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This is Capitalism: Up Close, Inspired, Explained

Aug 16, 2017

Sandy Hillman has been burnishing her reputation as one of the nation’s top communications professionals for over three decades. Her Baltimore-based firm helps speak for brands such as Under Armour, Caesars Entertainment, and Walmart, but Sandy Hillman is even better known in the world of travel and tourism for her efforts in attracting visitors to major cities that didn’t use to attract many tourists. Time Magazine called her the Impresario of Urban America. As Executive Director of Baltimore’s Office of Promotion and Tourism, she was one of the key players in the dramatic revitalization of Baltimore in the 1970s and early ‘80s. There was Baltimore’s legendary four-term mayor, William Donald Schaefer, who was the most important player, there was A. N. Pritzker, the patriarch of the Hyatt Hotel family, there was James Rouse, whose Rouse Company built the Harborplace development, and there was Sandy Hillman. Tune in for Sandy’s success story.


Key Takeaways:

[1:20] At the time Harborplace was done, most cities had not figured out how to take advantage of their industrial waterfronts. With the success of Baltimore’s Harborplace, other cities called on Sandy for help. She went into private practice in 1984. She worked with builder James Rouse on some of her projects.

[1:56] As Sandy consulted with cities, her best idea was that a public-private partnership structure was needed within city government, to make sure that developments happen, take hold, and are sustained. Most cities had not organized for partnership. They had a convention and visitors bureau, but no organization to promote tourism.

[2:36] You need an organized infrastructure in place in every city, to properly build for tourism. Part of Mayor Schaefer’s genius was in understanding this and creating a marketing organization.

[2:59] Sandy left city employment to join an advertising and PR firm. It grew from 25 to 140 employees, and Sandy became the CEO. Ten years ago, she decided she didn’t want to run a big organization, and she started Sandy Hillman Communications as a 12-person boutique operation. They do only communications for organizations they select.

[3:43] Sandy Hillman Communications has an impressive roster of clients. Sandy explains how they came to represent the Star-Spangled Spectacular Baltimore, what the event was, and what they did for Baltimore and Fort McHenry tourism. Many of Sandy’s clients are museums. She discusses the National WWII Museum.

[5:34] Developments are dependent on leadership understanding of how to access capital, and use it to meet the goals of the particular program.

[5:51] The WWII Museum was one of Sandy’s favorite clients to promote, based on the impact of the exhibits. For commercial work, Sandy cites Under Armour and Zico as admired clients.

[6:49] Sandy talks about hubris at the top of a corporation leading to lack of communication within the organization. She sees it as a lack of understanding of what drives the business. Leadership does not connect with people below the C-suite, so there is a communication problem. Sandy loves internal communications for mergers.

[8:45] Sandy gives Under Armour as an example of a company that gets the importance of culture and internal communication. She discusses Harrah’s acquisition of Caesars and the importance of communication throughout the process.

[9:53] The SEC allowed Harrah’s and Caesars to begin the communication effort in advance of the final signing of the deal. This was really important. Thousands of people had to know that the coming together of these two companies was not going to negatively affect them. The CEO of Harrah’s visited every property to meet with the staff.

[10:41] Sandy talks about representing the airline industry, and the Air Travel Card. All industries are complicated, but they’re all about people at the end of the day.

[11:18] Sandy is the first woman to be labeled a distinguished alumnus of Penn State. Sandy has been a working mother for almost 50 years. She runs her business in a way that recognizes women.

[12:12] Sandy believes that women lead differently. She discusses her thoughts on this, and research on male and female brains of executives.

[12:55] Ray Hoffman gives details from a 2013 Harvard Business Review article on the University of California, Irvine study Sandy cited, on how men’s and women’s brains seem to be configured differently, leading to different styles of information processing.


Mentioned in This Episode:

Sandy Hillman Communications


Star Spangled Spectacular 2014

The National WWII Museum

Under Armour


Caesars Entertainment

“How Women Decide,” by Cathy Benko and Bill Pelster, Harvard Business Review


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