A lot of people have been curious about the partnership established between Bath County and Mikula-Harris. It’s an interesting story that will one day become an extensive case study or white paper. In the meantime, we want to share what we’re doing and the results that are being achieved. This is the first of what will surely be several blog posts on the subject.

It’s definitely a unique relationship. The county basically outsourced most of the functions of the Office of Tourism, including providing strategic and creative direction to the marketing, working closely with the administration on budgeting, and communicating with local tourism partners to build relationships and foster teamwork.

It’s not a typical client/agency relationship, but the stars aligned for this partnership to become possible. As conversations progressed and the agreement began to take shape, I knew in my heart that it was going to be successful — a genuine win-win situation the way we hope every relationship will be. Today, let’s talk about what makes this relationship unique and why it was so perfectly poised for success.

A. Mikula-Harris has experience in Bath County. We knew the brand and some of the key players. We were not starting from scratch. Sure, we had the challenge of re-gaining some lost momentum, but at least there was a solid foundation in place.

B. We often consult with clients on media and advertising plans. In many cases, clients accept some of our counsel and mix in some of their own preferences. In the case of Bath County, the responsibility for developing the plan was entirely on us. Results would rise or fall because of our strategy. We’ll take that any day of the week. We crafted a plan that took advantage of every discount, buy down, cost share, and value-added bonus we could find. We’re delivering maximum bang for the county’s bucks.

C. The creative work is handled much like the media plan. We answer to the county administrator who hired us because we’re experts at what we do. We share ideas accompanied by research and rationale. We’re held to a high standard but in the end we are not being micro-managed. Once again, we’ll take that scenario any day of the week because we’re confident that we’ll get results. So, we have developed new creative work that we believe will be effective AND it’s paired with our media strategy.

D. In addition to tending to details like the media plan, we had the opportunity to step back and view the big picture of where the tourism program is headed. We considered new markets to pursue, new ways to reach people beyond traditional advertising and new ways to form partnerships. We identified a few key areas for growth and launched a couple of new initiatives, including a Motorcycle Rides & Scenic Drives brochure and a consumer e-newsletter.

So, how is it all working out? What kind of results are we seeing? You have probably heard the term “Taking names and kicking butt.” We’re literally taking names and metaphorically kicking butt. The next blog post will analyze some results to date.

It has been a long time in the making but I’m happy to announce that Mikula-Harris has just launched a new website. Like many agencies, we get so busy with client work that our own site took a back seat for a while. We hope you’ll spend a few minutes clicking around and then let us know on Facebook what you think.

Here are five things we want you to know about our new website:

1. Our design team spent a lot of time on the Work Samples section. Partially because it’s difficult select samples from over 25 years of work but also because we wanted to show a wide variety of projects and tell you a little bit about what we did for each client. We significantly beefed up this section compared to our previous site.

2. We’re a bit more philosophical in this site. Mixed in with telling you who we are and what we do, we offer some insights into how we think and what is important to us — like being genuine partners to clients, our belief in the power of creativity, the importance of research and how it actually makes the creativity sharper, and our thoughts on how to build strong brands.

3. The blog is now integrated into the website. Previously, it was a separate site. Even though we had a link to it, we think many people overlooked it. We hope you will bookmark it and return often. This post you’re reading now happens to be all about us and our new website, but that is a unique situation. We try to make them educational, topical, thought-provoking and fun.

4. The Expertise page talks about the importance of both talent and experience. Members of our team bring an enormous depth of experience to the table, such as art direction, research, problem solving, media strategy and more. Yes, indeed, Mikula-Harris has earned a reputation as experts in tourism branding and marketing, but we also have clients in other industries. As long as they share our core beliefs on partnership, creativity and collaboration, we enjoy doing great work for a wide array of clients.

5. What is the most important page on the site? Answer: The Contact page. We can’t help new clients until we create a connection, which is very easy to do through the simple form on the Contact page. We LOVE launching brands and taking existing brands to greater levels of success. We are passionate about developing advertising and marketing solutions by using research and exceptional creativity. We really enjoy getting to know our client’s products and what makes them unique. None of that is possible until we connect. It all begins with a “Hello.” 

To DIY or not to DIY? That is the question.

A Do-it-Yourself craze is sweeping the nation. There is even a DIY television network and loads of instructional videos on the internet.

I think people choose to tackle projects for various reasons:

  • They are confident in their abilities.
  • They want a new challenge.
  • They have no choice because they don’t have the money to pay someone skilled to do it for them. Sometimes you just have to be realistic and face the fact that some tasks are best left to experts.

This is not only true with household, fixer-upper, landscaping, car repair or arts & crafts projects. It’s also true in the corporate world, including marketing. Among the most tempting tasks to attempt to DIY are creative/design/layout and photography/video. That’s because layout software can be easily purchased and every smart phone has a camera that also takes video. There may be an app for color correcting but there are no apps to compensate for talent and experience. Like other DIY projects, these can end very badly.

Regarding DIY creative work in general, I’ll offer this quote from advertising legend Leo Burnett and leave it at that: “I’ve learned that any fool can write a bad ad, but that it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one.”

Here in our office, the upstairs hallway is lined with award-winning photographs. They were snapped by various photographers but they were all personally planned, envisioned and art directed by someone on our Mikula-Harris team. These photos are not OK. They are not decent. They are not even good. They are amazing. Believe me, we do not have this hallway full of stunning images because of luck. These photographers and our art directors knew exactly what they wanted going into the shoot and they got it.

Like everyone reading this blog, sometimes I have to decide what to tackle myself, what to delegate to a fellow team member and what to outsource. I have to be realistic about what I can do well, what I am somewhat comfortable with, and what I know is beyond my abilities. I’ve heard many stories about photo and video shoots. I’ve been on location for quite a few as an observer. You might think that familiarity makes me a little bit more comfortable about maybe directing a shoot by myself. Nope. Just the opposite. It makes me certain that I could not art direct a shoot with a result that would end up in our hallway. It’s simply not one of the skills I possess. And I don’t want anything less than excellent for our clients. There’s enough photo and video in this world that is “just OK.” I want results that are breathtaking. Fortunately, I have colleagues who make directing a photo/video shoot look easy. The truth is, it’s not that easy.

I was recently flipping through the January issue of a travel magazine that serves the mid-Atlantic region. Most of the ads and editorial content focused on snow sports like skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and tubing. Keep in mind that I love winter sports. Those ads and articles appeal to me. Still, one ad in the issue practically jumped off the page. It was an ad for whitewater rafting, whose season begins late spring and runs through the summer.

Kudos to this advertiser for understanding two things:

  • Lead times for booking getaways may be getting shorter, but people are still researching — or at least browsing for ideas — far in advance of their trip
  • Remaining top-of-mind means keeping up the marketing all the time

The definition of Brand Essence is “a brand’s fundamental nature or quality.” In other words, it’s the heart and soul of a brand. I’ve also heard it defined as the reason the brand exists in the first place, which may be accurate for corporate brands but is a bit of stretch for community or destination brands.

To really understand the concept, consider what some famous brands say is their essence. Hallmark: Caring Shared. The Nature Conservancy: Saving Great Places. Nike: Authentic Athletic Performance. A Brand Essence is not always written in flowery marketing language. It’s not always meant for the consumer. It does, however, keep the brand itself and all who speak for it focused on what matters. Once in a while it can be for both internal and external audiences. The Nature Conservancy uses Saving Great Places as its consumer messaging, too.

Why is a Brand Essence important to a community or tourism destination brand? Communities are a lot more complex than businesses, which are created by people for the purpose of filling a niche. A business’ Brand Essence is pretty much known when it’s founded. Communities are more diverse. They contain lots of groups with individual agendas. While all are valid and contribute something to the community, some have a greater impact on the personality of the place. Let’s face it, some have the potential to draw more visitors an economic activity than others. That’s what makes finding the Brand Essence difficult while at the same time demonstrating how critical it is. Marketers, including tourism marketers, have a natural predisposition to want to appeal to everyone. Unfortunately, that approach leads to weaker brands not strong ones. So, destinations have to determine what makes them unique and special. Finding those differentiators and putting them into a Brand Essence defines for everyone the “fundamental nature or quality” of the place.

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6 Walnut Avenue • Vinton, Virginia 24179

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