We grabbed a cup of coffee with Cities EVP Sara Joseph, who leads BerlinRosen’s Travel & Lifestyle practice. We reflected on the exciting year and talked all about the growing Travel & Lifestyle team and their day-to-day projects.
How do you like your coffee?
Decaf (unless I’m exhausted) with skim and one packet of natural brown sugar in my Buzzworthy mug.
Tell me about what you do at BerlinRosen.
I head up our Travel & Lifestyle practice, which began when we established, branded and created excitement for the TWA Hotel. We put a stake in the ground for travel at BerlinRosen with that client—and started pitching and winning more new business from there.
We are looking to work in every sector of the travel and lifestyle industry, which includes every form of transportation, hotels, destinations, cruise lines—you name it. We are so excited about adding to our current roster of clients and are grateful for those who helped us grow during the last few challenging years, like RVshare—the Airbnb for RVs that grew exponentially during the pandemic. We do a lot of placemaking, whether that’s elevating established neighborhoods here in New York like the Meatpacking District, or building an identity for locations like Brookfield Place and Industry City. This year, larger destinations became a bigger part of our business. We now support Bermuda as the PR and creative agency of record in the country’s efforts to drive a national tourism plan; and we’ve most recently partnered with Los Angeles Tourism as its U.S. PR agency of record to generate media interest in the ever-evolving city. We also love working with attractions, especially when we can launch them, like SUMMIT One Vanderbilt and Hall des Lumières.
Our team is full service, providing our clients with earned media relations, influencer content, events, partnerships and promotions, as well as crisis communications when needed. It’s been an adventure, and the team has grown into its own. While I still pitch media, most of my time is spent managing client relationships, making sure the teams are reaching goals and handling new business.
Why did you join BerlinRosen?
Someone introduced me to Jonathan. We had a coffee, and I loved his energy, loved his vision and felt like what he was building was a “next-generation firm.” It felt more like a startup than anywhere else I had worked. I had always worked in huge companies: I started my career at MSNBC; moved to Burson-Marsteller; and then to IPG, where I worked across three companies: Weber Shandwick, Current Global and DeVries. I was ready for a change.
I knew that TWA Hotel was going to be a high-profile opening and a project that would garner global attention—and a strong foundation I could build from. One coffee turned into a few, and now it’s six-and-a-half years later.
The lifestyle team works with a wide range of clients. Can you tell me a bit more about the different kinds of projects that your team works on?
No two days are the same. One day we are focused on opening and establishing a hotel, and the next, we’re creating new programming for it so that we continue to pique interest and excitement for the property. We’re always looking for really creative stories to tell, and we create more partnerships and promotions these days. I love when we can create synergies for brands to manufacture news. For example, we partnered with Equinox to do yoga classes at Hall des Lumières, which takes the immersive art experience and uses the exhibit and space as a gym. It’s not only bringing people into the space to have a unique experience, but also getting in front of a whole other brand of people.
Another example is Singapore Airlines. They were looking for a new wellness partner, and we connected them with Golden Door Spa. Together, they created an in-flight wellness menu for their food and beverage program, as well as other content about sleeping and exercising in flight.
To what do you attribute your team’s massive growth in the last couple of years?
First off, our new business team. Our Art Director Shachi Shah, in particular, is an amazing resource and has become a sophisticated partner in organizing the RFP process and working with us from beginning to end. Often, new business is done after the day’s work or over the weekend, and having that resource has been a tremendous help.
I have been told that our press results are impressive, and I think my team is the best in the business for earned media relations. They’re really creative in their storytelling. They spend time having coffees and meeting with journalists and forming relationships so that we can tell more than one story with each reporter. We also listen attentively to our clients to propose meaningful programs. We roll up our sleeves, sit at the table and become partners in their strategy, so we’re not blindly telling them what we think they should do. We are listening to them and recommending what we think makes sense. Then we focus on audiences—who they’re looking to reach. It’s vital that we drive audiences to act. In our business, this means they’re buying tickets to an attraction; they’re booking an airline ticket; they’re making a room reservation or a restaurant reservation. These are very measurable results. And so if our stories or our partnerships or promotions help drive that action, our clients can see the results.
What are some of your most exciting wins of 2023?
Bermuda was a big win—and a rewarding one because that was public relations and creative. We just announced Los Angeles Tourism, and that’s been very exciting. It’s a very high-profile city, and as we eye expansion on the West Coast, that gives us a meaningful presence there. Bringing in Marriott International was also a big win, given we work with six of their global brands.
Tell me a life-changing moment that helped shape who you are today.
Professionally, listening to my former boss when it came to going after really big—even outrageous—ideas, even if you thought it would never be possible.
One day, Oprah gave a whole audience cars. This had never been done before—a whole audience giveaway that was such a big ticket item. Immediately after that happened, I called my contact at the Ellen DeGeneres Show and said, “This is gonna be the next big thing. Let’s do cruises.” Long story short, they went for it—and there were two things that were especially cool about it. The day we gave away the cruises was the Thanksgiving show. The audience was full of veterans, and Tom Hanks happened to be the guest on the show. When he saw the giveaway in the rundown, he insisted on giving the cruises away with Ellen. It was a huge success! After that, I brokered a multimillion dollar, multiyear deal for Celebrity to be the show’s official cruise line. .
I’ve never stopped bringing big ideas to clients since. Sometimes they go for them!
Where is your dream travel destination?
The list is very long. New Zealand, Argentina, Chile and Morocco are at the top right now.
What’s your favorite part about living in NYC?
Everything. I’ve been here since I graduated college, and while I love to travel and spend time exploring other cultures and destinations, NYC has always been my hometown and playground.
Last TV show you binge-watched
I’m in Season 3 of Yellowstone right now. I’ll finish The Crown next.
Restaurant you’d recommend to close friends
There is an Israeli restaurant called Bustan in my neighborhood. I love any type of Mediterranean food, so I’ll go with that one.
A concert that you’d love to experience
I’m a huge concert person. I’ve been really lucky to see most people and groups I love. I wish I had seen Bowie. I’ve never seen Pearl Jam, which I think would be amazing. I never got to see Barbara Streisand, who I think probably has the best voice on the planet.
Top three albums ever
Impossible question. This minute, I’ll say Under the Table and Dreaming by Dave Matthews Band, Disintegration by The Cure and Adele’s 21.
Your dream dinner guests
Bono, from U2.
A book that changed you
Anne Frank’s Diary.
Movie you’d pay to see again and again
The Notebook and The Devil Wears Prada are my guilty pleasures that I watch whenever they are on. I’ve probably watched them a million times.
Career advice you’d tell your younger self
Keep in touch! When I was an intern at CBS This Morning, I sat outside Andy Cohen’s cube. We had an amazing relationship, even though I was not assigned to him. I was a health beat intern, and he was an entertainment AP. I was the only intern that would show up early—at 7AM—for the show, so producers used to give me extra assignments, and Andy was one of them. He used to bring me to some interviews and things like that. He ended up writing me a reference to get into the Journalism school, which is a limited enrollment program at Maryland. I was only a sophomore at that time, and I ended up losing touch with him because I felt like I had nothing really to say. Big mistake. Look at Andy Cohen now. I could have been his #2! So, when younger people getting into the business ask me for advice, I always tell them to stay in touch with contacts. Don’t be afraid to just touch base, even if you don’t necessarily have anything to say.
Also, write thank you notes.