Historical Figure brings DEI to the Forefront: Auburn, NY – Harriet Tubman’s Chosen Hometown

How this Case Study may be relevant to you: This project involved applying DEI principles to a strategic PR and marketing campaign, balancing promotion goals with authentic messaging and community support.

We earned 23 million PR impressions from 58 placements including feature placements in major publications, as well as niche publications and influencer placements.

brick building with the words Genesee Center in blue at the top and a mosaic underneath with a portrait of Harriet Tubman at the Center
photo credit: TourCayuga

Situational Analysis

Cayuga County is proudly the home of Harriet Tubman, where she lived the last 54 years of her free life. Leading up to the 200th anniversary of Tubman’s birth in March 2022, the Tourism Office refocused the perception of the destination and repositioned itself as a place where freedom, justice, and equality are not just words, but actions supported by the entire community.

After getting the Tourism Office’s Board of Directors on board, Cayuga County created an ad hoc committee of different voices including local leaders, experts in Tubman's story and organizations representing equal rights in the area and community interest and challenges. Cayuga County Office of Tourism hired Break the Ice Media, partnered with LaLew Public Relations, to promote the County’s current and historical connections of equal rights to attract visitors.

The Challenge

Diversity, equity and inclusion work is important, yet sensitive. Developing an inclusive marketing message is not the same as applying and integrating DEI principles into an organization – and the target audience knows the difference. This campaign needed a strong and authentic message backed by community support.

white wall at an angle with large words reading Seeing Equal Rights with smaller text below
photo credit: Equal Rights Heritage Center

Objectives

  • Increase overall awareness of Auburn, NY, as the home of Harriet Tubman, and Cayuga County’s assets and attractions.
  • Address and educate the Cayuga County community on Harriet Tubman’s legacy and the Office of Tourism’s efforts.
  • Spark interest in Harriet Tubman and Cayuga County’s history to drive conversations and actions around Equal Rights.
  • Inspire travel and drive visitation to Cayuga County and its partners among target audiences.
  • Build an audience of loyal, repeat customers who will visit time and time again, and encourage families and friends to do the same.
  • Increase awareness of Auburn, NY, and Cayuga County as a prime location to host meetings and events that relate to Equal Rights.

Strategic Insight

“Welcome visitors to walk in Harriet Tubman’s steps to discover their truth in Cayuga County.”

Socially conscious travelers looking to unlock the details of American history will find it in Cayuga County. It’s where Harriet Tubman’s spirit lives – in the sites and stops where she walked – and where she lives on in the communities that carry her spirit forward. For those seeking truth, Auburn is an essential stop to connect with equal rights history and each other.

To motivate socially conscious travelers to plan a visit to Cayuga County, they need to see how her spirit lives on in the community and the truth to be learned studying U.S. equal rights history where it took root.

Strategic Approach

  • Position Cayuga County as Harriet Tubman’s home, where her legacy lives on today.
  • Differentiate Auburn, NY, and Cayuga County from other destinations with Harriet Tubman history, and its attractions from other historical sites, museums and attractions within the Northeast.
  • Humanize Harriet Tubman, her efforts and her accomplishments to make her relatable to visitors.
  • Highlight Harriet Tubman’s legacy through authentic experiences, offerings and stories.
  • Promote the ongoing work Cayuga County is doing to live Harriet Tubman’s legacy.
  • Promote the individual experiences offered, the county’s unique assets, and ability to span multiple interests.
  • Promote the assets and experiences where all individuals will feel accepted and safe.
  • Promote the equal rights history of the surrounding Finger Lakes region, acknowledging the ease of exploring from Cayuga County.
statue of Harriet Tubman and a child in a park with trees in the background
photo credit: TourCayuga
gravestone with the name Harriet Tubman Davis with memorial inscription decorated with red ribbons and flowers with pinecones at the base

Tactics

  • Strategic marketing plan
  • Proactive public relations, including press releases, story pitching, media FAM pitching and planning, influencer marketing, PR representation, strategic partnerships
  • Reactive public relations
  • Event promotion and support
  • Community engagement
  • Crisis communication plan
  • Content development: social media posts, monthly blogs, PR collateral, website copy
  • Strategic consultation on other equal rights initiatives

Results

Initial Results

  • 58 placements with over 23 million media impressions
  • Hosted 5 travel writers
  • Collaborated with 2 influencers
  • Started 2 strategic partnerships
  • Published 15 blogs
  • Posted over 100 times on Facebook & Instagram

Photo Credit: John Kucko

Result Highlights

  • Feature piece in AAA World (2,600,000 print; 8,400,000 digital UVM) on Harriet Tubman's life for the bicentennial birthday with mentions of 5 tourism assets
  • Feature piece on Black News Channel (51,000 UVM) on celebrating Harriet Tubman in Auburn with mentions of 7 tourism assets
  • 33 Instagram stories by influencer blondwayfarer (6,577 followers) with follow up feature stories on her blog Blond Wayfarer (35,000 UVM) with mentions of 24 tourism assets in the first and 16 tourism assets in the second blog
  • Inclusion in Boston Globe (print edition) piece on three road trip destinations with mentions of 3 tourism assets
  • Feature piece in Conde Nast Traveler (2,869,000 UVM) on Harriet Tubman's birthday in the Finger Lakes with mentions of 9 tourism assets
  • On air mention of campaign on Fox 4 News Dallas Fort Worth (1,000,000 viewership) with mention of 4 tourism assets
  • Inclusion of 2 partner parks in Fodor's Travel (2,750,000 UVM) piece "15 Places on the Underground Railroad Trail in the U.S."
  • Inclusion in Lonely Planet (3,400,000 UVM) piece on New York historic parks and monuments with mentions of 3 tourism assets
  • Inclusion in TravelAwaits (5,000,000 UVM) on the best sites to visit during the bicentennial
  • Feature piece in Travel & Leisure (5,254,000 UVM) on the bicentennial celebrations in Auburn
  • Inclusion in Travel & Leisure (5,650,000 UVM) piece on New York history celebrations
  • Inclusion in U.S. News & World Report (37,765,000 UVM) roundup of Juneteenth celebrations with mentions of 7 tourism assets
  • Feature piece in We Empower Magazine on Harriet Tubman's legacy in Cayuga County with mentions of 8 tourism assets