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TURKEL hits the road to find out what makes the Coast a special place to visit

Gulf Coast CVB picks Florida ad agency from eight finalists

Gulfport — Come October 1, the Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) will be represented by a new advertising agency that will put the CVB in good company. The agency, TURKEL of Coconut Grove, Fla., also represents Miami, Kissimmee and Peabody Hotels. With those hard hitters on its client list, TURKEL must know something about tourism and branding.

“This was a wonderful choice,” said the CVB’s executive director Stephen B. Richer. “Their positioning and the creative concepts to follow up that positioning, along with the perception of who we are, our product and how we deliver that product, were critical in choosing TURKEL.”

Forty agencies responded to the request for proposals sent out by the CVB and eight finalists were chosen to give one-hour presentations. Richer said any of the agencies could do a good job with the account.

“We had highly successful companies representing New York, Orlando, Chattanooga, the Florida Keys, Miami and Kissimmee,” he said. “TURKEL demonstrated the ability to become strategic partners with us and get the results we want to bring visitors to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

In a full day of presentations at the Coast Coliseum, the Harrison County Tourism Commission invited marketing partners to participate and evaluate the presenting agencies. Richer said only those participants who stayed all day were allowed to give evaluations. Marketing partners representing some 4,000 Coast hotel rooms spent the day and provided comments.

Roadtrip, anyone?

In a bold move that impressed the CVB staff and tourism commissioners, TURKEL staffers hit the road in a RV for the Mississippi Gulf Coast to learn first hand what the area has to offer. They posted the TURKEL 2004 RV Mississippi Gulf Coast or Bust Advertising Adventure Tour on their Web site and updated it with daily photos and comments.

When the group of five left Miami on June 12, they had nothing prepared for their June 18 presentation in Biloxi. Armed with layout pads, marker collections, thesauruses, laptop computers, digi-cams, cell phones, lucky brainstorming T-shirts and junk food, the creative team set out to immerse themselves in the area’s sights, sounds, tastes and culture. Everything for the presentation was created onboard the RV after they arrived in Mississippi.

“What we did was unusual, but when you think about it, the way all pitches should really be made,” said Bruce Turkel, CEO and executive creative director of TURKEL. “There’s far too much guesswork. Far too much reliance on hunches. We uncovered compelling facts, truths and previously unconsidered tactics.”

The Web site stated that while the agency’s competitors were toiling away in the comfort of their air-conditioned offices, TURKEL would do everything from drawing up concept boards to editing daily-shot video footage from the comfort of their RV.

“Others came here to see what we have to offer tourists but no one did it to the extent TURKEL did,” Richer said. “They acted like tourists and wrote a creative plan while they were here, after they saw what we have and interviewed people.”

Turkel says research is terrific, but doesn’t give the full story of a place. He said sitting around a RV park with folding chairs, beer, guitars and harmonicas makes for easy conversation. The group talked to people who were on their way to and from the Gulf Coast as well as those choosing to go other places.

“People will talk more if you talk to them like that, in a relaxed setting,” he said. “We got an impression of why people go to the area and why they’re going somewhere else.”

The 24-year advertising veteran says people who go to the Mississippi Gulf Coast don’t just like the area, they love it and that visitation patterns prove that. While there is interest in a lot of things, 46% of visitors list gaming when asked why they visit the area.

“Clearly, they need to be given more options,” Turkel said. “They don’t know what’s there and we didn’t either.”

The advertising executive says he wasn’t afraid he and his team would fail to craft a viable presentation in the short time allotted. However, he did consider that the key nugget of learning might not expose itself and they would run the risk of not solving the problem of how best to present the product.

“We had nothing when we left. It was all created in the RV,” he said. “We pulled two all-nighters and all of the staff did not go to the dinner for agencies that was held the night before the presentations.”

When it was their time to present, TURKEL began by telling about the agency, including how they purchase media, and gave two case studies — Miami and Kissimmee. For the meat of the presentation, they showed a real campaign for the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The campaign included six print ads, four television ads, eight or 10 billboards, co-op print ads, four promotional ideas, direct mail, a Web site component and a “look” for collateral.

“We understand how important it is to bring in partners, so we included cooperative advertising,” Turkel said. “We used the existing logo and we showed a look to create the graphic language that has to go across everything.”

They intend to create ads that can not be for any other place. Turkel says in a lot of tourism ads if you put your hand over the name of the place, it could be anywhere. He will strive for an emotional message that’s clear, well designed and quick that will resonate with customers. The agency also tends to use humor in advertising.

The CEO says the distance between his agency’s location and the Mississippi Gulf Coast is not a problem. There are no plans at this time to open an office in Harrison County.

“We have clients everywhere and manage them in a number of ways,” he said. “We travel a lot because nothing takes the place of being face-to-face, but we have a completely Web-enhanced system called Dartboard that allows clients to see all of their work online.”

Turkel speaks worldwide on branding and creativity and is a member of the National Speakers Association. A recent speaking engagement in London was sponsored by Travel & Leisure magazine.

Richer said, “I’m very optimistic. They’ve done a fantastic job in other places and I know they will for us too. A side benefit is that they can talk about other campaigns they’re working on and how those compare to ours.”

TURKEL was established in Florida in 1983 and is wholly owned by two partners, Bruce Turkel and Roberto S. Schaps, president. With a full-time staff of 30 employees, it is a full-service, multicultural agency.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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