Historic Side Gig: On-Air Reporting Provides Telia Butler Fulfillment and a Professional Edge

Telia Butler reports from Fountain Square Park in her hometown of Bowling Green, Ky.
Telia Butler reports from Fountain Square Park in her hometown of Bowling Green, Ky.

Telia Butler, who is the Marriott area director of sales for Anderson Hospitality Group in Bowling Green, Ky., started out planning a career in journalism. But she also loved history, and, as it turned out, once she was exposed to it, travel and tourism. As Butler explained to LODGING, she has been able to combine her compatible loves in a side gig as an independent freelance reporter for WNKY, researching, writing, and taping a weekly historical “Throwback Thursday” on-air segment for the SoKY Sunrise live morning news program.

How did you get into the hotel industry in the first place?

Like so many in the industry, I started out doing something completely different. When I was in high school and college, I was convinced that I was going to be a traveling journalist and write for magazines all over the world. I wound up graduating with degrees in print journalism and history from Western Kentucky University. After that, I took an internship in communications at Lost River Cave, which is one of Bowling Green’s oldest attractions—one that’s been around for well over 100 years. That association with a major tourist attraction marked my introduction to the tourism and hospitality worlds. In that position, I attended hotel association meetings with the director, visited attractions, and was otherwise exposed to a world that I didn’t even really know existed. I had just thought I was going to do social media and handle a little bit of marketing on the side at the Lost River Cave office, when in reality, I ended up falling in love with the hospitality industry.

What was the path from there that led to your current position?

My first job after that internship was with our city’s Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), where, as public relations director for five years, I was able to combine hospitality and communications. Given that I was already “selling” stories about our town’s attractions to the media as a PR director and was adept at relationship building and working with social media, the director of sales position I was offered three years ago was a great fit. This position involved actively selling the hotel to groups, conventions and meetings, and special events to generate revenue, and maintaining and building new relationships with corporate accounts to land market share. It also involved prospecting SMERF market segments, business, and leisure travel, as well as marketing and promoting hotel offers across social platforms (i.e., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) with new media. My recent promotion to Marriott area director of sales for Anderson Hospitality Group, in Bowling Green, requires proactively selling the Marriott brand hotels operated by Anderson Hospitality Group in Bowling Green: Courtyard Marriott Bowling Green, Fairfield Inn & Suites Bowling Green, and TownePlace Suites Bowling Green.

“I’m born and raised in Bowling Green, never lived anywhere else, and I never wanted to live anywhere else. So, if I can just share that passion with everyone along the way, then I’ve done it right.”

How did you get involved with Throwback Thursday?

I had developed all these media relationships locally and regionally with radio, TV, and all the newspapers and local magazines. At one point, the general manager of the NBC and CBS affiliate approached me about doing a historic weekly segment called “Throwback Thursday” for a morning news program they were launching. She “sold” me on the idea, saying, “Based on your history and journalism degrees, plus your experience with attractions, history, and CVB events, I think you could just pitch and script something for us every week.” We ended up working out a deal where I would not just research and script the segment, but would also schedule and be the onsite reporter for that one segment every week.

How do you balance that with what seems to be a very challenging day job?

I usually end up doing my research on Sundays, then on Monday or Tuesday, we record the audio. It’s like a mini documentary that’s two minutes long, with a voiceover from me sharing the story of wherever is being featured over a mix of video and photos. Occasionally, I will do a stand up to introduce where I am or sign off on-camera, so viewers can see my face. But it’s mainly a voiceover. Also, between my CVB experience and the hotel and the media experience, I already receive the news releases of all of the important events, anniversaries, and milestones, so it’s not that much extra work. I usually just go over it all on a Sunday afternoon, decide what to feature, and write the script, which I send it to the producer, general manager, and news director that day. They approve it within 24 hours, and I just run to the station and record the audio for it at some point that week. All segments are pre-recorded and shot in advance.

What are some ways your side gig and day job complement each other?

With Throwback Thursday, I can create a segment geared to a local event that brings in tourists, who, of course, need accommodations. For example, Bowling Green is known to be the home of the Corvette, the place where all the Corvettes in the world are made. We also have a drag strip called Beech Bend Raceway that’s been around since the 1950s. Between Beech Bend and the Corvette Museum, we see over 1.5 million visitors a year. This means there’s a ton of business, especially during the racing season from March to November, when there are major auto events, car races, and Corvette clubs having special events and anniversaries at the museum. Last summer was the 25th anniversary of the Corvette Museum’s opening, and they had over 5,000 Corvettes come to Bowling Green for an entire week—selling out hotels in the whole city. I was able to tell the Corvette Museum story in the Throwback Thursday piece and share that with the museum and also with the Corvette clubs that stayed at the hotel.

Similarly, we’re home to Holley Performance Products, RC Components, and Renegade Racing Fuel—which are these high-performance motorsports and power sports products for cars and motorcycles. So, in a Throwback Thursday, I told the story of how Holley Performance and RC Components came to Bowling Green, and shared that with these companies, who then sent them to their promoters who bring these events to town.

Most recently, we did a tie-in when the Corvette Museum was launching a new exhibit dedicated to Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, the father of Rat Fink, a mouse character launched as a kind of anti–Mickey Mouse in California back in the Sixties, when the era of custom cars was really kicking off, and when those 1955 Chevys were getting souped-up again after 10 years. I put together a historic piece on what California and Bowling Green, respectively, were doing in the Fifties, and tied in the Beech Bend drag strip aspect with those custom cars that people were bringing from California to race here at the time.

What do you like best about doing these pieces and what do you get out of it personally?

History and storytelling are my two passions. I love hosting people and showing them a great time in Bowling Green and telling the Bowling Green story. So, any time I can tell a new Bowling Green story to a new audience, I’m going to jump all over it. And I think what really helps me roll out the red carpet for so many of my guests and clients is that I truly love where I live. I’m born and raised in Bowling Green, never lived anywhere else, and I never wanted to live anywhere else. So, if I can just share that passion with everyone along the way, then I’ve done it right.

Do you have any advice to share based on what you’ve learned so far in your career?

I would tell people in my position to take full advantage of their resources in their CVB and attractions for both business and leisure travelers. Although my job now is focused more on business travel and corporate clients, not leisure travelers, we need to fill rooms on the weekend, too. So, my leisure experience on the CVB side is what really has helped out our hotels on the weekends. I think that a lot of hoteliers just focus so much on the business side that they forget there’s the other side of that coin.

Another thing I learned is to think beyond a specific event and view the entire calendar for opportunities to connect with event organizers, and build relationships whenever the opportunity presents. As I said, I love Bowling Green, but I’m not the only one. These people are coming to Bowling Green events not just because we have the facilities for it, but because they love the people and they love the experience they have both on and off the track just makes sense to reach out to them and maintain those relationships, rather than just waiting for them to call.


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