For someone so in love with living and working in the Outer Banks, Wendy Coulson Murray had a difficult time being convinced to come here.
“When a recruiter started talking to me about relocating to the area, I was very resistant,” says the director of Sales & Marketing for Sanderling Resort. “I loved where I was.”
Finally, she relented to making a visit over spring break. That was all it took.
“It seemed the right time to make a move, for my family and for the opportunity to become a director.”
Part of the appeal is that Murray has always lived on the water, from the “really small town without a stoplight” on Chesapeake Bay where she was raised, to the places she has worked up and down the East Coast.
“I am drawn to coastal communities,” she says. “I’ll never live in a city, even though they provide a lot of conveniences we don’t have here. I’m OK with that. It is the quality of life that I love.”
Murray also loves interacting with her virtual and work communities — the guests she welcomes to the Sanderling Resort properties.
As Director of Sales & Marketing, her job is to entice visitors to spend time and hold events at Sanderling Resort, the only resort on the Outer Banks with a 4-star rating. The AAA-rated destination caters to families, weddings, and special occasions, with three pools, three restaurants, and a full-service spa.
Now in her 10th season there, Murray helped with the “reimagining” when the property changed ownership six years ago, and continues to help implement their strategic plans.
“From a marketing standpoint there is always something new to market,” she says. “You have to figure out how to talk to different audiences at different times of year.”
During summer, visitors tend to come from New England. They are well traveled and looking for a memorable experience, whereas, someone coming in October might be an older “empty nester.”
“They are looking to walk on the beach, or sit by the fireplace and read a book,” Murray says. “The groups are very different, and change so often, you never quite figure it out.”
To help do that, her team tracks results and follows industry research. She also takes advantage of new opportunities to tell the story via social media, but acknowledges that the best marketing still engages all types of media.
“The research tells us it takes eight to 13 impressions before someone picks up the phone or makes a reservation,” she says.
That’s only the beginning. Murray not only needs to make it easy to book, her staff works to make a great first impression.
“When someone calls Sales, they need to feel that connection,” she says. “Then, we need to impress. If we take good care of our guests, they go home and tell their friends.”
A new way to spread “word of mouth” is web review sites. Those have changed the marketing landscape, according to Murray.
“You have to keep up and respond to them, to make sure you educate other consumers who may be reading them and to help others understand what is being shared on a review.”
Her biggest frustration? That would be how to handle what she can’t control — mainly the national media stories that always follow a natural event such as storms or shark sightings.
“People don’t understand that the Outer Banks is 200 miles long,” she says. “They hear that a bridge is closed because a hurricane affected Hatteras, but they don’t realize it does not affect us. Just trying to manage and keep the public informed is a full time job.”
The best part is that she has a team of eight that enjoys working together, along with community partners, such as the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau that help in “selling” the Outer Banks.
“They are a valuable partner to us to help get the right messaging out — they do an outstanding job.”
When not working on marketing, Murray spends time with her husband, Michael, and their two children, Caroline and Conner, at their home in Duck. For someone so immersed in social media, it is probably not surprising that she is passionate about a solitary diversion–competitive long distance running. On days off she can be found pounding out the miles through the beautiful scenery and ocean views.
“Running is my outlet,” she says. “It allows me to totally decompress and detach when I am out there for miles, and sometimes, days. I am able to see the world by foot, enjoy the outside and come back energized. Funny thing is you think I would solve many problems or come up with solutions while running, but normally I just zone out or focus on survival for that race.”
As for the future, good luck to any recruiter trying to dislodge her from her current perch. Murray has no plans to relocate anytime soon.
“As long as Sanderling continues to grow, I would like to grow with it,” Murray says. “In our business it is typical to have to move a lot, which I did. But this is my longest tenure anywhere, and I am content and happy and not looking to go anywhere. I want to be a part of this community.”