Kelly Dalton began her career fresh out of college at a lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., representing clients ranging from local governments to transit agencies and water authorities. It was her job to secure federal dollars for their projects. She loved the impact her work was making, but the distance it kept her from her family? Not so much.
So, she decided to take her love of making a difference in politics to the local level in Phoenix. She worked for various elected officials in the city for more than 10 years. But at one point, the job she used to love so much began to feel not-so-right.
“It was a tough environment to work in,” Kelly shares. “People weren’t getting along as well, and the environment was feeling more and more contentious.”
When Kelly was looking to make a transition from the world of politics into a corporate communications role, one thing became clear: When she met Best Western, she knew it was the right company for her. It would allow her the opportunity to continue to craft messages, but this time for an iconic brand.
“It’s a brand many people have known for many years. A lot of us have known about Best Western or stayed in a Best Western hotel growing up, and our parents have stayed in Best Western hotels,” she says.
“What I was really impressed by, were the hardworking and kind individuals on the executive team who I met. They wanted to take this company to the next level, and had a vision for where they wanted to take it. That’s a dream job for somebody in communications and PR—to help a brand reposition itself and create a new image for the company.”
Now, three years and three promotions within the company later, Kelly is the senior director of corporate communications for Best Western. And unlike her first post-collegiate job, she’s based in Phoenix close to her family, but she also has the opportunity to travel to incredible cities across the U.S. baked into her job description. Does it get any better than that?!
What was your very first job, and what is a lesson you learned in that job that still sticks with you today?
Like a lot of people, my very first job was baby-sitting. I loved the family and spent a lot of time with them. They were actually called The Brady’s. [She laughs.] Many people will advise you to not take life too seriously, but what I learned in this role is that I actually disagree with that advice.
Whether it’s in your first job, or later on in your career, you’ve got people who are relying on you, who have expectations of you, who are counting on you to come through for them. And that especially applies to baby-sitting. This first job was great at teaching me responsibility and the importance of patience. And while, yes, you still need to have fun with the kids while baby-sitting, it’s also something to take very seriously.
What does your job entail, and what does your day-to-day look like?
What I love about my job is that every day is completely different. There are so many facets to this role. Here at Best Western I work with an amazing team of individuals. We are a small, but mighty, team of six.
We manage all of the internal communications for the brand, as well as communication efforts with our hoteliers, known as our Best Western Members, who are the individuals that own our properties. Our team is responsible for ensuring Members across North America, and in some instances globally, really know what’s happening at the brand level. These efforts include an e-newsletter that shares the Top 5 Things stakeholders need to know about Best Western each week, as well as a team-produced newscast bimonthly.
Additionally, we also provide crisis communication support to our Members. With 4,200 properties around the world, you can imagine there are instances where an accident might happen at a property, or there could be an unhappy guest, or even something that is the result of a natural disaster that happens, and so my team is responsible for helping the properties interact with the media in those situations.
I also manage an external communications piece that includes all of our public relations efforts, including taking the Best Western brand to the next level, ensuring we are positioning our executive team as thought leaders both within and outside our industry, and more. On a daily basis my team is learning what initiatives the great staff at Best Western are taking on, and we’re pitching those stories to national and international media and trying to get those news stories about our brand out, so that consumers are ultimately seeing everything good that’s happening with the brand.
Finally, our team also provides support to our executive team, in terms of speechwriting, helping to craft messages to our Members and responding to media inquiries.
What qualities do you feel helped lead to your promotions at the company? And what advice do you have for our readers who want to climb the corporate ladder and build trust with their senior leadership team?
The one quality that I’ve developed and honed as I’ve grown in my career is enthusiasm. It sounds simple, but having a positive attitude and being enthusiastic about whatever task is at hand is important. I love my job, and I love tackling hard tasks that at one point may seem daunting. I find that one reason I enjoy my work is that I find this enthusiasm and energy to get it done—whatever job that may be. I think that this attitude has served me well in every position that I’ve had. Once you get into a role where you’re supervising people, then it becomes even more important. You want leaders with enthusiasm. It makes everyone’s job so much easier when you’ve got someone on your team with a positive outlook.
What aspect of your role do you enjoy the most?
I have the best team that I’ve ever worked with in my career here at Best Western. They’re incredible people, and I love working with them every day. As far as the actual work, I love being a part of helping to change the perception of Best Western, and create fun and innovative ways to showcase the great things that we’re doing and that we have done.
In your role, you always have to be “on” and something can always pop up that demands your attention. How do you manage being nimble in your professional responses while also living your personal life?
It’s all about setting your priorities and knowing what is truly urgent and needs to be handled right then and there, and knowing when things aren’t as pressing and can be responded to later. I think it’s also important to ensure you are looking out for yourself, because you have to make sure you’re taking time to go to your doctor’s appointments and working out. You need to take care of yourself first and foremost, and also be organized with your time so you can set aside time when appropriate.
With all the travel in your schedule, what is a travel tip that you’ve picked up?
I tell myself, “Just know you’re always going to forget one thing, and it’s going to be okay.” [She laughs.] Do not panic. You will figure out how to replace whatever that item is once you get to where you’re going. I travel all the time, and it seems that on every single trip I forget something, and it never seems to be the same thing! This used to panic and stress me out, but I’ve learned to be okay with it.
Additionally, Best Western hotels offer many of the things that it’s easy to forget, like your toothpaste or razor. You can let the front desk know that you don’t have a toothbrush or a phone charger—which is something I always forget—and that person will say, “We have one you can use for the night.” Everything has a solution, so when these situations pop up, stay focused on what you’re there to do—work. The rest will figure itself out.
What is something surprising others might not realize about working in communications?
I always tell our CEO of Best Western, David Kong, that every day for me is an adrenaline rush. I’m not exaggerating when I say that; it’s nonstop. From the moment I walk in the door until the time I leave, it’s full of action, which I love. On any given day I might be working with a reporter on deadline, helping employees with various communication strategies or handling a crisis call. I thrive in this environment, because there’s never a boring day.
Another aspect of my job others might not think about is that when you’re in communications, almost everything you do has extremely high visibility, which can create a lot of pressure. An attention to detail is very important, but beyond that you’ve got to make sure you are relying on your instincts to make those calls when you’re in a pressure-filled moment. Everything that we do, whether it’s sending out a publication to thousands of people, or talking to a reporter who will put your quote in the newspaper, or advising a property on how to handle a crisis—all of those instances are high pressure because of the high visibility of the work.
What career advice do you have for our readers who are interested in your industry?
This isn’t specific to my industry, but my advice is to always take the best opportunity in front of you. Never let your own insecurities or doubts prevent you from taking that next step. Within the communications industry, it’s critical that you’re good at building relationships, that you’re an effective communicator, that you’re a good listener, that you’re responsive, and that you realize things can be time-sensitive. You always want to stay on top of the game.
With all of the different places you’ve traveled to, what’s a place where you want to return to?
I love our Best Western Plus Hospitality House in New York City. I’m in New York frequently for work and fun, and it’s right in the heart of Midtown, close to Rockefeller Center. Each of the suites has a full kitchen and living room, and they have one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom spacious rooms. I always feel at home while I’m there because of how great the staff treats its guests.
What are some of your future goals?
I’d like to continue on with Best Western as long as I feel I’m making a difference and an impact. My goal is to help take this iconic brand to the next level from a PR and marketing sense and help to highlight the evolution and transformation of Best Western.
I’d love to grab coffee with: Jimmy Fallon.
The books on my nightstand are: All political in nature. I love reading about political families, campaigns, elections and political strategy.
My favorite quote or saying is: “I’ve got this.”
My favorite place to travel is: Vancouver Island.
I can’t live without: My piano.
My favorite way to unwind is: Hanging out with friends and family.
I feel my best when: I wake up feeling inspired, and I go to sleep feeling accomplished.
“You want leaders with enthusiasm. It makes everyone’s job so much easier when you’ve got someone on your team with a positive outlook.”