Discover Saint John

Discover Saint John Proves that the City is #StillAwesome

When COVID-19 first hit, marketing organization Discover Saint John – along with everyone in the tourism sector – could not imagine the full impact and complete loss of the 2020 tourism season. Amidst the chaos, Discover Saint John’s Executive Director Victoria Clarke and her team continued to work from their homes, developing strategies in the hopes of somehow salvaging the season for their city and region. 

“I was home and so was everyone else – and we did not have stable funding – but all the while we wanted to create positive, shareable content that especially highlighted what was still awesome about Saint John,” said Clarke. And like a true Maritimer, that meant building the campaign from her kitchen table.  

In the beginning, Clarke used her iPhone to create a series of fun and inspiring videos about products homegrown in the Saint John area, such as cookie-making with Crosby’s Molasses, and beer tasting along with a history lesson about Moosehead Breweries. She shared the videos on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, and the success was instant. With over 100,000 views, the conversation erupted, and the tourism industry, community, government and New Brunswickers shared their own videos and stories about New Brunswick products.     

When the pandemic intensified and the borders shut down, it became clear that no one was going to be travelling anytime soon. It was at this point that the ACOA stepped in.  As Clarke puts it, “There is no question – ACOA was our white knight.”

With ACOA support, Discover Saint John was able to stabilize its operations, bring back staff and launch the #StillAwesome 2020 digital, audio and TV marketing campaign, which supported local businesses by promoting and encouraging tourism activities in the Saint John area. Discover Saint John then leveraged even more opportunities by aligning with Tourism New Brunswick’s advertising campaign and government health messages, expanding their reach throughout the whole province.

“With ACOA’s help, we were able to be nimble and develop a targeted campaign. For example, research showed us that more people were streaming TV, and listening to podcasts or music on Spotify and radio, so we strategically moved our advertising campaigns in these areas,” said Clarke.

Mindful of the times and keeping people safe, they used phrases like “when you are able,” and reminded locals of the treasures they could access close to home including historical sites, the Gateway to the Fundy Trail, the retail experiences and of course the most popular by far – the dining and culinary experiences.

Focusing on the positive, they also picked up eager partners interested in collaborating from around Saint John, and used various platforms of storytelling to remind their target audience that Saint John was indeed #StillAwesome. 

#StillAwesome is working. Over the last six months, Discover SJ is finding more new businesses open than closed in uptown Saint John. And although hotel occupancies continue to be a concern, local attractions, shops and restaurants have exceeded their revised forecast expectations set in April and May 2020.

“Where many hoped to reach 50% of their 2019 performance, many are reporting they’ve exceeded this. And in these times, small wins are monumental,” said Clarke

In addition, by pivoting, Victoria Clarke and her team have learned a lot. 

“We learned that people need people and want to hear the good. And we learned that our brand and brand style has resiliency – pivoting from #SaintAwesome to #StillAwesome has legs and a momentum of its own.”

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