As a refresher, you might want to take a quick look at the previous blog post. It summarizes some of the recent successes with Bath County Tourism, including a nearly 40% increase in web traffic over the same period a year earlier. Plus, we launched a couple of new initiatives including a Motorcycle Rides & Scenic Drives brochure and a consumer e-newsletter to people whose information we had been capturing via the website. Today, we’re going to share with you how we were able to accomplish these successes in a short period on a modest budget.

Set Goals — Without them it’s easy to get distracted and begin rationalizing how other things deserve your attention not to mention your limited marketing money. Once you have set your goals, devise tactics and a media plan to achieve them. Stay focused.

Create a Balanced Media Plan — There is no absolute right answer to the vexing question of what percentage of a media budget should go toward online vs print vs broadcast vs other methods. One thing we know, anyone who says to go all in 100% with just one outlet is a fool. In the case of Bath County, since increasing web traffic was a major goal, we purposefully created a media plan with significant investment in online options, including a foundation of SEM and Google Display advertising. Whenever applicable, we negotiated packages with print media publications to include advertising on their website and in their highly targeted e-newsletters.

Invest in Quality Creative — One of the great conundrums of destination marketing is that small, rural destinations need the highest caliber marketing materials even though they have the smallest budgets. Average destinations are a dime a dozen. In order to compete, the smaller ones have to stand out and make people say “wow.” That’s accomplished with professional creative work. In our opinion, it’s not worth the cost of buying an ad in a media outlet if the ad is low quality. It will hurt the brand not grow it. Make quality a priority.

Be Selective. Be Decisive. Be Bold — In previous posts we talked about launching the Motorcycle Rides & Scenic Drives brochure, a consumer e-newsletter and making a concerted effort to build the county’s reputation for world-class fishing. Early indications are that all of these are yielding results. We knew from the beginning that these would all require effort and money in the future. We could have come up with at least a half-dozen other projects but we chose these based on research and experience. Any niche initiative — wine and beer trails are popular examples — requires funding in every fiscal year not just the first one. “If you build it they will come” only works in the movies. A trail or other program is an attraction like a shop or museum and it needs to be marketed continuously. Once we settled on these projects because of their potential for success, we committed adequate marketing funds to each of them.

Harness Social Media — Even before Mikula-Harris began its partnership with the county, the office of tourism in Bath County had embraced social media. The official tourism Facebook account has twice as many followers as there are residents in Bath County. We’re now using that strength to achieve our goals. We’re sharing quality content, engaging our fans, and driving traffic to the website. It’s a powerful marketing tool that can reach a large audience with a small investment.

Keep the Main Thing The Main Thing — Before spending money on media, initiatives, projects or partnerships, we asked the question, “Will this advance our goals and be good for the long term viability of the brand?” If it doesn’t check both boxes, perhaps the money can be better spent on something else. Nothing is more important than the integrity of the brand.

One final note, the tourism businesses in Bath County, including lodging properties, shops, attractions and restaurants, have been extraordinary partners. They all understand the concept of a rising tide lifting all boats. All have been wonderfully supportive and generous. Because of them, 2020 is looking bright for Bath County tourism.

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.

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.

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