Changing Perceptions and Moving the Needle – A Destination Marketing Case Study

In 2016, our team was engaged to develop and execute a multi-year PR campaign promoting Syracuse as the “Official Home of Winter.” The campaign redefined the tourism calendar as “winter” and “not winter” while humorously positioning Central NY as a fun destination in all seasons. So how did we do it? With lots of planning, creativity, and a team that was ready to embrace the snow and dive right in.

Visit Syracuse threw out common practice when it embraced its most notorious seasonal attribute and made it the focus of tourism promotions. In Syracuse and Central New York, winter is considered off-season for tourism. With the region’s snowy reputation, hotel occupancies fall to their lowest levels in January from near sell-outs in peak-season. But despite the snow, Syracuse’s top attractions operate all year. After a 2015 Visitor Profile study conducted by Young Strategies, it was determined that for growth to occur, it must be in winter. To succeed, Visit Syracuse needed to overcome negative perceptions about winter—both internal & external.

Working closely with Visit Syracuse, an integrated approach was developed to reach an audience of internal stakeholders and external visitors with a simple message: Syracuse owns winter, has fun with it and is proud of it. Planning began in summer 2016 with a campaign kick-off on December 1, 2016.  The objectives of the campaign were to:

  • Engage locals and visitors
  • Build social media and video content
  • Create awareness and get people to think positively about winter

The multi-faceted campaign deployed several earned, owned and paid media tactics, including:

Partner Presentation (Dec. 5)

In a presentation hosted by Visit Syracuse, our agency team introduced the “Official Home of Winter” to a critical audience of tourism partners to explain the program and generate buy in. The partners embraced the concept and many volunteered to assist in video and promotional elements of the campaign.

 

Destiny USA Installation & Street Team (Dec.-Mar., Dec. 10)

To kick off the new campaign introducing Syracuse as the Official Home of Winter, a display as big as the season itself was installed at Destiny USA. It included a huge Official Home of Winter wall, six fun characters participating in winter activities and a path of snowflakes leading mall-goers to the display.  An activation during the holiday season added a street team with prize giveaways, and video footage capturing shopper’s love of winter. The photo wall was seen by thousands and resulted in hundreds of shared photos on social media and entries into the photo contest. Fifty video testimonials were collected and used in an “I Love Winter” mashup video released on social media and at a Winter Welcome Rally Press Conference.

 

Meet “Winter” Video Series (Dec.-Feb.)

A large part of the campaign hinged on the introduction of “Winter” through a video series, showing the season looking for a place to call home. An actor in seasonal makeup, “Winter” became the spokesperson for the overall campaign, showing the season as fun-loving, irreverent and always interesting. Meet Winter videos launched twice weekly on social media over the course of five weeks. Nine videos featuring Winter were released, each 1-2 minutes long, and posted on Visit Syracuse’s YouTube, Facebook & Twitter channels, with ads run on YouTube & Facebook. The videos received 18,038 total views on YouTube (7,652 from ads) & 52,036 total views on Facebook (39,796 from ads).

 

Winter Welcome Rally (Jan. 6)

Once Winter had selected Syracuse as his home, we wanted to welcome him to the city in a big way. In a press conference, timed for the quietest news week of the year, Winter was welcomed to his official hometown. State, county and municipal officials took part in the good-natured event, along with several reporters. Over 100 people attended the rally and event coverage resulted in nine media placements with a total of 231,489,900 impressions, spreading the “Official Home of Winter” message to local and national audiences. The event was streamed on social channels, with almost 1,000 combined views, and mentioned organically on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter by attendees using #OfficialHomeofWinter.

 

Visit Syracuse Media FAM Trip (Jan. 5-8)

A media familiarization tour for eight travel journalists was scheduled in conjunction with the Winter Welcome Rally. Participants attended the welcome rally, covered it in articles afterwards and posted 120 times on social channels.

 

Punxsutawney Team: 6 More Weeks!

In perhaps our most exciting stunt of the year, our street team and Visit Syracuse “hacked” America’s #1 annual weather story— Punxsutawney’s Groundhog Day—with a PR stunt built on a creative news hook. The team bucked common desire for early spring and rallied for 6 more weeks of winter. The team used social media and streaming video to amplify the message, trailed by an imbedded video crew hired to draw attention and capture B-roll. The stunt garnered national coverage on CNN, Voice of America and The Weather Channel, local live coverage on three network affiliates and subsequent print coverage. In total, the Punxsutawney stunt generated 15 direct media placements, many social mentions and combined media impressions of 89,346,000.

 

Blog

To continue Winter’s exploration of his home, we developed a year-round blog written in his voice, and posted on the Visit Syracuse website, Facebook & Twitter. Topics include things like Post Green Beer Sunday Brunches, Winter Recommends the Best Hot Cocoa in SYR and How to Survive Spring Not-winter.

 

Moving the Needle

In its first year, the “Official Home of Winter” campaign succeeded on many levels. It generated goodwill and support from local elected officials; piqued the interest of tourism partners who are reevaluating winter as a viable market; generated significant media attention of 561,442,540 total impressions. Most importantly it helped hotel occupancy climb 6.2% year-over-year, as reported by Smith Travel Research.

The campaign is part of a multi-year initiative, so stay tuned as we engage in part two of our plan to promote Syracuse as the “Official Home of Winter”!

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