TripAdvisor’s Christine Maguire: Leading From the Ground Up

Those were the days.

Back in April 2019, Christine Maguire joined Tripadvisor in a newly created role to lead the company’s global media strategy and operations, and to better leverage the company’s international consumer demand and to drive revenue through new digital advertising solutions.

She came to Tripadvisor from leading the business strategy and operations at Condé Nast for four years. From her experience, she has brought a wide range of knowledge across channels such as programmatic, social and branded content.

In only a short period, she transformed the company’s approach to building value-added media solutions and data-driven advertising, helping advertisers of different verticals reach the high-value travel and dining consumer on a platform with more than 460 million monthly users.

Then COVID-19 hit. And the world of travel came undone.

It wasn’t the end of all things for Tripadvisor. But it was definitely time to change course—slightly. Fortunately, Maguire was prepared.

On August 26, in her Publisher Forum Virtual Keynote, Recovery Is a Journey, she’ll share her company’s experience with managing continuity and planning for recovery while providing the ticket to leading and rebuilding amid a pandemic.

We couldn’t wait until then. So we reached out to Maguire to learn more about how her background prepared her to fearlessly lead her team toward a revival, as well as what role first-party data will play in the future of advertising.

Lynne d Johnson: You started your career in accounting and then brought your financial experience over to the media side. What lessons in your experience most prepared you for helping Tripadvisor to weather the crisis brought on by the pandemic?

Christine Maguire: I’ve most certainly had an interesting journey in where I started my career and where I am today, but nothing can prepare anyone for what we’ve seen happen to the economy, travel landscape, and our business specifically over the last few months.

My financial background has definitely served me very well over the course of my career, from a startup like VEVO to a legacy publisher like Conde Nast. My teams and I have had an immense amount of business challenges to overcome in my past and this pandemic is by far the most extreme and sudden, but the practices are the same. My current team has had to digest that our world has changed overnight with travel completely halted. Nearly every one of our employees had to abruptly begin working from home while battling a highly contagious pandemic, and fighting for social justice.

Leadership is probably the most important aspect to lean into as the business is tested and pivoted, dramatically adjusting priorities.

In reaction to the pandemic’s impact on the economy, specifically our business, we had to immediately go into action mode to weather the uncertain storm. After being in hyper-growth mode to maximize the media business, I had to put my finance and operations hat on quickly to manage costs, reimagine a streamlined and consolidated global organization, while managing the changing dynamics in the marketplace due to the pandemic.

While that sprint of work was extremely tough, the hard work really began after our recent workforce reduction earlier this year, as we needed to rebuild our operating model, go-to-market plans, and priorities for the future of travel. I’m so proud of the team I have in place and how they have stepped up to this challenge, seeing it as a real opportunity to chart a new path for travel, Tripadvisor, and our media business.

LdJ: So it was 2019 when you joined Tripadvisor and the forecast for ad revenue was excellent for 2020. You launched a self-serve platform to attract SMBs and there were a lot of new ad products you guys had in the works to diversify revenue and start selling beyond the confines of tourism. Did you have to make a strategic pivot once we encountered COVID-19? 

CM: I was recruited to Tripadvisor to modernize the company’s media solutions and capabilities, bring in new talent and disciplines, accelerate programmatic and non-endemic revenue, and set the foundation for long-term success. Over the course of 2019, I led a team that did just that, which was not an easy feat for a large, mature business. We went through reorganizations, launched over 10 new products and solutions, grew programmatic revenue triple digits year-over-year, integrated new disciplines, and began to take our solutions to non-tourism clients and agencies.  In Q1, we were seeing the fruits of our labor, bookings 25% up year-over-year, the highest growth the company had seen in a few years.

Then COVID-19 hit us hard in early March where all the revenue began to either get paused, canceled or pushed out to future quarters.  While we had begun to make amazing progress in the non-tourism space, the majority of our revenue share is still travel. And travel, hospitality, and leisure industries have been the most challenged with hotels at near 100% vacancy, planes grounded, and restaurants empty.  We immediately shifted focus to support our partners through these uncertain and unparalleled times.

Large brand-safe platforms, like Tripadvisor, with high-intent audiences and an immense amount of first-party data, will be the future. 

I’m extremely proud of my team and my colleagues across the broader company in the way we were able to rally and pivot our focus to create new initiatives and programs for our partners, first to give them insights during a time of chaos and second, advising them how to build back better as we all planned together for a new tourism future.

For example, we began immediate support for our clients who were desperate for analytics and insights about the hospitality and travel industry during a time of significant decline, helping them understand consumer demand and traveler behavior patterns. We instituted weekly global webinars called COVID-19 Insights Series—to share our data and insights with a human-first, consultative approach with our clients, all of this during a time where we were all working from home and separated. But despite being apart, it was truly amazing to see this team come together.

LdJ: What role do you think data will play in the future of advertising, especially as the third-party cookie nears its final days?

CM: Large brand-safe platforms, like Tripadvisor, with high-intent audiences and an immense amount of first-party data, will be the future.  Google phasing out third-party cookies will increase the importance and the reliance on first-party cookies.

Fortunately, this is a great advantage we bring to the table as we have been focused on growing our members for the past few years, and with that comes a wealth of data.

We currently have over 100 million members and growing which puts us at an advantage against the non-walled gardens due to the sheer scale. We also built a homegrown audience manager which enables real-time targeting and creates a compliant environment with more efficient return on investment for advertisers.

LdJ: We don’t see many females in a role like yours. What advice would you give to other women who have executive or C-suite aspirations within digital media and advertising? Did you have allies or mentors who helped you along the way?

CM: I’m a first-generation Irish American, from a working-class family, and the first person in my immediate family to enter corporate America. I definitely pay tribute to my upbringing for my work ethic and determination, which has played a big role in my success.

I also contribute a lot of my success to the grind, actually doing the job before I had it, to the point where I’ll admit to struggling to balance professional success I sought with personal fulfillment. It is a constant work-in-progress for me and probably one of my biggest struggles currently during this pandemic, working within a consolidated organization, and the consistent volatility in the travel and media landscape.

I have too many phenomenal leaders, mentors, and allies to name but they have been instrumental in helping me find ways to strike that balance. When they give me guidance, it typically doesn’t have anything to do with work but advice and ways to hold myself accountable for prioritizing the personal goals I have, as much as my professional ones.

One piece of work advice I received a long time ago from my former boss, mentor, and friend was to make big promises, and keep them!  I live by that in everything I do, which has allowed me to gain a lot of trust and credibility in all the roles I’ve held.

When interviewing at Tripadvisor, global sales was part of the remit which I hadn’t led before. When contemplating if it was something I could succeed in, my CRO mentors gave me so much confidence, reminding me that failure is not an option for me and the experience and skills I have are the tough part—sales leadership is about putting it to work.

While mentors and allies are a very important part in how I continue to grow, the opposing position usually fuels me to new levels as well. If I’m told I can’t or shouldn’t be doing something, you better believe I will get it done!