CMO50 2020 #15: Melina Cruickshank

  • Name Melina Cruickshank
  • Title Chief audience and marketing officer
  • Company REA Group
  • Commenced role June 2019
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 72 staff, 6 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Media and entertainment
  • 2017 ranking 23
  • Related

    Brand Post

    Since joining REA Group 18 months ago, Melina Cruickshank has deliberately placed emphasis on being as transparent as possible with her team and making sure they know what’s important to her as a leader.

    “I’ve been comfortable talking to my mistakes and flaws, while sharing my values and what motivates me, all of which I’ve never had the courage to be so open about previously,” she comments. “I feel this approach has allowed people to more effectively collaborate, contribute and shine. Our leaders are building ‘proactive’ teams, where everyone regularly contributes ideas.”

    Such an approach has arguably been vital to bringing together previously separate teams into the new Audience and Marketing division. The more than 70-strong function led by Cruickshank includes behavioural and personalisation, content and insights, corporate affairs, economic research, consumer and customer marketing, data science and analytics specialist functions.

    The Audience and Marketing function is designed to help engineer profitable growth for the business and see marketing and customer teams collaborate much more closely with product, engineering and sales, Cruickshank says.

    “Joining REA Group from the industry’s number two, my remit was to bring a challenger mindset to the marketing division of the market leader,” Cruickshank says. “My belief is the best technology-led companies bring marketing, product and engineering together, to ensure collaboration is at the heart of how products are created, marketed and sold.”

    The new structure and shift in mindset has unleashed a step-change in productivity, Cruickshank says. “It is influencing the strategic agenda through deeper, more collaborative relationships working towards shared goals throughout the business,” she continues.  

    “Our team also developed a ‘shared mindset’ around costs, removing ‘silly costs’ and investing in ‘smart costs’. This approach fuelled new growth initiatives. We have embraced a discipline of establishing smaller project teams driving big results.

    “By changing the operating rhythm, we are operating so much faster and with high levels of accountability, which is unlocking a sense of greater impact and reward back to our teams.”

    While transformation was challenging at times, the new strategy, structure and ways of working has delivered record results. For example, in July 2020, set an all-time audience record, reaching 12 million Australians, up 41 per cent year-on-year. The site chalked up 117 million visits to its app and deep audience engagement, extending’s leadership position to over 3.1x more visits than its nearest competitor.

    Traffic also increased to the site’s buy section by more than 50 per cent and buyer enquiries followed, delivering customers increased lead volumes, a core business driver impacting revenue and shareholder value.

    Innovative marketing

    Audience leadership is at the heart of REA’s strategy and’s competitive advantage, Cruickshank says. “It provides REA with a strong moat against well-funded and increasingly global competition.”  

    To cement this position, Cruickshank’s team launched the multi-channel ‘Millions More Buyers’ campaign in February in order to convey as the one platform to buyers and sellers. The campaign rolled out across radio, social media and digital channels and saw search activity and data surfaced to produce hundreds of stories illustrating real-time consumer activity.

    Campaign results, including those highlighted by Kantar cross-media analysis, showed messaging was seen and heard over 20 million times, reaching +95 per cent of the target audience in key markets. Awareness metrics strengthened REA’s state-by-state category leadership and there was a significant uplift in consideration at a national representative level, Cruickshank says. In addition, preference increased, taking to 48 per cent, the strongest result the brand has had since August 2019.

    Data-driven approach

    On the other side of’s marketplace are real estate agents. The brand’s core value proposition to these B2B customers centres around driving the most leads and the most valuable ones, Cruickshank says. Developing the data and personalisation strategy is crucial to building and identifying these high-intent enquiries.

    “We are seeking to understand the motivations and behaviours of our users at each stage of the property lifecycle,” she explains. “With over 90 million visits per month to the app and website, our marketing and product teams leverage these huge volumes of data to inform relevant messages and content via app notifications and email. These campaigns are closely monitored and finessed by the marketing analytics teams.

    “Data is used to ensure we are creatively delivering micro personalised property experiences to individuals visiting”

    A great example is personalised email communications that help validate assumptions on audience segments such as ‘property owners’ by suggesting users ‘Track their property’. As at July, more than 2 million people were tracking the value of their properties across Australia, an increase of 62 per cent YoY.

    To further refine audience segment know-how, Cruickshank’s data science and personalisation marketing teams collaborated with REA’s growth product team to launch ‘Next Best Action’ specifically targets property owners. ‘Next Best Action’ is delivered through a new omni-channel platform called Braze, an data- and technology-led initiative between product and marketing.

    Since launch, more than 180,000 people have accessed information via ‘Next Best Action’. “As continues learning the intricacies of different property buying journeys, eventually our feature will deliver individual sets of actions to each person, rather than at an audience segment level, delivering micro personalisation,” Cruickshank adds.

    Commercial acumen

    Recognising a significant opportunity to better leverage’s unparalleled consumer demand data, another one of Cruickshank’s team’s innovations this past year was a new content strategy into news, data and insights. Data analysts and data visualisation specialists were hired to bolster the Audience and Growth team within the marketing division.

    Leveraging its data and overlaying it with unique insights and commentary, REA Insights was launched as the group’s consumer data brand in March 2020. Cruickshank says the ambition is to position the business as a serious market challenger to the leader in property insights and analytics, Core Logic.

    She points out REA Insights reports are now commonly referenced in Australian media, utilised by government and financial institutions including the Reserve Bank of Australia, and relied on by customers. “We are developing a number of products using proprietary data and insights, which will create a new long-term revenue stream for the business,” Cruickshank says.

    With increased focus throughout FY20, the news section of achieved 107 per cent year-on-year growth in visits; 101 per cent year-on-year growth in article views and a 78 per cent year-on-year increase in unique visits.


    Like her peers, Cruickshank has had to adapt, pivot and completely rethink her plans in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “The COVID-19 pandemic was an exercise in ruthless prioritisation,” she says. “The division became very focused on eliminating ‘nice to haves’ as we worked to protect and grow our brands. Every individual identified where their discipline could drive greater efficiency and profitability for the business. Some seriously inspired work has sprung up purely from working in collaboration with product, engineering and sales.”

    One example is ‘The Value of Home’ brand campaign, which resulted from REA’s decision to double-down on marketing during the crisis.

    “When COVID-19 hit, many multinational brands pulled back on advertising. REA saw an opportunity to not only grow leadership and market share, but to face into the uncertainty and actively continue to stimulate the market,” Cruickshank explains. “A well-functioning property sector is vital to Australia’s long-term economic prosperity and core to our customers’ ongoing success.

    “We needed to continue the narrative that buyers and sellers could and should transact, despite COVID-19 physical restrictions, to help ensure that post-COVID-19, our business, customers and industry would retain our respective positions of strength.”

    To do this, the original ‘Millions More Buyers’ TVC, which featured hundreds of successful sellers celebrating closely in one house, was substituted for drone-led backyard vision reflecting social distancing restrictions. Campaign messaging evolved to reflect homes suddenly becoming offices, schools and gyms.

    “We deliberately maintained optimism, avoiding ‘unprecedented’, ‘challenging times’ and ‘in it together’ rhetoric,” Cruickshank says. “The call to action pivoted to ‘Track your property’ encouraging consumers to understand the value of their homes.

    ‘The Value of Home’ brand campaign was delivered within three weeks with a limited budget of $40,000 and five people in the core working group. Four TVCs, six social edits and two videos for YouTube were created using drone shooting across eight locations.

    Complimenting the brand marketing campaign was a simultaneous in-app execution. This was the first in-app message campaign to use REA’s Braze platform and also the first to utilise an audience built within its Tealium Customer Data Platform (CDP).

    ‘The Value of Home’ TVC spots resulted in a 37 per cent uplift in Property Tracks across the campaign period, while the in-app campaign delivered a unique open rate of 24.59 per cent and a conversion rate of 8.2 per cent. Direct app and Web traffic increased by at least 16 per cent over the campaign period and maintained top of mind awareness.

    “Utilising in-house media and creative capabilities, a first for REA, we were able to respond quickly to the changing landscape and capitalise on opportunities as they presented, increasing audience numbers and engagement,” Cruickshank says.

    Cross-functional collaboration

    Two further REA innovations during the COVID-19 crisis are digital inspections and online auctions. Within days of government restrictions shutting down public inspections and onsite auctions, the product teams had launched both offerings. Worked included striking partnerships with 10 online auction platforms to enable buyers and sellers to continue to connect and transact online.

    Cruickshank says the customer marketing team was an integral player in driving early adoption of these features, with an initial acquisition target of 35,000 online inspection videos live in the first month. To achieve this, it created a dedicated hub for agents with filming guides and granular details on user statistics.

    A national education campaign was then delivered to more than 10,000 real estate agents, driving uptake of the new features. This enabled consumers to continue viewing and ‘inspecting’ properties while allowing vendors to market homes safely by advertising online.

    In parallel, the marketing content team ramped up efforts, informing customers and consumers through owned and earned channels about shifting restrictions and the property market landscape. The consumer marketing team also released a national tactical print campaign, ‘Stay safe, Stay home. Online Inspections are here’, supported by digital, social and radio channels.

    In the first three weeks, over 50,000 buy and rent listings featured digital inspections.  Views on digital inspections and 3D tours averaged over 1.5 million each week since launch.

    “Core to the success of the execution has been a heightened focus on cross-functional teams working together, albeit virtually, to drive positive outcomes,” Cruickshank concludes. “This was only made possible due to the strong cultural foundations and values-led approach REA had in place prior to moving to virtual working, including – Do It With Heart; One Team; Keep It real; Inspire It; Owen It; Re-imagine it.”  

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