Finalist – CTC’s Greg Klassen: Canada’s tourism superhero

Swine flu, visa restrictions, a major recession – these travel foes are no match for Greg Klassen.

Swine flu, visa restrictions, a major recession – these travel foes are no match for Greg Klassen, SVP marketing communications and strategy at the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC). Despite a challenging year, Canada maintained its number two spot on FutureBrand’s Country Brand Index, behind only the U.S. Canada has risen 10 spots in three short years on the global ranking of the world’s most respected country brands.

“Greg has been a true ambassador of making sure there is one core message for all markets,” says Nora Ahern, VP group business director at DDB, the CTC’s AOR. She attributes Canada’s high ranking in part to Klassen’s success in disseminating a compelling invitation – “Canada: Keep Exploring” – throughout the nine countries the CTC operates in.

This year, thanks to $20 million in stimulus funds from the federal government, the CTC was able to branch out into new territory, laying the groundwork to start investing in India and Brazil, as well as entering relatively unchartered territory – its own backyard. After several years of inactivity on the home front, the CTC embarked on the “Locals Know” campaign, urging Canadians to try “stay-cations” instead of going abroad.

Launched in June, “Locals Know” included print ads that showed exotic locales (like sand dunes) with the tag “Where is this?” – the answer to which happened to be Canadian (like Saskatchewan).

The campaign also included TV spots that used YouTube-sourced video of real people having real experiences in different parts of the country. The footage had previously been used in the CTC’s first-ever global TV campaign last fall, but, explains Klassen, also worked for this market. “We were able to mobilize quickly, mostly because we understood the kind of customer we were going after in Canada, reflective of our global EQ types,” he says, referring to the Explorer Quotient – a tool developed with Environics to identify the types of travellers who typically come to Canada (such as a “Free Spirit” or an “Authentic Experiencer”).

All creative drove to the website
By the end of August, the site had over three million page views, and the campaign generated over $1.1 million worth of media coverage.

And this year, the EQ profiling tool was taken a step further with an online quiz and a pilot project targeting tour operators abroad. The operators send an EQ quiz to their customer databases to better market Canada. For example, a group tour may not be right for the EQ type that prefers to create their own travel experience. The process has been in the works for about six months, with tests underway in the U.S., the U.K. and Germany.

With a base marketing budget of $38 million (not including the stimulus money), it’s a challenge to compete against countries like Australia or even cities like Las Vegas, which have hundreds of millions to spend more on big TV spots. It’s no wonder then that the CTC has focused so strongly on online and social media – not only due to its cost-effectiveness, but also because it fits the “explorer” lifestyle of the traveller to Canada, according to Klassen.

“If you want to create stories and really talk to people in that conversational manner, it’s very hard to do that just with a print ad,” says Ahern. “Social media was the perfect channel for us to have that open-source communication and show Canada as a traveller sees it from [their] perspective.”

With the help of Radar DDB, the CTC is all over the web – from their own website to their extensive YouTube channel, to sites like Twitter and Facebook to blogs. Just a few weeks ago, Klassen and his team leveraged social media to address a big obstacle. Mexico was a market that was growing in double digits for Canada, partly thanks to the fact that visitors to Canada didn’t need a visa like they did in the U.S. So when a visa was suddenly imposed, the CTC acted fast.

“We brought a bunch of balloons, streamers and signs and went to the airport to welcome Mexicans to Canada,” Klassen explains. “It’s just a simple way of demonstrating to Mexicans that we still love them, that we want them to come visit.” Dubbed “Hola-palooza,” it was filmed and posted to Mexican online distribution channels.

Perhaps Klassen’s  most opportunistic mission recently is for the Olympic Games. On top of inviting foreign celebrity athletes and media to come experience Canada, for the past year the CTC has been creating high-def images and hundreds of hours of B-roll video. The footage is being posted on a digital management system to be used by international media outlets when they’re looking for context or background stories.

“Our objective is that, while the broadcasters are coming to cover a sporting event happening on the west coast of Canada, they’re going to help us turn it into a tourism event that will cover all of Canada,” says Klassen. “This will be an opportunity for us to culminate a five-year progress of our brand and create and change the perception that the world may have around Canada. After that we’re really focused on much more conversion-oriented marketing, more tactical-oriented…really focusing on the retailers, the point of purchase, getting customers who are really enthralled by Canada as a result of watching the Olympics, and frankly getting them on planes and getting them to Canada. We call that ‘harvesting the afterglow’ of the Olympics strategy. So that’s on the lookout for 2010.” 

Vital stats

Marketing team size: 35 in Canada, with teams in nine other countries
Years at the CTC: eight
First job in marketing: marketing supervisor at AT&T
Professional highlight of the past year: the investment made in leveraging the Olympics
Marketing style: strategic, differentiating and compelling

Then and now

How has travel/tourism marketing changed in the past 20 years?
The fundamentals for marketing travel and tourism remain exactly the same, and that’s instilling this sense of thrill that a vacation or travel brings to people. The strategies have changed, the competitive environment has changed, how we reach people and how we market to people has changed significantly, but the essence of the message has remained the same.

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