Ones to Watch

CMO50 2022 One to Watch: Michaela Chan

  • Name Michaela Chan
  • Title Chief marketing officer
  • Company West HQ
  • Commenced role November 2020
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 8 staff, 2 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Hospitality and entertainment
  • 2021 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    Michaela Chan’s golden marketing moment over the last 12 months also reflects one of her bold decisions as a CMO.

    The moment was seeing West HQ staff in the entertainment and destination venue’s brand and talent acquisition campaign.

    “Their smiles were authentic and heartfelt, particularly as we did the shoot the week we had re-opened after the 2021 lockdown,” Chan recalls. “I truly believe this authenticity came through and enabled the feeling of connection and belonging which inspired the results of the campaign.”

    It was also a brave call to use West HQ staff front and centre in the campaign instead of the professional models recommended by the agency. “They are a beautiful modest team, and it was a risk that they would shy away from the limelight. Their passion and loyalty shone through,” Chan says.

    Chan is the CMO of West HQ, a destination venue sitting on 8 hectares on land in Sydney’s western suburbs. The complex encompasses the original Rooty Hill RSL venue, as well as the recently built 2000-seat Sydney Coliseum Theatre, Sydney Gymnastic and Aquatic Centre, Novotel West HQ and a host of food and beverage partner outlets. She joined the team in November 2020, just a year after the rebrand and with ambitious plans to bring the destination to life.

    It's been a tough time to deliver on this ambition given the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, Chan has made many inroads and is proud of what marketing has contributed establish West HQ as a destination and in its quest to lead post-Covid recovery. “We have defined the business strategy to deliver commercial success led by, at times, ‘back to the basics’ marketing innovation,” she says.

    Innovative marketing

    Just take the work done to recruit staff as Sydney emerged out of mandatory lockdown in October 2021. West HQ had been decimated by staff vacancies as a result of the situation. To recover, West HQ’s focus was on the engagement, retention and talent acquisition of its most important customers, staff.

    A talent acquisition program launched in February 2022 as part two of the mid-2021 ‘Welcome Home’ brand campaign to highlight West HQ as a place where customers feel welcomed. The messaging was also about cementing West HQ as a place to rediscover and reconnect from the impacts of the pandemic.

    “With 93 per cent of the company’s surveyed employees living within a 25km radius of West HQ and coming from over 30 different countries and speaking 40 different languages, it was important to highlight not just a cultural destination, but one connected to a diverse community,” Chan says. “Being one of Western Sydney’s largest non-government employees, it was also important to highlight the range of employment opportunities by showcasing the diversity of West HQ’s real workforce.”

    The ’innovation’ was a back-to-basics media plan: Utilisation of 300+ West HQ digital screens, a local area bus side, local area letterbox drops and geo-targeted digital display and social. The program was effective, with a 60 per cent increase in the careers’ page and a 25 per cent increase viewing time. Both the quality and quantity of applicants increased too.

    “However, these are vanity indicators. The effectiveness of the program is that while Australia is experiencing its lowest unemployment rate in 48 years, and with the accommodation and food services sectors included in the biggest absolute number of job vacancies in 2022, West HQ has successfully increased its workforce by 15 per cent,” Chan says.

    Business smarts

    A more strategic shift Chan is spearheading is how the complex positions itself. West HQ, with its Rooty Hill RSL legacy, traditionally focused on building its membership base by targeting residents in the 5km local trading area. Due to this heritage and being a registered club in NSW, all customers (member and guests) are required to sign-in citing their residential address. This established the KPI of West HQ foot traffic.

    In December 2020, Chan established a whole-of-destination marketing strategy to increase revenue through a customer experience-led acquisition and retention strategy. This aligned to the entertainment, fitness, lifestyle and accommodation segments represented onsite. It was also spurred on by attracting more guests (versus members) and influencing organisational change.

    To do this, Chan defined the role of the West HQ sectors and brands through a holistic West HQ customer experience lens. She established the ‘why’ of a whole-of-destination mindset among the senior leadership team.

    The next step was broadening the focus from the 5km local trading area to a 25km trading area, then segmenting West HQ’s foot traffic numbers to track guests and members distinctly. By establishing guests as a percentage of foot traffic, a new KPI could subsequently be reported in the monthly board reports. An additional KPI of average customer F&B spend was also adopted as a proxy for dwell time.

    “This organisational change defined the business strategy of West HQ as being an events-driven destination business focused on attracting new visitors, increasing foot traffic and driving increased F&B revenue,” Chan says.

    Data-driven maturity

    Complementing the strategic work is data. To support the whole-of-destination approach, Chan and her team are using West HQ’s ‘acquisition magnets’ of the Sydney Coliseum Theatre and CHU Restaurant by China Doll to specifically geo-target new audiences across the wider 25km radius it’s now seeking to serve.

    “From March, a geo-targeted digital approach was launched through social, display and search activity, which effectively increased engagement and West HQ visitation and exceeded respective cost and engagement benchmarks,” Chan says.

    “For Facebook, a key focus on dining offerings, the activity has been operating with a CPC of $0.82, well below entertainment benchmarks. Geo-targeting is applied across promotional offers to include users who are located within a 10km radius of West HQ. This targeting ensures the ads are contextually relevant, intended to increase the likelihood of visitation, given precinct proximity.”

    Once a user lands on the West HQ site, they can be retargeted programmatically based on site engagement data and using propensity modelling based on which visitors are most likely to convert.

    “This audience data ensured effective retargeting to drive a low CPC and a high CTR and in conjunction with geo-targeting, allows us to effectively reach above benchmark engagement metrics,” Chan says. “Search activity is currently operating with a CTR of 20.6 per cent, well above the industry benchmark.”

    This data-driven approach has already resulted in increased foot traffic, guest visitation and revenue contributing to commercial and growth outcomes while delivering bottom-line impact. Chan notes an increase in foot traffic of 20 per cent and increase in F&B average spend of over 30 per cent.

    A more specific example she uses to demonstrate marketing’s contribution and impact was the marketing driven ‘Food’ led recovery program in March 2022.

    For Chan, this was a program focused on price, product, place, price and promotion, resulting in a $25 New Town Thai Family Meal Deal targeting local area families. The team used geo-targeting digital activity, local print newspapers and letterbox drops, based on the insight of a higher propensity of both multicultural people families residing in the local area. It resulted in a near 400 per cent increase in New Town Thai gross revenue.

    Leadership impact

    Chan has worked her way through these initiatives while coping with the direct fallout of the pandemic. When she joined, the West HQ team had undergone immense change due to the impact of the first mandatory lockdowns, and marketing headcount had reduced from 13 to five.

    “In my first 30 days, clarity was provided to both the team and the broader business, as the team build was similar to an ‘agency model’ whereby marketing executives were sector focused - entertainment, fitness, lifestyle and accommodation,” she explains.

    In the next 60 days, the whole-of-destination marketing strategy was established, providing clarity and context around marketing roles as well as that of West HQ. This internal agency model enables scalability, agility, marketing resource efficiency and best-practice media, creative and digital, Chan says.

    “The team is driven by the values of teamwork, transparency and accountability with expected behaviours of being ‘don’t walk past a problem’ and ‘own your mistakes,” she concludes. “These are intrinsic to larger corporate companies, but an evolution given the Rooty Hill RSL legacy.

    “The team celebrates performance success by the ‘lag ‘indicators of foot traffic, guest visitation percentage and revenue versus the traditional marketing ‘lead indicators’ such as impressions, website traffic, eDM open rates. This keeps the focus on the business outcomes and most importantly, their contrition to the commercial success of West HQ.”    

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