100 Years of Advancing Destinations

Shedding Light in a Nebulous World of Media

Author: Joy Lin
Posted: April 03, 2015
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Media, in all of its gloried forms -- from bus shelter signs to Snapchat videos -- can be ever elusive in defining its impact. Modern day marketers are constantly challenged to provide proof of impact to one's business goals, and justifying one's advertising is no exception.

Madden Media's Senior Vice President of Sales, Rhonda Thiem, and Partner and CMO, John Hudak join us at to share their experiences with data intelligence and how DMOs can shed considerable light into the nebulous world of media advertising.

Continue the conversation with Madden Media at this year's Marketing Innovation Summit in San Francisco to explore these challenges further.


Describe one of your earliest memories of seeing data at work.

Ronda Thiem: My earliest memories of seeing data at work came when I was selling for newspapers. It used to be that all inserts went ROP (run of press), but we were able to “drop in” inserts by zone.

I remember specifically that one of my clients, Jiffy Lube, wanted to target only those addresses within his store’s radius – there was a 12-mile radius between stories – so I took a map, drew a circle to represent the radius around his store, wrote down all the zip codes within that radius, added up the number of addresses within each zip code, and captured his zone. Instead of dropping 500,000 pieces, we were able to focus on 12,000 addresses of people who were nearby and therefore most likely to come to his shop.

John Hudak: In 1987, I decided to run for City Council in Tucson after having been active in community affairs, and realizing that our elected officials were no smarter than me and often did not do their homework. Being a novice political active and first time candidate, plus too young to know much at the time, I hired a team of professionals to work on my campaign. The very first thing they talked about was “targeting” active voters, and they had historical data.

How had your initial experience or experiences with data and intelligence directed your career path since?

RT: That initial job taught me that understanding WHO your potential customers are really matters – that just because you’re demographically connected doesn’t mean you’re psychologically connected. Early on in my career, we only looked at WHERE people lived and made assumptions that because everyone lived in a certain zip code they made the same amount of money and had similar interests. Not so any more. I love the fact that we have the capabilities to deliver precise messaging to travelers and can help them shape their individual travel experiences.

JH: Well, the good news is that I did NOT win my campaign for public office, and the real benefit was that I quit working for state government via the University of Arizona, and I got into the private sector working with Kevin Madden. The opportunity to help build an entrepreneurial company proved much more rewarding than politics, although I am still active politically on issues I care about, and do lobby for my industry, as well as other interests, such as education and the arts.

How does Madden Media leverage customer insight and intelligence to help destinations?

RT: The short answer is: we don’t build anything we can’t track. We use any point of data that we can get our hands on to help our customers track and attract new travelers. We started with Caci Acorn and have kept evolving, and will continue to evolve based on our customers’ needs. 

JH: We typically use their research and data on target markets for inbound travelers, and information on the seasonality of travelers to their destinations. We also have our own tools as well as those available in the marketplace. We recently ran a small, targeted campaign for a client based on data from a third party vendor the DMO hired.  It is a relatively new technology available to DMO’s, and we did it as a free test.

What are the best practices for destinations to justify or show the ROI of advertising?

RT: That’s a hard question to answer because each of our clients is so different in terms of its individual needs and goals. As a baseline, we measure print effectiveness with conversion studies conducted on the generated lead set to assess and estimate actual travel and economic impact; we measure digital based on the client’s predetermined goals (clicks, impressions, etc.). If there’s one common thread, it’s that we want to inspire future travelers – and advertising is the best way to do that because travelers bring new dollars to a destination.

JH: Different destinations use different metrics, but we still believe that real actions, such as requesting a visitors guide, clicking for additional information, entering a sweepstakes, signing up for newsletters and mailings are good examples of ROI. Ultimately, we like things that show conversions of actual travel to a destinations, and there are many ways to get that info, such as anecdotal hotel bookings and surveys. In the old print days and TV days, people bought copies or impressions, and even today in this digital arena many vendors sell impressions or funky metrics they believe show results, but some “intent to travel” needs to come through some sort of action or engagement with the destination from the traveler.  You ultimately want people booking, not just looking.

What’s on your information wish list? If you were Big Brother, what is one thing that you would love to be able to know or track about travelers?

RT: I would love for online purchasing activity to predict travel patterns. I would like to know, based on what a person buys online, how that translates into when and where that person will travel –- and how much they’re going to spend.

JH: We have many new tools to track travelers these days, both before and after they make a decision and arrive in a destination, and many new ways to intercept them with marketing messages. At Madden we use all the tools available today, and track ones that may be entering the market, but I guess I’m a little old fashioned and I am more interested in appealing to people’s passions, to know what it is in their heart that they want from a trip or particular vacation, and helping to create great stories and memories from that destination.