Clarksdale — In conjunction with its annual conference October 20-21 in New Orleans, the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) will host a “second step” meeting with tourism leaders from Mississippi and Memphis to continue developing a comprehensive plan to market the Delta region.
“The June 16 ‘First Step’ meeting was a good effort toward getting the two entities — the Mississippi Delta and Memphis — on the same page,” said Webster Franklin, executive director of the Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Now if the DRA could get the two parties to partner on marketing efforts, we’d be on our way.”
‘Where the music meets the soul’
Franklin pointed out that a mechanism is already in place to expand marketing efforts throughout the two-state, eight-county region: the Mississippi Delta Tourism Association (MDTA), a seven-member organization that represents Clarksdale, Cleveland, Greenville, Greenwood, Indianola, Tunica and Yazoo City.
Its tag line? “Where the music meets the soul.”
MDTA, led by Bill Seratt, executive director of the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, has an annual budget of $135,000 and a three-year strategic plan. The association meets monthly and is funded by a $100,000 annual grant from the Mississippi Division of Tourism for marketing expenses and annual dues of $5,000 per member for administrative expenses, which also covers participation as a region in trade shows. Bobby King and Associates is the advertising agency of record for MDTA.
“The DRA could act as the conduit to bring the MDTA together with the Memphis Beale Street Association, and cooperatively do a uniform signage program, similar to historical markers, from Memphis throughout the Mississippi Delta, in conjunction with a collateral piece that would serve as a driving tour,” said Franklin, who based his recommendations on research by Randall Marketing, which noted a lack of signage for various attractions throughout the Delta.
MDTA already provides visitors centers with rack brochures featuring a map with highlights connecting the seven cities. The association plans to develop pad maps with easy-to-follow directions throughout the Mississippi Delta for distribution to hotel front desks.
“MDTA could do the work and hopefully, we could gain some federal money through DRA,” said Franklin. “If successful in developing a framework of how the Memphis Tourism/Beale Street entities can be brought into the fold from both a monetary and personnel standpoint, I would suggest that we as a group, in conjunction with DRA, focus on a single marketing issue before branching out to a full-fledged advertising campaign.”
Regional tourism pact?
The signage program could then be used as a model for other areas within the DRA region, added Franklin.
Performa CEO John Elkington, whose projects include Beale Street in Memphis and Farish Street in Jackson, said it would be advantageous to connect Memphis to the Delta “and encourage people to stay in the area more than one day.”
“Creating a regional tourism pact would increase tourism for both,” he said. “In Memphis, we’re already helping Morgan Freeman promote his nightclub, Ground Zero in Clarksdale. We just bought the rights to the King Biscuit Flour Company and we’re looking at the possibility of developing musical attractions for the Delta, using the King Biscuit entertainment logo. We’re working to better coordinate all these Delta festivals. We’re also looking at a couple of projects in Clarksdale and a couple in Greenville, which would involve some renovation. We’re real excited about some unique opportunities in Clarksdale.
“Overall, we feel there needs to be a stronger cultural connection between Memphis and the Mississippi Delta and we’re working on a number of things to make sure that happens.”
Mississippi Development Authority tourism director Craig Ray said the creation of the newly formed, permanent Mississippi Blues Commission “is another way we can all work together … another way to market that region of the state.”
DRA spokesperson Lillie Fears said, “nothing concrete has been done” since the June 16 meeting.
“We’re staying in touch with everybody, and we should know more after the annual conference in New Orleans,” said Fears.
Ray, who missed the June 16 meeting but sent representatives from his office, said he’s looking forward to attending the conference in New Orleans.
“The idea of regionally marketing the state has been very successful and it gives us an opportunity to network and collaborate with neighboring states,” he said. “It’s a great idea and I commend the DRA for getting everybody together. It’s another great opportunity for our state to bring in the federal government to work with us.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.