News & Views

Five Questions with DCI’s Digital and Creative Strategy Leadership

With the formal launch of DCI’s Digital and Creative Strategy Division, DCI has promoted two of its members to Senior Vice President. Susan Brake and Steve Duncan, both 15-year marketing veterans, will lead the firm’s already highly successful Digital and Creative Strategy services. While Brake oversees the division’s digital experiences, products, content and partnerships strategy, Duncan oversees the firm’s approach to analytics, search engine marketing, paid media strategy and implementation, and lead generation. After working for more than ten years together, Brake and Duncan not only partner well but are constantly pushing each other to learn more and elevate destination marketing.

Julie Curtin, President of DCI’s Economic Development practice confirmed, “Their strong background in strategy, lead generation, place marketing and cooperative innovation will benefit our clients as we escalate our digital transformation efforts during this critical time.”

With the formal launch of the Digital and Creative Strategy Division, we wanted to tap into both Brake and Duncan’s expertise and thoughts on the current state of digital marketing for cities, states, and countries as well as their opinion on what the future might hold.

How has digital marketing for cities, states and countries changed the most in the last three years?

Susan Brake: I don’t think digital marketing has changed; I believe what has changed is the mentality surrounding the importance of leveraging digital marketing strategy to drive results. Marketers have always known that digital is one of the most efficient ways to establish a sense of place when someone isn’t in destination and also engage with key audiences when they are on the ground. This message has historically been a hard sell to senior leaders who, while focused on returns perceived digital as people just chatting on Facebook. I knew a shift was in the works when I had coffee with an industry CEO and he was discussing how his Board told him his job was to change the online reputation of their city to help attract visitors, workers and corporate executives. “How do I even go about addressing this,” he asked me. “Through digital marketing, of course.” It was eye opening then, but now these conversations are ones we’re having daily with CEOs and their senior leaders.

Steve Duncan: The sophistication of data sets and targeting strategies has come so far and is still advancing at such a fast pace. Most importantly, the capacity for DMOs and EDOs to understand them and the appetite for utilizing them has been exciting to see.


From your experience, how are communities using digital tools differently to attract investment, talent or visitors? 

Susan Brake: We work with some brilliant folks and the ones who are the most inspiring don’t focus on the tools, but on the strategy to guide their efforts. They start first with a baseline understanding of how they are perceived online, what topics are driving traffic to their site, what topics should be driving traffic to their site and then they work to create content and creators to help them tell these stories in a way that is intuitive to understand and easy to digest. Content comes in all formats and is distributed across different channels, but the heart of successful programs really comes in answering the needs and questions of your key audiences and then looking at the actions that content inspired. Did someone download a visitor’s guide or industry profile, request a meeting, call, search for a job, book a hotel? From there you start to see how digital efforts are helping drive those results that CEOs and their boards desire.

Steve Duncan: There is a thirst for pushing the envelope further and further to get in front of the right audience, however niche it may be. This is what I love about digital marketing so much—you can push the envelope, because the tools and techniques are there to do it.


What is the “next big thing” as it relates to place marketing on digital platforms?

Susan Brake: I’m definitely intrigued by artificial intelligence and how we can leverage the data insights to guide our efforts to find businesses that are in expansion mode, help visitors plan their dream vacation and match job candidates with their perfect company and location. With that said, what really fascinates me is Gen Z and how they are going to change the way we communicate over digital platforms. This generation is incredibly clever and tech-savvy. Teenagers will rule the world and I don’t know how to keep up with them, but I’m going to enjoy watching what transformation they bring to our industry.  

Steve Duncan: I find many A.I. tools to be quite underwhelming right now, but as data and technology improves, there is a lot of promise here for future innovation and predicting both consumer and business intent.


What aspect of place marketing have you been most surprised by in the last three years as you have led the development of DCI’s digital, brand and creative strategy division?

Susan Brake: I’ve been delighted by the collaboration I’m seeing between EDOs and DMOs to join together and create a sense of place for all audiences, especially when it comes to talent since we know today’s visitor is tomorrow’s worker.

Steve Duncan: The depth of the analytics that we can track is incredible. There are so many rabbit holes to go down, it’s intimidating, exciting and exhausting all at the same time. And I’m so glad we’ve gone down this path, because it’s making all of us in the travel and economic development industries smarter.


What is your “go to” source for inspiration?

Susan Brake: I don’t have a go-to-source; but I do follow certain topics of interest on LinkedIn (marketing, digital marketing, social media, influencer marketing… you get the gist) and I always gravitate towards stories in national publications that highlight how global brands are adapting their marketing strategies. From there I look and see how we might apply these lessons to our own efforts.

Steve Duncan: I love seeing how other brands and marketers in industries outside our own get things done, and then try to figure out how to make it happen within our context. Like getting your best ideas while on a run or bike ride rather than at the desk you sit at every day, it’s easy to be sucked into the two-dimensional plane of your own industry; inspiring ideas often come from looking at the different angles elsewhere.

Written By

Liz Groeschen

Liz Groeschen is DCI’s Senior Manager of Content and Social Media. Since joining DCI in 2019, Liz has strategized and overseen content for a diverse set of clients, including the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency, Baton Rouge Film Collective, and Great Falls Development Authority.

More Articles by Liz Groeschen

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