‘Cutting through the clutter has never been more challenging’: Flight Centre’s CMO on the state of marketing

A good rule of thumb, according to Flight Centre’s global head of marketing Clinton Hearne, is to stick to the plan 87% of the time.

As holiday habits return to seasonality after COVID, the entire travel industry is increasing advertising and marketing spend – and doing so in an increasingly cluttered marketplace.

At the same time, the advertising and marketing industries are in flux, with new technologies creeping in, diverted audience attention, and equal parts unease and excitement about the rapid march of artificial intelligence.

Hearne speaks to Mumbrella about how the company’s advertising dollars will be directed in this shifting climate, outlines the changes and challenges ahead for the business –and the marketing industry as a whole, gives his thoughts on working from home, and shares what he looks for when hiring. Take notes!


What are your biggest challenges at the moment?

Every challenge presents opportunities. My team’s biggest opportunity at the moment is to ensure we’re providing a consistent brand experience across all touchpoints of the customer journey that exist within our sales channels — from our store network and online facilities to our travel area specialists and business travel experts.

Now is the crucial time to get the right marketing systems and processes in place to deliver on business goals quickly, especially as we’re seeing a change back to seasonality after COVID threw everything out of whack.

To spearhead this, Flight Centre, and just about every other every player in the travel industry, are amping up media investment to pre-COVID levels and beyond.

In terms of leading a productive marketing team at a time when travel is booming, balancing what you say yes to, and more importantly what you say no to, presents a huge challenge.

You can’t allow your team to lose sight or be distracted. The strategies and tactics we set in place are there to drive both short- and long-term business outcomes.

I think a good rule of thumb is to stick to the plan 87% of the time.

Can you give us a guide on where you primarily spend your marketing/advertising budget at the moment?

We split investment across short term retailing with long term brand building. We regularly invest in research, new app downloads, interactive brochures and store design to future-proof our brand and keep it looking fresh and dynamic.

Which areas in marketing/advertising do you feel will deliver the best results in the next 12 months?

I think we’ll deliver our best results in three core areas over the next 12 months.

Our new product innovations, that include our “Captain’s Pack” offering and our “Flight Centre Holidays” packages provide more value incentives for our customers than ever.

We’ve made great efforts this year to make our brand literally leap out at customers. Cutting through the marketing clutter has never been more challenging and we’re excited by the eye-popping 3DOOH campaign QMS created for us.

Not only is the 3DOOH creative a visual show-stopper, it effectively sells the Flight Centre story as well. Bringing the joy of travel to customers is at the core of our business, and this creative reflects that fun in a way we haven’t done with new technology before.

With hyper-personalisation becoming a major focus for us, the customer journey personalisation we’ve developed for our digital channels has been a game-changer this year. We’re eagerly anticipating the fruits of our labours fully ripening in our monthly results through next year.

How do you define the brand today, given cost-of-living pressures, interest rates, inflation, etc.

Our customer research shows us that the travel industry is fortunate to have customers that view our product as a must-do and not just a nice-to-have. They’ll forgo other items before giving up on their travel dreams.

It may mean they change which destinations they’re heading to, and how long they’re going for, but having travel taken away during COVID means many have a backlog of trips they’re itching to do with family, mates or just by themselves in the near future.

What are the biggest changes you can see coming over the next few years for marketers?

I think we’re going to see marketers double-down on understanding how the rapid development of AI will impact customers. It may become a case of survival-of-the-savviest for those who can engage with the technology effectively without being distracted by it.

For example, the strongest to emerge may be the ones who sort out which of AI’s numerous abilities are required to take customer journey personalisation to new levels of sophistication without forgetting the basic four Ps of marketing. I think journey personalisation is putting an end to the inefficient ‘scatter-bomb’ approach to engaging audiences that we marketers have relied on for too long.

What are your thoughts on staff working from home?

Personally, I like having a balance of being in the office and some work from home. I spend more time in the office and love having the team there. It’s easier as a marketing cohort to be in one place and bounce ideas around, build culture, have fewer meetings and engage in more of those water cooler conversations (not about RHOBH) that lead to better outcomes and efficiencies.

Saying that, I have a global team which means some calls can start at 6am or you may have one at 10pm.

If we expect our people to join these and be flexible with their working-hour arrangements, then we need to have the flexibility to allow them to work from home.

How will you define your own success in five years?

For me, success as a marketing leader is defined by multiple factors.

In five years I’ll want to leave the brand in a very strong position with sustained business growth, having built a high performing marketing team who are accountable and set on achieving goals.

Personally, if in five years I’ve managed to develop my ideas and articulated them to a point where I’m recognised as a thought leader, I’ll be pretty stoked with that too.

What do you look for most in a new employee?

I look for three qualities above all else: are they humble, hungry, and smart?

The top three questions I’ll often ask in an interview setting are: What are your personal and professional goals? What do you know about the business? Name a time you were against the odds and hustled for a better outcome? If they can’t answer any of these, then it’s not a match for me.



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