Workplace Culture Watch: How One DMO Is Leveraging Millennial Brainpower

Author: David McMillin       

It’s impossible to know what the world will look like in 2027, but that hasn’t stopped VisitPittsburgh from asking some of its youngest staff members to prepare for it. Here’s how the DMO developed such an initiative.

Millennials are the subject of countless discussions in boardrooms and brainstorming sessions across the events industry. How can a conference, an association, and organization attract members of this generation, born somewhere between the early 1980s and mid-1990s? But these conversations are often typically missing a very important perspective: the viewpoint of living, breathing Millennials. To plan for the future, VisitPittsburgh decided to take a different approach and hand over the reins to some of the youngest individuals on the organization’s staff.

“These are our leaders of the future,” Tom Loftus, chief marketing officer at VisitPITTSBURGH, said in a session at the Destinations International Annual Convention on July 12 in Anaheim. “But they are also the leaders of right now. So we wanted to get out of their way and give them the ability to help shape our strategic plan.”

When Loftus and the rest of VisitPittsburgh’s non-Millennial leadership team stepped aside, the 2022 Committee was born. Loftus asked the committee members who were all part of the convention education session — Molly Allwein, digital marketing manager; Mike Robertson, senior services manager; and Ashley Steckel, advertising sales director, to think beyond the responsibilities on their existing to-do lists. “Pretend you’re in 2022,” Loftus said. “Plan for 2027, and figure out how to be a best-in-class DMO.”

After meeting with internal team members, the committee met with business owners in the Pittsburgh area, experts at local universities, and a range of stakeholders in the community. “We knew wouldn’t be able to predict what the future will look like,” Robertson told Destinations International attendees. “But we could use what we learned to make sure that we are nimble and flexible.”

“One reality that quickly emerged is that we will always be chasing technology,” Steckel shared with the audience. “We will never be in front of it.”

With that in mind, one of the committee’s key recommendations has been to make sure the budget reflects a continual investment in new technology. At the same time, they recognized that finding more money isn’t always an option. “It’s important to take risks,” Robertson said. “But how do you do this without worrying about the bottom line?” Robertson suggested that one approach organizations can take is to examine their legacy programs. “For example,” he said, “do you host an awards banquet that has been on your calendar for years? Perhaps it’s still performing okay, but the results aren’t amazing. We challenge you to take a year off and allocate that money toward a new initiative.”

The Need to Diversify the DMO Landscape

VisitPittsburgh’s aim to bring fresh thinking to the organization received plenty of well-deserved kudos from participants in the audience at the Destinations International education session. However, Allwein was transparent about one serious challenge the initiative faced at home. “We received some pushback from the local paper,” Allwein said to the crowd, “on the lack of diversity on the committee.” (All three members are white.) “And that’s an issue that we recognized as soon as we started, too. It continues to be a problem for the DMO world at large.”

Allwein and her peers are planning to work with the organization’s human resources department to identify solutions for that specific challenge and to help VisitPittsburgh identify best practices to attract a more diverse pool of candidates in the hiring process. They are currently writing a comprehensive report on their findings — including lessons on diversity and how to be better prepared for the future — that will be part of the organization’s strategic plan, and they also plan to make the report available to all DMOs to help other destinations prepare for the future.

Statistics show that all organizations — not just DMOs — could benefit from embracing VisitPittsburgh’s willingness to empower some of the youngest minds on its staff. Findings from a 2016 Gallup poll revealed that only 40 percent of Millennials feel strongly connected to their company’s mission — an obvious challenge for employee engagement. What better way is there to connect people to a mission than to actually let them help chart the course forward?

Interested in more insights that can help you collaborate with the youngest members on your team? Check out “The Five C’s of Working with Millennials” in Convene.

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