Laura Davidson, founder and president of LDPR, has been running her business for 25 years and shows no sign of slowing down. Her company, a leading New York-based public relations agency that specializes in travel and lifestyle clients, is known not only for getting results for clients but also having a top-notch staff with real longevity (rare in the travel PR world). Her reputation is such that she’s never had to cold call to get clients; instead friends, colleagues and clients have referred business to her (and 80% renew when the contract is up). “We are passionate about all our clients, and I am lucky to work with the best brands in the world,” says Davidson, whose clients include Abercrombie & Kent and Resort at Paws Up in Montana. Here, her secrets to success:
How has social media changed the travel industry? The travel industry has evolved along with the digital revolution. Every year something disrupts the way we do business, and causes us to shift strategies, get more creative, and think more like marketers. I think we are a more effective business today because of it (but we all work harder for less—a common theme in many industries!)
The biggest change has been social media and working with influencers. It makes everything more immediate, which is both good and bad depending on how you position it. What hasn’t changed is that consumers will always travel and the more information available at their fingertips, the more they will need their trusted advisors to guide them—be that travel agents; their favorite bloggers, or their favorite magazines. And as the media has become so short-staffed, editors need their PR friends more than ever.
What’s your secret to hiring and retaining good employees? A hotelier long ago gave me the best advice about hiring—you can always teach tasks and functions, but you can never teach attitude. I hire people for their energy and their attitude. I have a really good gut instinct about people, and if they are willing to learn I am willing to spend hours teaching. We have one of the best retention rates in the business with our employees. I find it easier to get new business than to get new employees.
One of the reasons I retain people over time, is that I focus on nurturing my staff of 20 by treating them with respect, developing them professionally (including junior staff) and allowing them to flourish personally as well. I provide coaching for each member of my team so they are able to grow to their fullest potential. I empower them to find the next great thing and give them the freedom to explore new avenues. I also let them know it’s okay to fail—it’s important to take risks. I try and create an environment of honest and open feedback. My team is my extended family. It makes coming to work a pleasure.
Do you focus more on new business or existing clients? I focus on my core customers and fill in with new business. So many PR firms are new business factories and both the internal staff and existing clients suffer. The more you can develop and nurture your existing clients, you will see business grow organically. And they become your best references. Of course, it doesn’t hurt business when the media notices you. This year we got two amazing accolades: 10 Best named us one of the top three travel PR firms in the world and the NY Observer named us one of NY’s top travel PR firms. I’m very proud.
What’s the best way to grow a company? I have grown the company slowly over the years and I think this has led us to have a terrific culture at LDPR. We value our existing clients, many of whom grow their business organically with us. And we turn away more new business than we take (all those referrals give me a lot of friends in the business). We go after the clients that we think are the right fit, that are exciting for the staff, good companies with good values and integrity, and I have to say, places I want to visit!
What inspires you about travel? When I was a little girl I had a great aunt who traveled around the world and brought me a doll from every country she visited. I remember having the growing collection on shelves in my room and telling my mom that when I grew up I wanted to go to all those places that Aunt Anna visited. The fact that I have a job that allows me to do that is the best gift I could ask for.
I absolutely love the travel industry. Let’s face it, you have to love what you do to show a genuine passion for it. I just came back from an Australia Tourism Summit and it was more of a reunion of friends from inspiring places than a typical convention.
Written by Judy Koutsky