Travel Elite: African American Tourism CMO Has BIG Plans for Dallas

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Sophisticated. Poised. Respected.

What do these words signify? They are just a few words to describe a first impression with Dallas’ Chief Marketing Officer Noelle LeVeaux.  It is far from easy to to lead the marketing efforts as a female minority for one of the largest tourism bureaus in the nation, as they come few and far between. Yet, she makes it look rather simple. Off the heels of the recent Ebola crisis, LeVeaux has proven that she not only does her job, but she does it well.

While Dallas is known for many things, it is much more than just football and Texan barbeque. The Spelman graduate is responsible for planning and executing a complete public relations and marketing program as well as developing and managing a new brand strategy for the bureau.  Simply put, she makes people want to visit Dallas. Prior to joining the Bureau staff, LeVeaux served as interim vice president and senior director of Public Affairs for Children’s Medical Center in Dallas where she was responsible for advertising, media relations, brand and clinical marketing, marketing events, web marketing and emerging strategies.

Want to know what it takes to be a CMO for a leading travel destination? We spoke with LeVeaux as she shared with us the challenges of leading marketing for destination Dallas, what led to her current career path and why people should visit the destination. What are the main reasons for visitors to come to Dallas?

Noelle LeVeaux: To experience a fun, metropolitan area that is diverse not only in its population and culture but in things to do and enjoy. All for a more affordable price than most of the top destinations.

What are the biggest challenges that you face in your role?

Although Dallas is a brand/destination that is well known to many. It is not one that is well understood. There are many old stereotypes and ideas about Dallas that are not true now and have not been for many years. For so many people, their recollection is the Dallas television show that premiered in 1978 and characters like J.R. Ewing and Sue Ellen. Dallas is now a city whose demographics are 42% Latino, 25% African American and 33% White. People are still looking for cowboy hats and belt buckles downtown, and that’s not who we are. Visitors want their expectations met, so our biggest challenge is honoring their expectations while getting them excited about the Dallas they will experience when they visit. We find ways to show respect for our western heritage while highlighting the diverse, innovative, and forward thinking, destination we’ve become.

When did you decide to pursue marketing as a career and what motivates you to continue to do so?

I really think it’s more accurate to say that marketing found me as a career. I didn’t necessarily seek it out. When I was in high school, I believed I wanted to be a broadcast journalist. I planned to major in English or journalism, but I needed a scholarship and when my SAT math scores came back, I started getting offered scholarships to study engineering, mathematics and science. So that’s what I did. I have a math degree from Spelman College but I worked my way into communications as soon as I could. Out of college, I was accepted into a management training program at a credit card company where I had the opportunity to experience many different areas of the organization. In the end, I was able to navigate my way into executive operations which included marketing, public relations, internal communications and community relations.  From there I further developed my communications skills and when the marketing director in my division at the pediatric hospital system I was working for left her current position, they decided to give me responsibility for both internal communications and marketing. The rest is history so they say. Once I was in my first real marketing job, I was hooked. It came very naturally for me and it was fun. I loved the creative side as well as the strategy development, research and business side. I think that’s what motivates me to continue in this field. It is fast moving, never the same, yet results driven and research based. It’s the perfect job for someone like me who is both right and left brained. I find great reward in developing creative campaigns that truly impact behavior and drive results.

The New York Times reported earlier this year that African Americans account for $48 billion in travel in the United States alone, yet [most] tourism agency’s typically don’t [specifically] target the black dollar. How do you see this situation changing – specifically for Dallas Tourism?

I believe we are trying to find ways to target African Americans by hosting events that will be attended by a large African American audience, giving them the right experience and sending them home to tell friends and family. Where people travel is still largely impacted by word of mouth of friends and family, so our social media presence, and opportunities for sharing their Dallas experience are areas we’re focusing on. In addition, we’re tapping into our African American influencers in the city and using them as brand ambassadors. The reach and authenticity of their voice is very important. Our campaign Big Influence is the beginning of recognizing African Americans in our town that help build the Dallas brand and make it the place that it is.

How important is the multi-cultural market to tourism in Dallas?

It’s very important. People still travel to see friends and family. So our visitors are as diverse as our population. We have to have a product that reflects that and has something for everyone. The good news is Dallas does have something for everyone – our challenge is to show that through our marketing and advertising.

What has been your greatest accomplishment since taking the helm of Chief Marketing Officer in November 2012?

The Big Campaign has been more successful than I could have imagined. The city of Dallas had never really had it’s own conceived brand. Others had potentially ‘branded’ the city based on what they thought about it, but we as a city had never put our foot down and said, ‘this is who we are and we’re proud of it.’ Doing that was a big step and a risky one. But the greatest sign of success was how the city embraced the public engagement aspect of the B&G sets around town, making the residents here the ‘I’ in Big. That was really a launch tactic to draw people’s attention to the new campaign and tagline Big Things Happen Here. We started with 22 sets. I thought that aspect of the campaign would last 6 months at the most. But here we are going into 2015, developing a permanent Big structure plan for our 14 entertainment districts. We now have more than 30 sets and have done customized sets for corporations like Mary Kay and Southwest Airlines. We have Halloween sets and Holiday sets. We still receive 7 or more requests a week from companies, schools, attractions and individuals for the sets to be a part of their big announcements or big events. The first year success was outstanding but it has continued and the results in social media truly show the impact of that aspect of the campaign.

How influential were mentors in your career growth?

My mentors have absolutely made me the leader and manager that I am today. I was blessed to have high level individuals engaged in my career from the very beginning through the management training program at my first job. But from there, I continued to have managers that showed me the importance of investing in those who work for you and not focusing on the next promotion or the next raise, but on being hands on and working hard to go above and beyond in your field and in your everyday work. I learned something from everyone I worked for and was truly blessed to have mentors that were honest with me and trusted in me enough to give me opportunities.

Although your job takes you throughout the country to promote Dallas, what are some other destinations (domestic or international) that you like to visit and vacation?

I’d like to go back to Paris and the south of France. I spent a little time there in high school as an exchange student and I loved it. I’d really like to experience it as an adult. I really enjoy California. From the wine country to LA, California is still one of my favorite places.