The Pursuit of Happiness: Ed Harris, VP Marketing at the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board
It is often said that good marketing is based on storytelling. With his background working with brands like AND1, Converse, Timberland, and Under Armour, and his current role as the VP of Marketing and Communications at the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board, Ed Harris shares his insight into the parallels in branding across the for profit and non-profits space and the role of storytelling in elevating a brand. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!Podcast: Play in new window | DownloadSubscribe: iTunes | RSS
Ed Harris: Every brand I've worked at along my journey has had something very unique or special about it. That's really what separates the better companies out from the rest, is they do things in a unique way.
Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all. This is Real-World Branding. I'm Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. Thank you for joining us. Today's guest is Ed Harris. Ed is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board, where he has been for several years, taking a very progressive approach to marketing a diverse and really compelling suite of attractions in Valley Forge and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Not only is that significant and interesting but Ed's background across consumer product companies starting at AND1, the upstart at the time, basketball brand extending into Converse under the auspices of Nike when the brand was re-launched in the middle of last decade, then on to Timberland, then on to Under Armour, then on to Destination Maternity and eBay, etc.
Ed has a really interesting perspective on the for-profit and the not-for-profit sector, on the power of brand storytelling across these really rich, deep, and textured brands on which he has been tasked with growth, marketing, market expansion, and product line development, etc., all the way up into his current role in the tourism marketplace. Enjoy. Ed Harris.
We are so excited to have Ed Harris here on Real-World Branding. Ed, thanks for joining us.
Ed: Thanks for having me.
Bill: You are a patient man because, full disclosure, we taped this once already. You were fabulous.
Ed: Thanks, I'll try to be good this time.
Bill: You'll be good. You can't help but be good, but we butchered it on the audio side of this. So anyway, this is a take two but thank you for your patience with us. To start, if you wouldn't mind, you've had a fascinating career. Could you take us through that journey a little bit in terms of what's led to today?
Ed: Sure, I'd be happy to. First off, I've been extremely fortunate to work with a group of just amazing, creative, analytical designers, marketers, strategists so far in my career path. For me it really started with the first internship I did as a college student. I worked for this upstart, renegade apparel (which ultimately became an apparel and footwear) brand called AND1 Basketball. For anybody who is familiar with AND1 it's a term used on basketball courts when you're fouled taking a shot.
I was lucky to be in a startup environment with a lot of energy, dogs being brought to work on a daily basis, playing basketball at lunchtime with the founders, and seeing a company, as a college student and then later as a full-time employee, really grow in the six years that I was with AND1 before the acquisition. Before they sold the company I had a chance to get my hands into a lot of different, cool projects, everything from marketing research to being on set with NBA athletes to all kinds of fun marketing stuff. That was my first chapter in the marketing world.
When the company was going through being sold to a group in California, being an East Coast guy at heart, I didn't want to make that move. Fortunately at the same time Nike, Inc. had purchased the Converse brand out of bankruptcy. They were looking for some marketers, were interested in people who had some specific background in basketball marketing. I jumped at that opportunity. I relocated to New England and worked for this new Converse brand under the Nike, Inc. umbrella, which was a whole new galaxy for me at the time, having worked in a startup, small, entrepreneurial company that was definitely gaining market share but nowhere near the sheer size of a Nike, Inc. Just being a manager of one of the budgets at Converse was much different than at AND1 in the sense that we were trying to reinvigorate an iconic brand with young people which meant doing some pretty substantial partnerships with partners like MTV, partners that were on a much bigger scale than anything I'd been used to up to that point.
I spent two years with Converse. It was one of the most creative chapters, just being around amazing designers in the Nike, Inc. family, many of whom left Nike to come East to work at Converse and be part of bringing it out of the graveyard as a brand. Had no reason to leave Converse but an opportunity arose to try international marketing and go to a brand like Timberland, which was my next stop. I kept going north as I-
Bill: Almost to Nova Scotia at this point, yes.
Ed: Yeah, exactly, to take new opportunities. I was working at the Stratham, New Hampshire headquarters for Timberland. What a special place that was. A lot of people don't realize the heart that Timberland has. It's an outdoor brand but everybody at the company has this ‘give back’ mindset. They have 40 hours a year to give back to the community, which everybody takes advantage of. They win awards for the most environmentally responsible shoe box in the footwear industry. They really care about the triple bottom line of business which, for those who may not know, it's not only about bottom line profits but how are you giving back in terms of social and environmental things. Timberland was a four-year chapter for me.
I have a soft spot for them just because Timberland helped fund my MBA over at Boston College at night, which took me three years. It was time for me to accept a new challenge beyond Timberland, which became Under Armour. I was, again, very fortunate to work under a gentleman named Gene McCarthy who was a Co-President at Timberland at the time. He had left to start up footwear at Under Armour. Almost a year later I joined Gene in Baltimore and entered a completely new culture again. If anything I've been really lucky to work behind the scenes of these big brands and just see how the culture impacts the tonality and the creativity of the brand.
At Under Armour it was total adrenaline, very youthful. Being in my late 30s ... when I was at Under Armour in my mid-30s I felt very old. The culture there, if you've never been inside the walls of Under Armour, is very young. I would say the majority of employees are probably in their mid to late 20s, very active, wearing the product every day to work. It wasn't uncommon for me to wear an Under Armour t-shirt to the office in the Spring and Summer months.
Bill: You don't want to intimidate anybody with your guns, but-
Ed: Yeah, right, with my physique.
Bill: -this is what happens.
Ed: Yeah, exactly. They've got a great cafeteria there and everything is very healthy, just very modern. Every brand I've worked at along my journey has had something very unique or special about it. That's really what separates the better companies out from the rest, is they do things in a unique way.
I know this is sort of a long story but after Under Armour I had an opportunity to come back to Philadelphia, which is where I'm originally from, and accept my first director position in the marketing world. I'd been a brand manager with Under Armour, Timberland, Converse, etc., and I was finally going to direct a team of marketers. That was really appealing to me at the time. My wife was also very interested in coming back to the area.
Bill: Sure, family around and everything else.
Ed: Yeah, we just had our son at the time. I jumped at the opportunity to join Destination Maternity Corporation, which is now actually in New Jersey but at the time they were in Philadelphia. They gave me a shot. It was a wonderful financial opportunity. Unfortunately, from a brand development and brand building standpoint it was probably, at the time in my career, the most outside of my comfort zone based on my path to that point.
Really, Destination Maternity as well as A Pea in the Pod, which is their high-end brand, it's all about, how can we make the woman feel beautiful while they're pregnant? It encompasses lots of different products so I went from marketing at Under Armour to hardcore jocks who don't want to sweat as much in their t-shirt to advertising nursing bras, which, I don't know if you can get much different in terms of jobs.
In a way I'm glad I did that because I needed to stretch a little bit. I needed a new challenge. I think as marketers – you can appreciate this – at heart we're great storytellers, is what I like to tell people when we talk about marketing. If you can tell a great story that's half the battle. There's a lot of other things, of course: great creativity, strategy, all that stuff. At heart I think good marketers can tell great stories. Being able to tell that story to a pregnant woman, as a male marketing director, was the biggest challenge I've had, to date, in my career. I did that for just under a year. It wasn't for me but I'm glad I did it.
The last stop before coming to my current role, which I'll briefly tell you about, is eBay Enterprise. Many people out there don't realize that eBay Enterprise is hired by a lot of pretty big companies to do all of the website and digital marketing functions. When I joined eBay Enterprise as a director of marketing I was back in my wheelhouse in the sense that the clients that I had to work with on a weekly basis included the NFL.com, MajorLeagueBaseball.com, CalvinKlein.com, CharlotteRusse.com. I was in this sports/fashion/apparel world again but in a totally different platform in terms of digital marketing.
I did two years at eBay Enterprise. I learned more about big data and analytics and forecasting and spreadsheets than in any other marketing role I had had to date. I feel like I've picked up some interesting skills along the way, having worked around these various creative or analytical minds.
Then the opportunity to come here and be Vice President of Marketing Communications for an entire county, Montgomery County, here at the Valley Forge Tourism Board, was an opportunity I couldn't pass up because not only was it a new challenge but I'm from the region. It was an opportunity to do brand building again where we have a lot of segments that we target to come to this region and experience a lot of the attractions we have here. It's also a non-profit so that was appealing. It was something I'd never done before.
Every two to three years I tend to get an itch but I feel like I'm going to be here a while because it's got so much variety. One day we're marketing the family-friendly Elmwood Park Zoo. The next couple months we're talking about Spring Mountain skiing, that we have here, or the casino, or the King of Prussia Mall, which is one of the largest malls in the United States, or some of our award-winning breweries. There's just so much variety as a marketer, a storyteller, to be able to tell lots of different stories in a 12-month calendar year. I could talk about the Pope Francis visit last Fall or the DNC Convention coming this July. There's just so much variety to get my hands into.
I've found that in previous roles or brand manager positions you tell the same story year after year. You may get some new product twists and things like that but, for me, I'm always looking for the next big, juicy story to bring to life in an ad campaign or social media campaign or whatever it is. I hope that answers your question.
Bill: No, it does, fabulous. I have hundreds of questions and I'll restrain myself because we promised to get you out at a decent hour. We'll get to the current role in a minute but, to your point, it seems like in some ways it, on its face, may look like a turn off of the highway that you've been traveling but in other ways, in terms of the toolkit, in terms of fundamental storytelling, in terms of your roots geographically, it seems like the most linear thing in the world.
We'll definitely get to that but couple questions about just the journey that you've taken. AND1, as noted, certainly in the early days and when you were there in the early days of your own career, was very different, likely, than these established brands – Timberland and Under Armour, even, at that point was established. Converse was coming back from the graveyard but it was a Nike, Inc. initiative. AND1 took a very different path than your Nike's and your Adidas's, that it wasn't about athlete endorsements. It was selling very outspoken t-shirts out of the back of the car and by the court in the neighborhood.
Bill: It was very much an upstart brand, if I remember correctly. Any compare/contrast thoughts about what AND1 was like versus entering into territories that may have been a bit more established?
Ed: Absolutely. At its core AND1 – it still exists today, I should point out – is exclusively sold at Walmart, which is very different from when I was there. We were sold in retail stores, not only in the United States but internationally as well. Some of our biggest clients included Footlocker, Champs, Footaction, the heavy hitters in the mall.
The way we were able to carve out some market share in the very, very competitive basketball footwear and apparel market was we took the approach – this was shortly after Michael Jordan was winding down his career, we're talking mid to late '90s – we wanted to take a radical approach. We looked at street basketball that grows out of New York City and some of the other cities around the United States and we wanted to have a different conversation. We wanted to test the limits, push the envelope, whatever phrase you want to throw in there. We came up with these t-shirt slogans that really resonated with people. A lot of them were tongue-in-cheek and silly.
Some of them included, ‘I'm the bus driver because I take everyone to school,’ and, ‘Your game is as ugly as your girl.’ Really, things that Nike, Inc. wouldn't put on a t-shirt, or Reebok or Adidas at the time, but you know what? Kids on the court playing outside in the summertime said, ‘You know what? I like that. That's got an edge to it.’
Bill: It's real, too. It's the way we talk.
Ed: Right. To your point, we were selling t-shirts out of a van at playgrounds in New York City for the first year and made a million dollars and that led to, ‘Well, we should make mesh game shorts. We should make tank tops and t-shirts and hoodies.’ Next thing you know we're going to Asia and we're making our first AND1 sneaker and having conversations with the number three pick, I believe, that year in the NBA draft, a guy named Stephon Marbury, who came onto the scene and wore our footwear for the first time.
There's an interesting side story about that. There's a phrase that's used on basketball courts called ‘breaking ankles’. Basically that phrase is used to describe people who have great dribbling skills, who can shake their opponent and get them, sometimes, to fall down. We did a marketing campaign called Breaking Ankles. Stephon Marbury was the star, wearing our new shoes. Wouldn't you know that on opening night of his rookie season he gets injured in our shoes. He fractures his ankle. We had this witty, what we thought, marketing campaign called Breaking Ankles that backfired on us.
To make a long story short, they wound up selling quite a few basketball shoes. I believe they sold the company for just under 100 million dollars, almost exactly 10 years after they started the company upon graduation from the Wharton Business School. What a great environment to start my career. I think that the culture that they put together and encouraged, in terms of the best idea wins no matter if it comes from this marketing team or the janitor here. We're going to test ideas and we're going to get aggressive and do things that the big dogs may not risk. I think that's a lesson anybody can take, is study the competition. Be brave enough to take a chance.
Bill: Right. That's great. You talk about another brand. I've long wondered this. This is a brand that veers in the direction as you described, Timberland does, of more established, yet some things were happening in the '90s in the culture where the hip-hop community and urban fashion was really excited about and highlighting the Timberland brand. It seemed, given all that you've talked about, the environmental focus and this New England outdoorsy thing, for this brand to all of a sudden have so much oxygen and energy in urban markets, what I've always wondered is how that felt on the inside at Timberland because this was a brand that, again, had tremendous credibility in the environmental and outdoors community.
You couldn't run 60 miles an hour to just embrace this financial opportunity because in many ways it was very unlike the core market but at the same time to completely ignore it probably is a bit of malpractice when it comes to growth opportunity. On the inside, how did it feel when all that was happening? I remember just as a consumer saying, ‘This is really interesting. These are things I don't necessarily put together.’ How do you nurture it while maintaining the integrity of what you're doing? How did it feel from your perspective and that of your colleagues at Timberland as all this was taking place?
Ed: Yeah, it's a great question because when I walked into Timberland I had an image of what Timberland represented to myself, having worked at a basketball company, being around urban youth in some other projects that I had done. I was curious, as a new employee going in, to understand that.
What I found was that no matter who the consumer is they appreciate quality products. During the hip-hop craze of the '90s that you mentioned the brand was certainly adopted by the urban community. That catapulted Timberland into an international brand. It made them a ton of money. When that happened a decision strategically was made to create an entire division, actually, within Timberland. It was called Authentic Youth, but it really focused on this new, emerging urban consumer base. I think, looking back on it, the intent was right. I think that they went a little bit too far with it. You see now, in Timberland's marketing, it's more about its core.
Bill: Yeah, it's back to it.
Ed: It's more about being built to last. Their key colors, they have a boot that's referred to as beef and broccoli, which is brown and green. It's a very popular shoe. They also have the six-inch wheat boot which is really the most popular, rugged, expensive boot. What happened was they started to think they understood that consumer. I think they, in some ways, made too much of an effort to try to connect with that consumer. You started seeing a lot of metallic logos on boots. You started seeing even that on the apparel front. It worked for a little while but ultimately that consumer was a fan of the brand. You don't have to necessarily change.
The reasons that we found that they adopted the brand, so to speak, was not only was it premium but it was built to last. That premium price point was a status symbol, whereas the other people who had bought Timberland to that point were buying it more for its performance attributes, its waterproof nature, of literally holding up while you're camping in New England or wherever you camp, whereas the Urban Consumer valued that ruggedness and that premium price point of status. A lot of marketing research had to be done to sort that out but I think Timberland today is a great brand.
They've gone through ups and downs but at its core the tree is their logo. You would hear their former CEO talk about that a lot. They're very environmentally responsible. If you go to their factories, whether it's in the Dominican or in Asia, it's important to Timberland that solar panels are on top of the buildings. Anywhere they can lessen their footprint Timberland does that. That's why I have so much respect for that brand, because they always think about that triple bottom line. If they're not trying to put recycled cotton shoelaces in their boots then they're having their employees out in the community doing community service to make a difference, just an all-around feel-good brand. I don't know if that answers your question.
Bill: No, it does. It's a fascinating case study about how one creates and/or seizes opportunities and deals with the environment around them even when there are seemingly some tough choices. They're about keeping the core, embracing the new, etc. Fascinating, for a brand, as you say, that had been very well established and had a strong value system to, that far into their life cycle, be confronted with something of the sort that they likely never expected, fascinating stuff.
Here we are in Valley Forge and you can see, if you're watching this, which most will not be, but on the wall behind us is an incredible map of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, highlighting, obviously, the incredible destination that Valley Forge Historical Park is.
You talked about some of the similarities in terms the progressive nature of how you think about this current role compared to, in many ways, being a culmination of some of the things that you've learned and perfected along the way as well as an opportunity to do some different things. How would you compare or contrast the work on the consumer-facing athletic or footwear side to what you're dealing with currently? Let me just preface this by saying that it seems that, seeing the tourism marketplace as we have and as we do, you've taken a really progressive approach to thinking through the master brand and sub-brands and how a very diverse set of attractions can work within a cohesive story and experience. Maybe you'll tell us a bit about that. How does the new role feel, given all the things that you've done leading up to it?
Ed: It feels great. I can't tell you how energized I am to come to work every day. No two days are exactly the same. We're developing brands here, for a brand storyteller, I couldn't be in a better place. That's why I'm so happy to be here. Basically, in this brand development phase we had to do some research and figure out, who really wants to come to this area and why? For us as a non-profit we're partially funded by the hotel tax. We need people to stay in our hotels. We need people to make a weekend out of coming to the Montgomery County, PA, Valley Forge area. We thought about, what are some brands that we could develop that could speak to various segments and convince them they have to come here?
In the past year we launched Destination Montgomery County Weddings. We have tons of beautiful spaces where you can have your wedding. We've got people calling us now, asking us to help them. We consider ourselves almost a wedding concierge. That's one brand that's taking on a life of its own as we travel around the bridal shows. We have Montgomery County sports. More specifically we're calling it Valley Forge Sports because as we go outside the region we found that because there's several Montgomery counties, the words ‘Valley Forge’ resonate with people who are outside our region. Sports, if you look at places like Lancaster in Pennsylvania or even Atlantic City, New Jersey, big investment is being made into developing big sports facilities because it's big business. These days if your daughter plays in a lacrosse tournament in the next state over, you're taking grandma with you, you're taking junior, the whole family is going.
Bill: Staying overnight, yeah, doing all this.
Ed: You're staying overnight. You're going to the restaurants. That's what our organization does, is we stimulate the economy here in Montgomery County by reminding and educating people on all of the assets, everything from our great hotels, we've got over 70 of them. We've got over 500 restaurants. I mentioned at the top we've got, arguably, the best mall in the country in terms of premium brands. We've got go-kart facilities for kids, family friendly. We have something for everybody. I could go on and on about our 60 miles of trails, our wineries. There's lots to do in Montgomery County. I, as a brand marketer, have to package those up and get them in front of the right people.
As I was leaving eBay to accept this opportunity, the trend I kept hearing about was video. I kept hearing about how video, if you have one on your website, keeps people on your site for a minimum of an additional three minutes because it just really draws them in. I'm happy to say I'm here almost two years in April and we've got over 20 videos we've done. Some are longer form, some are short form, but we use them not only on our website but in social media. We're finding that it's true, this engagement with video is just a mind-boggling trend. People are really into it. If you were to go to ESPN.com you could probably count 20 videos on their home page.
Bill: They've reorganized their home page around video content at least on the mobile experience, it seems.
Ed: Exactly. As a marketer, having worked at eBay at my last stop, it became more clear than ever about this convergence between technology and marketing. You have to have an understanding of both. It's no longer, ‘For our marketing plan this year we're going to put up a billboard, do a couple print ads, and maybe, if we're lucky, do a television commercial.’ Now, as you know, you have to be familiar with all the social media channels from Snapchat to Pinterest and everything in between, YouTube, you name it. Everything is moving so much faster.
Then you look at people who are in a relationship with their phone. They can't be in a room without their phone because they're all texting somebody. Now maybe they're not texting as much. They're using emojis. We're seeing the communication of our culture really changing. People want to watch videos. They don't want to read a long story. If they want to communicate with someone sometimes a full sentence now is too much. Let me just give you an emoji. I'll tell you everything you need to know.
If we're there now in 2016, where are we going to be at in 2026? If there is anything I'd like to think I've brought to this organization, in the first almost two years, it's that we're looking at tourism now more through a digital marketing lens and understanding that that's where everybody is so that's where we need to be. We need to have great videos. We've got to be on all the social media channels, have them come to our website which we can refresh every day because we have so many things happening here and we have such a wide geography to cover. I think we're the third largest destination marketing organization in Pennsylvania, only behind Philadelphia and, I believe, it's Allegheny where Pittsburgh is. We certainly have lots of stories we can tell. As a chief storyteller, which is how I like to describe my job, it's fantastic.
Bill: To your point, the number and just expanse of different attraction types in Montgomery County, you can't market them all equally. You can't make them all part of the headline but you can, from a content perspective, provide as much depth as possible. You get people through the gateway and then offer all the depth that they can find.
This 360 product is amazing. It's really appealing. It's an example of, whether it's brides looking at venues or whatever the case may be, folks being able to really immerse themselves in an experience and use video to tour some of these sites and to feel what it's like to be there and to make decisions from wherever they happen to be clicking that heretofore weren't feasible, weren't possible, certainly not efficiently. There is a marked – just speaking as a consumer and someone who lives in the region – difference that is obvious in the energy level and texture of how this destination and its series of attractions is expressing itself.
Ed: Yeah, there's one thing that I know you mentioned, MontCo360. I'd love for people to check that out.
Bill: That's really cool, yeah.
Ed: If there's one plug I can give, that's our latest innovative project we've worked on to date. We partnered with Google. Google comes down from New York with their sophisticated cameras and drones. We go out to our attractions and we create a virtual tour. With MontCo360.net you can walk through, literally, 50 different attractions right now within Montgomery County and get a sense for it before actually making the trip to come here. We're planning to add at least another 50. We want to get over 100 virtual tours on the MontCo360.net site by July when we've got delegates coming from all over the country to stay here, so that they can have that experience where they can look for things to do on their phone or laptop, tablet, whatever you want, and really navigate the area. That's the most exciting, tech-y, innovative project that we launched almost 90 days ago now.
Bill: Yeah, it's great. There's a handful of innovations here and you're a modest guy but I'll underline a few. The decision-making around how the overall brand is expressed in terms of Valley Forge and Montgomery County, understanding the strength and sense of place of Valley Forge as an attraction. Then the creation, as you mentioned, of attraction bundles that are more special interest and lifestyle-driven beneath, whether it's golf, whether it's bridal, as you noted the junior sports events that can be accomplished here, the trails, all these different things. Then, just the richness with which you are delivering this experience in terms of multimedia across social, across the web. There's a ton of content here. I know that you and your team are consistently and continually creating more. There's so much richness in how this attraction feels when one interacts with it at this point.
Ed: Yeah, I appreciate that. I feel like the luckiest guy in Montgomery County because I have this job.
Bill: Yes, the king of Montgomery County, the prince.
Ed: Yeah, it's just amazing the wide variety of just interesting people that I've had a chance to collaborate with in this role, everyone from the superintendent of a national park, to a zookeeper, to somebody running a casino, or one of the largest malls, or entrepreneurs who are cutting the ribbon on their new restaurant. I'm just working with such a wide variety of leaders, which makes it fun, too.
Bill: To that end, in addition to the fun, some of the things about this organization, you mentioned the hotel tax, I know another important organizing principle is that of membership. As an organization that has some – and feels, obviously, very deeply – accountability to its members, how do you balance the desire, as we've mentioned, to craft compelling marketing angles with the need for some degree of member inclusion and equitability, if that's a word, in terms of folks who have made investments in supporting this organization feeling like it's paying off? Do you see that as an area that you need to continually think about as you're building that balance?
Ed: Yeah, we do. I'm glad you brought it up because it's a very hot topic in the tourism marketing world. No matter what executive you talk to they're going to say either they're for membership, the model, or they're not. It works for us. A year ago we had just over 300 member organizations. Today we have 405.
Bill: Wow, that's huge.
Ed: We've seen a lot of growth in membership although, to get back to your question, some people look at membership as handcuffing your content from a marketing standpoint in a sense that if you're only highlighting members you're probably missing so much more. We actually flip that around and look at it as an opportunity. We started a new newspaper last summer that we publish quarterly where we feature our members, of course, but then to make it a legitimate newspaper and to share the pulse of what's going on in the region we do other stories on some of the other key potential members or key attractions that we can use as a recruiting tool and show the value of becoming a member.
We also do, every other month, a speaker series which we just started last month where we take a topic for an hour from four to five and we educate our members and we ask them to bring some new potential members. Then we network with them for an hour after. It's four to six. Four to five you get some great education on a key topic to help your business. Then from five to six you're drinking cocktails and meeting other leaders. We had our first event last month at the Sheraton here in Valley Forge. We had booked a room to accommodate about 50 people. We didn't really know how many people would ultimately RSVP. We had 115 come. It was standing room only. People crowded in the room. People see a value.
The topic happened to be social media. My team did an excellent job presenting that topic, to not only a novice who is just getting started to someone who is looking to really use analytics behind social media. We covered it all in an hour. It was key for us to have a good first showing, so to speak. Just getting back to your question about membership in general, I think it depends on how you approach it. For us, we're not going to eliminate membership by any means in the near future. We really believe in it and we're signing up a lot of new members, too. I think they're starting to see the value of our following on social media, where they can be a part of that ongoing story.
Bill: We mentioned a bunch, but are there any other exciting things coming down the pike here in Valley Forge or Montgomery County that you want to underline before we begin to wrap here? We've been so grateful for your time.
Ed: Yeah, sure. There's always great stuff baking in the oven, but one thing that's going to be very interesting come May of 2016 is we're launching MontCo Golf. Destination MontCo Golf, I should say, more specifically. Really that's just going to be a celebration of the 54 golf courses we have spread throughout Montgomery County. We think when people understand that we've got 27 public courses and lots of high-end, premium country clubs that you can play at, we're going to get more visitation from that. Just like weddings or just like our history trails, none of them may fill up an entire hotel, but collectively as we pull those different marketing levers throughout the year we think more and more people will stay overnight for the weekend.
With golf you could come and play a round on Saturday, go out to a great restaurant, go shopping at one of our awesome malls, breweries, whatever you want to do, spend the night, wake up, play another course, and have a great golf weekend. We have a basic site set up right now that we're going to be developing more as we get closer to May, but if you're more interested in seeing more about MontCo Golf, it's MontCoGolf.com.
Bill: That's great.
Ed: We have big plans for it starting as the weather starts to turn, and an official launch in May.
Bill: Terrific. We'll certainly be watching for that. This has been wonderful. All the things you've accomplished, the things you've learned, the amazing experiences that you've had, different brands, different stages of growth, what would you tell those listeners that are inspired by your career path as they think about their own growth and development? Have there been a couple of important ideas that have been central to how you've thought about your own career?
Ed: Yeah, that's a great question. For me, personally, I mentioned at the top that marketing as a craft is really about storytelling. My advice would just be if you have the itch to stretch yourself, challenge yourself, whatever word you want to throw in there, just do it. Not to steal from Nike, but it's a great message.
Bill: You were part of that family for a time.
Ed: At one point, yeah, right, exactly. It's true. For me, every couple of years, at least to date, I've had the itch to expand on my marketing experience, if you will. Having said that, I know lots of friends and family who have been at one place for their whole career and have had tremendous careers so I'm not going to tell everyone to quit their job tomorrow, by any means.
Bill: You heard it here, quit! Go do something else.
Ed: If there's an opportunity to grow, and maybe it's even within your own organization, take a chance. It's definitely worked for me. Also, on the plus side, I've had a chance by taking on roles with bigger responsibility and moving on to work with just a collection of people, up and down the East Coast, who are just brilliant marketers. Just being in those different environments has been really fun. Having taken on these different roles at these different brands has just been an awesome experience. I would tell people to be open to new experiences. If there's any message I would leave with potential people considering a marketing career its that it's okay to try new things. I'll leave one more point, the network.
Bill: Yeah, I can imagine.
Ed: When you talk about the explosive growth of sites like LinkedIn, at each one of my stops along the way, because I've worked in some large organizations, I've built up a pretty decent-sized network on LinkedIn. Fortunately for me along my career path that LinkedIn network has led to two job opportunities for me. That's the other advice I'd give, is get on LinkedIn today. Start up a profile. Start connecting if you haven't yet.
Bill: You're sharing wisdom. I guess you're continuing to teach in an adjunct way?
Bill: At your alma mater, yes? Up on Hawk Hill.
Bill: The Hawk will never die, right?
Ed: Yes, that's correct. I do teach principles of marketing one night a week, Thursday nights. I teach sophomore students. I love it because I get to share not only the principles of marketing from the textbook but to illustrate a lot of the text through some of my stories of my real world travels, which they haven't kicked me out yet. I've been doing it since 2013.
Bill: That's great.
Ed: It's very rewarding for me.
Bill: That's great, and a great opportunity for those students who are lucky enough to find themselves in Professor Harris's class. Ed, thank you for your time and your insight. Can't wait to watch what happens next in your career as well as here in Valley Forge and in Montgomery County. Ed Harris, the Vice President of marketing communications for the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board. That's a mouthful. Thank you so much for your time.
Ed: Thanks, Bill, appreciate it.
Bill: Many, many thanks to Ed Harris for his time and his insight. What an interesting career. Ed is a fascinating guy, isn't he? What he's done in his career, the stories that he's able to tell about brands that he's worked with and helped to grow and diversify and expand geographically in terms of product, everything else, at only under 40. What Ed will do in his career as it continues will be a fascinating thing to watch. We're really grateful for his insight today and also his friendship and relationship with us.
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