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

With the recent passing of former President George H. W. Bush we heard a lot about the many virtues that he embodied in his daily life — service, decency, civility, gratitude and humility. What a great example to emulate as individuals and as businesses. As the year comes to an end, I’d like to reflect on how two of them in particular relate to Mikula-Harris.

We are profoundly grateful for our wonderful clients. We remind ourselves daily that our clients have placed a great deal of trust in us. In some instances the marketing decision maker is staking his or her job on their decision to choose us as their agency. In the case of an entrepreneur/business owner, he or she may be placing the future of their business in our hands. It’s a heavy burden but we are strengthened by their confidence. We’re also grateful to our clients for their willingness to invest in creativity. We appreciate how they listen to our ideas and let us run with them. Their willingness to hear our most creative ideas is directly tied to their confidence in us. Double the gratitude.

Being humble and being in the advertising industry are difficult to reconcile. Our job is to boast on behalf of our clients. Occasionally, we even have to boast about ourselves. Thankfully, I have no qualms about bragging about our team. I can rationalize that it’s not quite the same as bragging about me personally. As 2018 comes to an end, I don’t mind telling everyone that our amazing creative team — in collaboration with some incredibly talented partners like photographers, videographers, programmers and printers — have produced some very impressive work.

Highlights include:

  • Our work for the Shenandoah Valley was part of the peer-voted Best in Show winner at the VADMO Virgo Awards. The award went to the Shenandoah Valley partnership on the merits of their program and numerous accomplishments, but we’re still proud that our creative work played a part of the overall judging.
  • A series of videos supporting the “More of what matters” campaign for Mecklenburg County Tourism hit in the middle of the year. That one is doubly satisfying because that campaign won peer-voted Best in Show in the Virgo Awards a couple of years ago.
  • Branding work completed late in 2017 for Winchester, Virginia, has started to appear in media outlets. The full impact of that brand strategy is still being implemented. The tourism office in Winchester continues to build the brand by telling the many stories of people, places and events that make Winchester special.
  • A cool new video describing why Halifax County in southern Virginia is a wonderful place to call home. It will be used by major employers and economic development groups to recruit talent to the region. The video is unpretentious, creative, friendly and beautiful. In other words, it captures the essence of Halifax County.
  • Finally, our team spent a lot of time during 2018 on three great branding projects — two in Virginia and one in Tennessee. The results are being implemented right now but are not quite ready to be revealed. Look for case studies and blog posts on these projects soon.

Happy New Year! We hope your 2019 is filled with happiness and prosperity.

There seems to be a never-ending race among marketers to stay on the cutting edge of both trends and technology. I have observed something ironic about trends. It helps to have an understanding of fundamental basics of advertising and marketing because certain time-tested principles can help make even cutting edge tactics more successful. In other words, it’s not just the use of trends and technology that get results it’s how they are applied.

For Example:

  • It may seem ultra-cool for a brand to have a presence on the latest social media outlet or app. The reality just might be that the brand is wasting time and money — following a trend like a lemming and not because it’s the right thing to do. Is this outlet really reaching the right demographic or does it make about as much sense as the Museum of Modern Art buying commercial space during a broadcast of the monster truck pull? Lesson: Match up the target demographics of a social media outlet just as you would a broadcast or print media buy.
  • Speaking of apps, how many brands rushed into developing one only to spend many thousands of dollars to have their app downloaded by a few hundred people who then used it once? The decision to advertise — make no mistake, that’s what the app is for — is usually made by examining reach, frequency and CPMs (Cost per thousand). Apps need to gain very widespread popularity and download rates before the CPM makes good sense. Lesson: Take a realistic look at the potential CPM before proceeding with any initiative, especially in the context of your entire marketing budget (once you have determined that it will reach the right demographic, of course).
  • In the rush to dabble in “Content Marketing” some brands feel so much pressure to push out content that quantity becomes more important that quality. In the tourism space in particular where Mikula-Harris is so deeply engaged, we see an endless supply of Top Ten lists in blogs. I don’t understand how knowing the top ten places to buy shoelaces in a destination helps move a potential visitor through the sales funnel. Somewhere between the Awareness and Action stages of the funnel is the Consideration stage where people need to be inspired to act. Bland blogs are informational at best but rarely inspiring. That takes real stories about real people and places, creatively documented and told. Lessons: A. Quantity is rarely more important that quality. Creative messaging moves the needle; B. In travel and tourism it’s essential to sell experiences and emotions not amenities, statistics and facts.

Looking at new marketing opportunities and trends through the lens of time-proven fundamentals can help you decide which ones to skip and which ones to fully embrace. You have to learn to walk before you can run. That’s another timeless and truthful principle.

Among the goals of a good conference agenda is introducing attendees to a variety of ideas and perspectives. At the recent VA-1 Virginia Tourism Summit, two sessions, which took place back-to-back, really got me thinking about a valuable lesson for tourism marketers. Unfortunately, the second session missed the opportunity to amplify an important point from the earlier one.

The session was about making an impact on a small budget. It drew a larger than expected crowd. Everyone wants to know this secret. Of course, there are differing opinions on what exactly constitutes a small budget. The session leaders wanted to spend the time addressing some key topics, like: How to measure ROI of a digital campaign; how to maximize your cable TV ad buy, and others. All good questions and their suggestions were valid. Here’s the BIG point that I think was omitted. Everyone in the room needed to hear this: The best way to make the greatest impact with a small budget it to never compromise on the quality of the creative work.

The speakers went on to discuss measuring campaign results by engagements and click rates. If the clicks are sub-par compared to industry benchmarks work with the provider on different placement and targeting, they suggested. Well, maybe no one is clicking on it because it’s a lame ad. Maybe no one is responding to the print and broadcast ads because they’re not enticing. Maybe the average time spent on your website is low because the design is bad and the messaging is weak. I recognize that it is an age-old dilemma that smaller destinations have to compete with larger ones that have more marketing money. That is precisely why smaller destinations need creative messaging that is equally as good. Increasing the volume of bad advertising is not the answer regardless of what kind of deal you've negotiated with the media outlets.

The irony of the back-to-back sessions is that the first one was a fascinating inside look at the story of one of the greatest tourism branding and marketing campaigns of all time: Pure Michigan. The campaign not only increased visitation, it totally changed how people view the state of Michigan. Every destination needs to think about how to accomplish similar results on an appropriate scale.

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