Marketing veteran Verchele Wiggins knows a thing or two about branding. In 2007 when she became the vice president of global brand communications for the Holiday Inn family of brands, she was charged with launching its first-ever global ad campaign. Under her leadership, the company won the J.D. Power and Associates Award for Customer Satisfaction, two years in a row, in 2011 and 2012.
Born and raised in Mississippi and a graduate of Clark Atlanta University's School of Business, Wiggins held several top positions in the marketing industry before joining InterContinental Hotels Group in 2001. In 2005, she was promoted to vice president of brand management where she oversaw and drove the implementation of marketing strategies and programs to support the short- and long-term growth and profitability for more than 1,500 Holiday Inn Express hotels in the U.S.
Today, Wiggins is the highest-ranking executive in the organization and understands first-hand what it takes to get ahead. Here, Wiggins talks about her biggest accomplishments and offers tips for women looking to further their careers.
TNJ: What is your current role at the Holiday Inn?
VW: My overall role is setting the vision and long-term strategy for the brand to include Holiday Inn, Holiday Express, Holiday Inn Club Vacations and Holiday Inn Resorts. We work in conjunction with our regional team and we are primarily responsible for long-term strategy of the guest experience, communications, our price policy and our service strategy.
TNJ: In 2007, you led the first-ever global ad campaign for the company. Tell me about it.
VW: I had the honor of leading the first-ever global advertising campaign for the Holiday Inn brand family. It was going through a global re-launch, the largest in the hospitality industry, as a matter of fact. The idea was getting back to basics and understanding what our consumers needed and delivering them in a consistent way across the globe. The campaign was developed as a way to ensure that consumers had confidence in the brand around the globe. It was about speaking to the specific needs and insights that had been identified around the brand, which is that when people stay at the Holiday Inn they really feel as if it’s a place that’s familiar, unpretentious and down to earth. And this campaign really leveraged off of those insights that when you can be yourself, you’re at your best. And that’s what that campaign keyed in on and that was a global insight. And we depicted various varieties and slices of life of our customers throughout Holiday Inns around the world. It was truly an emotional insight about our guests and how people feel about the brand. It was a $100 million dollar campaign, it launched in 2010 and I was pretty proud of it because it was the first time we had done a global campaign for the company.
TNJ: Tell me about some of the challenges you face as a woman climbing the corporate ladder.
VW: It’s about having a voice and being heard. We work for a great company and I think people’s voices are heard and respected but as a woman in general in an environment like corporate America that is male-dominated, it’s about being firm but being fair, and exercising some of those strengths that women inherently bring to the table. We tend to have a collaborative spirit and exercising some of that to bring people together has worked well. It’s about sitting at the table, but not going over the top.
TNJ: Do you think it’s important to have mentors?
VW: I’ve had mentors throughout my career. I like to pull from a variety of different sources. When I was at Procter & Gamble, I had mentors within the organization. I had mentors from grad school. I’ve had mentors here at the Holiday Inn for the past 12 years. I keep in touch with ex-bosses, peers and colleagues from previous jobs. I also touch base with women in other industries to get a different perspective as a woman, and as a brander on particular marketing challenges that we face.
TNJ: I am looking at a statistic that cites that only 6 of the 1,000 world’s largest corporations are led by women. Do you think that will change in the next five years?
VW: As women increase in their presence and their power, it is getting better. If you look at the Forbes list and Black Enterprise’s top 100 list, it’s heavily populated by women and I think we’ll continue to see a lot more of that, for sure. And not to slam our male counterparts, but some of that is driven by the skills that women bring to the table. Especially in a global organization, the power of collaboration can’t be underestimated and I think that women tend to do a slightly better job sometimes in that regard.
TNJ: What advice do you have for women looking to advance in their career? For example, how long did it take for you to get to where you are?
VW: In terms of being on the VP level, I’ve been a VP since 2005. It took 12 years. The biggest piece of advice I can give is, obviously, the importance of working hard. Knowing your trade is important, too. I remember when I first got promoted to VP, I got a lot of good advice from a book called, “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There”. I think it’s about proving yourself and looking up from your desk to network and build good relationships with people. The first year I got promoted, I worked even harder than ever before because I wanted the people who promoted me to feel good about the decision they had made. And over the past few years, I’ve seen the value of investing in relationships. Sometimes it’s those very relationships that I can call upon and get help in working through a particular situation.
TNJ: What has the consumer response been since the launch of the global ad campaign?
VW: Since the launch, we’ve increased our guest satisfaction for the brand. Bringing that level of consistency to the brand around the globe and then introducing global hallmark was key. The idea was whether you’re in Beijing or Boston, consumers know what to expect from the brand. Consumers have responded well and that has translated well to “positive revenue per available room”, a term we use to measure results, and it’s also going well for our owners. We hold the number one and number two positions in the global pipeline for our hotel. All the way around, it has been a very positive response.