This week, we took some time to catch up with Christine “Chris” Rayl over a virtual coffee break. Chris is the marketing manager at Virginia Housing, (formerly VHDA), bringing with her 20+ years of advertising and marketing agency experience.
Read on for our conversation with Chris.
LMO: We’ve started off each of our chats by asking an incredibly important question, how do you take your coffee?
Chris Rayl: Well, that’s a complex question. As of late I’ve been doing a pour over coffee with brown sugar and almond milk. I’m not picky on the brand of coffee but it does have to be a bold blend. I’ve been doing this combo for the past couple of months and I’ve really been enjoying it.
LMO: Sounds delicious! So, things have been a bit chaotic since March with everyone adapting to the pandemic in different ways – how are you doing?
CR: Things have been fine, although it does feel a bit like we’re trapped in the movie “Groundhog Day!” Making a quick transition to a work from home environment has been an adjustment, but everyone on our team has done really well with it. We haven’t really missed any steps along the way because everyone’s been so responsible and willing to jump in. For us it’s been a good experience.
LMO: Can you share a little more about how your day-to-day has changed? Have there been any challenges? Positive discoveries?
CR: I think in the communications world we’re able to still be productive working from home because there aren’t as many distractions coming across your desk. There might be different distractions – like a contractor coming in to install something – but I think that day-to-day overall has been fine.
LMO: Now that so many people have proven their efficiency while working from home, it seems that employers are taking a hard look at what the future of their office structure will be moving forward. Is this something your team has discussed?
CR: We have. At the beginning of the pandemic Virginia Housing actually formed a committee whose sole job is to take stock of this on a regular basis and think through what it would look like to come back. We still don’t have a definitive answer on when or what it will look like once everyone returns, but it’s comforting having different team members in our organization represented on this committee helping to plan for when that time comes. Our talent development and learning group has also put together resources to support anyone looking to come back to the office now, outlining new procedures to keep everyone safe.
LMO: That’s wonderful that Virginia Housing has formed an internal committee to address these changes. Switching gears, before moving to the Richmond Area almost a decade ago you previously worked and lived in Denver, Colorado and the San Francisco Bay Area. What attracted you to Virginia?
CR: I relocated to Virginia with my husband and joined a local marketing firm about ten years ago. What attracted me to join Virginia Housing was their mission of “providing quality, affordable housing to all Virginians.” Marketing our consumer and partner offerings keeps our world very busy. It’s a great place to be and work.
LMO: Virginia is such a huge state with varied geographic areas. Can you talk a little more about the differences between the urban, suburban and rural parts of the state? How does your role differ, if at all, when serving each?
CR: In Northern Virginia, our marketing work supports our multifamily division and is primarily geared toward current and future development partners, due to the need for increased affordable housing – especially with Amazon’s HQ2 coming to the market. In more suburban areas, it’s more about marketing our first-time homebuyer programs. In rural parts of Virginia, we market our financing programs for manufactured homes and our Mobile Mortgage Offices travel to more remote locations to support first-time homebuyers right inside these offices on wheels. Another audience that we market to is our business partners who deliver a wide variety grants and services to support affordable housing throughout Virginia.
LMO: What incredible work! On the flip side, what role do you feel an agency should play in your work, particularly during this time?
CR: I expect agencies to continue to be on the cusp of new technologies and solutions for their clients. The agency model is nimble and responsive, so a good agency will continue that, migrating through the disruption and providing opportunities.
We all thought content was king before, but now it’s even more critical as people are in front of their devices more and screen time is up. We’ve also seen an uptick in engagement with our social media ads, which has been interesting. Because of that, it’s more important than ever to analyze new trends. What are people watching more of? How much is screen time increasing by and on what screens? How do you reach people in a meaningful way? That’s what I expect an agency to be on the forefront of.
LMO: There has certainly been a lot of content for content’s sake in the past few months, but we’ve worked to continue to produce quality, relevant content. It’s a very rewarding feeling to see the increased engagement that has come from it.
CR: I would agree. In order to break through to someone, the content has got to be relevant to their lives. For instance, we launched stayhomevirginia.com to provide resources to support renters, homeowners and landlords during this time and our community outreach group made the effort to switch their in-person classes to a completely virtual platform. It’s important that these resources and the right messages reach the people who need them the most.
LMO: We’ve all fallen victim to at least one unique purchase to get us through quarantine. What would you say has been your most spontaneous purchase?
CR: I booked a spontaneous flight for a family wedding in California that was originally scheduled for the fall but had to be pushed up to this summer due to a few covid-related closures. It was interesting flying from coast to coast, dealing with layovers and being in a mask for 12+ hours – definitely an adventure I did not plan!
LMO: Finally, what is your silver lining to all of this? What has brought you joy during such a challenging time?
CR: Everyone had to slow down a little bit and appreciate what we have. Usually we’d all, myself included, be running a mile a minute to get to where we needed to be, but to be able to step back and have that time together has definitely been a silver lining.
Thanks to Chris for her time with us. LMO will be sharing more of our virtual “coffee break” conversations with clients in the coming weeks – stay tuned!