Mind Your Business

Date: 23 June, 2020

Yesterday, today, tomorrow: Ali Levins of Fáilte Ireland shares her point of view – “We’re coming out of this crisis with a greater sense of freedom – a desire to try new things.”

Ali Levins

By Ali Levins

Head of Marketing Communications, Fáilte Ireland.
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Looking back, what is the most unexpected change you’ve encountered since lockdown?

My marketing career background is in FMCG and one of the key things that distinguishes the tourism sector from a category like that, is how stable and cyclical it is. During the pandemic, that changed overnight. Suddenly, our industry was dealing with seismic change. Our team at Fáilte Ireland had to embrace this and re-orientate ourselves, our practices and our responses, to deal with the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) situation we were all in.

There was a big human impact to all of this too. We as a team had just launched a new brand platform – Keep Discovering, which represented nearly a years’ worth of strong strategic and creative work. Within days of launch, it had to be switched off, which was an easy decision, but the team did need to acknowledge the disappointment in that. I think that was what was felt most keenly, at the beginning of the crisis, the human impact. We are so connected to the industry and every day we were hearing the very human side of the fallout. The businesses and families and individuals whose life’s work was under significant threat overnight. As an organisation, we had lived and learned through the last recession and there was important muscle memory there; we were very quick to pivot from our usual consumer focus communications, to B2B. We were operating in a space where everything was important and urgent and communications became central to that. Communications that provided much needed clarity, comfort and structure to our industry versus brand building. We also took the opportunity to ask our colleagues in the HSE if we could help in any way, which resulted in a joint collaboration to create the #HoldFirm campaign. Overall, we moved at a pace, and embraced necessary change in a way that I’m really proud of.


In your day-to-day, what are the most unforeseen tasks taking priority?

The overall theme for the team now, is agility and ambiguity. We’re making plans in a context that’s ever shifting, for instance, we were working to an opening date of the end of July and now it’s the end of June. And in this adrenaline packed time, I keep reminding the team how great it will be to look back and see how much we were able to achieve in such a short space of time. Agility and speed, are valuable skills that we want to retain as a team and within the wider organisation. We have so many stakeholders, which can be a barrier to speed, but a ‘speed of trust’ has been deployed internally and this trust has been further bolstered by our working with trusted partners to get where we want to go, quickly. We are also resetting our focus, creating a balance between urgent and important, where important is getting the time it needs. For instance, we’re engaged in a brand architecture project, which might seem like a luxury at this time, but our priorities now have to include what we need to inform what’s next. We can’t only be focussed on the now and the immediate future.

As a team there has been an absolute need to constantly look at timelines, resource and what needs to be done. You need almost military precision in your approach to give you clarity to move on things quickly. Quite a few members of our team are fantastic at this, so we need to lean into them and leverage our different strengths. We were a relatively new team, and this has been an opportunity to forge in fire, so to speak, something special.


Looking ahead, what are the most surprising challenges you seek to overcome?

We’re acutely aware that the role of tourism has never been as salient, and it’s importance to the National economic recovery cannot be underplayed. 1 in 8 jobs in Ireland are in the tourism sector and a lot of these are in regional and rural Ireland. Marketing and communications will be crucial to meeting that ambition.

There are two key factors that we as a team are focusing on. The first, is not to throw the baby out with the bath water. We know we have an excellent brand strategy. Right now, we are considering what are the nuances in that strategy, what audience insights do we need to respond to, knowing we have a solid platform to jump off.

The second factor for us as marketeers, is that we want to leverage the significance of this cultural moment to do great work, because brilliant, creative communications are what drive us. So as we work towards tomorrow, we are asking ourselves and our partners, how do we deliver something meaningful? How do we keep the new practices and culture of the team alive?

I think we’ve never been closer to our consumer, to our visitor. They are more human to us now, less uniform. We’ve had to dig deeper to understand more about how they are feeling and what motivates them, because behaviour is a useless metric right now, and in fact that has lead us to a deeper, more interesting understanding. We’re coming out of this crisis with a greater sense of freedom – a desire to try new things.

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