Director of Marketing for Friends of Southwest Virginia
As the Director of Marketing for Friends of Southwest Virginia, Olivia Bailey utilizes her connections from her past career in journalism to better draw attention to the Southwest region of Virginia. She helps to increase tourism, residential interest, and business prospects to further contribute to growth in the region. In this Sisterhood Spotlight, Olivia discusses changes from throughout SW Virginia, her role as Director of Marketing, and her favorite activities and holiday traditions throughout the region.
The Friends of Southwest Virginia nonprofit aims to preserve, promote, and present the assets of Southwest Virginia to encourage community growth in the area. Having grown up in Smythe County, what changes in the area have you noticed in the last decade?
I am a little biased, but Southwest Virginia is one of the most wonderful places to live, visit, and explore in the entire world. I wish I could admit that it did not take me until my adult life to realize what a gem our home is. Sometimes when you grow up in a rural community, you are almost aching to get out into the ‘real world’ of urban and suburban life. I was blessed enough to be able to travel the world throughout and after college, but I started to appreciate move after move how much I missed this region.
Southwest Virginia, Smyth County included, has invested in strong economic development that is in alignment with our regional goals and true to our cultural heritage. Over the past two decades, we have seen growth in the creative economy, embracing the natural beauty our region has, as we promote outdoor recreation. We have welcomed sharing our mountain music and generational crafts that make our culture what it is today. It is special.
For a long time, I think much of the nation, even internally in the Commonwealth, Appalachia and Southwest Virginia tended to be perceived in a negative connotation. In this role, I get to invite people to come visit us every day. What I find when people get here is that they fall in love with our region, our people, and our history. Our communities have taken an active role over the past few years to tell our own stories, rather than letting those perceptions linger. I am proud of Southwest Virginia and the resilience this region continues to show.
You have a background in broadcast journalism with some of the most recognizable outlets in the country, how has that experience helped you in your new role as Director of Marketing?
I have been lucky to work with some of the most inspiring people throughout my careers in broadcast journalism and the tourism industry. The success of any position I have ever held has always returned to a single factor: relationships. I have a natural curiosity for meeting people and learning their story. Throughout my time in the broadcast journalism industry, I always tried to take that a step further and grasp for the context of the story a person, a community, or a business had to tell.
As I have transitioned into my role in tourism and from a marketing perspective, stories are my focus. Because my previous career allowed me to deep dive into those communities and form long-lasting relationships with leaders, this adjustment felt seamless. My role as an anchor and reporter had allowed me to travel across much of the region. This quickly gave me a perspective on the assets that our partners have to offer. I feel comfortable inviting guests to our downtowns and attractions because I have spent so much time in these localities amongst friends.
While the work is a bit of a different focus, I still interact frequently with media and journalists. It trained me to pitch stories succinctly and find the depth of where the heart of an article is. Those communication styles help us to recruit and host journalists to our region, but it also allows me to develop our marketing styles tailored to visitor behavior and interest. And out of fun, the previous 2:30 a.m. wake-up calls also trained me to be ready to wake up for the early morning sunrise video shoots.
Southwest Virginia is known for its spectacular views, outdoor recreation opportunities, and vibrant cultures and traditions. What is your favorite part about living in this area?
You still know your neighbors in Southwest Virginia. While I am among those cheering for economic development and innovation in the region, our leaders still have a respect for the connections and the culture, tradition, and natural beauty our localities hold. We have been able to maintain an essence of community. Even in some of my most important conversations, the dialogue may start with checking on a loved one, a new job, or an upcoming medical procedure. It’s a family.
I admire the ability to be able to get out and about in some of the most beautiful places throughout the region. From mountains, lakes, rivers, to visiting wild ponies, elk, or bison, Southwest Virginia almost has a majestic ability to inspire when you find yourself out in the natural resources. I have to remind myself often never to take the place I live for granted. We are so blessed with the proximity to some of the world’s most incredible views and deep history. I also love music. When you look through the sheer talent that has originated from Southwest Virginia, it is quite incredible. You never have to travel far to be a part of that history. Most of our localities here host jam sessions every week where those traditions are passed down.
As we enter into the holidays, what are some of your favorite community traditions celebrated this time of year? How can others get involved?
Southwest Virginia localities have a claim to fame when it comes to growing Christmas trees, particularly on the edges of Grayson and Smyth Counties. Farms from Southwest Virginia have supplied some of the most prominent trees across the country over the years. My favorite Christmas traditions is being able to pick and cut directly from the farm, coming home, and decorating with family. I look forward to that day every year, which often for me, falls the weekend after Thanksgiving.
One of my newest traditions that I participate in with my church is our Reverse Advent Calendar. Southwest Virginia, like many communities across the Commonwealth, deals with severe food insecurity and childhood hunger. I started this with Highlands Fellowship, which provides a box to participants to fill each day with a non-perishable food item leading up to the holiday season. Those items are then donated to a local food bank and distributed to families in need. It has been a blessing to me and many of my close friends. It has been an avenue to have those important conversations with the next generation about the importance of service and giving back. Many of the children have become so passionate about being able to fill their box each day. It is a fun and easy idea to implement love for our community in a direct way for anyone looking for a new family tradition this holiday season.
About Olivia Bailey
Olivia Bailey serves as the Director of Marketing for Friends of Southwest Virginia. Olivia holds Bachelor’s degrees in Mass Communications and Public Policy & Community Service and a Master's degree in Community & Organizational Leadership from Emory & Henry College. Olivia joined the tourism industry in 2022, but previously spent a decade working in broadcast journalism. Olivia served as a well-known morning anchor at WCYB-TV in Bristol, Virginia. She also has experience working for national media outlets across the country, including CNN and CBS News.
In 2022, Olivia was appointed to serve on the Board of Trustees for the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center by Governor Glenn Youngkin. She additionally serves in a volunteer capacity as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for children in the foster care system throughout Southwest Virginia. She has previously served as a coach for Girls on the Run, a wish granter for Make-A-Wish Foundation, and a mentor for TN Achieves. Olivia is also a trained volunteer firefighter and previously served with Avoca Volunteer Fire Department just across the Tennessee state line.
Olivia enjoys reading and running in her free time. She enjoys live music of all kinds and is frequently found at bluegrass shows. She is a native of Chilhowie, but currently resides in Abingdon.