Deb Archer, Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau

IB Wisconsin's Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet the state's professionals. This week features Deb Archer, president and CEO of the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Business Address: 615 E. Washington Ave., Madison, WI 53703
Phone: 608-258-4944
Websites: and
Birthplace: Lake Forest, Ill.
Spouse/Partner’s Name: Dean Archer
Board Membership: Madison Area Sports Commission, WI Association of CVBs
Organizations: Governor’s Council on Tourism, Destination Marketing Association International, WI Society of Association Executives, TEMPO Madison, Rotary Club of Madison, National Association of Sports Commissions
Education: B.A., Michigan State University, hotel, restaurant, and institutional management, with an emphasis in tourism and a minor in German.

Deb, you have a statewide presence in your role in booking events in the Greater Madison region, and in that role, you both complement other Wisconsin cities and compete with other cities. Can you tell us about your involvement with the GMCVB?
My career with the GMCVB started in February 1994. I have served as president since May 1995. As CEO, my responsibilities focus on providing the vision and energy to lead our team in promoting this exciting destination and communicating important messages about our work and our industry to stakeholders and our volunteer leadership.

A lot of responsibility rides on your knowledge of the tourism industry. How do you stay current?
I regularly read several convention and sports industry trade publications. In addition, I receive RSS feeds from a wide variety of sources and stay current with many industry blogs. Additionally, I subscribe to many industry e-publications. The trade associations most pertinent to our industry are DMAI (Destination Marketing Association International), NASC (National Association of Sports Commissions), and WACVB (WI Association of CVBs).

Who would you say influenced your career the most, and in what way?
The guiding forces throughout my life have been my parents. Both were highly intelligent and valued hard work and integrity. They emphasized education and encouraged my siblings and me to pursue our professional ambitions, wherever they may take us geographically or economically. Some of the “lessons” I learned from them that have served me well professionally are to never burn bridges, not to hold grudges, respect others’ opinions, and to maintain a sense of humility.

Is there an event or a moment at the GMCVB that stands out in your mind as a personal high point?
The solicitation process and securing of Ironman Triathlon for Madison is by far the most exciting and rewarding point during my tenure with the GMCVB. The event has far exceeded our expectations economically and emotionally. Ironman has become a part of the fabric of our community, has inspired citizens to pursue their fitness dream, and infused millions of additional dollars into our economy.

So, after the successes you’ve had, what’s ahead to keep you engaged? What is a long-range goal that you’d like to achieve?
Ensuring our destination has the infrastructure and the resources to achieve the success it deserves are the two looming goals I plan to achieve before I move on from the GMCVB. In my eyes, the reimagining and investment into the future of the Alliant Energy Center, investment into our two city gateways – East Washington Avenue and John Nolen Drive and – hotel development in downtown Madison, would all generate new demand and help sustain our current visitor business. However, prior to investing dollars into infrastructure, the community must realize that the resources dedicated to position greater Madison in the visitor, sports, and convention markets currently pales in comparison to competitors. Before investing in new infrastructure, additional resources must be put into place or new infrastructure investments could be wasted. Ours is a highly competitive business and in order to secure new visitors and events for our destination, we must have more money to get the message out that we are open and ready for business.

Now that we better understand your job, let’s turn to Deb Archer, the person. When you were in high school, what were your career aspirations?
I went to high school in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Those were heady times. I lived during the era of so many political and cultural changes. I dreamt of being an interpreter at the United Nations – my father was from New York City and we visited the U.N. several times. I was fascinated with the energy, the vast array of faces and cultural conversations, and I have always loved listening to other languages being spoken. What I learned while pursuing my German minor is that I am challenged with certain aspects of becoming fluent. My career path turned to my interest in travel and tourism. And, while I didn’t pursue my dream of serving at the U.N., becoming engaged in the tourism industry has fulfilled my dream of meeting people from all walks of life and participating in a business that keeps people employed, and our work keeps us plugged into aspects of politics on a local and state level.

Nice adaptation! So who did give you your first paycheck, and for what?
My first paycheck was from Adler Day Camp in Libertyville, Ill., in 1967. I was a summer day camp counselor. I have no idea how much it was, but I remember that buying clothes off a rack with my own money was thrilling because most of my clothes growing up were hand-me-downs from my older sister and had been sewn by my grandmother. Before that, when I was about 9 or 10, I convinced my dad to pay my brother and me to shine his shoes. I recall putting up a sign in our house pitching my shoe-shining abilities above my brother’s – and undercutting his price for the work. (I think my cost was 10 cents per pair and my brother’s was 15!)

You’re not a Wisconsin native, for all you now do to promote the region. What brought you here?
When I was working for the Kansas City CVB, my account base included CUNA in Madison. I called on CUNA and met my future husband (and booked their national convention for Kansas City!). After long-distance dating and engagement, we played tug of war regarding who would move. I had a toddler daughter and insisted on continuing to work. The GMCVB was looking to expand its convention sales efforts in the early ’90s to support the new exhibition hall at the Dane County Expo Center (now Alliant Energy Center) and the soon-to-be-built Monona Terrace. I was recruited for the GMCVB VP of sales position and moved here in 1994. Dean and I were married shortly thereafter!

How have you handled work/life blend? What do you do for your own health and sanity?
My most important activity for my years in Madison has been raising my daughter, Jenna. Supporting her interests, following her in sports for years has been my passion. Simultaneously I have tried to stay fit by swimming, walking, and taking classes at Harbor Athletic Club. I’ve also become a wild Badger fan (I feel like a bit of a turncoat, being a Spartan grad!). Badger football and basketball games are like religious experiences for me. Honestly. I love the energy, the competition, the music, and the standards by which Badger athletics aspire.

Travel seems inherent in your job. Do you have a favorite destination?
Travel is my life and I have so many favorite spots to visit, it’s difficult to choose. My favorite perennial places to visit are Naples, Fla., Park City, Utah, and Nantucket, Mass. I have long family memories and ties to Naples, I lived in Park City for several years and have many friends there and, my family spent several summer vacations in Nantucket when I was a young adult. I also adore cities and especially love New York, Washington D.C. and Vancouver, British Columbia. Water has a particular lure to me and I hope someday to live on one of our lakes or another beautiful body of water.

Any time for reading while you travel? Or when home, between events and sports games?
I am a non-fiction buff and particularly like biographies. One of the books I’m reading now is Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Who is your favorite writer? Someone you’d like to emulate, perhaps?
The writer Isak Dinesen is a fascinating person to me. She was brilliant, she pursued her dreams of writing, she was not afraid of expressing herself, and she lived in Africa – a continent I hope to visit one day.

Now, the hardest question, perhaps, of all: Can you give us three words you think best describe you?
Smart, hardworking, open-minded.

And how do you help others, in the role of mentor, be smart, hardworking, and open-minded? What advice, for example, do you have for someone who is looking for meaningful work in this economic climate?
Life in today’s world is stressful – we have so many demands put on us 24/7 and the economic and political climate is more unstable than when I was pursuing my career aspirations. I encourage young people to try different work experiences before making a career decision as it is critical for one’s health and well-being to be sure they are pursuing a professional life that will allow them to follow their passion and feed their soul. If a person is able to find a career that affords them those gifts, then they likely will be able to deal with the stress of the world around them.

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