Lisa and Pat Strader’s shared values have led them to parallel careers. In their roles, they take side-by-side joy in celebrating and promoting West Virginia.
FITTINGLY, TWO OF WEST VIRGINIA’S BIGGEST CHEERLEADERS met while marketing one of its signature attractions: whitewater rafting.
Working at the New River Travel Council in the early 1990s, Lisa Strader—then Howlett—discovered that she enjoyed sharing her love of the state with others, and she took her enthusiasm to the booming rafting industry in 1996. Pat Strader had been a rafting guide in college and had gone to Washington, D.C., after graduating but traded in the suit and tie and the fancy salary in the late ‘90s for a job marketing the whitewater he knew and loved. “So we did marketing at competing rafting companies,” says Lisa Strader. A mutual friend introduced them and, in 2002, they were married. Both native West Virginians—she from Beckley, he from outside Parkersburg—they’ve worked hard to shape leading roles in marketing their beloved home state.
Lisa Strader landed back at the New River Travel Council—now the Visit Southern West Virginia CVB—in 2006. Executive director since 2019, she gets to market some of the state’s most unique destinations: Hatfield–McCoy Trails, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, Tamarack, and more. “It’s incredible what we have now that wasn’t here 30 years ago,” she says. For her work promoting her region’s many charms, she was named 2022 West Virginia Tourism Professional of the Year by the West Virginia Department of Tourism.
Building on his marketing experience, Pat Strader started Digital Relativity in 2010. He calls it a “tradigital” marketing agency. “My roots are in digital, but we do everything from video and TV to radio production—we’re even doing interior design work on visitors centers,” he says. DR works primarily in West Virginia—clients have included Gassaway-based GoMart, Mountain Stage, and the state Department of Tourism—and, today, employs 24.
We caught up with the Straders to learn more.
You’ve been in southern West Virginia since before Tamarack was built in the mid-’90s, Lisa. What’s changed?
LS: We’ve seen the outdoor adventure companies turn into actual resorts, with ziplines and all the other add-ons they have now. Our thing used to be to get them here on Friday and out on Sunday—now we can keep them busy for as long as they’ll stay. The Hatfield–McCoy Trails, the evolution of lodging from hotel rooms to cabins to the third-party rental platforms, the national park—we’ve seen so much change.
Q: How does Digital Relativity market its clients to get past old stereotypes and misconceptions?
PS: We work to understand the right tactic and strategies to achieve our clients’ goals and objectives—it’s all based on what’s important to their business. In travel and tourism, the storytelling piece especially is a primary focal point—the stories of these communities are fascinating, whether it be adventure and activities or culture and history, all the things that make each place unique.
Q: Is it a benefit to market a region rather than a county?
LS: We originally represented these nine counties as the New River Travel Council back in the 1960s, and that evolved into the Visit Southern West Virginia CVB. Some counties in the state made the decision to start CVBs on their own. But since we’ve historically been regional, it was accepted, and we’re fortunate to do this as a region—from Nicholas County to Mercer County to the coalfields. And we work with the surrounding CVBs, too.
Q: What do you enjoy about marketing West Virginia?
LS: It’s very fulfilling to meet people coming to West Virginia and see how much they fall in love with it—seeing it new through their eyes.
PS: We do things outside the state, but West Virginia is our core, and we truly believe we play a part in changing the narrative. What Lisa and I do is similar in that we are helping people understand that West Virginia is a very special place. You have to be passionate about that—we just can’t wait to tell people what this place is all about.