Q&A with Clare Willis

Marketing Manager, National Trust for Scotland

Clare has been in the Marketing team at the National Trust for Scotland for the past 12 years where she has led a number of themed campaigns to encourage visits and membership. 

What are the biggest challenges you face in your role as Marketing Manager for the National Trust for Scotland?

I would say that it’s the diversity of our portfolio – we care for over 100 special places throughout Scotland including Glencoe, Culloden, the Hill House and the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Not only do our marketing campaigns have to promote these places to visitors and members who are looking for a great day out, but they also need to communicate that we are a conservation charity and protecting our heritage for future generations is at the heart of everything we do. 

Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry?

It would definitely be my colleagues at the National Trust for Scotland who inspire me every day. We’re a small team of just five marketing professionals looking after 366,000 members and 100 properties throughout Scotland. It’s a massive remit but the team has worked tirelessly and achieved so much to be proud of over the past few years. 

If you could look back at your career and remake one of your biggest decisions, what would it be?

Life’s too short to agonize over mistakes or missed opportunities so I try to learn from past experiences and move on. I’ve been so lucky to be involved in some amazing projects and campaigns at the Trust and I’ve learned so much from every one of them which has always helped to shape the next campaign.   

What are the MOST important considerations when selecting an agency to work with? 

The past two years have been significant for us as we set out to align our agency partners with our new brand framework and through a competitive tendering process we appointed a new digital agency, magazine publisher, media buyer and creative agency. We’ve been fortunate to work with some great people who have fully immersed themselves in our brand and we’ve quickly established strong working relationships and trust. Our agency partners pushed us out of our comfort zone yet were still mindful of the complexities of our charity resulting in our new brand campaign For the Love of Scotland. I think it’s also important to consider what else an agency can bring to the table such as partnerships and networks. I don’t think we’d ever have got Gerard Butler to star for free in our brand film without their Little Black Book! 

Are you ever influenced by awards?

We all know that writing an award application is a big commitment and needs a lot of time and effort. However, it’s a worthwhile exercise as it gives you a chance to reflect and take a deep dive into what you’ve delivered as well as giving such a sense of pride seeing your work packaged up and presented in the best possible light. Plus it’s always a good excuse to buy a new dress! Winning the Gold Star Award last year has been fantastic for our morale and for showing everyone that we are changing for the better.  

How was the first couple of years with the National Trust for Scotland? Were there any learning curves you had to negotiate?

I’ve been at the Trust for so long that I can’t remember that far back! However, one thing that has always stuck with me is how passionate our members and supporters are about our work and are never shy in telling us what they think. Early on in my career, I made the mistake of signing off an advert featuring a grey squirrel (rather than a native red), and our Chief Executive was inundated with letters of complaint as a result. This little grey squirrel still pops up from time to time and sits on my shoulder when I’m proofing! 

What’s involved during a typical day for you in your role?

I’m based in our Edinburgh HQ office but often have to travel to our properties for site meetings and have been fortunate enough to visit many of the castles, gardens, battle sites and countryside in our care, which is definitely a perk of the job. I’m currently in a planning phase and working closely with our agency partners to shape our 2019 campaigns including year two of For the Love of Scotland. 

You have worked at National Trust for Scotland for over 10 years now. How has their marketing strategies developed since you started?

Whilst the Trust is sometimes perceived as stuffy and old-fashioned, I would say that we’ve always kept up with current thinking. When I first joined the Trust we were all about day visits and a place for a “nice cup of tea and a scone”, focusing on our more traditional audience. We’ve worked hard to move away from this and attract a new diverse audience making people understand about the portfolio of places we look after and the different experiences they can have with us – we wanted to inject more vibrancy and energy into peoples’ perceptions of us. Previously our team was structured around audiences defined by their life stage and now we’re more focused on attitude and interest. Last year we moved to a brand-led approach with our For the Love of Scotland campaign taking centre stage. This reaffirmed the Trust’s place as Scotland’s leading conservation charity that looks after these places for everyone to enjoy. 2019 is going to be an exciting year for us as we build on this new strategy and welcome even more visitors to discover our special places.