Guest Blog: Sara Holt - Marketing Director Midway UK

29/06/2022
Natalie Mallory

It has been three years almost to the day that I started work at Merlin. I have no desire to leave. For a restless person who gets bored easily, that’s a big statement. It’s the best place I have worked and yet I wouldn’t have known that would be the case. So this post is to tell you why Merlin is unique and special.

A big vision and ambition

Merlin is on track to be the world’s biggest location-based entertainment business at some point in the not too distant future. We talk internally about catching the Mouse (Disney theme parks) and that ambition permeates through everyone who works at Merlin. Sometimes it feels like we are acquiring or opening a new business every week. In the last few months, we have launched LEGOLAND Korea and New York, Peppa Pig x 2, and a new style LEGO Discovery Centre in Brussels while in my UK world we have acquired Cadbury’s World and launched Peter Rabbit Explore & Play in Blackpool. I had a moment of supreme excitement when I met Cadbury’s marketing team and saw what they have achieved and explained how together we can help grow their business. Magical moments like that happen all the time.

Cadbury World

Entrepreneurial and fast-moving

Despite being a £1 billion-plus company with more than 140 attractions around the world it has the feel of a small scale up. It is lean which means we move fast, divide up work and constantly find new opportunities for growth. One example in my world is two years ago during the first Covid lockdown I spotted the need for London’s industry to unite to both lobby the Government for marketing for our great city and also to come together and contribute. This led first to the setting up of the SOS London group which unified 10,000 businesses to lobby the Government and then the creation of the London Tourism Recovery Board which led the industry brief for commissioning London marketing from the Mayor’s agency, London & Partners. It was a proud moment when the Mayor stood in New York’s Times Square and launched the biggest ever international marketing campaign for London.

I had never done anything like this before and quickly learnt all about corporate lobbying, destination marketing organisations and many other things. That’s just Merlin. You spot an opportunity and people around you support you to make it happen. You do things you would never expect and that’s magic.

The role of marketing

Marketing at Merlin is really special. We don’t just make campaigns, we really run the business. This means that within our remit sits full profit and loss accountability, pricing and yield per guest and guest experience. Even within campaign creation, our role is bigger than in many organisations, with PR and e-commerce sitting right at the heart of things.  I love this. My role really is so much bigger than pretty pictures and means I have embraced my inner numbers geek. Art and science come together in a special way at Merlin. I have learnt all kinds of things, from the life span of clown fish to how many people can ride The lastminute.com London Eye per hour.

Our marketers also get to work with our very talented colleagues at Merlin Magic Making, the team who design everything from our LEGOLAND theme parks and rollercoasters to our amazing wax figures at Madame Tussauds, as well as IP teams on a range of other brands, including partners such as DreamWorks.

Once you have learnt the Merlin way of doing marketing you can pretty much run any business.

This means marketers do run our business. Fiona Eastwood our COO, Rob Smith and Helen Bull are just a few examples of people who have been Merlin marketing directors who do. The majority of our board as well as our CEO started as Merlin marketing directors.

Because we are growing fast and are lean there are so many opportunities. Within my team, there are many examples of people who have moved cross-functionally, such as Sara Vergara-Muro, or who grasped the opportunities and been given more of them - Hannah Ferguson and Kerry Thomas. We look for people who can travel well within Merlin and we give them opportunities to grow and in some cases literally travel the globe. My peer Kirsty Burkill has been from London to Singapore and now heads up the North American Midway Marketing team.

Fun

Fun is a core value at Merlin. It represents the magic of the category and the way we also work together. I am the best mum in the world as my 10-year daughter is taken to so many attractions. Yet no matter how many SEA LIFEs she goes to there is always a moment of total awe. Those looks make everything worth it.

Fun is what we strive to ensure that we and our teams have as well. During Covid with closures and restructures we lost some of that as we were all head down managing re-opening and the first stages of recovery. Now my focus is 100 per cent back on the team and bringing more fun back.  It’s easy to unlock as we have nice people who work here and everyone really believes in the importance of fun. We have an extensive “fun” plan in Midway marketing which ranges in everything from free tickets to gigs to a huge team learning week with brilliant speakers and fun activities in Blackpool, where we have multiple attractions.

New kinds of creativity

Within my Midway UK marketing team, we are embracing all kinds of new creativity. Our Dungeons TikTok channels go from strength to strength. We have recently appointed three new agencies – Creature, Elvis and Wavemaker and with them are pushing to new places with what we do. We simply can’t stop creating global PR hits, like our recent Platinum Jubilee Pub Pod on The lastminute.com London Eye or the new music zone at Madame Tussauds London. I am amazed on a daily basis by the sheer amount of campaigns we have going out the door and how each time there is something done better than before.  That’s over and above all the great revenue and yield.

Music Zone MT London

Inclusion & Diversity

We always look for culture add, not culture fit, when we are looking for new people to join our team and bringing in different types of people from different backgrounds and with different life experiences is key to Merlin’s future success and it is something I am incredibly passionate about. 

We have roles that could be for you!

If this sounds like something you would be up for we have roles open currently and due to our growth I am always on the lookout for top talent!

Check out our latest Marketing Roles here...