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The CMO50 series: Lisa Ronson, Tourism Australia

It’s not easy to single out just one professional highlight when you’ve had a marketing career as diverse and successful as that of Tourism Australia CMO, Lisa Ronson. But if she had to, it’d be the people she has worked with.

“I’ve made really close contacts within the marketing, advertising and media industry and
with so many brilliant people,” Ronson says. “For me, success always comes back to the
people, teams and bosses I’ve learnt and got so much from.

“As a leader, you have to be collaborative. I learnt early in my career a problem shared is
much easier to solve. And I love diversity of opinion – it makes you infinitely more

It’s this quest to select people and partners who both question and support Tourism
Australia’s marketing ambitions that has helped progress the organisation’s digital
transformation. For Ronson, a ‘digital strategy’ is about making sure you’re not pursuing
digital for its own sake, but as part of a wider customer engagement strategy.

“Digital is not a separate part of the business, it has be incorporated into the business,” she
says. “It’s how today’s consumers are behaving on a day-to- day basis. It’s about mapping
digital to fit with how you want to reach consumers with the right content and at the right

“The consumer’s decision journeys and the touchpoints we can speak to them through are
changing and getting more elaborate daily. You have to keep your focus on the customer’s

Ronson is actively seeking this pursuit of change and learning externally. One example is

Tourism Australia’s technology partner, Adobe, appointed as part of a transformation
program that has seen the group adopt Adobe Experience Cloud.

“I’ve often said to Adobe that I want them to be a partner that challenges us and makes us

uncomfortable,” Ronson comments. “If we’re being constantly challenged by people at the
coalface, we will be better and reaching consumers in more efficient and effective way.”

The same goes with Tourism Australia’s digital and creative agencies. The marketing services

organisation launched a media agency tender last year with a heavy emphasis on
technology, eventually awarding the lucrative contract to UM.

“We have a distributed audience and it’s vital we can target them using technology and
data,” Ronson says.

Foundation steps: Customer and cultural vision

Ronson became CMO of Tourism Australia two-and- a-half years ago after building her
career across several high-profile Australian brands. Starting her professional life at Foster’s
Brewing Group, she moved to VISA International as marketing manager, working her way up
to A/NZ marketing director. A stint with Telstra as head of marketing services was followed
by a shift to David Jones to build the retailer’s financial services business, and led to a role as
head of marketing services at Westpac.

One foundation step upon joining Tourism Australia was looking at the organisation’s vision
to ensure it was something everyone bought into and relates to.

“Underpinning that was the values of the organisation, and making sure people know them,

buy into them and behave by them. That was critical,” Ronson says.

Remaining laser focused on the customer experience is the other leg on the stool, Ronson says.

“Even for us – we don’t ‘own’ the end-to- end customer experience; for us it’s about looking
at how potential customers would research and book a holiday to Australia but then
focusing on what they do when they are here, so we can use a lot of those learnings to
continue to market to audiences like them, ”she says.

“A lot of marketers might go ‘well I own and control point A to point B in the customer
services only’, and not focus on peripheral elements. But you have to walk in the customer’s
shoes. You have to think about that and use influence if there are parts of the journey you
don’t directly control but aren’t working as well as they could be. Use influence, data and
insights to affect change.”

Understanding Australia’s target customer has been a work in progress for Ronson, and she
notes research across 90,000 consumers in 17 international markets forms the basis for
campaigns, content, partnerships and resource allocation.

“Australia is not a mass destination and never will be,” Ronson says. “Demographics-based
targeting wasn’t right for us.”

Instead, Ronson spearheaded a move to tap behavioural and attitudinal profiling
emphasising psychographic characteristics and interests to more accurately plan and buy
media. This work has seen Tourism Australia create personas and work to identify lookalike
consumers that extend the pool of prospects.

“That can be very scary – in some markets, it’s a small percentage of population,” she says.
“We have worked closely with our market research and media agencies to make sure we
can effectively target those people.”

Making an impact

One of her campaign achievements in the past 12 months, and one that helped Ronson earn

13 th on this year’s CMO50 list, was the ‘World’s 50 Best’ restaurants initiative. This was a
step forward in Tourism Australia’s ‘Restaurant Australia’ campaign.

The World’s 50 Best Restaurants is one of the most important events on the global culinary
calendar. In 2017, Tourism Australia secured the event in Melbourne.

“It’s one thing for us to say we have great food and wine. What I’ve brought to the table is
having other influencers tell our story for us,” Ronson explains.

More than 250 international food and wine influencers, including 47 of the world’s best
chefs, travelled to Australia for the awards. Tourism Australia crafted 207 personalised
itineraries and enabled visiting media and chefs to sample the best of Australia’s food and
wine. Since commencing the Restaurant Australia program, food and wine spend has grown
to over $1 billion, accounting for one in five dollars spent by international tourists in

“That was a massive undertaking and the best series of events TA has ever undertaken, with
the most amount of ambassadors on home soil in one go,” Ronson says. “We have had great
feedback from all stakeholders. I’m proud to have been involved from idea to great

Team collaboration

Like many CMOs, Ronson’s other priority has been making sure the marketing function is

structured to facilitate more collaboration. She points out any modern team has to embrace
digital and consumer trends in general. To this end, Ronson has restructured her function
along these key pillars by introducing roles such as GM of digital transformation, and GM of
research and insights.

“It’s important to constantly look at how you work, and adapt agile making practices to
facilitate quicker sprints and execution of ideas and more collaboration across the whole
organisation,” Ronson says.

“All aspects of marketing are constantly evolving. It’s finding the best people passionate
about what they do, whether it’s social, media, digital or content. All are vitally important.
The use of data and insight to inform these areas and optimise, test, learn and move on is
key. And that’s an attitude as much as a skillset. You can hire the smartest person but
without the right attitude, they won’t work culturally with the team.”

Ensuring marketing’s seat at the executive table is a similar collaboration challenge and very
much a matter of communication, Ronson says.

“This sounds basic, but it’s relationship skills – be nice, bounce ideas off them, include them
as part of the process,” she advises. “The quickest way to get someone’s back up is
excluding them – it says you don’t value their opinion. Diversity of opinion is always a good
thing. You’ll get completely different perspectives. Challenge ideas and stress test them with
a wide range of people not for committee thin, but people do have expertise in different

As a CMO, Ronson says she’s asking lots of questions and “not assuming I can’t ask stupid
ones, either”.

“Reading, learning, talking to other CMOs, working with agencies and partners, picking the
right seminars and conferences to go to… all of this opens your mind and helps with
creativity,” she adds.

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