Interviews

Joss Croft, Marketing Director, VisitBritain

Joss has worked both in Britain and abroad for VisitBritain, including positions as Head of Marketing, Regional Manager - Europe, Head of Business Visits and Events, Manager of Spain and Portugal and Manager of Strategic Partnerships

Tom Holmes

Founder & Chairman

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Tom Holmes talks to Joss Croft who heads up VisitBritain's marketing around the world.

Joss has worked both in Britain and abroad for VisitBritain, including positions as Head of Marketing, Regional Manager - Europe, Head of Business Visits and Events, Manager of Spain and Portugal and Manager of Strategic Partnerships.

As Head of Marketing he has managed the delivery of both the 4-year £100million public private tactical, as well as the £25 million GREAT Britain tourism image marketing campaigns in 14 cities around the world.

Prior to starting at VisitBritain in 2000, Joss was Marketing Manager at Visit London (now London & Partners), UK Sales Manager for Parc du Futuroscope and UK Sales Manager for Disneyland Paris Resort.

In 2010 he was awarded ‘Industry Personality of the Year’ by readers of Meetings & Incentive Travel magazine.

 

Creativebrief: As Marketing Director at VisitBritain what is your primary focus?

Joss Croft: The primary focus is on delivering against targets on both years 3 and 4 of £100m tactical campaign and GREAT Britain brand campaigns – all with the objectives of building the value of inbound tourism by an additional £2.4 billion by 2015. They are stretching targets but we relish the challenge! At the end of every day you need to be able to answer the fundamental question “Did I make more visitors come to Britain today?”

Creativebrief: How successful was your marketing up to and over the Olympics, and how involved are you in its legacy?

Joss Croft: Our 2012 Games strategy was very much about the image of Britain, the welcome visitors would receive and delivering an economic legacy from the Games. This meant leveraging the once in a lifetime  focus of the world on Britain with the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the 2012 Games, and using that interest and awareness and converting it into bookings for Britain.

Pre Games it was about raising awareness of Britain’s offering and doing all that we could to limit any displacement (which might have been caused by people feeling that in fact 2012 was not the year to visit Britain); during the Games it was delivering compelling and live updates through digital platforms and working with journalists (both accredited and non-accredited) and ensuring that we got tourism messaging where possible. So we worked with the rights holding broadcasters to feature colour stories on Britain around their Games coverage, for example convincing Australia’s Channel 7 to deliver their weather updates from Much Wenlock.

After the Games our target was to convert the interest in Britain generated during the Games into concrete bookings working with commercial partners. How did we do? Well we know that the campaigns from 2012/2013 generated an additional £660m for Britain. Also, that we had generated £3.2bn in AVE from our media activities. In 2012 Britain ended up as the first country since Australia in 2000 to see an increase in visitors (up 1%) and spend (up 4%) in the same year as hosting a summer Games. In 2013 we are already starting to see Britain reap some of the legacy benefits. In the year to date to the end of August Britain has received 6% more visitors spending 11% more in Britain. Given that tourism is Britain’s 3rd largest export earning industry and has employed 1 in 3 of all the new jobs in the past 3 years this is significant.

The Games and our activities also helped increase Britain’s brand ranking in terms of our cultural offering and the warmth of welcome that consumers perceive they will receive in Britain.

And the Games has opened up some fantastic opportunities for us as the go-to international marketing arm for Britain – we recently undertook activities withBloomingdales across their US retail stores, shooting their 2014 Menswear catalogue in Britain and profiling travel packages to Britain to all their 1.2 million Amex card holders, and a major partnership deal with Rock in Rio. The world’s largest music festival – without the profile and credibility that the Games offered Britain and VisitBritain we wouldn’t have been able to secure these deals. 

Creativebrief: What are the main challenges for your sector/category over the next 12 months?

Joss Croft: Following a wide spread consultation in 2012, we identified 4 main issues that will affect Britain’s ability to reach our target of 40 million visitors by 2020. And whilst they may not all get resolved within the next twelve months (!) and are not all the responsibility of VisitBritain, collectively as an industry we need to work together to improve our performance in the areas of image (how people perceive Britain and what we can do to improve mis-conceptions and make Britain more attractive and front of mind for both first time and repeat visitors); product (looking at whether we really have the right product for today’s international visitors (for example how many hotels have Mandarin language capabilities or signage or food attractive to Chinese visitors?)); travel trade (getting the right product packaged up and out through the travel trade, especially in markets where the travel trade are still important intermediaries (e.g. India where 75% of all travel to Britain is booked through the travel trade)); and access (which means working on airport capacity in the South East or working with UK Visas & Immigration to see how we communicate the improvements in the visa allocation system) .

Additionally the competition is fierce with other countries recognising the potential of tourism as an economic driver and putting a lot of funds into the promotion and product development of their countries – and we shouldn’t automatically assume that they will want to come to Britain (or even know why they should).

And of course the ever changing digital landscape and platforms create their own challenges – in the past two years we have built up the highest number for any tourist board of users on Weibo (Chinese social platform) and now the trends are for consumers to be using Weixin rather than Weibo so we need to react to these external circumstances.

Creativebrief: 2014 sees us hosting the Commonwealth Games, Tour de France Grand Depart, Giro d’italia Grande Partenza, the Ryder Cup, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dylan Thomas and 450th of William Shakespeare, what do you plan to achieve?

Joss Croft: The events in themselves are excellent opportunities to attract additional visitors to the events – we saw in 2012 that Games time visitors stay longer and spend more than the “average” visitor. However our strategy will be similar to that of London 2012 – using the opportunity to attract widespread media coverage and interest in the events and the destinations among new and repeat visitors, and convert that into business for Britain, whilst also using the events to enhance positive perceptions of Britain as the dynamic and exciting destination it is.

Creativebrief: Your career has spanned VisitBritain, Futuroscope Poitiers, Disneyland Paris and the London Tourist Board, what have been the high points?

Joss Croft: Certainly being part of Disney, LTB and the Millennium, VB Spain and Business Tourism Personality.

Creativebrief: Along the way, have there been particular marketers who impressed and inspired you?

Joss Croft: There’s been no single person who has had an influence over another but I have been lucky enough to work with some outstanding marketers – whether PY Gerbeau at Disney and his enthusiasm, confidence and “give it 100%” attitude, my former colleague Gareth James who inspired me to work for VisitBritain and whose articulation of marketing as a “passionate commitment to identifying and delivering on customer needs and desires” still hasn’t been bettered, Tom Wright as a CEO who took digital to the heart of VisitBritain or David Ogilvy who said that every single advert you produce is a strategic investment in the long term brand value. I have also had and still have the fortune to work with a multitude of kind, smart and engaging people who have shown me the difference between management and leadership.

Creativebrief: How do you see the media landscape unfolding in the next 5 years?

Joss Croft: The clearest signals come from the consumer – Millennials who see digital convergence and ubiquity as simply a way of life, and the level of data that this delivers and allows us marketers will increasingly allow us to know our customers better and to target them more wisely. Conversely consumers are also getting more media savvy and able to filter out anything that isn’t relevant.

Creativebrief: When choosing agencies in the past were you ever influenced by awards?

Joss Croft: Yes, but only in the sense that the act as an imprimatur and a reference point. The reputation (which may be boosted by awards) is important but it is still all about the creativity of ideas, the cultural fit and the ability of the team to meet our objectives.

Creativebrief: What challenges do you face, managing day-to-day agency relationships?

Joss Croft: I take a slightly contrary view that I actually want my agency to be constantly hassling me – bombarding me with ideas and opportunities is why I hire them! Sometimes I feel that agencies expect an Arms Length Body to be quite staid and slow in its approach and it always comes as a shock to agencies to find that in fact we absolutely need to be fleet of foot and creative.

Creativebrief: How often do you look at new agencies or review your roster?

Joss Croft: We are increasingly pushed to procure agencies through the government frameworks and this brings its own challenges and opportunities!

Creativebrief: How do you monitor and stay-in-touch with the agency market to ensure you work with the best?

Joss Croft: Networking and events, discussions with fellow marketers in the industry, newsletters and publications, Twitter and blogs and speaking at events all bring you into contact of some of the best minds in the business. Whilst the GREAT campaign for us has been about promoting Britain as a GREAT place to visit, we also work alongside UKTI who promote Britain as a GREAT place in which to invest and trade under the banner of Creativity is GREAT; when you look at Britain’s core USPs it is always our creativity that other countries can’t match up to and we have some of the best agencies in the world so it is a continual process of learning and development.

Creativebrief: What’s your attitude to the ‘traditional’ pitch? Do you think there is a better/more modern way?

Joss Croft: I like it – it’s virtually impossible to assess a team dynamic or organisational culture and fit, in any other way. It’s also a question of undertaking your research and due diligence beforehand so you as the client have the right questions to ask.

Creativebrief: Would you ever consider awarding an agency business without a pitch? What would they have to do / demonstrate?

Joss Croft: As above most of our procurement is through GPS frameworks so we follow those regulations.