What’s Brewing? with Natalie Conrad, Director of Marketing and Communications — Twin Cities Gateway

With stay-at-home orders, trav­el bans and social dis­tanc­ing guide­lines in place, it’s no sur­prise that the tourism and event indus­try took a hit dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. As we’ve come to see over the last 18 months, the pro­fes­sion­als in this space are noth­ing if not resilient, cre­ative and hard­work­ing. And their efforts are pay­ing off, as more and more trav­el­ers and event goers begin return­ing to their pre-pan­dem­ic habits.

Recent­ly we sat down to see what’s brew­ing with Natal­ie Con­rad, Direc­tor of Mar­ket­ing and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Twin Cities Gate­way, the area con­sist­ing of nine north­ern Twin Cities sub­urbs (Anoka, Blaine, Coon Rapids, Fri­d­ley, Ham Lake, Lino Lakes, Mounds View, New Brighton and Shore­view). We talked about the past 18 months, lessons she’s learned, what to expect this year in the Hal­loween Capi­tol of the World, and what keeps her fueled.

What have been some of the com­mu­ni­ca­tions chal­lenges or shifts you’ve had to make in the past 18 months and what have you learned? Has any­thing start­ed to shift back?

It has been incred­i­bly chal­leng­ing and inter­est­ing to work in the tourism indus­try through­out this pan­dem­ic. This tumul­tuous time taught me a lot about being adapt­able and kept me on my toes as we need­ed to con­stant­ly adjust our strat­e­gy and messaging.

As mar­ket­ing bud­gets were slashed and halt­ed left and right, it was espe­cial­ly impor­tant to be cre­ative and resource­ful I have real­ly enjoyed work­ing with local busi­ness­es that have found inven­tive ways to adapt and suc­ceed. It was a joy to high­light the many great busi­ness­es and attrac­tions right in our neigh­bor­hoods that so many of us didn’t know about or have the time to enjoy dur­ing pre-pan­dem­ic times.

Luck­i­ly, I have a lot of expe­ri­ence work­ing with lit­tle or no bud­get and many of the areas I’m high­ly skilled at and pas­sion­ate about don’t have a cost! With­out an adver­tis­ing bud­get, we shift­ed our time and efforts to writ­ing new con­tent and updat­ing or adapt­ing exist­ing con­tent and pro­mot­ing it via social media and earned media. This includ­ed doing more Face­book Live and Insta­gram Live videos at local busi­ness­es and attrac­tions, as well as work­ing with TV sta­tions to show­case those busi­ness­es and events via pre-record­ed Zoom inter­views, at home from my kitchen, or doing an entire inter­view ful­ly masked on-location.

Over the last few months, it has been a joy to see some­what of a return to the “new nor­mal.” We’ve been able to re-launch a lot of our paid mar­ket­ing efforts as well as try out new and excit­ing pro­grams. Plus, hav­ing the abil­i­ty to plan far­ther out and see our hotels and venues bring in more vis­i­tors and events has been a breath of fresh air. And for me, per­son­al­ly, it felt great to get the chance to return to in-stu­dio TV seg­ments again!

What do you love most about your job? What excites you about mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, espe­cial­ly with­in the tourism industry?

I love that there’s nev­er a dull moment! There’s so much vari­ety in the work that I do and there are so many oppor­tu­ni­ties to get cre­ative and try new things. It’s also very impor­tant to me to have a strong con­nec­tion to my com­mu­ni­ty. I real­ly enjoy build­ing rela­tion­ships with each of our mem­ber cities and the many great local busi­ness­es and attrac­tions through­out the area.

As a for­mer jour­nal­ist, I tru­ly val­ue the impor­tance and impact of sto­ry­telling. In the tourism indus­try, our job is to tell the sto­ries of our des­ti­na­tions. When I get to pro­mote an amaz­ing busi­ness, it’s such a mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial expe­ri­ence. The col­lab­o­ra­tion of work­ing togeth­er with a com­mon goal also excites me.

What have been some of the biggest hur­dles for bring­ing in-per­son events back and how have you (and event coor­di­na­tors through­out Twin Cities Gate­way) been encour­ag­ing peo­ple to come?

The ever-chang­ing man­dates and pro­to­cols paired with vary­ing vac­ci­na­tion sta­tus­es and com­fort lev­els, have made plan­ning events a chal­lenge, but it’s also been a tremen­dous learn­ing expe­ri­ence. We’re noth­ing if not adaptable!

Stay­ing informed has been cru­cial through­out this time, but this has brought to light that we must be more accom­mo­dat­ing to the dif­fer­ent needs and inter­ests of the pub­lic and offer many options. It’s also excit­ing how dig­i­tal options allow peo­ple to attend events that they nev­er would have been able to before.

This year is Anoka Halloween’s 101st cel­e­bra­tion. Last year’s 100th annu­al event wasn’t able to be ful­ly cel­e­brat­ed in-per­son due to COVID. What can peo­ple expect at this year’s festivities?

An incred­i­bly joy­ful and spooky cel­e­bra­tion for the ages! I mean there isn’t real­ly any bet­ter place to cel­e­brate Hal­loween than in the Hal­loween Cap­i­tal of the World! The annu­al cel­e­bra­tion is back in full force and all in per­son again.

All three parades are back, includ­ing the Light up the Night Parade, the Big Parade of Lit­tle Peo­ple, and the main event — the Grande Day Parade! And if the Anoka Coun­ty His­tor­i­cal Society’s Walk­ing Ghost Tours atten­dance (which sold out very quick­ly!) is any indi­ca­tion of what the atten­dance will be like at oth­er Anoka Hal­loween events, these events will be very busy!

The entire month of Octo­ber is non-stop Hal­loween fun in Anoka from the parades to the ghost tours and from the house dec­o­rat­ing con­test to the Gray Ghost 5K! There are so many fes­tive events that the whole fam­i­ly can enjoy and it’s so much fun to see the com­mu­ni­ty real­ly get into the spir­it too. For a full list of events, check out AnokaHalloween.com.

Last but not least, What’s Brew­ing for you? 

I love tea! So, I almost always have a cup of tea in the morn­ing and often sev­er­al through­out the day. My go-to favorites are Stash Tea’s black and green chai teas. Also, as a marathon run­ner and fit­ness enthu­si­ast, I’m always doing my best to stay hydrat­ed, so I like to add some more nutri­tion and hydra­tion to my water through­out the day with Nuun hydra­tion tablets, includ­ing lots of fun and fruity fla­vors like Gin­ger Lemon­ade, Straw­ber­ry Kiwi and Blue­ber­ry Pomegranate.

When it comes to the evening, it real­ly depends on what I have going on. If it’s a relax­ing night at home, I might have an herbal tea. I also real­ly enjoy try­ing dif­fer­ent local craft beers and ciders when­ev­er I can. A few of my favorites include Ful­ton Lone­ly Blonde, Social Cider Werks’ Free­wheel­er, Invic­tus Brewing’s Apple Ale, and real­ly any­thing light, refresh­ing and enjoyable!

1 Response
  1. Of course, the tourism and event indus­try took a hit dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. I think these two spheres of activ­i­ty were under pres­sure most of all. My moth­er is a trav­el agent and I know which dif­fi­cul­ties she was forced to face. I absolute­ly agree with Natal­ie Con­rad that It has been incred­i­bly chal­leng­ing and inter­est­ing to work in the tourism indus­try through­out this pan­dem­ic because there were a lot of obsta­cles which you had to over­come. Despite this fact, of course, it was a tri­al by fire to some extent and a huge expe­ri­ence which taught you some­thing new, mak­ing you stronger. It was real­ly impor­tant to stay afloat and search for new effec­tive meth­ods to do it. It is tru­ly won­der­ful that Natal­ie falls in love with her work and sees so many oppor­tu­ni­ties to ful­fill her cre­ative potential.

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