In-room entertainment has been evolving rapidly as technology changes the way travelers expect to be entertained—and companies like DIRECTV are evolving to meet those expectations. Kimberly Twiggs, assistant VP, market development, commercial lodging and institutions at AT&T, parent company of DIRECTV, helps hoteliers choose the right entertainment system for their guests.
Graduating from Texas A&M University with a degree in English, Twiggs started her career in communications and sales at International Paper. Five years later, an International Paper colleague moved to DirecTV and invited Twiggs to go along. In June 2006, Twiggs started her new career as a coordinator in the company’s Multiple Dwelling Unit division, focusing on apartments, condos and planned communities. “I kind of grew up at DIRECTV,” she recalled. From 2006 to 2011, Twiggs worked her way up the company's ladder, starting as a coordinator and then moving into area sales management.
That first position in the MDU division prepared Twiggs to work in the hospitality sector. “We're negotiating with a [real estate investment trust] manager or property owner,” she said. “It's a [business-to-business] sale, negotiating with a hotel owner or a management company or a brand, even.” Similarly, the technology for multiple dwelling units and hotels are very similar. “It's all a master distribution system. You’ve got centralized technology on the roof of the building and down through the backbone of the cabling infrastructure.” With this experience under her belt, she began working with hotel companies. “The transition was pretty easy. It was the same technology and the same type of customer relationship, just slightly different: One is long-term rental and the other one is shorter overnight stays.”
Since 2006, guest expectations for in-room entertainment have shifted, and Twiggs’ team has had to shift strategies to keep up. “Our competition has actually changed,” she said. “It used to just be the traditional video providers—the cable guys and the Dish Network—but now our competition is certainly over-the-top TV providers and technologies and cord cutters all together.”
The change, she said, has forced the company’s sales team to “think on our feet and be really nimble, make sure that we're skating to where the puck is going.” The company, she said, has invested in new technology to keep up with new customer demands. “I felt very fortunate over these past 14 years to have the backing of the broader company when it comes to us needing to make a capital investment in commercial distribution technology or to take a different angle when it comes to our go-to market strategy,” she said.
For example, she said, she has been working with hotel customers to eliminate the need for satellite dishes or extensive cable upgrades that require opening up the walls. “How do we deliver over-the-top content to our commercial customers, knowing that that bandwidth is already a limited resource?” she asked. Running video content over the broadband network would eat up all of the bandwidth, but buying more bandwidth can get expensive. The solution was a hybrid product—the Advanced Entertainment Platform, which delivers live channels via satellite and layers on-demand and premium content on top. An Android set top on the TVs let guests access the on-demand content and cast from their own devices.
While she has focused on sales since joining the firm, she still puts her communications skills to good use. “The benefit of my training is that selling is really all about communicating,” she said. “It's about trying to convince someone to do something with your words, and so everything from sales presentations to customer conversations are pretty easy for me ... It might not seem intuitive to come from an English degree into a sales leadership role, but I feel like my training has definitely benefited me in this industry.”
Clicking with Clients
Since the pandemic shut travel down, Twiggs and her team have “100 percent embraced the virtual meeting world.” Earlier this year, she said, her team was preparing to attend and host events to better connect with current and potential clients. When they could no longer travel, Twiggs started reaching out virtually to the company’s indirect distribution network of what it calls dealers. “You may have heard them referred to also as integrators or resellers, but we have a 200-person dealer network out there. We started meeting with them virtually in the early days of COVID. We were actually meeting with them weekly—virtually our entire dealer base—just to make sure they understood what our relief options were for our customers [and] so they knew that we were there for them and what our relief options were for our dealer network to make sure they could keep their doors open.”
Logic in Logistics
“I spend a lot of time planning and organizing around all of the different things that we need to make sure that we're keeping track of,” Twiggs said. “We try to make quick work inside the company of escalating customer requests and needs, trying to look [ahead] six months a year from now, making sure that we're planning correctly.” Now that she is working from home, she, like many other professionals, is constantly rebalancing. “It's a lot more planning. It's making sure we're staying organized. It's making sure the calendar can accommodate the homeschool schedule and the remote karate classes and all the things I'm trying to juggle as a mom and run our family and our household—and then [leveraging] that same strategy on the work side, just making sure I’m keeping eyes on everything, doing a lot of planning, doing a lot of calendaring to make sure we don't go too long without talking to that one set of customers or a certain internal team or a section of our distribution network. We've had to become much more mindful of setting our schedules correctly to make sure that one, nothing falls through the cracks, and two, nothing conflicts with all of the additional responsibilities that we've taken on.”