launched Standard Culture four years ago, and at the time it was a pretty new concept. For us it was a little more meaningful because we always have so many things going on and so many interesting people at the hotel, so having that be a reflection of the brand was really necessary. It wasn’t a trend that we were being a part of.
So the content and editorial side is a huge pillar. The events and experiential thing is a huge component. Then the promotional stuff—so with any brand there has to be a promotional side, and we try to steer away from anything that feels too salesy. I think we do a really good job, we try to limit it but it’s hard. If you look at retail and so many industries, so many people are trained to respond to sales, so if you’re trying to generate business because it was the coldest winter ever and no one is coming to New York, how do you do that in a way that feels different and doesn’t feel too stock?
So, it’s those 3 things, and it’s never a one-man-show. We’ve set up great systems to make sure things are being communicated in the right way and to make sure that we’re constantly getting everyone’s feedback too.It’s hard to do the more you grow, but it’s the stuff that’s the most essential. Even interns will say why don’t we do this and it becomes a huge idea that we invest in, so keeping that dialogue open instead of turning your head to the ground and focusing on whatever you have to do is a huge element to how we make things work.
Who makes up your team and the people that you manage?
We have amazing marketing folks at each property—so there’s a marketing manager or director or coordinator at each property. They are like the nucleus for all of the madness that happens in and around the property. Then we have my partner in crime in the office, Charlotte, who I would die without and that’s kind of the more straightforward marketing team. And then we have the editorial team and the graphic design team and of course there’s the communications and culture team.
How would you say it’s different working for The Standard group as opposed to an individual Standard property?
The way best to describe it is that the properties are all autonomous in how they operate because they know their community the best and community is a big part of any hotel. For us we take extra care in the people that surround the hotel and the people that make up what the neighborhood is about. It’s definitely more local, and focused in that way, whereas the home office oversees any of the bigger initiatives. For example the app we just launched [One Night Standard], or if we have a collaboration with a product—we just did these amazing nude audio speakers—that comes from our office because we figure out the rollout and how we’re going to start talking about it. Then how it’s going to come alive on property, that’s where the marketing managers from different properties get involved.
I think it’s great because each of the hotels has such a distinct feeling to it but you know they’re all part of The Standard which gives them all a certain “cool factor” and that connects them all.
That kind of vibe has to do so much with the people that are working there too. We always talk about the culture and we have an editorial site called Standard Culture and that’s really what adds the magic. That’s something that there isn’t a formula to. I always say that it’s about having soul, and I think The Standard is a company, compared to few companies, that shows that it has soul. Even in things that are printed and e-mail, everything should feel conversational because that’s how it feels when you’re at the hotel.
That’s why all of the people that work on property have so much personality and they all do their own thing too. We always say we’d rather hire somebody who is in a band and has never worked at a hotel if they seem nice and they seem smart. That’s a better bet than someone who has 10 years of experience and is way too professional or servicey. It’s not supposed to be formal, people are supposed to have fun.
I think it’s great because each of the hotels has such a distinct feeling to it but you know they’re all part of The Standard which gives them all a certain “cool factor” and that connects them all.
With social media, how did you teach yourself about this whole new field?
With social, it’s more about what are your brand principles and that needs to be reflected in everything you do. So it’s not just social media as a silo, it’s engrained in how you train the people that work in your company, how you talk to your customers, how you write your emails, it’s all very integrated.
As far as my experience, I do believe in being in the right place at the right time. That’s definitely been the case for a lot people where all of the sudden they were partaking in something that brands and companies needed. There’s no secret—I think the secret is being authentic, and I hate using that word because a lot of people throw it around really easily, but making sure that nothing is ever forced and you’re never doing something because that’s what you’re supposed to do. A lot of the times you’ll see ads with hashtags on them and I’m like why does that have a hashtag? No one is going to use that, stop trying so hard. Instead do something that people will actually partake in.
Do you find that there’s so many levels of approvals that it can suck the fun out of things? They’re too focused on the return on investment.
I’ve been in so many meetings where it’s like I can’t tell you how much money this Instagram post is going to make, you just have to trust me on this one.
In a bigger company I feel like that must be so hard to do.
In the beginning it was challenging because people were scared of it, and they had every right to be. All of the sudden there was this channel with millions of people on it and any wrong thing, posted at the wrong time—people can be really offended, and you’re just like damn that was not what we were going for. So it can be scary and I do think it should be treated delicately. It’s finding that balance between being nimble and funny, and making sure that everyone who needs to see it sees it.
Ideally what happens is you create these sort of guard rails and never assume that people will understand a perspective. I say guard rails because it sounds like a looser term for rules of what’s appropriate and what isn’t. Then unfortunately what needs to happen is that people who are driving those decisions need to be more available. In the beginning there was a lot of texting late at night asking if you think this photo is right or the caption is right. There’s still late night texting about the comments people post, can we post this tomorrow, is that a good time.
I think keeping that dialogue pretty casual and not rigid is pretty important. With a lot of things people would apply these archaic systems, whether it’s making an ad or doing a printed piece. With these new systems they are much faster and much more nimble. So adjusting how you communicate was the most important part, and there were definitely some growing pains.
In the case of J.Crew and Madewell, they have such a clear vision of who they are that they did an awesome job of just posting the right photos and getting the right tone. In the begging we might not have been posting as much as we wanted, but we were still doing it in all the right ways.
It’s finding that balance between being nimble and funny, and making sure that everyone who needs to see it sees it.
Now, do you feel like a lot more of your job is consumed with social media?
Yeah, and again there’s no formula. When you’re doing contracts it sounds so stupid to be like 3 Instagrams, this handle…it also feels so forced. But then depending on the investment in a certain project you do want your handle to be spelled properly. It’s a tricky scenario we’ve been in a few times where there’s a casual attitude towards social media, but then it’s also our TV. So it’s how do you balance this casual attitude with you didn’t use my handle properly?
How do you learn the essence of what a brand is so you can communicate about it correctly in your work.
Well first you have to like the brand. If you don’t like the brand, you probably shouldn’t be working with the brand unless they’re paying you boatloads of money. I personally can’t work for a brand that I’m not overly enthusiastic about, and that’s number one.
And I think number two is really understanding whoever set the vision for the brand. Either talking to them, reading articles about them, really understating where the seed was sprouted and how because that needs to come across consistently. Even though brands evolve all the time, if you don’t have that groundwork done then it gets lost. There’s certain things that are engrained in what brands try to do so if you veer away too much then you’re not going to be able to do your job properly.
The nice thing at JCrew was that Mickey was probably so vocal about what the brand is about, and customer service was one of the biggest ones, but everybody knew and everyone was pumped about it. I think that kind of energy is really important, and not everyone has that kind of energy—because not everyone gets on a loudspeaker to talk about it.
Have you ever had to deal with a situation where something’s gone out that you felt was really not on brand? How do you deal with that?
Oh yes! Well first, you take a deep breath and know that life will go on. I’ve definitely lost sleep over things that in hindsight there was no point in losing sleep over.
Then really understanding what went wrong. I always talk about post-mortem and I think it’s one of the most important things you can do, even when a project goes well. Just to take a moment and say what went well and what went didn’t. Retracing your steps and saying here is where we should have done XYZ. When you’re in the moment you usually get some kind of thing where you can feel something isn’t right and you didn’t act on it. So next time you get that feeling and say stop, let’s spend an extra hour talking about this, or things that don’t feel right. Then hopefully next time you kind of avoid it. But problems are always going to happen.
How do you measure the success of a project or campaign that you work on? Is it sales? Is it traffic to the website?
The million dollar question! The the best (and most sane) way to measure success is to customize your KPIs (key performance indicators) to each project. Meaning if you’re launching a new app, say a lovely new app called, One Night Standard – sorry, can’t help it. If you’re launching an app, you try to gauge what other apps deem a “successful” number of downloads and average that to get a good benchmark. If you’re doing a promotion, you base it on how much inventory you have available and how much revenue was generated from past promotions. Of course, if you’re looking at marketing overall, then you can base it on the growth of your audience (email subscribers, social media followers, new guests/customers, etc.), revenue and engagement (how many people liked your instagram post, how people shared your blog post, how many people showed up to the event, etc.). But the tricky part, is you can grow all of those things just by throwing money at it. That’s not going to make a successful brand because it’s not an authentic or sustainable strategy. The magic of successful brands has less to do with marketing and much more to do with all the other pieces involved, mainly the quality of your product, the people who are the face of your product and the consistency of both of those things.
Do you feel like you’ve had a mentor in your career?
I think in the traditional sense, no. But I’ve had so many amazing people who I’ve worked with or friends, or even my secret weapon who is my boyfriend who is so brilliant. Just having someone to talk things through with is really helpful, especially because he works on the agency side so his perspective is usually different from mine.
So in the traditional sense, no. But this boss I had was probably the closest thing that could come to that and she was so impressive in how she handled things and communicated things. She was always calm and always knew how to act when things got very tricky or stressful. I always thought she was psychic because she could tap into what everyone was feeling and make sure everyone was okay and motivated. Also, if things weren’t going well she knew how to handle it in such a classy way that you always wanted to work harder. Which I think is a very unique ability.
What do you think is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
Go with your intuition. At least show your intuition some respect, even if you don’t go with it. It sounds so stereotypical, but it really helps to take the work out a lot of the time. So instead of making these mental pro and con lists that are so exhausting, saying this feels right, and at the pace that you move a lot of the time that’s what you need to rely on. But anytime I’ve ever made a mistake, I almost saw it coming. There’s that disappointment in knowing that something was going to happen—it’s the worst, because you didn’t pay attention or you didn’t ask the right questions.
And taking everything with a grain of salt. It’s serious, but it’s not that serious. There are bigger problems to deal with in the world.
Go with your intuition. At least show your intuition some respect, even if you don’t go with it.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
It’s so cheesy, but the people. They’re all so smart and so creative. It’s the people and it’s also having the environment where you can be open and have really interesting conversations and challenge each other. When two people are disagreeing on something, that friction usually is the product of something more amazing than what either person was arguing for. Having that gets you to a better place because you explore all of the angles in ways you originally didn’t. Even though I can be very stubborn and those conversations can be very tricky, it makes you think about something and get to a better place.
What do you find to be the most challenging?
I don’t know if it’s my job or just life, but the fact that we’re in this time of information overload I find to be very overwhelming. I try to stick to a manageable media diet, but I feel it—and I started meditating in January which actually helped—but I think the fact that we’re constantly being bombarded by pictures, articles and information and this anxiety of feeling you need to know all of this information. The answer is you do not need to know all of this, surround yourself with people who are really smart and can share interesting information with you. That’s the most challenging part, keeping yourself informed while leaving time to be creative. That idle time is the most valuable—I always say I get my best ideas on planes and beaches when I’m not looking at anything or talking to anyone.
How do you keep up with everything that’s changing so quickly in this landscape of digital?
It always feels like double-dutch a little bit where you’re not sure if it’s going to die, if you should wait—you’re always getting ready to jump into the rope. Again I think there’s no real answer, it’s just what do you want to do? Being at J.Crew and Madewell was really helpful because we were starting that department and we had to decide what channels were the most valuable to us. Instinctively everyone is like every single channel, you should be awesome everywhere, and that’s not an efficient way to spend time. It’s better to focus on one thing and do it right rather than focusing on 10 things. So it depends whether or not that channel is interesting and valuable to the company that you’re trying to support. For example The Standard Hotel is not active on Pinterest—the audience isn’t there, we don’t have enough photos. It’s different when you’re a retailer or blogger, but for us it isn’t where we’re going to spend time.
Something like Snapchat I think is so interesting but the amount of resources needed to break through to that crowd is really challenging. The question is it worth that investment right now? If it is then what are the things that we sacrifice, because we have to sacrifice. It’s not about bubbling up.
We’re just waiting those out and seeing and testing without jumping up right away. Then how do you do things that are more project based, regardless of channel. Like how do you one thing that’s going to make a huge splash rather than hundreds of little posts, that’s going to be really meaningful and really memorable. Especially with channels like Instagram, it’s so passive, so unless you do something big people will just pass by. Those are important to keep on but how do you do things that really get the attention?
If you had to walk through an average day, what is it?
I try to follow the Tim Ferris rule of getting all of the things you don’t want to do done before 11am. I do all of the contracts and stuff and then the meetings start and the creative things get going. Sometimes I do breakfast meetings—I love them. Otherwise, it’s a lot meetings for different things and keeping my inbox at manageable level. I treat it like a to-do list and I feel so proud when it’s in control. So I try to do good email tidying. Also phone calls—trying to email less and talk more. Then on Mondays and Thursdays I go to yoga at 6:30.
I try to follow the Tim Ferris rule of getting all of the things you don’t want to do done before 11am.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in working in marketing?
First I would say, pick what you’re interested in. It’s back to you can’t market something you don’t really feel strongly about, or you won’t really have fun doing it. Sometimes people get off on the strategy but I think the magic in any business comes from people who are brutally passionate about what they’re doing. In college I was like god if I have to market toilet paper I’m going to die.
Then I think trying to read all the books, sometimes they’re cheesy and boring but if you find the right ones (Creativity Inc. & Outliers) there are lessons in there that go beyond marketing. Looking at marketing as a business perspective rather than a siloed department. Again marketing comes through the people that work there, because all of the people that work for the business become ambassadors for the brand. There are all of these pockets of where marketing lives and respecting that and understanding that is a huge component. It’s not just about blasting things out to a huge audience, it’s about finding the right audience and talking to them in a meaningful way. That often comes in really unexpected places.
And then really just work your ass off.
What do you look for in the people you hire for your team?
I think back to the passion and enthusiasm. I want people to be so pumped about what they’re doing. I often get teased for being overly enthusiastic about things but I need that, I need that energy around me. That kind of team environment and attitude is really crucial. You sense that from people when you first talk to them.
And then hearing about how people talk about marketing or business in particular because there isn’t a formula. And understanding what the main goal is, which in our case is providing an amazing experience for someone.
I think back to the passion and enthusiasm. I want people to be so pumped about what they’re doing.
What is your dream for your career?
Right now I love what I’m doing. This was definitely the prize role.
After this…I’ve always wanted to own my own business but what that is, I have no idea. The agency side is not appealing to me…running my own hotels maybe? But having something you can run on your own that also isn’t too big. I’m not looking to create the new Instagram.
Check out other career posts here.