Marketing Florida’s inviting beaches and sun-dappled weather is an easy sell, but the real challenge is finding the best way to remind people to visit when its not peak season. The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (GFLCVB) tasked M Silver, a division of Finn Partners, to spearhead its integrated marketing campaign to ensure that no matter what time of year it might be— and regardless of where you live—Fort Lauderdale’s beaches and sunny weather is a relatively quick flight away.
M Silver has been working with GFLCVB for 28 years, according to Virginia Sheridan, managing partner of the agency. For the last several years the strategy has been a multiplatform approach; about four or five years ago the company began kicking off its marketing season with big events in major metropolitan markets.
Sheridan said the abstract goal has been to create “memorable” awareness in an important audience market. “You want to be high profile and do something creative that follows a theme that ties into their marketing and campaign platform,” she added.
From a tactical perspective the deliverable objectives were as follows:
• Target top markets like New York, Chicago, Toronto and London. It definitely works in GFLCVB’s favor that these markets are not only vast, but experience brutal winters, so the idea of fun in the sun becomes much more marketable in January and/or February.
• Attract media and consumer attention. While this is a given for nearly every marketing plan, it was especially critical when considering the markets the campaign targeted.
• Increase visitor traffic to Sunny.org, GFLCVB’s Web portal, with complete destination information.
And, of course, the ever-present goal for any marketer is to drive more sales and increase visibility. M Silver’s key strategy for achieving those goals in 2013 was to kick off the campaign with a “Defrost Your Swimsuit” event, targeting multiple cities.
SETTING THE STAGE
With objectives in place, M Silver needed to strategize the best course of action for reaching its goals.
Sheridan said the conversations began by developing an event kickoff strategy first in the top U.S. market—New York—and then expanding to Chicago, Toronto and London.
“Since the events tend to be outdoors and in the public, part of our goal was to find places that are really prestigious or iconic, with high traffic, which can give us a halo effect by association,” Sheridan said.
She added, “We didn’t want to repeat ourselves in 2013 so we asked ourselves: What says New York? That’s where Rockefeller Center came in—very prestigious brand association and a high traffic area, it has a lot of curb appeal.”
Nevertheless, prestige can pose a challenge. Sheridan admits that while the Rockefeller Center staff and management team were very accommodating there were several hoops to jump through.
For instance, the location proved to be a challenge, according to Sheridan.
“We had to jump over a lot of hurdles because they [Rockefeller Center] are very protective of their brand and image—for all the right reasons.
“There were a lot of approval processes and we had to pivot our plans,” she said. “We had to be nimble and flexible while racing against the clock.”
Creativity on the fly was essential in pulling off the New York event. For instance, M Silver had secured time on NBC’s “Today” to promote the event at The Rink at Rockefeller Center, but those plans were abruptly changed prior to going on air.
Sheridan, her team and team members from GFLCVB sprang into action and managed to rally an appearance on the show by creating signs and getting noticed through sheer enthusiasm for the message.
Social media also played a critical role in creating awareness and driving traffic to Sunny.org and its contest microsite.
“People were tweeting and coming by and ice skating with our bikini models and posting statuses online,” Sheridan said. “Seeing the engagement was a big win. We really wanted to get the public involved.”
In terms of the execution, in New York and beyond, these were some of the results:
• Coverage of the events along generated more than 178 million impressions, with a total estimated media value of $829,225.
• Following the New York event social interested grew by 140%0
• GFLCVB gained nearly 25,000 new Facebook Likes.
• The contest microsite received nearly 12,000 entries in less than six months.
• Perhaps most significant, the New York event netted a 2000% ROI.
While the numbers are reason to celebrate, Sheridan and Justin Vellejo, managing associate at M Silver, said it was some of the intangibles that really made the PR campaign a success.
“People noticed it. You can do a lot of things in New York and nobody will notice it, and the same is true in Chicago,” Sheridan said. “We’re not Disney or Coca-Cola, so to be able to do something and pull it off while having people notice thrilled us the most.”
And Vallejo tacks on another win. “The different media markets that we penetrated and the type of coverage we got was great,” she said.
To expand on that notion, the “Defrost Your Swimsuit” event became a viral success online and attracted the attention of more than 100 national and international news outlets. PRN
Make an Impact With Special Media Events
Special events can be a great way to engage stakeholders and effectively deliver your message. Still, there are a few things you have to keep in mind before launching an event—big or small. Virginia Sheridan, managing partner at M Silver, a division of Finn Partners, shared these three tips to make your next event an integrated marketing success.
▶ Go big or go home. This starts from the very beginning and continues through the ideation, planning and execution. Special events should be special and worth the investment of the client, the time of consumers and the attention of the target media. That doesn’t mean outlandishly expensive, complicated or cumbersome but, rather, being significant in creativity, cleverness, memorability and how the event’s visual message connects back to the product. Supermodel Linda Evangelista famously said she didn’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day. Likewise, if your ideas and goals aren’t distinctively different, the event shouldn’t even get out of bed in the morning, especially when executing in a major market.
▶ Button up. Planning, planning and more planning. When holding events in high-traffic areas in major metropolitan cities like New York, Chicago, Toronto and London, advance planning needs to be meticulous and detailed. Once the idea is set, it is essential to start as early as possible on licensing, permitting and design elements. Don’t just work with the stakeholders who “need to know,” engage with those who may “like to know.”
▶ Build-in flexibility. Be prepared to be unprepared. No matter how carefully you plan your event, things will change quickly and require smart decisions to be made in real time. Plan to be flexible and anticipate the things that could go wrong or elements that may not get going at all. Build in different options for media reps to get coverage and make it easy for them to cover the event with their own creativity. Expect that media will have different ideas of the best story and build in the capability to pivot towards those interests. Accommodating with exclusive or special angles, unplanned interviews or spokespeople, helping to set up customized visuals and photography or different timing outside specified event hours will inject variety, personality and unpredictability in their stories and create a better environment for high-value coverage across multiple outlets.
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This article originally appeared in the November 18, 2013 issue of PR News.