In a year when the news was dominated by a website that wouldn't work right, we managed to launch several without so much as a hiccup or any other pre-existing condition. We're not here to bash the famously flawed site that spawned a thousand congressional hearings, we'll just say that we're grateful for our wonderful clients who allow us to do what we do best. Their confidence in us is the only mandate we need. Those clients made for some mighty interesting developments in 2013.

One of Virginia's best kept secrets became a little less secretive about its outdoor recreation opportunities in 2013. Mikula-Harris helped the Alleghany Highlands, located about an hour north of Roanoke on the border with West Virginia, formulate its first ever tourism brand strategy about two years ago. Outdoor recreation is a major part of that strategy because of the rugged mountains, the rivers & lakes, and the fact that roughly 50% of the county is national forest. In the Spring of 2013, that brand strategy took a major step forward with the launch of two outdoor recreation initiatives — Alleghany Highlands Trails and Alleghany Highlands Blueway. The former focusing on hiking, biking, running and horseback riding trails. The latter showcasing two rivers and two lakes and all the water-based recreation you can imagine. The trail guide flew off the visitor center racks and traffic flowed to the websites like water down the Jackson River after a week of heavy rain. These two initiatives are helping the Alleghany Highlands strengthen its reputation as a place for those who love any kind of outdoor recreation. We're going to prove that in 2014.

We started our year-long relationship with Abingdon engaged in conversation with two of the best in the tourism business — Abingdon CVB Director Kevin Costello and Young Strategies President Berkely Young. Young Strategies had completed extensive research for Abingdon so that Mikula-Harris could then formulate a brand strategy and future marketing materials based on lots of relevant data. Well, the results are extraordinary. The new ad campaign is turning heads. The new website and visitor guide are eliciting gasps from visitors and locals. And the video is getting rave reviews. Abingdon is becoming the next "must-see" destination in Virginia.

If their choice of agencies alone doesn't prove that Abingdon has good taste, the presence of an innovative farm-to-table program sure does. The Abingdon CVB partnered with Appalachian Sustainable Development to build the Rooted in Appalachia program that encourages restaurants and inns to serve local products. It also goes a step further than other similar programs. Rooted in Appalachia speaks directly to the consumer and helps them locate businesses that are committed to supporting local farms. We worked with them to build an ad campaign, website, video and other promotional materials. The campaign received a Virgo Award from the Virginia Association of CVBs and a Silver Award from the Summit Creative Awards.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, in tourism marketing a great video is priceless. Our creative team launched several great ones in 2013. Check out these two done for Abingdon and Rooted in Appalachia. You'll have to wait a couple of months to see one of them. It's fun. It's quirky. It's unique. And it's under wraps until the campaign launches in the Spring.

Our client roster grew in 2013. We're excited to be working with the Bath County, Virginia Office of Tourism. It's a rural county on the western edge of the state. It's rich in culture, beauty and history. We can't wait to tell its story to the world. In one of the most pleasant twists of the year, we partnered with another agency — an occasional competitor but also long-time friend — to pitch the Roanoke Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau. Our combined "all-star" team obviously appealed to the RVCVB, because after a highly competitive process our joint association was chosen to be their agency of record. The Roanoke Valley and surrounding region is known as Virginia's Blue Ridge. We're going to put it on the map and into traveler's minds in 2014. In the final month of the year, we were chosen by a two-county partnership to develop an exciting eco-tourism project in Halifax and Mecklenburg counties. This will be our third blueway project. The personality of each water trail is unique. We are very excited to dive in to the creative work in early 2014.

As the year ends, it's appropriate to take a moment and reflect. We developed some great creative work, won some awards, and lived up to the confidence that our clients placed in us. All of those things are wonderfully gratifying, still we keep asking ourselves the big question: Are we making a difference? Does what we do have an impact on people's lives? Travelers visiting a destination start an economic ripple that is felt throughout a community. When we help increase visitation to our clients, good old-fashioned American commerce takes it from there. When we work for a destination we help bring economic activity to an entire community not just one company. That ultimately benefits local businesses and every single resident. The answer, we believe, is yes we are making a difference. Let's hope for a rising tide of travel-based economic activity for all our clients in 2014.


6 Walnut Avenue • Vinton, Virginia 24179

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