With over 20 years of travel industry experience and a digital media veteran, Sylvia Weiler serves as Vice President, Audience Strategy & Business Development at Sojern. In her role, Sylvia oversees global data strategy and partnerships with 60+ of the leading travel brands including American Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Choice Hotels, easyJet, Best Western.
Prior to joining Sojern, Sylvia spent 12 years at Travelocity in sales and sales leadership roles. She played an integral role in the International expansion of the company; the launch of Travelocity sites in Latin America; and led the media strategy and sales efforts in the region.
Sylvia has been on the cutting edge of the digital media evolution. As an early adopter and evangelist for digital marketing channels and one of the very first digital media sales executives in the travel category, she has worked with some of the largest travel brands globally.
Sylvia serves on the Board of Directors of SF Travel Association and PBWC (Professional BusinessWomen of California). She also mentors young professionals either starting a career or looking to grow on their current paths.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Sylvia to learn about her history in travel, her passion for data and audiences, and how she inspires and motivates people to set them up for success.
You’ve been an expert in the travel industry for almost two decades. What initially piqued your interest?
I’ve always loved to travel and have been fortunate enough to have visited many places around the world. I moved from Bulgaria to the USA as a winner of an international contest that awarded me a full tuition scholarship. I was young and sky was the limit. The program I studied was Management in Travel and Tourism.
When I graduated, I had an opportunity to work in different sectors of the travel industry.
I moved to San Francisco in 1998 where it was all about technology. After moving, I took a short break from the travel industry because I was curious and wanted to explore opportunities in technology. I couldn’t code and wasn’t technical enough to work for any of the big software companies. So, I took an advertising sales job at a publishing company focused on information technology.
A few years later, I was planning a vacation to Borneo, Malaysia and saw a media sales opening at Travelocity while researching my trip. At the time, I was really getting into advertising, and I loved travel. The job was the perfect mix of my two passions. Within a week, I had accepted a job at Travelocity and was back in the travel space.
What has kept you in the travel industry? What is your favorite thing about it?
Travel is such an enriching and amazing opportunity for people to see the world and reconnect with family or friends. Being on this side of the travel industry, we make people’s dreams come true. The passion that colleagues develop for the brand, destination, hotel, or airline they represent is unmatched. In addition to that, there’s a really amazing community of people in the industry. Once involved with the travel space, very rarely do people leave the industry. The friendships you develop over time are priceless.
How did you first hear about Sojern, and why did you want to join the team?
Most marketers in the travel industry at the time weren’t familiar and leveraging programmatic, data-driven advertising in their strategies. The idea of helping travel brands be more efficient with their marketing is one of the main reasons that brought me to Sojern. It was an opportunity to influence a change within the industry by using data in a unique way to manage more precise and targeted media spend.
The second thing that brought me here was the people. It was an incredible ensemble of very smart, passionate, experienced professionals. So, a combination of strong leadership, very smart team, unique data set and distinct perspective to the programmatic advertising and digital marketing ecosystem is what attracted me to Sojern.
For new managers or those looking to improve, how do you inspire and motivate individual development of your reports?
I believe in leading by example; being contagiously enthusiastic about what I do; and providing all the right opportunities for people around me to be successful. I also love creating friendly competition amongst my teams. People can challenge each other and learn from one another by sharing what they are working on or accomplishments they’re delivering. It’s inspiring them by allowing them to inspire each other.
I do a lot of coaching and mentoring, and I serve on a few different boards. The one thing I advise everyone around me to do is jump in and volunteer for any project you can possibly find time to do. That’s the best way to learn — putting yourself in different situations by volunteering to lead or participate in many different projects, whether at work or outside of work. It exposes you to different people you might not get a chance to meet socially or work with internally. It pushes you out of your comfort zone. And, it allows you to explore new avenues that might interest you long term.
Within the last year, you’ve transitioned to the VP of Audience Strategy & Development. What led to this transition? What challenges and successes have you experienced so far?
Working at Sojern for 4.5 years, I knew very well our business, customers, what partners liked about Sojern, and where our company vision was taking us. It was an opportunity for me to play a more proactive role in our long-term growth. Data sits in the heart of our business, and our audience strategy has always been an important part of our success.
As we continue to grow and launch new products around the globe, our audience strategy continues to evolve and support the different initiatives across the company. Data also touches all parts of our organization. It was an exciting opportunity to work closer than before with every team at Sojern. This includes Engineering and Data Science to Product, Marketing, Insights, Sales, and Ad Ops.
The challenge for me, and many people in our company, is that there are not enough hours in a day. We are moving at such a fast speed. My biggest challenge is my own desire to move even faster than most.
In terms of success in my new role, we’ve added ten new data partners around the globe; we’re expanding our mobile app data footprint; and we are thinking of audiences and audience strategy in a slightly different way than before. Travel intent is one of our strongest signals for media activation. But, we are also diving deeper into more sophisticated machine learning to process the data signals.
What is the number one destination on your bucket list to visit and why?
One place I’ve never been to is Egypt. Everything about ancient Egyptian history, language, literature, religion, architecture, and art fascinates me. When my husband and I book our trip to Egypt, we want to take a college Egyptology course. This will allow us to really appreciate the trip. It’s a big item on my bucket list!
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About Marissa Rasmussen
Marissa is Sojern’s Content Marketing Associate. Indulging in her inner bookworm, watching HGTV, and playing with her puggle, Charlie, are among some of her favorite hobbies. Although she loves both, she prefers the beach over the mountains.