“I firmly believe that influencer marketing will have an even bigger role in marketing as we learn to live with the COVID-19 pandemic”Danica Helfrich
Danica is Travelcheck’s Marketing Manager. We enter her space for this segment of Women In Marketing.
THE JOURNEY TAKEN
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career in marketing? How’d you end up at Travelcheck?
I have worked most of my career in marketing in the travel industry. And that was a lucky coincidence, to be honest. I was working at a smaller ad agency in Cape Town after Saatchi & Saatchi when my boyfriend back then moved to Jozi for his job. We did the whole long-distance thing for about 6 months and decided that the arrangement wouldn’t work out. So, I quit my job and moved in with him in Jo’burg.
Not having a job, I made a list of companies I wanted to work for and funny enough the list was all German companies. Born and raised in Germany I guess I was looking for that home-feeling. A work environment where I could liaise in German etc. So, I sent my CV out to all of these companies (Lufthansa, Mercedes, BMW, all the big ones that had their Africa headquarters in Jozi). Eventually, Lufthansa made me an offer and I started off in the e-commerce department of Lufthansa, the German airline in their Jo’burg office, then I was promoted to head of marketing for Lufthansa in Southern Africa and then took over as country manager for South Africa of the “little sister” Swiss International Airlines.
They wanted to send me back to Europe but I wasn’t ready to leave South Africa. So, when my current CEO launched Travelcheck just over a year ago, she was looking to fill a marketing role and word had it on the street (in the industry) that I was looking for a change… so I got a call from her to meet for a coffee to discuss a potential opportunity and I’d say, we clicked immediately. I still had to go through 2 more interviews with a group of investors as well as presenting my marketing strategy for Travelcheck and that was it.
You have accumulated an envious amount of experience having worked for top-tier companies such as Saatchi & Saatchi, Lufthansa as well as Swiss International Airlines. What did you learn from these roles and how do you apply experiences in your current role at Travelcheck South Africa?
I loved working for the Lufthansa Group of Airlines (Lufthansa and Swiss International Airlines both belong to the group). It gave me insights into a very structured and process-driven approach which I am now able to apply in the start-up that Travelcheck is. Just with less red-tape than at a big corporation. I also appreciated the training programme the Lufthansa Group offered. At least twice a year I took part in a leadership course or any other study materials that were beneficial for my career path as a whole. E.g Negotiation skills etc. all that I can put to good use in a start-up environment.
You obtained a Master’s Degree in Marketing from the University of Mannheim (girl you fancy!). In an article written by Glassdoor, it has become seemingly easier to apply for work at companies such as Google, Apple and Starbucks as they do not require applicants to have a degree. How can young women utilise the internet to upskill themselves particularly if they cannot afford to obtain a formal education?
A lot is indeed learning on the job. I am convinced that you can succeed in anything if you have a passion for the product you are selling/marketing. I love what I do, but I also love to travel. So my job doesn’t really feel like a job. If I had to market screwdrivers and other DIY hardware, not sure if I would be successful. Yes, there is a theoretical part behind it that can be obtained through various options. There are many e-learning platforms/ courses that don’t cost as much as formal education. It takes self-discipline to do this yourself and perhaps after a long day at work. Examples are Lynda, YouTube, webinars etc.
What made you fall in love with the world of marketing? What particular moment in time pushed you to pursue this as a career? After all, we all wanted to be Doctor’s growing up, right?
Lol. Not a doctor… I cringe at the sight of blood. I wanted to become a banker. One of those hyperactive Wallstreet bankers. Thank goodness I changed my mind! That’s why I did a business management degree only later I focused on marketing. That was after I did an internship at a media agency. That’s when my passion for marketing started.
ENTERING THE WORKPLACE
What does your typical day of work look like? How does your calendar look and are you a coffee or tea kind of person?
I am such a coffee person. Coffee to go kind of person:-) Which fits perfectly into my typical day. My calendar is usually fully packed with meetings throughout the day. We are talking about pre-COVID times. Usually starting from 10 till about 15h00 I am often in meetings. Be it internally with the team(s), internally with our holding company in Israel or external with suppliers and other stakeholders. I usually keep the morning from 8-10 to work on emails and then again in the late afternoon. I would try to go to a yoga class 3x a week after work and the days I am not going to yoga, I would take a walk along the promenade in Sea Point to get some fresh air and clear my mind. I have a strict no work policy for after hours. I rather give my utmost attention during set times in the day. Of course, there are exemptions to the rule when something urgent comes up, but I am usually quite good at keeping my work-life balance.
Forbes has an annual ‘The World’s Most Influential CMOs’ report. For the year 2019, one of the key highlights from the report was that 31 of the 50 CMOs were women whilst there were 19 men. In your opinion, is this a positive representation of gender equality?
I am very happy to hear that, however, I don’t believe in gender equality in a workplace. In my experience, it is often a choice. I know many professional females (friends, colleagues, etc) who have chosen not to pursue a career but instead do different things after being in the job for 15 years+. Be it either a stay at home mom, starting an NGO or a coffee shop or whatever it may be. So, most stats that we see are not necessarily because females are not given the opportunity but out of their own choice. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing a more balanced lifestyle over a career.
COVID-19 has been a disruption to a number of organisations. So much that several businesses, small and big alike either having to cut down on staff or being forced to close down. On the same token, however, several organisations have used this time to regroup and use this as an opportunity for change in structure and processes. How has your organisation and specifically, your department, countered against the impact brought by the pandemic?
Well, I work in the travel sector, which is probably one of the most hard-hit industries. We have been fully digital before. Our business model is not to have brick and mortar building but being an e-commerce platform. What has changed for us is that we are not a fully virtual organisation without a physical back office. All our staff members are WFH. So we had to get used to more video calls and to get structures in place that support the functioning of a fully virtual team. Instead of brief chats at the coffee machine, our team members had to get used to Slack for example as a quick tool to communicate, ask a quick question that doesn’t require an email etc.
Storytelling seems to be the next rising buzzword. What’s Travelcheck’s story? How are you telling it in an interesting way?
That’s the beauty of the travel industry – there is a story in every trip. So, storytelling to sell travel is relatively easy. When it comes to Travelcheck itself, our vision is to provide a simplified online portal for the South African traveller to acquire flights and hotels packaged at a great price. We want to establish the brand as the go-to alternative in the market. Our mission is to inspire South Africans to travel, see and experience the world. And we do that by selling destinations and dreams all told via stories.
What have been some of Travelcheck South Africa biggest successes in marketing over the past 12 to 18 months?
We only launched 12 months ago (05 June is the actual launch date), so the biggest success is for sure building a brand from scratch within just under a year and becoming the second biggest online travel agency in South Africa.
See Business Insider article from September 2019; being in business for just under 5 months and already in the top 4 list is quite impressive, I think.
BCG published its innovation report for 2019 and at the core of its selection criteria are companies that have successfully married Artificial Intelligence in their products and services. According to you, what makes something innovative? How do you define innovation at Travelcheck?
Innovation can mean so many things. Travelcheck being a travel tech company, tech innovation definitely stands at the forefront for us. So, we are constantly improving our tech platform.
We are also constantly looking for innovative ways to improve our customer experience journey. So, one example is that we were also the first online travel agency offering an alternative payment solution to buying your travels on credit cards. We are offering instant credit, which in the long run turns out to be cheaper than most credit cards. It is a new and responsible payment solution. You don’t end up paying off your credit card for a year or longer. It is 3 instalments and therefore much better for budgeting reasons than a credit card. Just to give one example.
At the time of publishing, an article from The Digital Marketing Institute estimated that the influencer marketing industry will hit the $10bn mark by 2020. Whether it is B2B or B2C, it is evident that brands and organisations have had their own success with this model of marketing. How will the COVID-19 pandemic affect this industry going forward and do you believe there is still a place for influencer marketing?
I firmly believe that influencer marketing will have an even bigger role in marketing as we learn to live with the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has illustrated the importance of peer marketing as a conveyer of trust and knowledge.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
Personally: I use Signal to communicate with my family in Germany as both my brother and mother don’t use WhatsApp.
Professionally: I love Slack as it provides chat capabilities and therefore can communicate with teammates. Call me old school but I still keep WhatsApp personal and don’t like to use it for work purposes.
How do you leverage data to inform your decision-making?
All my decision making is based on data. I constantly evaluate our available date to shift budgets around. Examples are:
- Target group segmentation: Where do our customers come from? I would then shift our social media budget for example to that region that makes the most purchase, e.g. Gauteng vs Western Cape.
- What are the traffic sources on our website? Which sources lead to more conversions etc.
- If we have an airline special only from departure airport JNB but not from CPT, then there is no point advertising this special nationwide. I would then only target the Gauteng market. This way my budget is used very carefully and target.
Since our business is fully digital, it is easy to gain data insights and use the budget very target.
2020 AND BEYOND
What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information? Physical book vs eReader?)
I used to be a physical book reader up to about 10 years ago, then I got my first e-reader I was hooked. And then, for the last 4 years, I have been an audiobook listener. I love being read to. It is so relaxing and having my phone on me wherever I go (I use the Audible app) I can basically listen to anything I want and whenever I want to. Be it on a walk at the prom, at nighttime in the comfort of my bed, on the plane, Anywhere.
I am really hooked on Scandinavian thrillers. Hakan Nesser, Jo Nesbo and Yrsa Sigurdardottir are currently my favourite fiction authors.
What is on your Netflix watch list/How do you relax?
Again, I am hooked on Scandinavian thrillers. I am currently watching Bordertown, a Finnish series. But I also love a good romcom to make me smile and laugh.
A unique message for all young professionals in the marketing industry:
Find out what your passion is and choose a career in that particular industry. The beauty about marketing is that your basics and your knowledge can be put to use in any industry. But when you find your niche, that one thing you are passionate about, then your job won’t feel like a job. Don’t settle to market a product or a service you are not passionate about.
What haven’t you solved? What challenge is on your plate?
My current challenge in times of COVID-19 is how to keep travel dreams alive and make people think about travel even though there are restrictions in place. I don’t want them to forget about Travelcheck so that once travel bans are lifted they will come (back) to us to book their next flight/holiday. So, basically, how do you practice customer retention when you can’t sell anything at the moment.
Tag the one person whose answers to these questions you would love to read
Any bucket list items (professional as well as personal)?
Professionally: get to a point where my team and I are able to work from anywhere. I could spend 6 months of the year working from around the world. I think one advantage brought by this pandemic is that virtual teams are becoming the new norm.
Personally: I mentioned the Scandinavian series I am currently watching, so the first destination I would like to visit when travel bans are lifted is Helsinki. Thereafter, St. Petersburg, then Tallinn (Estonia) and then Riga (Latvia).
Who are some of your female heroes?
From a professional point of view, I would consider Sheryl Sandberg a role model. Personally, definitely my great grandmother who was born just before the First World War. She lost all her wealth during the great depression in the 1930s made it back to wealth some 30 years later, had to bring up 3 kids during the Second World War. She divorced in a small German town in the 1960s when divorce was still considered a sin and lived just 3 months short of her 100th birthday. She was one of the strongest women I have ever met.
What do you see as the single most important technology trend or development that’s going to impact us?
Again, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I strongly believe that remote work will have a bigger place in our work life than it ever had before. New technologies are on the rise to support this, be it video conferencing tool or virtual team management tool, project management tools etc.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
When you have a “bad” boss, learn from them as to how you do not want to be in their position! So, once you get promoted do it better 🙂