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CMO50 2022 #26-50: Shae Keenan

  • Name Shae Keenan
  • Title Chief marketing officer
  • Company Visit Victoria
  • Commenced role May 2020
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 70 staff
  • Industry Sector Travel and tourism
  • 2021 ranking New to CMO50
  • Brand Post

    Shae Keenan is the first to admit she who used to believe vulnerability in leadership was a weakness. But thanks to her experiences the last couple of years as Visit Victoria’s chief marketing officer, she now knows vulnerability is vital to brave, impactful leadership.

    “As I’ve developed, particularly over the last two years, I’ve learned vulnerability is a strength. I’ve learned to embrace it and I’ve found this openness helps create an environment and culture where imagination, challenge and creativity can thrive,” she says. “Being confident enough to admit you don’t have all the answers and open to continual learning from peers, mentors and of course your team.

    “Another critical aspect of bravery is being able to make decisions in even the most uncertain of times. As leaders, we’ve had to grapple with this more than ever in the past few years. The ability to distil insight and context to provide clarity is so important yet often understated when leading teams.”

    Innovative marketing

    Keenan has had to demonstrate plenty of fortitude as Victoria and its citizens battled through the longest lockdowns of any Australian city (262 days). Covid had a devasting impact on the Victorian visitor economy, with total tourism expenditure for the year ending December 2021 falling 55 per cent to $14.8 billion compared to 2019. At one point, hotel occupancy fell to 20-30 per cent compared with pre-Covid levels of 85-90 per cent.

    “As the tourism marketing body for Victoria, we found ourselves in a situation where we could not do the very thing we’re here to do,” Keenan says. “However, as things opened, we knew we’d need to move quickly and produce the best work to support our industry’s recovery.

    So it’s no surprise to find one of the biggest priorities for Keenan and her team this past year has been to drive national visitation by restoring confidence in Melbourne’s distinct offering. To demonstrate this vibrancy, Visit Victoria has been leveraging its major events calendar.

    “Rallying the team behind this approach using the Australian Open to shift the narrative from ‘most locked down city’ to ‘most vibrant recovery’ provided a single-minded focus and a source of motivation,” Keenan says.

    The ‘Get Set’ campaign employed humour and a strong soundtrack to create impact through TV, digital, social and print. Visit Victoria reimagined partnerships with broadcasters to create innovative ways to extend reach. Activities included a ‘Get Set to Melbourne’ branded tennis court and cam showing live scenes of the city during the 2022 Australian Open, and working Seven’s AFL coverage and featuring key AFL/W players highlighting their favourite places in Melbourne. A media-first broadcast with The Project, sponsorship of Ten’s Australian Grand Prix coverage, and destination partner for new format, Hunted, also took centre stage.

    “We transformed our approach to making creative work. Key to this was working directly with creative people in a way that facilitated great work at great pace,” Keenan says. “Our partners understood and supported our philosophy. Along with recognised agency, Saatchi and Saatchi, we worked with a range of new partners from independent Melbourne talent, Sirap and Monster and Bear, to a production company that had created household television and movie favourites but had never worked in the advertising space, Working Dog Productions. Together with AJF Partnership, Principals and Sayers Brand Momentum, we matched the best creative and strategy partners to the task at hand.

    “This required an enormous leap as a business that had typically worked with a single retained full-service agency. We brought account management in-house and changed the way we work. It has certainly been more complex, but the outcomes have been incredible.”

    Results included 4.9 million visits to the Visit Victoria website against a target 4 million, and 735,000 leads to operator websites, against a target of 450,00. Hotel occupancy peaked at 90 per cent during the Grand Prix and had increased to 65 per cent at time of CMO50 judging. Domestic flight search for Melbourne have also returned to pre Covid levels.

    Data-driven maturity

    It’s not just media and events partnerships Keenan has leveraged. During the Victorian lockdown when travel wasn’t possible, she identified an opportunity to leverage consumer insights to support industry by developing ‘Click for Vic’. The campaign and ecommerce platform was a call to arms for Victorians to support local businesses by buying products online from the safety of home.

    Consumer sentiment tracking data had shown Victorians were concerned about their safety but also the impact on local businesses, she explains. There was greater propensity to support small and medium sized and Australian/independently owned businesses as a result.

    Leveraging insights, ‘Click for Vic’ showcased makers and creators behind Victoria’s tourism businesses to build an emotional connection and drive sales support of local Victorian businesses. At the same time, the campaign was building consideration for future travel and Visit Victoria’s first-party database.

     “The campaign required rapid transformation in campaign delivery, fast-tracking our technology blueprint and introduction of agile methodologies,” Keenan says. It was also the first retail shopping campaign developed by an Australian tourism body.

    Furthering the data-driven nature of these efforts were data-sharing agreements with three online ecommerce platforms: Victorian Country Market, Providoor and Co-lab Pantry. This enabled to aggregate retail platforms along with almost 500 individual businesses.

    “We accessed consumer data behaviour to track sales in real time, identify high demand product categories and optimise campaign performance,” Keenan says.

    On day one, the website attracted 76,000 consumers - the largest ever visitation in a single day. Campaign recall was 50 per cent, and one in four Victorians made a purchase as result of seeing the campaign. For the long term, the tourism body has more than 600,000 leads for the future and recorded 74 per cent consideration for future travel. It also acquired 21,000 new names for its database.

    Commercial acumen

    Helping deliver these commercial outcomes is a restructure Keenan orchestrated to facilitate better delivery of Visit Victoria’s marketing strategy. To do this, she consolidated teams across three key orientations: Consumer, commercial and industry. This, in turn, helped with negotiation of commercial relationships with airline, hotels and travel agents.

    “This enables a holistic view of global commercial partnerships to maximise Visit Victoria’s investment, reduce duplication, establish data sharing agreements, and ensure brand consistency,” she says. “It facilitates far more strategic and high-level engagement with key partners.”

    A good example is the shift from multiple agreements with a single airline across multiple markets to established global partnerships with several key partners to ensure Melbourne and Victoria is on the Australian itinerary of international travellers.

    Leadership impact

    To maintain motivation in the depths of the Victorian lockdown, Keenan instilled a culture and shared goal to ‘focus on what we Can do’ to support industry and ensure the team was ready when travel returned.

    A big shift was introducing agile ways of working with twice weekly standup meetings via Teams, appointing project leads across work streams and a rotating scrum master. “This initiative was incredibly successful, not only delivering campaign outcomes but building team connection, comradery and communication across the business,” she says. “Staff indicated these meetings became a critical ‘lifeline’ in staying connected and contributed to high engagement levels.

    The revised marketing restructure also enabled promotion of high performers and identified clear career pathways. “Despite being undertaken remotely, feedback was overwhelmingly positive evidenced by a strong culture and low attrition,” Keenan says.

    In complement, there’s been a shift from ‘where we work’ to ‘how we work’. “Through strong engagement we’ve identified the types of work we do and the types of work we need to prioritise, then mapped this work with styles of work that will foster the best outcomes,” Keenan says.

    “I have crafted a set of guiding principles about how we work with the key being that I trust and empower the team to make the choices that are best for them, the business and our industry based on our priorities, and we all hold each other accountable.”

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