Tourism Ireland bets on marketing partnership with new documentary to bring back tourism

Integrated campaign, and good customer data management, all combine to get "Ireland" ready for February premier.

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Ireland, which features Liam Neeson as narrator and is produced and distributed by MacGillivray Freeman Films

This February, Tourism Ireland is teaming up with a new documentary about Ireland that will be seen in IMAX theaters, a partnership that will welcome travelers back after the enduring travel slump from the Covid-19 pandemic. But ensuring the partnership is successful has called for a lot more than Irish luck, it’s taken a sophisticated mix of integrated marketing and data management.

Launching Ireland in IMAX theaters

“From a tourism perspective [the film] is a great opportunity with terrific cinematography just to showcase the natural beauty and authenticity of Ireland,” said Alison Metcalfe, executive vice president North America and Australia/New Zealand of Tourism Ireland. The organization is presenting partner for the release of the documentary, Ireland, which features Liam Neeson as narrator and is produced and distributed by MacGillivray Freeman Films (MFF), known for making big-screen docs like Everest and To the Arctic. “The movie is obviously the centerpiece, and we’re working with MFF in building out a whole promotional campaign which will play out over most of the next year.”

She added, “As different components come onstream and the film builds momentum, there will be publicity, social media and digital campaigns – lots of moving parts and a fully integrated marketing campaign around that.”

Aside from captivating scenes of Ireland on 70mm film, Ireland the movie, directed by Greg MacGillivray, also includes a premise that dovetails nicely with an integrated travel campaign. The film follows writer Manachan Magan and concert violinist Patricia Treacey as they discover cultural points of interest and connect people of Irish heritage all over the world with their homeland. Four traveling teenagers are also in the cast.

“Ireland for our company and our family has always been a place we’d wanted to make a film on,” said Shaun MacGillivray, producer of Ireland and MFF’s President. “We’ve made films all over the world, but we’d never done a film on Ireland, it’s history, and it had never been done in IMAX before. It seemed like just an incredible topic.”

The film wrapped shooting in 2020 right before the pandemic became widespread. With borders closed by St. Patrick’s Day in March, travel was put on pause, and Tourism Ireland had to change its message to travelers while remaining on their minds as a top destination once things opened back up.

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Retooling a marketing strategy during the recovery

In March 2020, Tourism Ireland paused its paid media advertising.

“At that point, people didn’t know how long this was going to go on,” said Metcalfe. “In April we decided we needed to find a way to stay connected with our potential audiences at a consumer level, but also to stay connected with our industry partners, including airlines, tourism and media partners.”

They launched a global social media campaign amplified through their partners, as well as with paid social ads. It centered around nine different buckets of content or “passion points” to “keep people warm about Ireland,” Metcalfe explained.

Over a year later, in May 2021, Tourism Ireland pivoted again into “reassurance mode” promising travelers that Ireland would soon be open again now that travel restrictions were loosening in other markets.

“It wasn’t appropriate to talk about a ‘book now’ message at that point, but when the borders opened for international travelers and vaccinated Americans on July 19, we went into a more proactive message – now is the time to start planning that trip,” she said.

They kicked off the “Green Button” global campaign to officially restart welcoming overseas visitors.

The promotion around the documentary falls into the category of brand partnership, one of Tourism Ireland’s biggest. It branches off of the core “Green Button” campaign to connect with “culturally curious” new travelers.

Investing in marketing technology

“Over the last three or four years, we’ve invested significantly in our marketing technology, capabilities and infrastructure,” said Metcalfe. “Tourism Ireland has had an ambition to be world leaders in digital destination marketing. During the pandemic, we continued to invest in having the best digital relationship with consumers.”

Keeping their customer data in a data-management platform ensures that Tourism Ireland’s communications with travelers are personalized and are retargeting pools of interested prospects with relevant content.

“We’ve seen really good engagement from the current campaign, so it’s just leaning in to be more data-driven, and also getting to the point where we can identify that sense of presence and attracting people across multiple touchpoints, and continue to engage when they actually arrive in Ireland,” Metcalfe said.

She added that they now have a dashboard that gives marketers in offices around the world real-time access to see what digital engagement is working. Media across digital and offline is also managed in partnership with Tourism Ireland’s media agency, OMD.

The offical trailer for “Ireland”

Cinematic art backed by small screen content

With a data infrastructure in place to respond as the world opens back up, Tourism Ireland has a plan to gain more momentum from the new film Ireland.

“By following a writer around Ireland in the movie, you do get a sense of the past, as well as the present,” said Metcalfe.

For social and other digital media, the focus in spreading word about Ireland the film will be on hitting those passion points in music, food, literature and history that digital-first travelers will want to find out more about. Media partners are part of the plan, as well as influencers.

The new social media strategy includes producing social-first assets, and also producing assets with a specific job in mind, and fitting that into the customer journey. In the TV space, linear TV local buys in major markets are supported with CTV, as people have cut the cords, Metcalfe explained.

“When we go out and film these amazing projects, we capture a lot of content,” said MacGillivray. “We’re able to tell, obviously, that pinnacle story that is shown on that giant screen in science centers and IMAX theaters all over the world. But also we’re able to create bite-sized content for specific digital platforms, getting people excited about not only the film, but also these amazing places that we go to.”

“We’re looking to develop how we can bring the story to life,” Metcalfe said. “Particularly during the pandemic and the recovery: seeing is believing.”

About the author

Chris Wood
Chris Wood draws on over 15 years of reporting experience as a B2B editor and journalist. At DMN, he served as associate editor, offering original analysis on the evolving marketing tech landscape. He has interviewed leaders in tech and policy, from Canva CEO Melanie Perkins, to former Cisco CEO John Chambers, and Vivek Kundra, appointed by Barack Obama as the country's first federal CIO. He is especially interested in how new technologies, including voice and blockchain, are disrupting the marketing world as we know it. In 2019, he moderated a panel on "innovation theater" at Fintech Inn, in Vilnius. In addition to his marketing-focused reporting in industry trades like Robotics Trends, Modern Brewery Age and AdNation News, Wood has also written for KIRKUS, and contributes fiction, criticism and poetry to several leading book blogs. He studied English at Fairfield University, and was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He lives in New York.

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