Where Are We Now… What’s Next?

In the lead up to CMA’s October 22nd  Virtual Panel: Marketing Reboot- What’s Next, we had the opportunity to learn more about a couple of our panel members including Jeff Lowe, the Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Human Resources Officer of SMART Technologies, John B. Pieri, the Vice President of Marketing Brand of ATB, and Tannis Gaffney, the Vice President, Destination Promotion of Travel Alberta.

Three distinct leaders heading up marketing for three distinct companies offered three very interesting perspectives.

Here’s what we asked, and, here’s what they answered…


CMA: The title of the panel discussion that you are taking part in is “Marketing Reboot – What’s Next…”
From the day you were approached to be on this panel to today… do you feel that in the realm of marketing you are now in reboot or as marketers are you still in the reaction mode to COVID – 19?


Jeff: At SMART we are beyond reacting to COVID. We are very fortunate in that the pandemic actually presents a business opportunity, as the need for distance and remote learning places more emphasis and interest on our cloud-based learning software. We have seen a major uptick in our software business as a result and are working on a number of exciting campaigns and initiatives in this regard. One of our biggest challenges is changing our brand perception from “the smart board company” to a software provider who is a leader in remote and blended learning.

John: Definitely feel like we are in reboot mode.  Ever since we all dropped into COVID quarantine in late March, we’ve been doing regular pulse surveys with our customers (and Albertans/Alberta Businesses).  We have been using their feelings and sentiments to guide us along the way of course. Based on the movement of sentiment, we certainly have been able to quickly respond to these changing needs…  it is critical to us to meet our customers ‘where they are at’, and on their terms.  So while Albertans and Alberta Businesses are all in their own place regarding the recovery from this crisis (or multiple crisis including oil price crash, etc.), our marketing activities have been brought back to life – but of course in new and more meaningful ways for our customers and market given their own personal context.  It has NEVER been more important than now to be truly helpful.

Tannis: We developed an Alberta Rebound plan at the start of COVID-19. It is a three-phased approach to managing through the crisis for our organization. It will help to minimize the impact on Alberta’s tourism industry, build resilience, accelerate our recovery, and prepare the province to welcome travelers in the future. The three phases are: Respond, Restart, Rebuild – we have moved from the Respond (red) zone into the Restart (yellow) zone based on the provincial health authority guidelines.


CMA:  Over the past six months, with all the changes and “pivoting” that you and your organization or marketing division has had to make and do, what has remained consistent?


Jeff: Along with all of the changes due to COVID, we’ve also undergone a significant reorganization at SMART, combining sales, marketing and customer services into one Unified Commercial Engine. Basically, we blew up marketing and changed 235 jobs in order to break down internal silos and bring us closer to the customer. But despite all of this, some things have remained unchanged: the need to focus on customer needs, innovation, differentiation, and accountability to the business for resource expenditures.

John: Right from day one, our organization right from our President and CEO, has remained consistent around two critically important things:  1. Supporting our clients and Albertans/Alberta businesses no matter the environment or challenges we all face; 2. The health and wellbeing of our Team Members.  While much of the work we have been doing over the past 7 months or so has been wildly different than anticipated, having a strong core purpose and focus on our customers, Alberta and our team members provides that focus and clarity we really need in order to do our best work.  It might sound like such a simple thing or idea, but this clarity in bad times serves us so well – it is a rally cry for our entire organization to band together in new and previously unimaginable ways in order to live that purpose.  It’s actually very invigorating (even if we are all very exhausted)!

Tannis: In our industry nothing has remained constant. Everything that we once knew has changed completely. That includes our target audience moving from international visitors to local Albertans. That also includes our industry stakeholders such as airlines, hotels and local Alberta attractions facing challenges they have never experienced before.

CMA: Do you believe the phrase “The New Normal” is accurate or incorrect, and why?


Jeff: It’s an overused phrase that’s wearing thin, but I do think it’s accurate. Some changes necessitated by COVID (such as more remote work, increased focus on digital, and changing the way we think about events) are not going to return to their previous states.

John: I guess yes and no.  How’s that for a non-answer?  From a societal perspective, this crisis/pandemic has certainly altered us all on many levels.  I believe it could serve as a tipping point for economies and societies.  Everything from the acceleration of consumer shopping behaviours, to commercial/office real estate footprints and labour force decisions, we are rethinking our previous beliefs.  We are also doing that on a global economy level – what does global trade, supply chains and “glocal” truly mean to us now, and how best should jurisdictions around the world now operate?  I could go on and on, but all this to say that likely on a societal level we could be entering a new normal.

Tannis: I don’t think there is a new normal at this time. There is very low traveler confidence and perhaps this might continue until COVID cases decline in Canada or there is a vaccine.

CMA:  Assuming that you are working from home at least part time, and that commuting to and from work and travelling is drastically reduced, have you found yourself working longer hours or have you carved out some time to read more, maybe listen to podcasts, or get hooked on a series? And if yes, any suggestions or recommendations?


Jeff: My work habits haven’t changed much, even though I’ve been working from home a lot more. As part of a global company, my life revolves around Teams/Zoom calls with colleagues and customers across all time zones. For me it’s always been a very blurry line between work and home, the concept of “work hours” is very fluid for me. With less travel, however, I did have a chance to become acquainted with Netflix, including seeing the “other Jeff Lowe” on Tiger King.

John: I’m at home probably 95% of the time, whereas before March I was in the office for 95% of the time.  I love people, and get my energy from the team through sharing ideas, colliding and collaborating.  So honestly, this remote environment has been hard for me, but I’m adjusting and really using technology to stay connected in order to recharge.

Tannis: I am working longer hours and am trying to find more work/life balance with my home office. I carve out time for a daily workout to stay active, sane and get out of the house. Getting a run or a bike ride in everyday has really helped my state of mind and gives me a nice break from all the calls and screen time each day.


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About the Author


Jan Wood is Vice President of the Calgary Marketing Association and heads up Events and Partnerships. With over 20 years in the marketing profession both in Canada and Internationally and primarily in product development, Jan offers consulting in the education, health and oil & gas sectors.




Kyla Mackie is a recent graduate from Mount Royal University, where she obtained a Bachelor of Business Administration, with a major in Marketing and minor in International Business and Economics. During her time at University, she was the Co-President of Enactus, a non-profit organization that helps create positive sustainable change through economic, social, and environmental projects. Now, she is currently working at the Calgary Marketing Association as the Communications Coordinator.

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