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Sam Tidmarsh 

Tourism Ireland 'kept the lights on' with paid social, marketing body tells IAA

Tourism Ireland 'kept the lights on' with paid social, marketing body tells IAA

Tourism Ireland redirected its marketing budgets into paid social media to “keep the brand story alive”, after initially culling spend when the pandemic put a stop to overseas travel.

Speaking at IAA’s Global Think Tank, in partnership with Mediatel and BBC Global News earlier this week, Mark Henry, central marketing director for the island of Ireland's promotional body, told the virtual audience that  unlike some organisations, there was “no silver lining to Covid for international tourism in a year of closed borders".

He added: “Dublin city centre is totally devoid of anyone except for Deliveroo folks on bikes.”

However, Henry described how Tourism Ireland has “managed to keep the lights lit, keep the brand equity high and keep the intention to travel strong” thanks to a strategy focused on paid social, combined with organic social and to a lesser extent, TV programming.

“With absolutely nothing to do, we paused marketing activity last March. The campaign slogan we had at the time, 'Fill your heart with Ireland', did actually prove to be quite a relevant message during lockdown,” Henry told viewers.

But with a social media following, which Henry cited as one of the biggest for international tourism, an opportunity was seen to leverage its social network.

With the principal objective to keep the lights on and position the island of Ireland positively for the restart of international tourism, Henry described how it established nine virtual cross-organisational teams to curate and source content for social media linked to “consumer passion points.”

Making the most of its slogan, Henry explained how, “filling your heart with Ireland was exactly what we needed to do during the lockdown.”

Leveraging “the whole tourism sector” both as a source of content, but also as a wider media distribution channel, Tourism Ireland created videos that fitted modern trends, including culinary skills.

“Everyone was baking everything, so videos about Irish scones did particularly well,” Henry joked.

Henry went on to describe how the organisation also used music in its videos with imagery of Irish landmarks to stimulate wellbeing and inspiration, whilst also serving the purpose of reminding potential visitors of the locations that they could come and experience “when the time was right.”

Although, while initially much of the content was posted organically to, “save the marketing money for when we need to promote, later in the year...it became evident that [paid social media] would be able to provide the burst to get the content out proactively,” Henry said.

According to The Sun, the campaign included attributing €106,000 to promote a YouTube video leveraging celebrity voices “to get people dreaming of visiting,” including James Bond star Pierce Brosnan, who shared (for free) his favourite spots in Ireland.

Alongside social media, Tourism Ireland also invested in TV programming, including supporting the production of Adrian Dunbar’s Coastal Ireland, which aired on Channel 5 in February 2021.

“It worked,” Henry said, claiming that his team “heavily tracked consumer perceptions and travel intentions and that the island of Ireland performed ahead of competitive destinations over the course of the past 12 months.”

“With the benefit of hindsight, we would have been more active [with paid social] sooner,” Henry said.

According to Fáilte Ireland’s chief executive Paul Kelly when speaking to The Irish Times, the travel and tourism industry in Ireland pre-pandemic “once supported 260,000 jobs, but revenue declined by 80% and tens of thousands of workers became unemployed”.

During the event Q&A, Mediatel News posited whether there was a gap between the positive messaging of the campaign and the harsh reality the industry has faced.

Responding, Henry described how when Tourism Ireland initially considered investing in paid social, it took into consideration how consumers would respond to advertising, and whether “it was incongruous with redundancies, and how the tourism sector would feel at home if they saw it”.

However, Henry said: “We got no negative feedback at all, and we’ve had really strong encouragement from the tourism sector to say we need to keep the flag flying.”

“We have decided to continue [paid social], and continue to source content from industries and communities [in Ireland]... to support the places that rely on tourism so much. We need to get those people back in jobs again,” Henry explained.

Storytelling through a pandemic, the IAA's Global Think Tank event, in collaboration with BBC Global News also featured a panel discussion chaired by Sherice Harris, head of brand at Speedo, as well as spotlighting further brand stories from BBC StoryWorks, Fedex Express and Mastercard.

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