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Campaign revamp for Harrison County Tourism Commission

GULFPORT – Like a living thing, an advertising campaign breathes new life and moves along its course learning, adapting, perhaps changing and eventually being laid to rest for the next campaign to be born.

Research indicates that the time has come for the Harrison County Tourism Commission`s “well balanced escape” campaign to make way for new birth, according to executive director Steve Richer.

“This campaign is a by-product of focus group research that`s three or four years old,” he said. “It was done in Tampa, Atlanta, Birmingham and Baton Rouge among current visitors and non visitors or those who

hadn`t been here in five years.”

Done in tandem with the GodwinGroup advertising agency, Richer said the agency test marketed ideas with creative that indicated people come to the Gulf Coast for a number of reasons – gaming, golf, cultural and water activities.

“It was always a multiplicity, short trips, an escape,” he said. “We used a split image to represent all groups and from that came the well balanced escape theme.”

The commission`s Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) launched an integrated campaign using print, television, a Web site and booths at trade shows. All used the same approach and carried the same look. The popular Fun Times Guide that`s distributed to visitors has a cover sending a message that the Mississippi Gulf Coast has something for everyone.

The commission continued to do research all along and found that visitors are starting to come from farther away as improved air service adds another element to the Coast`s drive-in market. According to Richer, 32% of the Coast`s visitors now come from 700 miles or more and more than half come from 250 miles or more.

Moreover, recent focus groups conducted in Miami, Tampa, Atlanta and Houston indicate the message, “a well balanced escape,” is vague and the split image doesn`t clearly define the offerings. With many other places having golf, gaming and water activities, the Coast needs to show something different.

“People are saying give us what we don`t have. They’re looking for differentiation, other reasons to come,” Richer said. “We get good satisfaction listed by visitors but we have to redefine the message.”

With that challenge in mind, the tourism commission has decided it`s time to take a look at what other agencies have to offer for their tourism product. Richer said approximately 200 requests for proposals were sent to advertising agencies in a wide area and those participating will make presentations in June.

“We are open for a change,” he said. “That doesn`t mean we will but we can. We’re not looking for anything in particular. It`s just which agency can present our product.”

The GodwinGroup chose not to be interviewed but issued a statement through Lauren Davis, senior account executive who worked on the Harrison County tourism account for eight months.

“When GodwinGroup began marketing efforts for the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the current tagline was ‘Playground of the South.’ Consumer research in 1999 revealed that the tagline did not match consumer expectations of the Coast,” it reads.

“The Coast was perceived as a getaway destination, which led to the new campaign, ‘A Well-Balanced Escape.’ The most recent consumer research conducted this year revealed that the Coast should continue to market itself as an escape destination and connect to consumers on an emotional level that is relevant to their lifestyle.”

Richer says the research will help determine the new campaign, which the commission hopes to launch in October when the county`s new fiscal year begins. Until that time, they will stick with what they have. The commission no longer counts the number of visitors, instead focusing on qualitative rather than quantitative research. The Web site is currently being re-designed, he said.

Although a new ad campaign will soon represent tourism on the Gulf Coast, the current one has worked great for television, Richer said. Using pay per inquiry to gain national TV visibility, the tourism spot ran on 20 stations that included Animal Planet, CNBC, Court TV, Fine Living, Food Network, Fox News Channel, History Channel, Travel Channel, MSNBC and Outdoor Life Network.

“For a cost of $300,000, we got $6 to $8 million worth of time and around 25,000 inquiries,” Richer said. “The Coast is big news and is receiving national publicity in The New York Times, The Washington Post and other publications.”

He says the new ad campaign will build on these successes and must carry vertical messages selling what people want to buy. Since research reveals that visitors are coming from farther away and staying longer, he feels those messages must reflect more diversification, cultural, adventure and sports activities. The key is to know the product and the audience.

“That is the challenge,” the tourism executive said. “We’re in that place of breaking into a national destination. We must do the right things in our sales, marketing and public relations and we want to do it in conjunction with state and regional partnerships. The economy is very dependent on tourism and state tourism depends on the Coast.”

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


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