Richard Black is an in-the-trenches leader, team builder, product innovator, conference presenter, team player, and most importantly a husband and dad. He launched his career in the high-tech media space heading up sales teams at IDG and major account initiatives at TechTarget as they were progressing towards an IPO. Then, Richard was recruited to TripAdvisor to launch their graphical advertising initiative in 2006. He spent 9 years at TripAdvisor heading up three sales teams including building and running the overall DMO Sales initiative. Richard is currently heading up the Tourism division at Sojern. Richard resides in Boston, MA with his wife Melissa and three sons Austin, Harrison, and Parker.
I recently sat down with Richard to learn about his 10+ years of experience in the travel industry; how he climbed the ranks to GM of Tourism at Sojern; and his unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities for tourism.
You’ve been in the travel industry for over a decade, starting with TripAdvisor. What do you love about the industry, and what keeps you in it?
What I love about the travel industry are the relationships. I was in the IT media space for about 10 years. However, I wanted to get into something I had more passion for. I started looking at sports, travel, and wine media related opportunities. That lead to being recruited by TripAdvisor, where I spent about ten years. When I took the opportunity at TripAdvisor to launch their CPM initiative, it was long before they were a household name. It was very entrepreneurial back then and a lot of fun. It’s really the relationships I’ve made and the people I’ve met over time that have kept me in the travel industry.
How did you first come to know about Sojern, and what brought you here?
Being at TripAdvisor, Sojern came onto the radar as a competitor. I had known Sylvia Weiler from her days at Travelocity, and we happened to run into each other at a conference one spring. She seemed really happy at Sojern, and I thought what Sojern was doing was really innovative. I gave her a call one day to tell her I was in the market and if she knew of any opportunities. There happened to be a position available, reporting to her. I let her know that if I could come in, learn, and make a difference, then I would love to talk.
What kind of goals did you accomplish to move your career to a General Manager role?
I’ve run teams at multiple organizations starting with IDG, which was a print media company at the time. My boss was retiring, and I was asked if I would be interested in managing the team. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but I decided to take a chance. Then, at TripAdvisor, I eventually grew into a management role. I ran three teams and had 22 direct reports at one point.
What was really cool is that I found my passion: managing and coaching people. I’m not a huge spotlight person, so I love helping and watching people find their path that leads to a place where they are winning.
At Sojern, when Sylvia was changing teams, it was a natural progression for me to transition into the GM role. I was honored to have been selected, and it’s been a total blast. We’ve gone through many changes in five months, and it’s been a lot of work, but I’ve had incredible support. I’ve never been around a leadership team that’s so approachable and down to earth, but equally as smart and driven.
What kind of advice do you have for Sojernistas looking to own their career growth and development?
The best advice I have is run as fast as you can to do the best job you can possibly do. Don’t worry about making mistakes. Be in it to learn, and hustle and push yourself to be better. Look at yourself in the mirror at the end of every day and say, “I really nailed it today.”
If you’re looking to progress without doing the hard work, you’re going to have a difficult time in any organization. And, with how quickly Sojern is growing, put your head down, work as hard as you can, and opportunities will present themselves. When you leave at the end of the day, it’s okay to check your work at the door and live your life — just work as hard as you can while you’re here. Do the things you have to do, so you can do the things you want to do.
Throughout your career, what kinds of professional challenges have you faced, and how have you dealt with them?
Managing and developing relationships, as amazing as it is, can be extremely difficult when times are tough. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is let go of half of my team of eight at IDG; the economy was driving against us, and it was completely out of my hands. It’s tough anytime someone loses an opportunity, whether they aren’t a great fit or it’s economically related.
What kinds of challenges does the tourism industry face, and how are you helping to solve for those at Sojern?
The tourism industry faces a lot of headwinds because the mass majority of destinations are government driven and funded. You can have a new governor who says it’s necessary to cut tourism funding and put more money into infrastructure, schools, etc. A lot of things happen that are out of our control.
From a competitive landscape, one of the things Sojern does incredibly well is providing insights and analytics that are tied to advertising spend and economic impact. DMOs don’t necessarily have an attribution model, like hoteliers. Showing data-driven results based on advertising exposure (flights and/or hotels booked, length of stay, economic impact) is extremely powerful.
What opportunities do you see for the tourism industry?
Some destinations are trying to privatize their funding. They’re trying to get their stakeholders, whether it’s a state or local municipality, to provide additional taxes that they can have control over. I think the movement towards owning your own path is a really important one for destinations. We are seeing a lot of creativity making this happen.
We are also dealing with a segment that has traditionally spent their marketing dollars offline. This is the first year where digital is going to catch up to traditional media in the DMO space. Prior to this, they spent a ton of money on TV. Now, with YouTube and our overall video offerings, it’s very easy to ask marketers to trade the TV screen for the mobile, tablet, or desktop screen, to influence travelers online.
Sojern has so much insight into what’s happening throughout the path to purchase. We have a great story to tell, regardless of the vertical, based off of where a person is within their travel planning journey. For example, we know we can capture people very early on in the funnel to inspire them to visit a certain destination. It is the intersection of technology and personalized inspiration. For us, driving incremental visitation versus messaging somebody who’s already made the decision provides a huge advantage. We make every dollar count.
Where is your favorite place to travel, and where do you still want to go?
That’s a tough one, and I’ll tell you why. My favorite place I’ve ever been to was Australia. I was there on business, saw a lot, but I wasn’t with my family. When I think of the best travel memories, I think of Hilton Head, South Carolina with my family. We love going there, and that wins my favorite place based on memories. In terms of where I want to go, I would say Italy. I’ve never been there, and I’m dying to go. Everything from the sites, to the food, to the wine – I’m ready and will be sure to dial up Luca Romozzi when the time comes.
Interested in a career at Sojern? Check out our openings.
About Marissa Rasmussen
Marissa is Sojern's Content Marketing Associate. Indulging in her inner bookworm, watching HGTV, and playing with her puggle, Charlie, are among some of her favorite hobbies. Although she loves both, she prefers the beach over the mountains.
Logos, product and company names mentioned are the property of their respective owners.