Content in Practice: Elizabeth Braitenbach from Tourism Saskatchewan

Tackling the challenges of a digital transformation

  • By Blaine Kyllo
  • |
  • Feb 28 2019
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  • Categories: Podcasts

On the Content in Practice podcast, Tourism Saskatchewan’s Elizabeth Braitenbach talks about her organization’s transformation to digital.

A transcript of this podcast is below. Music used in this episode was created by Lee Rosevere, Happy Puppy Records.

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Content in Practice: The content operations podcast is produced by Kathy Wagner and Blaine Kyllo, and presented by Content Strategy Inc. Theme music by Lee Rosevere, Happy Puppy Records.

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The Canadian province of Saskatchewan is often teased for being flat. (One joke claims that Saskatchewan is the only place where you can watch your dog run away for three days.)

In the western part of the country, Saskatchewan is mostly prairie, and the province grows much of the grain produced in Canada. But the geography is more diverse than that. There are canyons, deserts, and forests, and Saskatchewan is home to incredible rivers and lakes.

Tourism Saskatchewan is responsible for promoting the province and supporting the tourism industry. In the past couple of years, the organization has been working on a digital transformation of its efforts. As the manager of Tourism Saskatchewan’s communications team, Elizabeth Braitenbach has been one of the leaders of this transformation.

We worked with Elizabeth and the marketing and communications staff at Tourism Saskatchewan and helped them develop a content strategy and come up with a plan to execute it. Our project included everything from defining audiences and key messages to team organization, content processes, and roles and responsibilities.

Elizabeth spoke with me on the phone from her office in Regina. I asked her how Tourism Saskatchwan was progressing with its content operations.


Elizabeth Braitenbach: We’ve certainly decided we have to be patient, but yet move at a steady pace. That was certainly something that we still have to remind ourselves of to this day. You come out of getting recommendations, you want to have them in place overnight and it just simply isn’t feasible. But looking back over the last year and a half I can see how far we’ve come. And it’s pretty impressive and we’re very proud of that.

I think everyone knows with good change management you really can’t get very far without executive buy-in. Luckily for us, our CEO and our executive director of marketing and communications were very on-board from the very start for the implementation and for the development of a content strategy. And that really resonated through the organization and people were very well aware that our top level executives, right to our CEO and even our board was behind this project and behind rolling it out.


Like many tourism marketing organizations, Tourism Saskatchewan had a tradition of creating print materials and working with advertising agencies on broadcast television commercials and ad buys. But the power of internet distribution and the increasing role of social media in influencing decision making provides incredible opportunities.


EB: A lot of it was traditional print. Certainly we did listings-based, comprehensive travel guides. For example, our consumer-facing travel guide was 400 pages and it contained about 1,500 listings for accommodations, events, attractions, et cetera. And we would produce about 120,000 of those each year, packaged with our Saskatchewan official roadmap as well.

We knew that it likely wasn’t as effective as we thought it was. But nobody had any evidence. So what we did as part of the content strategy, was a consumer survey to find out, and do a test of people’s interest in print literature. And what came forward in those results is the interest was very low, particularly for provincial-level print literature.


Six months later, Tourism Saskatchewan conducted additional research which confirmed things.


And what came out of those focus groups – resoundingly – was that nobody was wanting provincial-level, listings-based travel guides. So that became our hard evidence that no longer we should be doing these guides anymore, and so we’ve since discontinued both the fishing and comprehensive guide and the overall consumer comprehensive guide.

We have replaced them with smaller pieces, not because we feel that our target markets are necessarily using them a tonne, but we have other obligations to places like Visitor Information Services service centres that still want print literature from Tourism Saskatchewan and do see value in those pieces.

The other thing we were doing that was traditional for marketing was a lot of outdoor shows in the U.S. and a lot of print advertising and advertorials in the U.S. and Canada, and those are also being slowly discontinued as we move to the shift of the “digital first” strategy and place our resources elsewhere.


This shift freed up resources from supporting print production. Where Tourism Saskatchewan used to need editors for each different publication, now they could streamline and get people working in creating and producing content, instead of collating and organizing it. They refer to this content as “brand journalism.”


EB: Well, again, one of the recommendations we received from the content strategy was our change in our responsibilities, duties, and how teams are structured and how teams work together. So that governance piece. So we did make significant changes in our marketing and communications departments.

We shifted some job duties altogether. We rewrote job descriptions for virtually every position across the two departments, so in the division. And we looked at roles and responsibilities in terms of how content is created and managed and the whole live cycle. And we’ve implemented those. So everybody knows if you’re writing you’re assigned, if you’re editing you’re assigned, if you’re a visual editor you’re assigned, for every piece of content that comes through.

We’ve got staff doing new things. For example, I have a couple of people on my team that are communications specialists and a graphic designer. Well, our graphic designer is a very skilled photographer. So now we’re sending him out on photo shoots, and that’s really reinvigorated his creative side and he’s really enjoyed that.

I’ve also got a communications specialist that in a past life was a TV producer. Well, lo and behold he has all kinds of videography and video editing skills that we are now actually putting to use. And he is totally reinvigorated with his job here and he is so happy about that. It’s been exciting for a lot of people.

And we created what we call an editorial team that meets weekly, in fact, and that team will do everything from quick updates to what’s going on to what are our new pitches for this week.


And Tourism Saskatchewan is conducting experiments with the content they are creating, exploring what works on various channels, and how to be efficient in the process of creation.


EB: It’s really exciting. And this summer we actually got out there and did ten content collection trips this summer which is pretty significant given we have a pretty small team. Our editorial team does consist of about ten team members, if you combine content creation specialists. I’ve got three people on my team that do content collection. As well we’ve got two digital marketing consultants that participate in that as well.

It’s a small but mighty team and we did get a lot of trips completed. And what we’ve found, of course, is that the editing process, that’s when the time really comes into play. But even still we managed to get out quite a few short videos uploaded this summer onto our main consumer channels, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram Stories, that type of things. So we’re trying new things and we’re slicing and dicing and every day we come up with something else and again, the freedom to try new things now that we’re not tied to exclusively going to an agency of record to get a video produced.

For example, even just the new video format, our content creation specialist, Andrew, was a former Saskatchewanderer, so he actually had all of that videography and photography talent built-in, which really has been working well for us. But he and one of our digital marketing consultants went to Moose Jaw and they filmed a “12 hours in Moose Jaw” video where they went to probably a dozen places and sliced that up into a short video. There’s a 30-second cut, a 60-second cut, and that’s really been taking off as well. Now we have all of our city marketing organizations and our desination marketing organizations all would like those 12-hour videos in their community or city. But we’ll see what we can get to.


The shift to focus on brand journalism came with a corresponding need to consult with the various communities within Saskatchewan as a way of sourcing content, but also as a way to align efforts with other organizations within the province.


EB: In addition, just looking at content creation and collection, just being cognizant of the fact that we cannot create everything in-house. It just would simply be impossible. We are reaching out to more partners. So our editorial team has great partnerships, for example, with our Ministry of Parks, Culture, and Sport, and the Saskatchewanderer program.

So we have representatives from that Ministry come and attend our editorial meetings about every two months, and we also have partners with Tourism Regina and Tourism Saskatoon and we’re reaching out to more and more people.

And we’ve developed a mechanism, using our Sharepoint system, where people from destination marketing organizations in the province and city marketing organizations in the province, can provide input on what they would like to see collected and also what they plan to collect so we can align our efforts and not duplicate each other and maximize the resources that are out there.

Because it’s not feasible to have every DMO and CMO sit in on our editorial team meetings. It would just get far too unwieldy. So they’re all very excited about it. And it’s just a very simple mechanism.

We created a place for them on SharePoint that they all have access to, and we’re going to upload our content trips and content priorities so they can all review that for the upcoming months. And they can also provide their input on what they would like to see and suggestions they may have.


Tourism Saskatchewan is also supporting tourism businesses in becoming content creators themselves.


The other really cool thing, again with working with industry and with our different partners and stakeholders, is we actually have a content funding pilot program that we ran this year. We shoulder-tapped about ten different organizations, some of them were individual operators, for them to collect professionally, either video, imagery, or some combination, to improve their footprint and their content.

Of course as part of us funding those efforts, we get to use that content. For example, one of the outfitting lodges, Scott Lake Lodge, had a beautiful image of a float plane and Northern Lights. We actually used that on the cover of our fishing and hunting map for 2019. We’ve seen some really good stuff come out of that and that program’s going to keep going ahead in 2019 and 2020.


Even while competing for the same tourists, the various tourism marketing organizations in Canada have always been supportive of each other by sharing strategies, and this has become another source of information and learning for the Tourism Saskatchewan team. Destination BC from British Columbia visited Regina to share how they developed and implemented a content strategy.


EB: What we found is there’s actually a lot of similarities. And we may have different terminology. We call our content, it goes into buckets of “inspire,” “educate,” “inform,” “entertain”. They call theirs “hero,” “hub,” and “help.” So it’s the same idea just different terminology. What we did learn from that is we are quite on track with what Destination BC is doing and has done, and they are certainly considered a leader in content marketing and overall digital marketing in the tourism space.

What we’ve actually done is we’ve got one of our digital strategists is looking at very specifically some of the changes and the implementation that has gone on with the content strategy with Destination BC and also Destination Canada [] and ourselves, and is going to be laying it out into a grid so that we can easily see what are we doing the same, what’s different, and make an assessment of what aren’t we doing that maybe we should be doing.


In the journey to improve their content operations, Tourism Saskatchewan realized that content strategy is not a project, but a way of thinking, and a way of doing. Elizabeth put it best as we ended our conversation.


EB: It is a way of being.