Remembering one of the best marketers in hospitality this Father’s Day

Karen Fewell, Friday June 19, 2020

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Father’s Day was always a day for celebration growing up in the Fewell household. Dad worked incredibly hard and was often working away so it was a time we all came together and spent it as a family with cards, presents and a family meal. He always knew how much we loved him but on this day each year, that love was truly celebrated. 

With last year being the first Father’s Day since he passed away, I found it really raw and difficult. I am sure this year will feel the same but by writing this blog I want to celebrate his amazing work and the types of people he helped my sisters and I to become. The difficulties over the last few months have made us miss him even more as we know he would have been one of the people to guide us all through it. Thankfully mum has been his guiding voice and so many times I’ve heard her tell me “You know what your dad would say; when one door closes another door opens.”  

Those first few weeks when Covid19 really hit the UK, I constantly wished I could talk to dad to find out what I should do and learn how he would approach the challenging situation we faced as a small business. It was almost like I could hear him saying some of his famous words of wisdom and this helped so much and kick-started some of the things I’ve done to make sure we survive this crisis.

For anyone else who has found or is still finding things challenging right now, which I know at times is many of us, I wanted to share some of those important lessons he taught me with you all. 

  1. Before I even considered setting up my own business, dad was always telling me I should. He really believed in my ability and knowing I had his backing gave me the confidence to go for it. I remember after I made the decision to start Digital Blonde him asking me “what is the most important thing for running a successful business?” “Customer service”, “good clients”, “standing out from the crowd” were all things I suggested. His answer was simple “cashflow”. Never have I been more grateful to this piece of advice than I was during that awful week in March when hospitality began to face such uncertainty. 

  2. “Don’t upset anyone on the way up as you never know when you may need them on the way down” was another familiar saying. My grandpa and dad both shared this advice throughout their lives and it stuck with me. I want to be known for how I’ve helped the industry during my career and most importantly during 2020. I remember telling a few worried clients at the start of the crisis how “we’re all in this together” and I hope I’ve already helped some hospitality businesses to come out the other side stronger. 

  3. Nicola worked directly for dad and used to go to all his meetings with him. It made me smile when she told me that en route to every meeting dad would ask her “what’s the objective of today?” This was to ensure that every meeting was focused and if the objective wasn’t achieved they would evaluate why on the way home. Setting objectives and evaluating success or failure is one of the most important and first marketing lessons I ever learnt. 

  4. Dad faced so many health challenges in the later years of his life but his positivity and humour never failed to impress me. When many people would give up, adversity just made dad even more determined. I’ll be honest, both Nicola and I did have a week of tears during March as we worried about the future, but when we talked one emotional morning about what dad would do, that all changed. From the next morning we had a daily 9.15am call known as “Positive Pants”. This was our time to help each other to see the good things and remind ourselves the situation wouldn’t last forever. On another day in March, I knew a few clients were struggling so I brought humour to the call and sat on Zoom wearing silly hats to make them smile. It was something so tiny but dad used to talk to us about how you could change a situation by simply switching your attitude. It really does work!

  5. Dad absolutely adored his grandchildren and I know how much he would be worrying about the impact that Coronavirus will have on their future, but he taught us to all stick together and that family comes first. Thankfully, dad was at the centre of a wonderful family who have all come together for those grandchildren. At 2.30pm on a school day, my mum, sisters, cousins, auntie and uncle have logged into Zoom and taken it in turns to host a lesson for the children. We’ve had growing with grandma, art with Auntie Kim, French with my dad’s cousin Jane who lives in France, English lessons with my cousin David, science with Uncle Rod, and I taught them how to make fresh pasta! The children have even done lessons for the grown-ups. I’ve lost count of the number of times one of us has said how much dad would love this and I can just imagine how much more he could have taught us all during this time. We’ve even continued his love of games and we have had some fun competitions together during the school holidays to keep the children happy and engaged. Family, health and happiness really is what has got us through the last three months.

  6. “People buy people” is another lesson I’ve remembered throughout lockdown. I have put on my make-up, done my hair and put myself in front of the video camera to share a piece of advice with the industry or simply talk about how I am feeling. This hasn’t always been easy if I’ve found the day particularly tough but I want people to see the real me and know that there are people out there to help. I actually watched some of my early videos back a few days ago and you could see the worry and emotion in my face but I was being honest and real and hopefully this struck a chord with others.  

  7. It’s no secret how much dad loved the hospitality industry; anyone who met him or heard about his about his work knew that. He won five Cateys during his career and numerous lifetime achievement awards which he was so incredibly proud of. During lockdown I’ve gone above and beyond to help my clients and ensure they feel supported. I’ve supported charities such as Hospitality Action and run free webinars for the industry every month. This is because I love hospitality as much as dad did and know that working together, we can all come out of this stronger than ever. 

  8. Something else dad taught me was the importance of innovation and being able to meet the needs of clients in any given climate. This may mean adapting your services very quickly. Since March I’ve added a number of new services to the Digital Blonde offering. This includes webinar hosting and a range of new training courses such as how to hold a sales meeting online, how to record sales videos at home and maximising your LinkedIn profile. I’ve helped clients to re-write entire marketing plans, advised on websites and app technology and even turned around full campaigns in a week. Dad would be so impressed with the innovation and creativity coming out the industry right now. 

  9. When things were a little quiet in dad’s business he never panicked. He always told us how he would just pick up in the phone and start making some phone calls with his old contacts. At the start of March, I was faced with one of the busiest months we’d ever had but as uncertainty hit the industry it was like a snowball effect on those of us who supply to hospitality. I did the modern-day version of dad’s method and even before lockdown, I had teamed up with Premier Foods to host a weekly coffee and chat for the hospitality industry. This has been fantastic for making new connections and friends and we now have a WhatsApp group we regularly contribute to and share inspiration with each other. 

  10. Dad will be remembered by most people as an accessibility champion and he taught us everything we know about this important subject. I’ve been proud to take his place as a Cateys judge and loved chatting to the rest of the experts during the online judging in April. One of our aims for when hospitality bounces back is to continue dad’s incredible legacy in championing accessibility in hospitality. Before this crisis we had already begun to develop his AccessChamp training and as soon as the industry is ready we’ll be making sure that hotels have our support in looking after disabled guests. Making sure those guests feel safe is going to be more important than ever.  

  11. I often wonder what dad would think about how hospitality has reacted during this crisis and I know there are certain organisations and people he would be raving about right now. One of those is Hospitality Action. It’s funny as I can almost hear him telling me what an incredible job Mark Lewis has done to help when the industry needed it most. At dad’s funeral, Mark described Dad as “a gentle man and a gentleman” and I think everyone agrees that very few people have shown as much compassion as Mark in recent months. Another organisation he’d be praising is the Institute of Hospitality of which he was a Fellow. They have offered more support than ever, not only to their membership base, but also to non-members in their mission to help the industry survive this crisis. Dad’s work ethic taught me that how you behave in a crisis is how you will be remembered after it and so it’s been important for us to remain calm, professional, empathetic and helpful.

I could have continued with the advice he shared and it may seem a little odd to stop on eleven words of wisdom, however something else I remember him telling me is when writing articles like this stop on an odd number as it makes it even more memorable. 

No words will ever be able to sum up how much dad meant to me or how much I miss him, but he’s left such an important legacy behind, especially my love of hospitality. I really hope that if he is looking down on us right now, he’s proud of what we have achieved during lockdown and how we’ve all coped.  

Happy Father’s Day dad. You are missed now more than ever. xx

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