By Stephenie Brooks
Cheryl Marcell (CM), currently the Deputy Director of PR & Marketing at Sacramento Airport and soon-to-be Director of Communications and Events for ACI World, based in Montreal Canada, sat down with Stephenie Brooks (SB) Director of Membership & Marketing for ACI-NA and shared her thoughts on everything from what airports need to do to more effectively market their airports to raising PFCs.
SB: Cheryl, share with us a bit about your professional background and what you were doing before working for the Sacramento County Airport System.
CM: I came from the private sector and had a career with companies in California and Texas working on marketing and communications projects throughout the western part of the United States. I also worked with both an association management company and an event production company based here in Sacramento and managed the affairs of three statewide-associations in California and large trade shows throughout the west.
SB: You’ve been working for the Sacramento County Airport System for the past 11 years on the PR/Marketing /Communications side of things. What do you see as the greatest challenge for airports in terms of communicating with and marketing to customers?
CM: I think it is two-fold; First, we have the responsibility from an advertising and marketing perspective to grow the passenger base and determining which strategies work best for this outreach is an on-going process. Second, I think we struggle with communicating our role in the air transportation process and having customers understand that we are charged with managing the airport asset to maximize profitability while also providing superior customer service.
SB: These days there is a lot of emphasis on customer service, customer engagement, creating a customer experience, etc. What are the first steps that an airport should take to ensure that their customers have and walk away with a favorable impression of an airport?
CM: We need to focus on the areas that we are in direct control of and maximize that experience for the customer. The ACI ASQ program is an effective tool for airports as we receive quarterly feedback from our customers about their experience. The management reports provide us a road map of issues to tackle to improve our customer service results and benchmarking with other airports around the globe is invaluable.
SB: You know I had to ask this question . . . how has social media changed the way you communicate with your customers and what have been some of the pluses as well as the minuses of using social media?
CM: Social media is a part of our tool box here in Sacramento and is as well at ACI World. Social media allows us to have a relationship with our customers and is great for immediacy of message. It does not supersede traditional media but in my opinion has the ability to reach more customers who may not consume traditional media. The downside I see is that you must find the right “voice” in your social media platforms to ensure it represents the organization, additionally the message lengths are brief and it is challenging to cover a topic completely only using social media. Having links to the organizations website with complete statements and advisories is a must for airports.
SB: If tomorrow, Government would ‘get out of the way’ and let airports raise PFCs – what would the message be and how could it be effectively communicated to travellers who are already paying as much as $30 per bag for baggage fees.
CM: First of all…we would all rejoice! I have always said that communicating a higher PFC is something airports would manage at the local level. We are the ones engaged with our customers and our community stakeholders and as stewards of the airport, we understand the best ways to educate them about critical capital projects that will enhance their traveling experience and build a better front door to the region. In Sacramento, we have worked hard to create airport champions among our stakeholder groups and local businesses so that we can rely on them to support both our business development efforts and our capital campaigns. I believe customers will understand how we use their PFC dollars to enhance the airport asset at a local level.
SB: Over the years you have been very active in the ACI-NA Marketing & Communications Committee. You are currently on the steering group and served as the Chair in ’09 and the Vice Chair in ’08. What would be your advice for new or existing personnel who have responsibility for marketing, communications, PR, media, etc., on how to use the Committee to assist them on a professional level.
CM: Engagement with the committee and ACI-NA was extremely valuable to me. As I mentioned, I came to the airport from the private sector and while I had experience in marketing and communications, the airport environment was new to me. Due to the support and encouragement of our Director Hardy Acree, I was able to quickly develop a network of airport professionals that were working on the same issues I was facing in Sacramento. I always learned something at each conference or seminar that was directly applicable to my work. Additionally, tackling some of the broad issues that we all face in North America was much easier through the committee and the steering group as we all shared our collective ideas and thoughts on how to best move forward. Also, from the reverse perspective, active engagement in ACI has enhanced the profile of the Sacramento County Airport System and we are seen as leaders in the aviation industry.
SB: I know you are very excited about your new role at ACI World and on behalf of ACI-NA – congratulations again. Share with me a bit about your new job responsibilities and how you envision your role will impact/support the regional marketing efforts
CM: Thank you Stephenie! I am thrilled to be joining ACI World as Director of Communications and Events. As you know, the world headquarters has moved from Geneva to Montreal and this has afforded us to be co-located with our sister aviation groups of ICAO and IATA. I look forward to continuing the great work of the Geneva communications team and working on communications projects for our world airports. I want to quickly enhance the global communications network of the regions and the world and strategically develop a road map of how we enhance our voice. From the events perspective, I will work hard to produce quality conferences and seminars that serve as an important tool for both member education and networking. Also as a graduate of our AMPAP program, I hope to enhance the profile of the program and encourage other airport professionals to do the work and become certified. Airports operate globally each day and the International Airport Professional curriculum is designed to create a global community of trained airport professionals. The education and the network is extremely valuable to all of us.
SB: Cheryl, thank you for your time and sharing your expertise with me, and I wish you every continued success in your new job and look forward to seeing you at the ACI-NA Annual Meeting in San Diego in October. All the best.