Some companies use misleading marketing strategies to appear more environmentally friendly. For the ones that actually “walk the talk”, how do they separate their brand from this practice? One way is through setting ethical marketing guidelines.
Some companies use misleading marketing strategies to appear more environmentally friendly. For the ones that actually “walk the talk”, how do they separate their brand from this practice? One way is through setting ethical marketing guidelines.
Mikey Sadowski is the GM (VP equivalent in North America) of Global PR and Communications at Intrepid Travel, the largest adventure travel company with 25 offices around the world, and networks with 28 destination management companies (DMCs). Intrepid Travel is also the largest travel B Corp that offers sustainable, experience-rich travel, prioritizes purpose over profit, sets ethical marketing guidelines, and has a not-to-profit foundation.
In this episode, Cory and Mikey talk about intentional allyship and inclusivity in travel and marketing, along with the philosophy, strategy, and marketing of purpose-driven brands in a world of greenwashing and impact washing. Mikey shares how people and brands, like Intrepid, work together to achieve their goals to grow, develop, protect, and maintain a strong public image by showing authenticity, setting ethical marketing standards, and doing simple and impactful work.
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Cory Ames 0:00
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Mikey Sadowski 0:59
I think ethical marketing is a mindset more than anything. It's about being an inclusive voice to all consumers of all genders, of all races of all beliefs of all walks of life. And then from there, as you know, as the social conversation moves forward as the, you know, the world changes and certain laws are passed that restrict people from doing certain things and wars break out and disasters happen and the climate crisis becomes even more pressing, that framework of ethics still remains the same. But obviously, the need for brands to show up and be better and a lot of different areas will change based on the conversation of the, kind of, modern day.
Cory Ames 1:35
Hey, y'all, it's Cory here with the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast. As always so grateful to have you listening in. Today we are dissecting ethical marketing, and in particular, in the travel industry. And to do so I'm speaking with Mikey Sadowski, the VP of global PR and communications for Intrepid Travel, a purpose driven tour operator that is both the world's largest adventure travel company and travel B Corporation. Mikey's involved in shaping the brand's global positioning, their advocacy and communications. As a leader in responsible travel, Intrepid actually devised a set of ethical marketing guidelines back in 2021. And it's exactly this that Mikey and I dive deep into today. We also speak more broadly about philosophy and strategy and marketing purpose driven brands in this world of greenwashing and impact washing. Mikey is a professional with a skill set, who has clearly developed a strong and articulate sense of opinions and beliefs behind the work that they do. So this is a really wonderful conversation. I am excited for you to listen in. But before we dive in, I want to invite you to sign up for our Better World Weekly newsletter. This is the weekly newsletter that I write, publish myself, every single Monday. We now have over 6100 change makers and innovators from all sectors all over the globe getting this email in their inbox every single Monday. Go to growensemble.com backslash newsletter to get the next Better World Weekly in your inbox this next Monday. That's growensemble.com backslash newsletter. Alright y'all. Without further ado, here is Mikey Sadowski from Intrepid Travel.
Mikey Sadowski 3:42
Thanks for having me, Cory. So yeah, my name is Mikey Sadowski. I'm the GM of global PR and communications for Intrepid Travel. Intrepid Travel is the world's largest adventure travel company, and also the world's largest travel B Corp. We run about 1000 tours in 100 plus countries on all seven continents, really focused on getting our travelers under the skin of a destination, really seeing a place through a more local lens. And really doing that by kind of prioritizing purpose over profit from a business point of view. So my role specifically focuses on kind of the - I like to say the intersection of the words and the work. I'm responsible for a lot of what people see in the public space of Intrepid so all of our social media, public relations and corporate communications, and really ensuring that we tell a succinct and impactful brand story.
Cory Ames 4:29
Excellent. Well, and there's a lot in there that we'll get into and Mikey, thanks so much for taking the time. But first, I'm curious: you may or may not be aware, but you're nearing I think maybe 10 years with Intrepid here. What's that feeling like for you? Is it something that you're consciously thinking about to be about a decade in this work?
Mikey Sadowski 4:48
Yeah, absolutely. So we just– it was actually my, I guess, April of this year was my nine year anniversary at Intrepid and it definitely was a little bit of a reflection period. My team just kind of made me aware of that and some little, kind of gifts internally and it's amazing the kind of progression I've been able to see. I mean, my journey to Intrepid was quite non traditional, I would say. I used to– I started my career working in luxury hotels. I was kind of Grand Budapest Hotel concierge five star hotel, wore a suit every day, clean shaven. I really thought I was going to take over the luxury hotel world and become a great hotelier. And I went on an Intrepid trip about 11 years ago, and was kind of like, whoa, like this is, you know, always how I identified as travel personally, but I never knew there was a professional application for it. And I was so kind of inspired and stoked by the work. I was actually there studying sustainable tourism, I was doing a paper on sustainability and community based tourism. So it was kind of, you know, actually seeing Intrepid through a very kind of research and analytical lens. And I came back to the Toronto office, and I was like, “Hey, guys, this is awesome. I love your company. I'd love to work here.” And they're like, “Oh, well, guess what, there's an entry level marketing job, you can apply for it.” And I was like, “Oh, my god this is the greatest.” And so I applied, and then I didn't get it. And they didn't call me and I called them and I was like, I was like, come on, like, you know, I came to the office, we had a moment everyone was so stoked. And they were just like, “Yeah, no, it was great chat, but you just don't have any marketing experience.” I was like, little detail. So I asked to intern for the marketing coordinator. So the lowest person in the business, and I was the intern, unpaid intern, working under that person. So I did that for a few months.
Luckily, an opportunity opened up shortly after and I'd kind of been interviewing effectively, got my foot in the door and was just kind of like, you know, a bunch of like, you know, amazing opportunities that spiraled from there. I was able to– I remember putting a PowerPoint presentation together called Why Intrepid Travel Should Have an Instagram Account, and I presented it. And they were like, “Okay, you could start the Instagram, let us know if this thing takes off.” And, you know, luckily, Instagram did take off and, and then you know, a year later, we got a call on our phone from a journalist in the New York Times, he was working on this amazing investigative piece. And he wanted to go on a trip. And I had no idea what the New York Times was or what that meant. And I ended up working with this guy for seven months until he published a 2000 word print feature about Intrepid in the New York Times, and everyone was like, “How the heck did you do that?” And I was like, “honestly, I'm not really sure.” And they were like, “Well, why don't you do it again, and you can try doing more PR.” So you know, I took our PR program from 60 stories a year to 60 stories a month. And now we're pushing, you know, up to 3000 stories a year, and just a lot of things where it was just like honestly getting to grow. And I think just thinking completely differently about traditional PR, traditional social media and doing it through a lens of passion first really, really helped. Because I wasn't here trying to like sell people on something I didn't believe in or tell a story about something that I personally didn't have an abundance of stories about. So it all just felt like a very natural progression. And, you know, looking at that from a, you know, 10 year mark, for me, and I tell this to my team all the time. It's not really about how long you're in one place. It's more about, are you continuing to grow every day? Are you continuing to learn every day? And are you continuing to be excited to wake up every morning and do what you do? And as long as that's your guiding light. And you can find that at one place. That's, you know, quite a blessing. And I think rare these days.
Cory Ames 7:56
Wow, I really love that story. I think first I'm really interested in what do you feel like it was about that trip that you took that put, maybe into words, so to speak, feelings that you had about travel or tourism that maybe hadn't been exactly articulated that way for you before? Like, what about that particular experience? And where was it? What was the trip?
Mikey Sadowski 8:21
Yeah, so it was in Peru. It was two weeks in Peru. It was like all encompassing. You know, we went to the Amazon jungle, we stayed in the rainforest. You know, there was this, you know, we say this amazing, amazing community lodge, which Intrepid still stays at today. And there's this, there's one hour during the day, where it's kind of like the it's almost like the siesta equivalent where the resort kind of puts on pause. And I’d kind of gotten word from one of the hotel staff that the hotel staff use that hour to go– they built a soccer pitch in the middle of the Amazon, and they go and play there for an hour during the middle of the day. And I asked him if I could come and he was like, yeah, yeah, sure. So I borrowed my friend's soccer shoes, because I just had hiking boots at the time. And sure enough, like one o'clock the next day, he just comes and grabs me, we all sprint, you know, half a half a mile into the Amazon jungle. And this beautiful soccer pitch appears and we just played soccer for an hour and all of these things, these moments and all this stuff that, you know, I came to learn was like, I could expect out of a travel experience, and all these little unplanned moments that turned out to be the most memorable.
You know, up until that time, my perception of travel was you know, going into Lake Placid with my parents and staying at the Holiday Inn and you know, asking for $1 to go down to the vending machine to get a Twix bar or something like that. And you know, going into these little beach towns and things like that and stuff. That was all amazing, but, you know, going then into Peru and being like, oh my gosh, like this food is incredible, It's nothing like I've ever had. These people and all these things. It's just like, was such a sensory overload. And I kind of for me, I was like, you know, this is really what I think travel is - it's like this, this and I can hold my travels and my adventures and you know, my two weeks a year that you know, most people get for vacation, I can hold it to a much higher standard and then these experiences do exist. So it was, once it was in Peru, it was like, Oh my gosh, like, Where else does this exist? And you know, then you kind of opened the door to the whole world, and it becomes quite an inspiring pursuit.
Cory Ames 10:09
And where did the overlap with the sustainability and perhaps responsibility come in for you personally? Like, why were you interested at that time to study sustainable tourism? What brought you into that field of interest?
Mikey Sadowski 10:27
It was always kind of something that I had, like, it was a value system I kind of grew up with like, both like through family and religion and things like that, always just this idea of like, you know, leaving the world a little bit better than you found it and being an active member of your community. And, you know, that manifests into many things over time. In university, my brother and I had a little not for profit called Running On Empty, where we would go collect empty beer bottles from all of our degenerate friends and filter them into a program that would supply meals for kids before school who couldn’t afford meals, and always just things like that. And then when I got into university, you know, there was a path within my program of tourism that focused specifically on sustainability. And there were two professors, Dr. Rachel Dodds, and Dr. Sonya Gracia, who were incredible mentors to me in terms of like, understanding that, like, there was this incredible paradox of tourism that like, if you love all of these places in the world, and all of these amazing destinations, you actually have this really incredibly intense obligation to make sure that we're preserving them for future generations. There's not an industry that quite depends on the natural environment the same way that travel does, because we're, quite literally, the product is the place.
So for me, going through school was always kind of that idea of, I need to create this lens of regeneration of sustainability of preservation within anything that I do. And, you know, in previous jobs, I, you know, I remember - even at that hotel, I was like, “Can I,” (we get our apples from New Zealand to Ontario and Canada has got the most abundance of apples), “Can we just get them locally from here?” And they're like, “oh, no, it's too expensive to do it that way.” And you could just kind of tell that there was a mindset shift. And I was like, these are not value alignments for me if I can't even make that little tiny change here. So I really wanted to make sure that what I was doing would be contributing to that overall mission. And that was a really exciting thing about Intrepid as well, because it was, it was always - you can tell it wasn't just about, you know, the singular bottom line of profit, it was so much more about this company is actually existing to make a much bigger impact beyond the actual profit of the owners.
Cory Ames 12:24
And I think this might segue nicely into what might be the bulk of our chat here related to the marketing conversation. I'm wondering how does all that that you just shared right there, then, start to connect to the work of marketing for you? I think in some realms, marketing might be a dirty word just for, you know, I mean, I'm a marketer myself by trade so we're, you know, we're both here in this skill set, but I'm curious how has that made sense for you in the skill set that you've continued to hone the marketing and communications realm? With Intrepid it, was it the position that was available from the very beginning and one thing kind of you know, become a lead into another? Or was that really the core of what you wanted to focus on in unifying your skill set?
Mikey Sadowski 13:13
I think for me, it really came down to finding my, not even niche, but passion and storytelling and finding that Intrepid was such a story rich business. And I think that was such an amazing thing. It felt like a very natural thing, and almost like a privilege on some level to be able to unearth these stories and then tell them like what I quickly realized this was something that I could kind of disproportionately impact was this kind of concept of internal journalism that we talk a lot about. And there's so much happening behind the scenes that Intrepid you know, we have 25 offices around the world, we have hundreds and hundreds of employees on essentially five different continents. So you know, the ability to kind of mine for all of these stories and talk to all the GMs and talk to all the people, you start to meet these people, they become friends and you become invested in their story and their life and it's a really amazing thing. And then for us, it's just about taking that and turning it into something that the customer then sees and then our travelers see and getting them just as excited to see the world with Intrepid as everyone kind of here is. And I think that was also something where marketing at Intrepid never felt so hard, per se, because it was an experience that I had and I was like, “Holy - more people need to learn about this, more people need to find their Peru and have that transformative experience.” So that’s kind of how I frame that's what marketing is, it's getting people as stoked to travel Intrepid as I was, it all became very, very natural from there and we're very lucky that Intrepid does a lot of the work and there's such a rich and amazing product and purpose story behind it that then translating that into marketing becomes very authentic and you're not grasping at straws to find something for people to care about because there's so many things for them to care about.
Cory Ames 14:53
I’m with you 100% on that. When marketing feels, perhaps a bit hollow and very tactic driven, then it might not be done in the right way. You know, it's very intuitive and easy if there's a lot of substance to what it is that you are marketing, you know, and what exactly, as you describe it, there that experience of like, this is something that you feel so stoked and just excited about, like, why don't more people know about this? And then, too, it's like, how can I get more people to know about this and feel about it the way in which I can? So I'm with you. And that's how I really like to reflect on and feel about my work in marketing too. A very interesting thing that y'all have done at Intrepid as of late is institute an actual set of ethical marketing guidelines. And this very much so the reason why I wanted to have this chat with you, Mikey. So I'm curious if you could open up for us, very briefly, like what, why, and I think y'all started this officially or launched this officially in 2021. Why did this feel so appropriate or applicable to start this initiative in the very first place anyways?
Mikey Sadowski 16:08
Yeah, so Intrepid’s ethical marketing guidelines launched in 2021. And there was a ton of work and context and things behind it; it was probably kind of a year in development. And I guess I can kind of provide a little context into the why, and then kind of how it all manifested. Because ultimately, there were kind of three big motivators. And I guess, the overall environment that we're all playing in as marketers right now, and not even you know, travel certainly is, you know, there's such an abundance of information and such an abundance of greenwashing and impact washing and things like that. And everyone's sustainable, and everyone's the best, and everyone's doing all these things. And it's really, really hard - increasingly hard - for customers to really understand who's genuine and who's not. And beyond that, it's even more important for brands to be genuinely accountable for their words. So, for us, when it came to specifically diversity, equity and inclusion, we felt it was an area that we were not kind of as strong. And as we've been in other areas of sustainability. You know, we really pride ourselves on trying to be the best travel company for the world and acknowledged that we can't be the best travel company for the world without being a genuine voice and being genuinely representative of everyone in the world.
So we kind of started on the back end of doing a rebrand. And we were kind of going to rebrand during the pandemic and usher in a new future for Intrepid. And we made one very small but important tweak in our vision behind the scenes for our vision, which was change the way we see the world. And then we kind of made the tweak to change the way we all see the world as a very, very nod to a more kind of inclusivity of everyone and we're all kind of in this together. So I guess it would have been in the summer of 2020, going back to kind of the original question, and there was this really, you know, it all kind of came to a head, the Black Lives movement in America. And there was a lot of brands and people and everyone was posting kind of black squares and just you know, showing up, it felt very performative and a lot of levels of impact washing. And it was really good that people were rallying around this conversation, but the idea was what happens tomorrow back to my regular schedule, feed and programming. And we were just like, we're not going to participate in this unless we can actually, you know, come to the table and fix it and fix the systems of inequality that exist within our business and do the work. And that was one thing that me and my role was, always kind of underpinning everything we do is never letting the words in the work get too far apart. And we're kind of very, very disciplined on that. And it's kind of how we set up our entire team internally.
So in summer of 2020 is when we started developing these ethical marketing guidelines. Supporting the Black Lives Matter movement with genuine ally ship and accountability for our commitments and actions was definitely one of the big motivating factors behind it. At the same time, we were approaching our recertification as B Corp. We became the world's largest travel B Corp in 2018 and you have to recertify every three years. A company like Intrepid, our certification process is not quick. Our recertification process is not quick, it took us three years to originally certify. So we were well into our recertification at that point. So going through that, looking at areas that we can improve on in the business, definitely one of them that we felt that we could be a lot stronger in was within our customer category and marketing. And actually developing a policy around inclusive marketing we know would be very helpful as we continued to progress as a B Corp. And then the third thing was really around tackling the climate crisis. And you know, a year earlier I had brought on a full time Environmental Impact Manager, our climate scientist Dr. Susanne Etti, who leads a lot of our decarbonisation work, and the conversations really are increasingly getting to a point of acknowledging the intersections of the climate crisis and the intersections of sustainability.
We can't just look at it through the environmental lens, and things like gender, gender equality, and things like diversity and racial inclusivity and things like that, and social justice, are all very much intertwined to the climate conversation. So kind of those three things together started developing our ethical marketing guidelines. So we essentially tapped the shoulders of six external consultants and got to work developing our ethical guidelines, and there was essentially three motivators behind it. What actions can we take as a company to become a more inclusive brand? How can we actually tangibly publicly measure the success of those actions? And then what tools can we provide our marketers and the marketers at Intrepid to actually deliver on those actions? So that was kind of the framework of the project. And then for six months, we started developing a framework around commitments, actions and measurements around diversity, equity and inclusion, openness and transparency, the rejection of neocolonialism, a sense of belonging, and ethical, digital marketing, and those kind of five things really formed the pillars of our ethical marketing guidelines.
Cory Ames 20:49
And I'd love to get a bit more specific on those pillars as to what they look like. But first, I guess, what maybe it was layered in through what you just just shared there. In the three focuses you had, but what were the greatest challenges and actually kind of bringing those to some sort of finished product?
Mikey Sadowski 21:11
I think it's not even the problem, but the scope of the opportunity, I would almost say is, you know, to be genuinely inclusive, and to be, you know, a true ally to all marginalized communities and groups can be such a massive undertaking. I think that's probably what stops a lot of people from trying, you know. Once we started, you know, okay, how do we show up better for the black travel community? How about the Asian travel community, the Latinx community, plus size, you know, all different LGBTQ plus? Like, it kind of starts, then starts going into, you know, physical disabilities and mobility issues, and how can we actually do that within our product. So it's kind of this idea that I like to be truly inclusive to every single marginalized community is a task that's going to take a long time, and there's so much progress, like work for us to do. And I think that was kind of the mountain that it felt like at the beginning was really hard. But we kind of, you know, at some point just acknowledged progress over perfection. And we have to just start somewhere, and we have to have these conversations. And the best thing that we can possibly do is work through this openly. And at no point pretend that this is the finish line. And at no point, pretend that this is perfect.
And so one of the big things that we set up as part of this process was an email address called accountability@IntrepidTravel.com. And it's peppered all over the ethical marketing guidelines, on our website, and things like that. It's almost a disclaimer of being like, you know, this is us trying to get better. This is us trying to progress the work, this is not the finish line. If you feel like there's something that we've missed, if you feel there's something that you can help us with, if there's something that you'd like to hold us accountable for email accountability@, and we'll continue to progress it as we go. So I think that was one of the biggest challenges going into the work itself. You know, there was issues around– I mean, again, they're not kind of issues, it's all issues, because it's the perception of it. But, you know, we really were careful, we didn't want it to be performative. And we were really, you know, and I think that was probably our internal bias a lot more than it was with a lot of the external consultants we're working with, is we didn't want to be tokenistic. We didn't want to be performative. And it took a lot of, you know, of just getting very real with a lot of these consultants that work with us, to help us kind of break down that perception.
So, you know, a good example is with the work that we're doing around size inclusivity, and plus sized travelers, and Annette Richmond, she's been such an amazing partner, she's the founder of Fat Girls Traveling, and she was like, “You know what we should do? One of the things that you guys should do is commit every year to putting 20 photos of fat travelers on your Instagram account.” And, you know, I was like, “oh, like, can we say that?” And she was like, “of course, you can say things like…”, you know, she was just kind of like, everyone was very careful around not trying to be, you know, tiptoeing and things like that. And it was her work and her empowering us. And that's what really, you know, I think really good consultants can do is help us break down some of those perceived barriers that we were having, and just being like, own the conversation, let's have the conversation. Let's do it together. So I think those were the kinds of things where we didn't want it to be, you know, it was this idea and transition that we kind of went through of performative checkbox tokenistic to intentional ally ship, and once we started framing things as, you know, this isn't tokenistic, this is intentional ally ship. This is us being very intentional in trying to be better allies, more inclusive to groups that have historically been underrepresented in travel.
Cory Ames 24:28
And do you have like, do you feel like you have a good pulse on what reception has been maybe from the various stakeholders all the way from what would be prospective customers to you know, internally, as well? The team at Intrepid?
Mikey Sadowski 24:47
Yeah, we do. So internally, it's been amazing, and it's been such an amazing way to engage, you know, our marketers around the world. You know, we have marketers in countries all over the world. There's probably close to 100 plus marketers that work for Intrepid globally in some capacity, and they're all kind of bought in on this journey, and they're all really excited about it. And they genuinely feel like you know, they're becoming better and more inclusive marketers by working at Intrepid, and that's such a great thing to be able to then bring this type of thinking and exposure into other organizations and into their future careers, which is great. Some of the little moments that we see when we post certain photos and stories and things like that, and people who are saying, you know, it's so nice to see myself in this. And it's so nice to hear this perspective. And, you know, those are the types of things that are just so rewarding to us and really kind of, you know, keep us on the right path. And then just the types of partners and the types of conversations and the types of people that we're chatting to that we weren't really chatting to before has been amazing.
Because the thing is, that this is what we're actually doing. It's a recalibration of what actually the travel industry is, which is incredibly diverse, and in a beautiful melting pot. And a lot of it is just, for us, just been a big, big recalibration of that. So I think the response has been very, very positive so far. And I think one of the big things that we've also just been, again, like we spoke to before, it's this idea that like, we're not at the finish line. And this is just kind of the start. And from an industry point of view, from like, looking at the ethical marketing guidelines, I think one of the big things, which is something we've really welcomed in terms of accountability is becoming a more diverse, ethical and inclusive tour operator is not a marketing exercise. And that's something that we've been very careful to keep, which is why this hasn't been the most publicly stated thing. Because it's not, you know, it means nothing if we're diverse and ethical and inclusive in our marketing, and then when you get on the trip, nothing has changed, and the product or your sales experience or your booking experience, and we're still requiring, you know, jet certain gender identifiers and things like that. So, the marketing element has certainly been one thing, I think, one of the big things is how do we use this as a catalyst for more and more change on the product side, on the purpose side, on the people side, how we approach our hiring and recruiting. And so that's really been a real positive that's coming out of this as well, because the marketing has just become one element of a much bigger company wide pursuit to kind of usher in a more inclusive future for the brand.
Cory Ames 27:14
I guess, is that some sort of, kind of theory of change around the marketing that prevails the entire industry? Is that, you know, it's going to continue to permeate throughout your culture, the different aspects of the business, or is there– because you said, it hasn't been something that's been too explicitly or publicly, you know, talked about, as far as the industry lens? Because I'm wondering what, you know, what was the possibility for widespread adoption throughout the travel industry? Because it sounds like the rest of the industry would as well benefit from, you know, such guidelines, or at least the exercise of going through it.
Mikey Sadowski 27:49
100%. And I think that's, you know, I'm excited to share more about it, just because it's something that, you know, it was just an intentional effort. And it's not overly difficult, but it does take work. And it does take time. And it does take a, you know, investment at every layer of the business to actually get it done. And I think that's the thing, it's like a culture of inclusivity that you need to create. And that's been, that's a really important thing as well. So for us, I was kind of mentioning this before, but how we've kind of built our internal communication and things like that. For me personally, and working in a, what would be a traditional marketing communications role, I would say, I would spend half of my meetings, maybe less, working with marketers and communicators, and more than half working with the purpose team and the product team and our operations team, because that's how we kind of keep the work in the words a lot closer.
So when we're talking about types of change with diversity, equity inclusion, though my conversations with the ethical marketing guidelines quickly turn into, okay, from a product point of view, what we're going to do is start talking to the Lakota tribe, and we're going to be talking to, you know, certain indigenous groups in Canada, or Australia, and we're going to start building more inclusive product from their higher margin in this guide, we're going to, from the people team, we're going to talk to HR and we're going to build out new hiring frameworks and new, I guess, new programs to ensure that we have better bipoc candidacy in terms of our job descriptions, and our job descriptions aren't creating any sort of unconscious bias and things like that. So a lot of it is really like when we talk about bailing out widespread change, it's kind of a switch that needs to be turned on internally in an organization and then empower your leaders and people in the business to make that change at all levels of the business. So, you're not building inclusivity through a singular lens, because that's almost the antithesis of what you're trying to accomplish ultimately.
Cory Ames 29:36
Right. Wow, well, I guess to touch back again on the specific pillars, you mentioned diversity, equity, inclusion, openness and transparency, rejecting neocolonialism, a sense of belonging and an ethical digital marketing. So if you wouldn't mind humoring me Mikey, you did mention, perhaps the quantity or type of photos that get published on Instagram as an example, a very tactical one, what are some other good tactical examples of what it looks like to implement some of these various pillars?
Mikey Sadowski 30:06
Yeah, so it's interesting. So there's about 23 internal benchmarks or KPIs, they're– I would say they're more kind of benchmarks than anything in terms of, you know - and the whole exercise of what we're trying to do we report on this every month internally, and we'll report it publicly at the end of the year, is this idea of January 1 2022, to December 31 2022, how can we tangibly say that we've improved, moved the needle become more inclusive, actually worked with more partners, paid more craters, etc, etc, etc. So, I mean, things like, diversity, equity, inclusion is a really good example. So, you know, it's broken down into kind of these pillars. There's the plus size community, there's LGBTQIA+, there's the indigenous community. And you know, that, like we said before, there's some just around the amount of photos that we want to publish in terms of visual representation. There's metrics around the creators that we work with. So we do work with a lot of creators in front of the camera, behind the camera, and we have a very clearly stated goal that at least 50% of all creators must be black, indigenous people of color creators, and we ensure that we're actually investing and providing opportunities for groups that historically haven't. And then, you know, it comes down to even as granular as like, very specific things, and we have one, I think it's five stories centered around truth telling on the impact of reconciliation on indigenous people historically and contemporarily. So it's very specific, but it's, you know, a voice and a narrative that's completely missing in travel. And, you know, the rejecting of Neo colonialism has been one that's, you know, certainly in its infancy in terms of a lot of widespread understanding. But for something that's really, really important for us, the more that we work with indigenous communities and travel, the more that we understand the kind of Western lens that we've historically looked at travel. So that's something that we're really, really kind of passionate about, kind of bringing more into the spotlight. And that's definitely, for us, it was very important that it became one of the five things as part of our ethical marketing guidelines.
Cory Ames 32:06
And then I’m particularly interested in the sense of belonging, I guess. How is that something that you've been able to crystallize into a tangible action and something, as you mentioned, a benchmark?
Mikey Sadowski 32:20
Yeah, that was, I mean, a lot of that was just how we frame how our community has moderated and how we kind of interact our language guidelines and how we talk and things like that. So a lot of that was just really, if we're going to go and create all these very difficult, not difficult conversations, but conversations that may be uncomfortable for people who haven't been faced with these conversations, and haven't been faced with this idea of travel as a form of neocolonialism, who haven't been faced with, you know, certain word choices and phrases that can be triggering for people with eating disorder. So there are lots of things like that, where this idea of sense of belonging is kind of a publicly stated community guidelines in terms of how our internal moderation team within and social should be moderating conversations and should be responding. And then also within internal language guides in terms of how we should be captioning things, speaking about things, writing and emails and things like that. So it gets into a very detailed level.
And the idea is that, hopefully, most people externally aren't necessarily seeing it, they're just seeing a more inclusive version of it. Words around creating a sense of belonging by not using certain words like colonialism to describe– as a positive descriptor like colonial charm and things like that, which we've completely removed from our website. There's things like, you know, when we were talking to our size inclusivity stuff, there was words that we were using around, like, “burn off that meal after this,” and you know, “after your big meal, and you go hike this and you can work it off,” and all these things. And we started realizing as did the work of phrases like that can be completely– can be really triggering for people with eating disorders and stuff that we weren't really thinking about. So that idea of belongingness speaks a lot more to our language uses and how we talk about things and just the way of thinking about every single person and thinking through the eyes of many different voices as we approach what Intrepid sounds like, and how Intrepid communicates in a public setting.
Cory Ames 34:09
And so, I'm wondering as well, I imagine there's a lot of overlap and the substance of the pillars that you all developed, no matter the industry. But from your perspective, let's say in the context of like the certified B Corp community, too, I'm sure there's a lot of businesses spanning different industries and sectors that would have an interest in devising something very similar. What might be your advice or guidance? What sort of things do you think might apply in principle, industry to industry in both the exercise and maybe what you come out to on the other end?
Mikey Sadowski 34:46
Yeah, so I think there's three. If I was a marketer at another organization, and I was wanting to undertake work like this, there would kind of be I guess, three things that I would look at. The first, really understanding what you have the ability to influence as an organization. I think that's where a lot of people go wrong and feeling like oh, like we need to have a climate plan, or we need to have an ally ship plan, or we need to have it this way. It's like, really think about how your business exists, what community, what industry and what areas that you actually– because if you're just trying to speak the loudest in a conversation that you have no place kind of being in, that's a really complicated thing. And that's when you know, impact washing, virtue signaling, greenwashing, become really apparent. So I think, you know, understand what areas that you have to influence. And then from there, seek expertise from external people.
There's consultants in so many incredible areas of expertise. And that was one of the big things for us. There was a massive commitment from the business that we were not going to work through this internally, we were going to hire and pay for consultants to come in and help and we had six consultants attached to this work. You know, we had multiple consultants for diversity, equity inclusion, we had people coming in specifically looking at our usage of the word sustainability and impact washing, we had someone working on the reduction of neocolonialism and body positivity. So we really had, you know, six consultants that were working with us for three to four months inclusively to help develop this work. So that was a really important thing. You know, from there, once we actually had the foundation of what we wanted to do, there were two more things that we needed. And again, I'm trying to simplify this as best I can, because I want to provide this really clear path. So you kind of have, you know, the areas that you want to influence, you have your consultant, and then you kind of have this final piece, which is your measurements and your accountability.
So it's great to put things out in the world. It's a policy, it's a promise, but it's kind of you know, it's all just empty rhetoric without a proper plan. So for us, we built this– we kind of have this tracker that we use internally. And then one of the big things that we developed was just like a very, like, simple survey that is sent out to essentially every single person that works with Intrepid - anyone that's featured on our social media channels - and it's a really important way for us to be able to self identify the work. So it's like the six questions. It's like, how are you working with Intrepid Travel? It goes into like, like linking to the work that you had, do you identify as a bipoc traveler? And then specifically within that, black, indigenous or person of color, like, you know, continue to track it. And then it goes on into, Do you identify someone from the LGBTQIA+ community? Do you consider yourself plus size? All these types of things that, again, we're not assigning people's genders, we're not assigning their identity, we're not assigning. We are very much focused on self identification and building a more inclusive brand through our customers' lens.
So that helps keep us really, really accountable for the work and the end by doing that survey. And by doing that work, at the end of the year, I'll be able to very proudly publish the result of all of this work and actually show how much money, how many people, how many groups, etc, etc. And it'll kind of probably be, for us, a very, very powerful exercise and a big motivator to continue to progress the work.
Cory Ames 38:03
I'll be excited to see the report to follow. But maybe along a similar thread, then I'm wondering, Mikey, is this work, you think, allows you to broadly define ethical marketing, no matter the industry? Or do you feel like you can only define ethical marketing as it relates to the particular context that you're in?
Mikey Sadowski 38:30
It's a great question. I think, I don't know, I think there– it's a little bit of a gray area. It's both like for us, like we feel like we have a really, you know, a keen sense of what ethical marketing looks like from an Intrepid lens. But it's also like, the social conversation and social construct is moving a lot as well. There's things that, you know, five years ago, we weren't talking about the intersection of decolonization and decarbonisation the way that we are now. So perhaps, ethical marketing from the sense of the environment five years ago, maybe it didn't include racial justice, the way that it includes now. So I think ethical marketing is a mindset more than anything, it's about being an inclusive voice to all consumers of all genders, of all races, of all beliefs of all walks of life. And then from there, as you know, as the social conversation moves forward as the, you know, the world changes and certain laws are passed that restrict people from doing certain things and wars break out and disasters happen and the climate crisis becomes even more pressing, that framework of ethics still remains the same. But obviously, the need for brands to show up and be better in a lot of different areas will change based on the conversation of the modern day.
Cory Ames 39:39
Thank you for that. And I guess finally, Mikey before we start to wrap up an important question for me, I think tactically, to help support or tactically or strategically strategically to support other purpose driven brands, sustainable brands, people who represent them listening in. There's an issue obviously, as you mentioned, with greenwashing impact washing, terms like sustainability become more mainstream, as well. I've seen, like Walmart perhaps use the term regenerative, you know, regeneration? So I'm wondering what sort of things do you think people can equip themselves with strategically thinking to, you know, for brands who do walk the walk to differentiate themselves, as well as as y'all have at Intrepid?
Mikey Sadowski 40:24
I mean, there's a lot of things. And it's really something I'm becoming very passionate about. And something that I've really, I think, gotten much more passionate about this year is I've seen almost the power and also the the problems that are created by PR people. PR and comms have become - especially at an impact brand - it's become a very, very polarizing thing, because it's seen as you can either be seen, as you know, the builder of the brand, or you can be seen as the one who's trying to protect the reputation at all costs type thing. So, for us, I think there's the big thing, and I spoke about it a few times here. But I think, you know, you need to set up your teams and your department and your function, as this idea of the marriage of the words in the work. It's not whatever the work is, we'll just make words up from it. It's kind of a two way street. And we, you know, we push back a lot on the work the same way that the work pushes a lot back on us.
And we write things– I remember, even just like last week, and I went back and forth with our climate scientists about the word climate conscious, climate friendly, or climate safe. And we were really, really particular about not using the word climate safe, because it just wasn't a fair representation of what, you know, something that requires international air travel would really be climate safe in that sense. So it's thinking about a lot of how you're structuring - what is your sphere of influence internally? Who are you talking to on your decisions? Are you talking to the Digital Marketer and the performance marketer and the E commerce manager about your sustainability messaging? Or are you talking to your chief product officer, your climate scientists and those things like that, and that's a really important delineation. And I think a lot of people when they fall into the impact greenwashing trap is because they're using their words as a function of sales and marketing, not as a thought of brand building and authentic communication. So I think those are– that's a really important thing. I also think for us, like how we set up our overarching goal as a department is a very singular goal of this idea of to grow, develop, protect, and maintain a strong public image and brand sentiment as the best travel company for the world. And those words, we kind of use very intentionally of like grow, develop, protect, and maintain. And we kind of do that in order around.
Protection is a function of us when things go wrong, but protection isn't really the function of our department around trying to protect the brand at all costs. A lot of it is growing and building a public image and public perception. And sometimes that requires you to not be right, and to be vulnerable and to admit you're wrong and doing things like that. So a lot of our comms, increasingly so, and we’re working on a program right now, is how do we actually publish in a more frequent sense things that we're getting wrong. So that it's not just like, we're showing Intrepid through these beautiful rose colored glasses, because we– there's things all the time that we're learning and changing and tweaking, and I want to start sharing that more publicly, because that's more authenticity. If you're a brand that just looks completely perfect and haven’t made a single mistake, like that would raise a lot of question marks for me.
The other thing that we do as a brand that I think is really important and powerful - and I think it's something that we've had a lot of success in - is we're very disciplined on the kind of stories we tell and the things that we talk about. And it's very much a reflection of our internal processes. So for us, we work on what I call, they're called global narratives. And at any point in time, we're only really working through three global narratives. And most of the things that you'll see from Intrepid will lead up into one of those things. What I mean by having global narratives– I'll give you an example. These are the three that we're using right now. Our product enables our purpose. So we're kind of talking about this idea that at the end of the day, we're a tour operator and our trips, we're not going to– it's not just like purpose, purpose, purpose. It’s that we have an amazing product and that's what actually enables the work. Really talk about our trips and our products. So we're seeing a lot more stuff coming through on the actual trips themselves. Because that's interesting as a tour operator, ultimately, the new normal is now humanized context of travel in the context of today.
So we've really shifted away from talking about travel as this future entity or travel will be back someday and travel will be back - you know what, like travel is here. And it's a little bit different. It's not perfect, but it's real. And that's kind of what we're dealing with. And then the third one is doubling down on purpose in the eye. So really just focusing on “Hey, you know, when you thought that that was– you were telling like a good story, an impact story, a diverse story,” always do more and always do better. And there's actually a lot more work that we can do besides the bare minimum. And we've– everything really more or less will ladder up into one of those three stories. And what that does is it prevents us from talking about things that aren't in our domain. It prevents us from talking about the latest trend and just being very opportunistic, and what we do, we want to be very, very authentic and that requires being very consistent and not trying to be everything to everyone but having a very clear sense of who we are and trying to deliver on that each and every time for our customers.
Cory Ames 45:03
It seems like it connects quite a bit back to that sense of authenticity. And maybe to the earliest point in our conversation of, you know, if you can genuinely feel, I guess that like that full substance, that authenticity, that connection to what it is the work that you're doing, like you said, the marketing becomes a bit more intuitive. It feels good. And it perhaps feels right as well. You know, if there's like you say that separation there and something maybe feels a bit off or hollow, you probably should trust that intuition and assess what's wrong. I think the brands that are really doing that, right, are the ones who actually have that, you know, self awareness to see when things are maybe in or out of alignment, I guess, because exactly like you said, there's no perfect brands, there's no perfect businesses, the transparency there to, you know, be along the journey, I guess, with the people who are connected to you, I think is very important.
Mikey Sadowski 45:56
Yeah. And there's two things that we say a lot: one, only talk if it improves the silence, which can sound a little bit savage, but it's this idea that like, you know, we don't need to say something unless we have something to say. And that's a really important thing. We're not like, it's world animal and coffee day, let's be sure to get an animal and coffee post. There's all these little days and all these things that we actually don't need to be there. I think Patagonia is a brand that does that very, very well there. They have such a clear sense of who they are. And they really show up in a big way when they need to. And then there's kind of the other questions and these actually formed the framework of any story we publish, any press release we send out we always have an answer to these two questions: why now and why Intrepid? I think it's a really good exercise for brands to kind of use and to employ and it seems very simplistic because it is and we also say a lot: Keep It Simple but significant. More things when they become complicated, you know, they tend to lose their impact and simplicity doesn't have to come at the expense of significance. You can do really simple and impactful work. So the why now why Intrepid? If we have a really good answer to both of those things, why now being what about the cultural context of the world right now? What about the social conversation of what's happening? It requires this conversation or this product or this trip or this experience or this initiative? And then why Intrepid? Why do we have a disproportionate ability to impact that event or that experience or that and when we have a very clear answer to why now why Intrepid, those are without a doubt the most impactful stories and the most impactful work we do as a brand.
Cory Ames 47:26
Very helpful questions for any brand to ask themselves, no matter the industry. But Mikey, I want to be respectful of your time. Thank you so much for taking it first and foremost. But before we wrap up, do you mind if I ask you a few rapid fire questions?
Mikey Sadowski 47:40
Cory Ames 47:42
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All right, so first one, what's maybe a book film or some other resource that either has impacted you recently, or something that you always come back to that you might recommend?
Mikey Sadowski 48:48
There's this book that I've just been reading and just finished, it's called Unraveled: the life and death of a garment. And it essentially explores the entire kind of fast fashion industry through the lens of a single pair of jeans and how it's produced and the dyes and it follows it all over the world. And it's such an interesting book. And it's a way of kind of really understanding the interconnectedness of everything in such a product that we don't think a lot about. And for me, I take a lot of inspiration from it in terms of just helping me personally as a consumer in terms of how I think about things in everyday purchases, but also professionally, in terms of really understanding the intersections and layers of everything we do and our industry is so much built into intense supply chains and things like that. And it was such an eye opening book for me in so many ways.
Cory Ames 49:36
Excellent recommendation. A next one for you, Mikey. What's maybe one daily routine or morning routine that you feel like you absolutely have to stick to if anything?
Mikey Sadowski 49:50
For me, it's time for creative thinking. I'm not a person that wakes up and just like jumps into work right away. It's usually music and a walk. Without question I find I'm at my best when I'm actually not in the weeds. And I'm actually having time to step out and think. So I always will have playlists going, I'll always probably do about a 20 minute walk with music in the morning to just kind of think about the world or what's going on. So for me, just, you know, I think it's an underrated thing. And it seems so trivial, but just like time to think, is really important. And I would definitely– My days are completely different when I don't give myself that time in the morning to just reset and recalibrate with a little bit of introspectiveness.
Cory Ames 50:31
Very much so with you on that one, that sounds similar to me. Next one for you, what's maybe one business or organization or even an individual who's been doing work recently that you think is really worth a plug? Who is someone in your industry or not? Or business organization?
Mikey Sadowski 50:51
Hmm, I don't know. Yeah, I'd love to use it as an opportunity to kind of like plug a smaller brand or kind of business. But you know, for me personally, like I'm keeping a very close eye on like the work of obviously, any B Corp organizations and what they're up to. But for me, I'm really keeping a close eye on Allbirds to see what– for them and taking a lot of inspiration on what they do. The reason specifically is they're in a very similar– they're a very different industry to Intrepid from that being consumer goods in terms of a shoe. And we're very much an experiential type good. But we're very similar kind of size, just in terms of overall kind of revenue and things like that. And our B Corp journey kind of just went public, it's something that we're kind of obviously having, we're getting into that size where those conversations are starting to happen as well. So for them, I'm just really following their path and their journey, because I see a champion kind of making a very parallel and adjacent kind of approach to them and how they're approaching, you know, partnerships with Adidas, how they're approaching partnerships with perceived competitors and things like that. I think it's a very interesting playbook, how they're approaching things with like Amazon and stuff. I like the work that they're doing. And it's not fully directly related to what we do. But I take a lot of kind of inspiration and keeping an eye on them, because I think we're kind of on similar but different paths.
Cory Ames 52:07
Very cool. And a final final one for you, Mikey, what's one last bit of parting advice you might leave our listeners with? These folks are change makers and innovators from all sectors all over the world, looking to leave the world a better place than they found it.
Mikey Sadowski 52:24
I think I would say kind of two things - I'll do one professional and one personal. I think, you know, I speak about this a lot with our team this week. But you know, professionally, this idea that we've kind of normalized a lot, doing good is good for business. And I would really almost challenge that. Like doing great is great for business. And I think for us when we're really, really focused on doing great work, and using the greater good as our guiding light, we've had our absolute greatest successes of the business. So I think just continuing to think about you know, the needle is moved, and it's continuing to move and you have the ability to move the needle. And I think, you know, good was always a noble pursuit. But I think like really doing genuinely great things and doing it together, competitors or not, it's kind of what will be the winning formula moving forward.
On a personal level, something that I kind of came across recently and am finding a lot of importance in is this idea that how you live your days, it's how you live your life. And I think we get caught up a little bit too much in the you know, the rat race and the grind. And we're so always in pursuit of this, this greater happiness that's kind of coming somewhere down the line. And this idea that you need to make sure that you're finding an abundance of joy every single day that you're finding happiness and purpose in the work that you're doing that you're staying at an organization for 10 years because it's challenging you and you love the people that you work with, and you're excited to come to work every morning. So this idea that you don't have to spend an abundance of years and sacrifice and really just this idea of how you live your days is how you live your life because at the end of the day, that's really what it's all about.
Cory Ames 53:56
Really excellent advice for us to end on Mikey. Where should folks look to go to keep up with you and Intrepid?
Mikey Sadowski 54:03
Yes, please add me on Twitter, Mikey Sadowski. And same on LinkedIn, would love to connect and always to have chats and to meet new people. And as well Intrepid Travel, you can find us all on you know, Instagram, Facebook, all that good stuff and definitely look forward to connecting and really appreciate you taking the time Cory.
Cory Ames 54:21
Perfect. We'll have all the things linked up in our show post at social entrepreneurship data fam. Mikey. Thank you again so much.
Mikey Sadowski 54:25
Cory Ames 54:27
All right, y'all. That's a wrap on another episode of the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast. As always so grateful to have you listening in. If you love the show, please leave us a review on Apple podcasts or hit subscribe wherever it is that you get yours. And as well, I want to invite you to sign up for our Better World Weekly newsletter. This is our weekly discussion with our community of social entrepreneurs and changemakers on all things building a better world. This is a newsletter I write and publish and send out myself every single Monday. Go to growensemble.com backslash newsletter to join in on that discussion; all things building a better world. Go to growensemble.com backslash newsletter to get the next one in your inbox. And finally, if you know of a company, work within a company, or run a company that might be interested in sponsoring the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast, we always love starting conversations with potential partners who share our vision of building a better world together. Go to socialentrepreneurship.fm backslash contact. There, you can fill out a quick form, start that conversation with us. And these sorts of partnerships fuel our mission to build a better world together. All right, y'all. Until next time.
VP of Global Public Relations & Communications
Mikey Sadowski is the GM (VP) of Global PR & Communications at Intrepid Travel, a purpose-driven tour operator that is both the world’s largest adventure travel company and travel B Corporation.
He is involved in shaping the brand’s global positioning, advocacy and communications as a leader in responsible travel.