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.

It's no secret in the tourism world that the things that make a community a great place to live are frequently the same things that make it an appealing place to visit. That's one reason why Tourism and Economic Development departments should work well together. As they recently did in Halifax County, Virginia, when they came together and chose Mikula-Harris to develop a video to showcase the quality of life in the county to be used to recruit people to relocate there. Today, I want to take you behind the scenes.

This client did not want to join the ranks of thousands of other communities with bland videos that say "when you come here you'll find something for everyone." Believe me, our creative team didn't want that either. We rebel against those kinds of videos (not to mention bland ad campaigns and websites, too). We took some time to learn about the key attributes that Halifax County can truthfully boast about. We also heard input from major employers who have to recruit highly skilled professionals about what stumbling blocks they have faced in the past.

While there were so many things we wanted to tell everyone about Halifax County, the main idea to impress upon viewers was that it's a welcoming and friendly place where newcomers will immediately feel at home. We focused on the emotional reasons why Halifax County is a wonderful community in which to live, raise a family, make new friends and enjoy life. It’s not an urban center with the amenities of a big city, but it’s not exactly isolated either. Richmond and Raleigh are nearby. The images and copy convey our message and the voice talent perfectly projects it. Halifax County is proud of the renaissance taking place there and we're proud to help them share the news.

We think the video tells a wonderful story about life in Halifax County. By the way, great outdoor recreation, historic sites and motor sports action are just a few of the reasons to visit Halifax County as a tourist. You might like it enough to stay.



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.

“Too many ads that try not to go over the reader’s head end up beneath his notice.”
– Leo Burnett, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

This quote is from Leo Burnett, one of the great advertising minds of all time and founder of the global agency that still bears his name. He contributed to the United Airlines “Fly the Friendly Skies” and Allstate “Good Hands” campaigns as well as many others. Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. He is as quote worthy as Ben Franklin or Albert Einstein.

From my perspective as a partner in a small agency that happens to do a lot of advertising in the tourism sector, I found this quote particularly relevant. Agreeing with the quote requires believing two critical truths:

TRUTH – Advertising works. Period. It’s that simple. Abandoning advertising for complete investment in PR, blogging, SEO or anything else is risky behavior and potentially lethal to a brand. That’s not to say these tools don’t have value, but they can only go so far towards building your brand since you can’t control the message and where they appear.

TRUTH – Creativity gets results. I find this to be especially true in the travel and tourism world where inspiring and motivating people is the key to success. Great advertising grabs a reader’s attention and helps guide him or her through the sales funnel toward action. Lackluster ads, as Mr. Burnett points out, go completely unnoticed. Not only does that not help build brands, it actually damages brands by making them look dull.

The Virginia Association of Destination Marketing Organizations (VADMO) Tourism Symposium was an excellent conference filled with expert speakers expounding on everything from economics to analytics. In my opinion, the most important takeaway for every local DMO in attendance came not from a presenter but from an extemporaneous remark.

While accepting an award for a niche campaign, a CEO told the story of how his team first came to him with the idea and his initial response was, "You want to actually spend money on this?" He was, however, open-minded enough to hear the idea and the data-supported rationale behind it. The campaign got the thumbs-up and has been wildly successful.

It takes guts and a confident leader to make a bold decision like that. It’s bold because not many DMOs are doing campaigns in this particular niche. One has to ask if it’s such a lucrative market why aren’t more destinations pursuing it? It’s untapped, that's why. And the those willing to take the road less traveled usually reap the benefits. It’s a sign of wise leadership because the decision did not live or die based on a whim or gut instinct. Ironically, the initial instinct was to kill the project. In this case, the CEO expected his team to make a fact-based case to proceed. He had the good sense to hear the argument and give the campaign the green light.

The high-performing marketing initiatives are usually the bold, surprising and most creative ones.


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