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Interview: Hurtigruten’s Marianne McPhee

December 20, 2013

(Published in TTG – 13.11.13)

Marianne McPhee, 30 Under 30 member and self-confessed travel addict, tells Matthew Parsons about her journey so far into the world of online marketing – currently for Hurtigruten

Compared with last year, the 2013 crop of Tomorrow’s Travel Leaders is thinner on the ground when it comes to digital roles. However, Marianne McPhee, UK web executive for Hurtigruten, is firmly flying the flag for online travel.

Although she’s just one year into her current role at Hurtigruten, as web executive, 27-year-old McPhee already has several years in the online sector behind her.

After studying PR and psychology, and then eight months travelling in Asia, teaching English, she landed a job as an intern at Black Tomato in 2009 – a start-up at the time.

“I became obsessed with travelling, seeing the world. So I knew I wanted to work in travel when I returned to the UK,” she recollects.

“Travel was the logical choice; I had a PR degree, knew about marketing, and a friend who worked at Black Tomato suggested I approach them.”

After a six-month internship, McPhee joined full time in a marketing role. “The digital aspect was a natural progression. Black Tomato is digital in its nature, so there was no print marketing,” she says, adding that start-ups, as a rule, encourage staff to be creative.

Her first foray into social media came soon after joining full-time, when the agency wanted to set up a Twitter account.

A colleague didn’t know too much about it, so McPhee leapt at the chance to take responsibility for the channel.

“It was the first ‘concrete’ digital thing I worked on,” she says. After three years, McPhee jumped ship to Hurtigruten: “I was looking for a bigger company to grow my career. I had already honed my skills, but I wanted to work in more markets.”

Audience perceptions

One area that interests McPhee, and makes use of her psychology back-ground, is understanding how people think when they arrive at a website.

For example, Hurtigruten is seen as more of a “ferry service” in Norway, argues McPhee.

“There are 32 ports. It’s like local transport for them.

“When Norwegians visit the website, they know exactly what they want to book. Therefore, we have to make that user experience as painless as possible.

“But in the UK, the perception is that taking a Hurtigruten ship is a holiday,” she continues. “So we’ve got a big job educating people on what the ships offer.”

McPhee works mostly on English language websites, mainly UK and US, and ensures all marketing and offers are up to date.

And as well as improving the way Hurtigruten works with the trade, there’s a lot of SEO work and channel attribution – tracking how the sales are generated.

“It’s a challenge; there’s a weekly call with a team in Poland, plus my counterpart in Germany, and we all work on user experience on a global level,” she says.

And with social media no longer seen as “new”, there’s increasing pressure to show the return on investment.

“At first, it’s all about trying new channels; there’s always time or money spent.”

McPhee says one new project, tracking web-to-phone calls with Response Tap, which can generate unique telephone numbers, is also taking up a lot of her time.

However, it’s not all hard work; McPhee is still able to fuel her addiction for travel, having notched up three Hurtigruten cruises already.

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