Landis Smithers, Chief Creative Officer of The Standard, knows a thing or two about bold creativity and innovation, having worked for brands like GRINDR and Playboy before joining the unique hotel brand. Known for daring and disruptive stunts, including the recent ‘Ring Your Rep’ campaign where guests could phone Congress from The Standard phone booth, The Standard is exploring unconventional ways to serve hotel guests. And as The Standard prepares 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 POV. Read on to see how Landis is taking creative risks and setting a new standard for hospitality.
Why did you choose to join The Standard?
I’m the Chief Creative Officer of The Standard. I had absolutely no plans to enter the hospitality field, but this role covers everything from on property cultural activations to art installations to activism to content development to retail… virtually everything I have a background in and a love of. In addition, I was told to dream big and not restrict myself or my vision for the brand. How could anyone turn that down? But the reason I actually took the job is that I am a long-time loyalist and have spent the better part of the past two decades staying at The Standard whenever I traveled. Many a long snowed-in weekend has been spent gazing out of the High Line windows and their spectacular perspective of NYC. The offer felt like kismet.
What current developments in marketing are most inspiring to you?
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.
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 are you working on now that’s innovative?
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 (you make x, I need x). 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 re-booting them as new business verticals. Brands shouldn’t limit themselves to one thing if they learn what their guests actually want. For example, no one needs another six hundred dollar pair of sunglasses from a lobby shop. So what do they need? That’s where Standard Label has come about which hit The Standard lobby shops this month. Our goal is to modernize boring shops and actually sell items and that people will wear. In the future, I’d like to see us selling homeware, like the famous Standard salt & pepper shakers that people always steal, bath & body products, etc.
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.
Tell us about your career path, big learning moments and how you ended up where you are right now.
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.
“I learned that you have to have people better than you surrounding your ideas, and you have to let them do their thing.”
How do you pick and develop the talent on your team and ensure 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. Also, it helps if I like your shoes.
“Stop worrying about credit and start worrying about how to make each idea bigger than yourself.”
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 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.
Favorite place to vacation? With my husband. Location irrelevant.
Name something that most people don't know about you. I married up.
If you weren’t a marketer, what would you be? Photographer.
What's the best thing you've read/listened to/watched recently? A woman on the street hugging a homeless kid who was crying, then buying them a meal.