The Standard CCO Landis Smithers Takes Creative Risks to Deliver Memorable Hotel Experiences

Bringing a fresh outlook to an established brand

Landis Smithers, CCO at The Standard, talks about risk-taking to create innovative work. The Standard
Headshot of Nadine Dietz

Landis Smithers, chief creative officer of The Standard, knows a thing or two about bold creativity and innovation. Known for daring and disruptive stunts, including the recent “Ring Your Rep” campaign where guests could phone Congress from The Standard phone booths, The Standard is exploring unconventional ways to serve hotel guests. And as they prepare to go global, opening in London later this year, Landis and team are charged with honoring the heritage of the company—but with a refreshed perspective. Read on to see how Landis is taking creative risks and setting a new standard for hospitality.

Adweek: What current developments in marketing are most inspiring to you?
Landis Smithers: Marketing is a cumbersome industry that is slow to respond to cultural change. While we talk about innovators and new horizons, I honestly rarely see it executed in brands until the concepts or trends are firmly established and almost rote. If I have learned anything in my career, it is that by the time people are writing articles about it and brands are adopting things, they are already “safe.” And that is not how great work gets done.

I am inspired by people who take huge risks, who watch culture and involve instigators, who fly under the radar and reveal things once they are already in motion, by attitude more than intent. We have filtered our gut out of the equation to the point that most risk has an ROI, which is not how culture or flashpoints work.

"By the time people are writing articles about it and brands are adopting things, they are already 'safe.'"

I’m inspired by risk, by great creatives engaged with unexpected brands and by the embrace of cross-industry inventions. The means to distribute and inform the consumer will always evolve. The story is all that matters.

What innovations are you currently working on?
I am partnering with true innovators in their industries—all types of creatives and content creators—and giving them stages and platforms that they wouldn’t traditionally use to pursue their passions and stretch their skills. It is not always a one-for-one situation. … It is more about finding a place in our world where people would not expect them to create and doing it.

More specifically, we are looking at areas where we have strong experience and success and rebooting them as new business verticals. Brands shouldn’t limit themselves to one thing if they learn what their guests actually want.

We also recently launched The Lobby, a chat app designed to get hotel guests to spark a connection with each other and meet in real life. It was a mandate from our CEO [Amar Lalvani], who wanted to find a way to get people out of their rooms and talking to each other, the way hotel lobbies used to be. A chat app isn’t anything new, but a chat app that is limited to the geosense of where you’re staying and based on the concept of anonymity is. I’d already done that for a couple of years at Grindr, so the learnings informed it. What are the parameters and safety issues? But also, what are things that make it work? People want a sense of mystery and adventure, so the fewer bells and whistles you put into it, the more they’re forced to get out of the digital realm and into the real world.

"You have to have people better than you surrounding your ideas, and you have to let them do their thing. No one person can affect great change."

Tell us about the big learning moments you’ve had along your career path.
I’ve worked for advertising agencies, retail giants, directed television commercials, at a publishing legend, a packaged goods behemoth, a tech disruptor and now a hospitality trailblazer. The common thread? They all embraced change when they sought me out, and they all held my hand when we dove into new territory. I learned that you have to have people better than you surrounding your ideas, and you have to let them do their thing. No one person can affect great change. Not sustainably. So I seek out minds different from mine; I set a goal or a vision or a challenge, and I support them.

How do you pick and develop the talent on your team and ensure there is collaboration?
At some level, taste and creativity are not skills you learn. It is a version of old-world calling: You can’t deny it, and you are driven to do it. So I look for people who can demonstrate a balance of aspirational and accessible (after all, we live in a world where the balance between those is the constant push-pull), and at the same time provoke emotion or thought. In a culture that relies on sharing for validation, our biggest task is to create things that people feel first and share second.

As for collaboration, I tell everyone to stop worrying about credit and start worrying about how to make each idea bigger than yourself. We can all put it in our books in the end. I don’t care what you put on LinkedIn, just show me you can elevate your partner as much as yourself, and we will all get along fine. And we will probably succeed along the way. Funny how that works.

What one thing do you need from your CMO/leader to help you be successful?
Respect and trust. It’s been most successful when I’ve had that camaraderie where we’re in it together and we have to solve the problem. And similar to working in a team on innovation, you have to be able to trust that the person next to you can also come up with the idea, be creative and also strategic.

This story first appeared on Marketer Moves, an Adweek publication. Nadine Dietz is chief community officer at Adweek and host of the CMO Moves podcast.
Publish date: January 22, 2019 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT