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Adam Johnson

Episode 98: Becoming a Destination United, with Adam Johnson

In a region with a lot of tourism opportunity, sibling rivalry is just part of the dynamic of working together. Even more so with metropolitan areas in close proximity: like the two Kansas Cities, or Dallas/Fort Worth, or my guest’s hometown of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, Adam Johnson of Visit Saint Paul talks with us about the fun you can have with this sort of friendly rivalry. We talk about working together to bring people to the region. And humor – travel is fun, so having fun in your tourism messaging can really create positive vibes about your destination.

Adam Johnson is vice president of marketing with Visit St. Paul where he is responsible for marketing St. Paul as a meetings and tourism destination, along with developing the company’s social media strategy, media relations plan, and special events planning.

Some events Adam has worked closely on include the 2018 Super Bowl, 2008 Republican National Convention, 2011 and 2018 NCAA Frozen Four, 2011 Visa Championships, the Annual Red Bull Crashed Ice Village, an Annual LuckyPalooza on West 7th Street Party, and the 2016 Rider Cup.

He was the brainchild behind “Hello Minneapolis, Love St. Paul”; the Adele Parody, “Free Beer for Furloughed Government Workers” which highlighted St. Paul’s hospitality community; and he led the team that helped St. Paul be named Most Romantic Getaway in North America and Best Local Food Scene by Ten Best in USA Today.

Adam has a communication’s degree from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is also a 2006 graduate of the Leadership St. Paul Program through the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce. He has served on the board of the Capital River Council, Minnesota Mississippi River Parkway Commission, Skyway YMCA, St. Paul Festival and Heritage Association, Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association, National and Ordway Circle of the Stars.

Adam lives in St. Paul with his wife Emily and infant sons Leo, Otis, and Oscar, and when not working he enjoys watching sports, golfing, and spending time with family.

More on Adam’s Background

Thank you so much for joining me, Adam.

Absolutely. My pleasure to join you.

That’s an awesome bio. I can tell you’ve got a lot to share with our listeners, but before we get started it’s always helpful to hear your story in your own words. Can you share a little bit about your journey with our listeners?

Sure, absolutely. I was born and raised in St. Paul, which is one of the feathers in my cap. I get to do what I do in a city where I was born and raised. To be able to promote and market a city where I’ve spent about 35 of my 38 years is really special to me.

I kind of got into the tourism world by accident. I was a marketing guy, I knew I didn’t like chemistry and biology and some of the other options that were out there. I gravitated towards marketing and enjoyed being in groups of people, so I started working on the revitalization of the riverfront in St. Paul which is its own unique story.

We obviously have the most iconic river in the United States running through our backyard, but there was a time when it was so gnarly and nasty that we actually built a jail on the riverfront. We worked hard to change perceptions and make the riverfront a place people wanted to be. I did that as an intern and for a couple of years. I then worked with the YMCA. But it was the Leadership St. Paul program that, I would go so far as to say was a life-changing, year-long, leadership program where I met the person who hired me at Visit St. Paul.

We had worked together on a couple of things and he was leaving to be a marketing person for a small nonprofit that was a mission that was close to his heart and he said: “Adam, you’d be great at what I do.” I thought it looked pretty cool, and now I’ve been eleven years on the job.

It was really a baptism by fire. The Republican National Convention was a year out so my whole first year everything I touched, talked about, and learned was related to one of the largest conventions you can host coming to town. After that things got a little bit more normal but it’s always an adventure. Every day, I get out of bed and I don’t know who I’m going to chat with or what project I’ll work on. It fits my personality and what I like to do. I have a two-mile commute to my office. It’s just really a fun job for me. They say you find something you love doing it’s not really a job. I’ll tell you most days it doesn’t feel like a job.

That’s awesome. I find that from so many of our guests on the show who work in travel and tourism. It doesn’t feel like a job. I love how you said “Things are a little bit more normal,” but I also know there’s really no normal day, right?

Right, you could be working on an event one day and then you get shaping social and working on social with my social media manager. Doing it now for eleven years I’ve developed so many relationships. My staff pokes a little fun at me if we ever walk as a team to go have lunch. I usually stop about three times because I run into somebody who wants to chat. I’m the kind of person that people reach out to if they have any idea related to convention sales or memberships or whatever. So, I spend a little time saying “Jamie can help you with that.” Or “Jane can help you with that.” I wouldn’t change much of it, I’ll tell you that much for sure.

Yeah, that’s terrific. I have to ask, your sons, are they all the same age?

They are not. They are five, three, and one.

Five, three, and one. You’re very busy.

We wasted little time. It was interesting hearing my bio about serving on boards. I thoroughly enjoy giving of my time to boards and local charities around town but with three boys my time is kind of limited. I, even more, enjoyed getting some people on my staff to fill in some of those roles on board that I used to serve on because I think giving back to the community that you work in is important. I’m sure when my kids get a little bit older I can get back into doing some of that.

That’s right, it goes by quick. Well, that’s awesome. We’re going to dive into the first section of this interview where we like to focus on creativity, and I’d like to start by talking about how competitive the tourism hospitality industry is and not just competitive in terms of competing destinations necessarily, but you’re also competing for time like you just mentioned. Time is scarce, you’ve got three young boys. What are you going to do with your time? I’m wondering what you have done with Visit St. Paul to help that destination stand out from the crowd.

Sure, I think one thing we’ve done, and I think it’s tied into who I am and my personality is really trying to incorporate humor into what we do. Sometimes it’s risky because obviously, not everybody has the same sense of humor. I’m a huge fan of news-jacking, which involves taking stuff that’s going on my day-to-day world and finding a way to bring it closer to what we’re doing. So during the government shutdown, in 2013 I think, we did a promo “Free Beer for Furloughed Government Workers.” So, anybody who worked for the state government and had their ID, we had about seven bars that agreed to give one free beer, no purchase necessary, to people who showed their ID at local pubs. That was fun one, to just kind of help those folks out and at the same time, give some of our restaurants some exposure.

It took off as I never imagined it would, and I think the Wall Street Journal even included in one of their stories. For the most recent election, we had a couple of restaurants join us. If you would show your ID and your last name was Clinton or Trump, you got a free beer. We also used creativity and humor around the Adele video. I hope we can talk more in depth on that because that really was the first time we’ve done anything that went viral, and it went viral I would say locally. I think there’s national viral when you get millions and millions, some of the stuff in there was sort of unique to Minneapolis and St. Paul so it went viral locally, but the media around it and everything was really huge and that just started with some joking around.

She did a two-night show here in St. Paul and we have a suite in our arena for some of the shows. Our office manager sent it out saying we had the suite. I jokingly replied “Hello, it’s me. I’d like a ticket to Adele and if there’s extra I’ll take three.” Or something and our social media coordinator replied: “I can’t believe we haven’t done a parody of this for the Minneapolis.” And the idea was hatched there. I really think humor and creativity and not taking ourselves too seriously can be useful. Obviously, our job can be stressful and we’re in an okay position right now with the tax dollars that fund our organization but a lot of organizations aren’t and a lot of organizations are losing money, so there’s some seriousness to it, but at the end of the day we’re basically trying to put our best story forward to entice people to come here. If you can do that in a fun and humorous way, I think that can go a long way.

Credit: Pioneer Press – Ben Jarvis

“At the end of the day we're basically trying to put our best story forward to entice people to come here. If you can do that in a fun and humorous way, I think that can go a long way.” - @mayorgatsby #podcast Click To Tweet

I think that’s a really great point. I mean, you’ve got to balance it because you are a serious business. The CVB and you do play a huge roll in the community, but at the same time, we’re a fun industry. To be able to have some fun with it is great. I love this whole idea of news-jacking, seeing what’s out there and really trying to grab some attention based on what’s happening in current events is really awesome.

Hello From the Other Side

You offered it up so I’ll bite, let’s talk a little bit more about that Adele video and why don’t you walk our listeners through. You started maybe where the idea started from and how that helped or how that worked for you.

Sure, obviously the “Hello” was probably her biggest hit around the time she was coming to St. Paul. Basically, it’s “Hello from the other side” and for the listeners that don’t know, Minneapolis and St. Paul are called the twin cities. We’re separated by the Mississippi River, and locals in St Paul don’t really tend to go to Minneapolis and those who live in Minneapolis don’t usually tend to go to St. Paul. But we’ve realized after hosting some tourism conventions the last couple of years that to people who visit it’s just one big area. Minneapolis-St. Paul is just one big destination.

We wanted to remind folks in Minneapolis that there’s a lot going on in St. Paul and we’ve got a lot of great new attractions and restaurants and all that. So we rewrote all the lyrics to the Adele song, and took that “Hello from the other side (of the river)” theme and ran with it. I have an absolutely wonderful in-house videographer who filmed the whole thing. We did it in parody. We shot it in black and white like the video, and it was basically our staff of four with an intern and some other folks. We had a former intern of mine who sings around town at local bars and restaurants record it for us with our new lyrics and then went out and shot it and launched it the week before Adele got here. It took off like wildfire. The media picked up on it, like City-97 our local radio station had it in their E-newsletter actually above where their own promotion of the concert itself.

It was just huge and it was fun to watch the comments come in. I think the posting on Facebook was well above 100 thousand views. I’m not sure what it is today. The Facebook video may have been 70 thousand or something like that. It was the biggest video we had ever produced or put out there and just got a lot of fun banter going and back forth between the two cities.

It was just a fun two week period when it was at its peak. We do know that Adele’s team knew of it because the manager for Adele emailed just the link from a local paper story about the video to the folks at Xcel Energy Center Arena where she performed, but no comment in there, nothing, just as if to say “We’re aware of this and we’re okay with it and nice work.”

That’s cool. I love that.

It was fun, I did find out we’re covered under parody so you can take the instrumental of a song if you do it to parody. Just ask “Weird Al” Yankovic he made a career out of it.

We did get asked, I’ve presented on it at some conferences and people were like “Weren’t you worried about copyright infringement?” And if you do a parody to a song, you’re in the clear.

Oh, that’s great. That sounds really awesome.

And what a great idea. I love that that project was so grassroots. You did it internally, you used your intern and the different resources that you had so it sounds to me like there was very little cost to it at all.

Very little. I think we paid $350 for studio time, produced everything else in-house, even the lyric writing was a joint effort. We wrote it to and from our state tourism conference which that year was up in Bemidji so we had about a three hour car ride together the four of us and had the laptop out and we had the lyrics to the real song on the left and started writing lyrics that kind of fit on the right-hand side and it was really a fun team effort and we were all included in different capacities in the video.

I’m actually lip syncing, belting out Adele, which I don’t normally do in public, but it was just lip sync so it worked out okay.

Well, that’s awesome. Those car rides to state tourism conferences can be very productive.

This one was probably the most productive of any I’ve been on, so it was a lot of fun.

Creative Budget Solutions

That’s awesome. Well listen, I want to change gears just a little bit. Still on the subject of creativity but I’d like to hear about the time when you might’ve faced some adversity or a challenge. I find that the creativity that comes when you’re faced with some sort of a challenge and really kind of get into some creative problem solving is some of the best creativity that we have. Is there a challenge that your organization has faced and then maybe you could explain or describe sort of the creative solution that came from that?

Sure, it’s kind of tied into what we’ve just been talking about. I would say our biggest kind of ongoing challenge is our limited budget. Obviously, in our industry, budgets are created by hotel-motel tax and up until 2016, we hadn’t had a new hotel built in St. Paul in 30 years. That is mind-boggling when I think about it, but we had two new ones in 2016, I think we had two or three and we’re talking about a convention hotel. So that’s starting to pick up. But a limited budget really forces us to focus on the creativity. We can’t just hire an agency for $30,000 and say “We’ve got this idea about an Adele video, can you help bring it to life?” We need to sit around in our little room and say “Alright, it’s us. No one’s coming through the door that’s gonna pick us up by the bootstraps and do it for us.” So we’ve had to kind of flex our creativity.

The other piece, I wouldn’t say it’s adversity, but it is a challenge that I think a lot of cities like us face is when there’s a big, better-known city very close, maybe Dallas-Fort Worth was an example. So you do what you can to get your share in the spotlight. Everybody knows that Minneapolis has the name recognition all that and then there’s St. Paul. Sometimes we’re a little overly protective of it but I know when the RNC was here in 2008, there were people on national outlets saying “Republican National Convention in Minneapolis” and it was actually in Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. We’re kind of always fighting that to not just be lumped in with Minneapolis, but to let St. Paul stand on its own. I mean we’re the capital city, a little smaller than Minneapolis, but depending on what people are looking for both cities are great. I think it’s important to really highlight both cities and not just lump them into being one destination.

I was actually just in Minneapolis over this past weekend and your airport is MSP, or Minneapolis-St.Paul Airport. Do you think that that helps with the problem? I ask the question because as a traveler coming in and I know I’m going to Minneapolis but as soon as I book my flight all of a sudden I already know “Oh Minneapolis-St. Paul, they’re right next to each other. They share an airport.”

My joke is we got two letters of those three letters in the airport abbreviation, but then I travel and hear “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, the local Minneapolis time is-” and I’m like “Wait a second. We’re at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. How about you include St. Paul in welcoming to the area?”

I guess I would say there was talk and I think it even goes way back to the Republican National Convention of really ceasing with the Twin Cities label and going with Minneapolis-St. Paul. “We’re going to Minneapolis-St. Paul for the weekend,” instead of, “we’re going to the Twin Cities.”

They did research, they called around and they were like “What are the two cities that make up the Twin Cities?” and people said anything from Minneapolis and Indianapolis, all kinds of crazy stuff. So there was a movement and then it kind of fizzled out. It’s harder to change decade-long patterns. One of the big things that will help is Allianz Fields which is where our Minnesota United FC soccer team will play. It is a brand new stadium. They’ll open the 2019 season there in April and it’s in St. Paul. It’s been kind of tilted, everything in Minneapolis, three stadiums in Minneapolis and the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, but now we’ve got the Saints Stadium where the minor league team owned by Bill Murray plays, and now we’ve got the Allianz fields where the soccer team will play. It’s starting to level the playing field- pun intended-with our counterparts.

Great, that’s awesome. Well and I think you’re right when you started down this path describing that even though people who live there, locals maybe in Minneapolis don’t go to St. Paul or people who live in St. Paul don’t necessarily go to Minneapolis, but travelers don’t travel that way. They do travel to a region and that waterfront is just beautiful. I can see wanting to explore both sides as a traveler, and not caring which city you’re in.

That’s a great example. So you mentioned the soccer stadium which is a perfect segue into my next question which is, are there any projects coming up in the future that you’re really excited about?

Yes and that is one of them. It’s funny for me because I’m a total sports fan. I played football and basketball growing up in high school and college. I always had friends who played soccer, but it’s probably my least known sport. It’s exciting for me to start working with the United. They’ve been tremendous. Our annual meeting is coming up and it’s at an event space that’s probably 30 yards from the stadium. Soccer will be the theme. It worked out really well. The theme for our meeting is Destination United which obviously plays in on the United team but also working in these times of diversity and inclusion, and making sure our messaging doesn’t just target the white visitor.

That’s one of the things too, I’m excited about, continuing to work in that realm and really highlight everything that we have and not just the standard, “Go to a hockey game,” “Go to the theater,” but some theaters in some of the neighborhoods. And we really are a city of neighborhoods here in St. Paul. Sometimes we get lazy and just promote downtown or maybe the most popular neighborhoods, but we’ve got some hidden gems tucked away. We’ve really unearthed those hidden gems by how we’ve created our visitor guide which is through insiders.

Credit: Visit Saint Paul

“Sometimes we just promote the most popular neighborhoods, but we've got some hidden gems tucked away. We've really unearthed those hidden gems by how we've created our visitor guide which is through insiders.” - @mayorgatsby #podcast… Click To Tweet

We’ll pick about seven or eight insiders to interview and have them tell what they enjoy about St. Paul or where they would recommend visitors go. And to read those interviews from young and old, white and black, gay and straight, just really pulling together a group of folks that cover the full breadth of people you’ll come in contact within St. Paul has been really exciting.

Continuing that work is something I’m excited about. We’ve got a Final Four coming to Minneapolis which is an opportunity for us to work together on that national sporting event. Further ahead, it’s hard for me to believe they’ve already crowned a 2028 event, but the Rider Cup which is a tremendous international event will be coming back to the area. I’m excited to work on that too as a golf fan. So there’s lots of stuff coming.

Yeah. That’s terrific. I love this idea of Destination United. I think that sounds really cool especially in today’s climate, to be that welcoming as a destination. I like how you’ve taken that into this whole idea of the insiders and highlighting all of the different types of people who live there and might visit there. I think that’s really cool.

Before we move on, I want to back up to something that was in your bio. I want to make sure we talk about this. In our pre-interview chat, I asked you, “Who is Paul?” In your bio, it says, “Paul is the first mobile visitor center in the state of Minnesota.” Can you share with our listeners a little bit more about Paul and what that is and how it came to be?

Absolutely. I’d have to give credit to Bill Geist who’s a consultant in our industry. I try to subscribe to as many e-newsletters from different entities as I can, and it came through probably back in late 2011 or even 2012. The concept was following the food truck phenomenon which is, “Don’t wait for them to find your restaurant. Take your restaurant to them and set up shop.”

We went out and bought a Ford Transit Connect, put a little money into souping it up, put an awning system on top, put two TVs in the back doors, a brochure rack, that type of stuff, sunroof. We used it in parades, and then we went on the road. Our target market is really the 310 mile radius around our destination, so we started looking for festivals and events that we could go to with this vehicle, interact with people, give away visitor guides, give away koozies, and for two of the years ran a promotion, sign up for a chance to win an all-expense paid getaway to St. Paul. It was incredibly successful.

My favorite part was when people would say, “Wait a second. You’re getting paid to do this right now?” Hanging out at a blues festival in Fargo while we’re interacting with folks and telling people about St. Paul.

It was fun to hear people come up who’d been to St. Paul and said what their favorite thing was or what their favorite restaurant was. It was also equally as fun to run into people who were like, “Where? Never been. We’d love to check it out.” And it’s all people within a 300-mile drive so it’s not like you’re in California telling somebody they should really check out Savannah or somewhere in Florida. It’s right in their wheelhouse.

We did that for three summers, where two staff would go on the longer trips, and then interns would go for like a Thursday night, outdoor festival somewhere closer by, and just interacting with folks. I believe it was the first mobile visitor center that I’d ever heard of in Minnesota. So, that was fun. We still use it on occasion. We take it to the state fair and set it up there to interact with folks.

We’ve got a retired gentleman who comes in part-time and delivers our visitor’s guides so he’ll take it around just so people see the branding. It’s covered in really cool graphics that highlight St. Paul. Like I told you, it’s got a name tag on the hood that says, “Hello. My name is Paul.” We wanted to personify it and the first year we went with the hashtag “Hang with Paul.” We wanted people just to come out and hang out with us. We had the orange fold-up chairs that people could lounge in.

It was a lot of fun. I fielded numerous calls after we launched it from other entities looking to start their own. “How did you get started? What did you do? What did it cost? What’s your policy for people driving it from the office?” All that stuff. It was really a cool project. Always fun to be first and I think we really gave away a lot of guides. It was a really fun project.

That’s awesome. I love it. It is so creative that you gave it personality and you brought your brand all the way through it. It’s not just a wrapped vehicle. You took it even further than that. You really focused on the experience and going where the people are. I know in the circles that I’m in, I’m sure as well as the circles that you’re in, everyone’s scratching their head trying to figure out what’s next for visitor information. Do people still want the paper? Is everything digital? What’s the right mix between digital and paper? I think that’s really awesome that you went out there and saw the food truck revolution coming and jumped in. Nice shout out to Bill Geist, too.

It was funny because he was doing a small, impromptu gathering of tourism folks in Minnesota and I literally had gotten the email from him, just his general e-newsletter he sends out to everybody maybe a month or so in advance. In the end, I said, “Really enjoyed your email. Could you talk a little bit more about the mobile visitor center idea?” And my CEO was in the room with us, and I hadn’t told her about it, and on the break, she’s like, “Don’t talk about that anymore. I don’t want anyone else to know about it or get the idea first. We’re doing that.”

Shortly thereafter we went full bore into finding the vehicle and wrapping it and souping it up with amenities. It was really a fun project.

Creating Succesful Partnerships

That’s awesome. I want to make sure we touch on the second topic that we like to really touch on in this podcast and that is the topic of collaboration. I actually like to call it “co-opetition”. Basically where perceived competitors come together and work on programs and work on things together that created big wins, bigger than what they could do on their own.

We’ve already touched on it a little bit and I know you’ve got some built-in co-opetition going already between the Twin Cities, but I’m wondering if there’s a specific collaboration that comes to mind for you that you could share with our listeners?

Sure. I think the big major events, be it RNC or the Super Bowl or the Rider Cup, those are events that Minneapolis or St. Paul or Bloomington simply can’t do on their own. They just require too much space, they require too many hotel rooms, they require collaboration and co-opetition. Super Bowl was probably the most recent example. The game itself was at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, but three of the official events were in St. Paul. That required a great deal of coordination.

It was sharing information. It wasn’t, “Oh I’m going to keep all these visitors just coming to St. Paul.” Or she’s going to try to keep them just coming to Minneapolis. It was really an opportunity to erase that river that divides the two and invite people to say, “Oh are you looking for this?” “That’s in St. Paul.” “Are you looking for this?” “It’s in Minneapolis.” Most of the time, that was me saying something about Minneapolis and her saying something about St. Paul. Those big events, with the Final Four coming again in April, is another one that will require all three cities and even some of the smaller cities around us to come together and put on an event, roll out the red carpet for these folks that simply can’t all fit in one city.

Those are a few of the big sports examples. I think our State Tourism Office which is actually headquartered in St. Paul does a great job in bringing destinations together. The state is broken into five areas. Obviously, the metro is probably geographically the smallest but for sure the most populated. They utilize the microsite MSPvacations to basically get CVBs in the metro area to create dollars based on the size of the budget and putting together a much larger campaign than any one of us could do individually. We’re all trying to get people into our destinations but you’re getting a six-figure marketing and advertising campaign for a four or five digit investment. It’s really a good way for folks to get the most bang for their buck. While we’re all competing with each other, we know to put differences aside and say, “This is an opportunity to get people into the area.” We’re not going to split hairs and count, “Okay, you got this many and I got this many so we’re going to pay this much.” It’s based on your budget. Here it is.

The subcommittee of that marketing group gets to come up with where the marketing advertising is going to take place. It’s a really cool process, and the state should be commended for pulling that together because it’s not always easy to get people who are competing to work together. I’ll tell you, more than probably any other industry I’ve seen that work more in the tourism industry for some reason.

Credit: Brandon Stengel

“ It's not always easy to get people who are competing to work together. I'll tell you, more than probably any other industry I've seen that work more in the tourism industry for some reason.” - @mayorgatsby #podcast #WhyCollaborate Click To Tweet

We’re just trying to get people into the area and figure if you get them to St. Paul, or you get them into Minneapolis, they might find St. Paul. And if I get them to St. Paul they might find Roseville or Stillwater so let’s just work hard on getting them here and then we’ll move them around once they get here.

Right. That’s a great point. You need to get them to understand what a Minnesota vacation is all about and inspire them to want to go to Minnesota, right? Then, once you get them there it’s telling them what their different choices are. I think that’s great.

So your state tourism office developed this MSP vacations program and then the four metro areas participate in it? That’s how it works?

Well the MSP vacations is only for the metro. The state’s broken into five regions. There is a manager for each of the five area. Our manager is Lori Peterson. She convenes our groups of CVBs so then everybody up in the northern region, they all convene. I don’t know what their microsite is, but ours for the metro area is mspvacations.com. People can go there to get a feel for the Twin Cities area.

I think that’s really the way to do it. I would say as well, the entities that make up that metro area have gotten a lot better in advertising to appease the consumer more so than to appease their board. When I started 11 years ago and there was more print than it is video now, it wouldn’t be the one big experiential image, it would be thumbnails of nine different CVBs and it’s like, “Okay, you can show your board that you got your two and a half by two and a half square ad in the co-op ad, but that’s not going to be very inspirational to a visitor. The group has come a long way in realizing that we need to advertise to appease the person we’re trying to get here.

I think that’s a really good point. I think it’s the evolution of the industry, too, where those boards are starting to realize if they really want to make an impact and attract those visitors, they need to market to the visitors in the way the visitors want to be marketed to.

Absolutely. Technologies now that are making that much easier. Video is king and it has been now for a few years and I don’t see it stopping. We’ve worked, individually at Visit St. Paul, with an entity called Clicktivated which basically can put links to things in a video without you really seeing that it’s a link. It tells you if it’s an interactive video if something catches your eye click and it’ll take you right to information on that. They’ve turned that nine square co-op print piece into a video that’s much more enticing to watch, and then if I participate in that I can go to my board and say, “Look, last month 67 people clicked on the vineyard in Canyon Falls,” which probably is a smaller thing in the area but it’s something that you have a tangible numbers versus eyeballs that maybe saw a print ad.

Credit: Visit Saint Paul

“Technologies now that are making that much easier. Video is king and it has been now for a few years and I don't see it stopping.” - @mayorgatsby #podcast Click To Tweet

These technologies are making it easier for us. That’s one of the other things that I love about this industry too is some things come and go and fade but it seems like there’s a new technology coming around the corner every day that helps us reach more people. It’s fun to delve into those and have a team constantly searching through those and saying, “Oh what if we used this?”

I think that’s great, especially to go back to one of the challenges we talked about earlier with those stretched budgets or those limited resources. Sometimes those technologies can really help you stretch your budget and help you with your reporting and your metrics, too.

Adam, I knew this would be a really interesting conversation and I’m sure we could keep talking for quite some time, but I want to be respectful of your time and our listener’s time. So before we say goodbye, are there any final words that you would like to share with our listeners? Anything I didn’t ask you about that you want to make sure we share?

It’s really important to hire people and put together a team of people that are probably going to be smarter than you in certain areas. Clearly, my social media manager is much more intelligent than I am in the realm of social media, and she keeps me updated. My videographer, if anybody listens and goes to the staff page and tries to swipe her, I’ll be very upset. I’ve put together a tremendous team that’s young and hungry and passionate. Two of them, no coaxing from me, but two of them within their first two years of working here purchased houses in St. Paul. They’ve got a love and passion. Hiring and firing are tough. You lose people, too. I lost a previous social media manager to Chicago which was fine with me. I felt like, “Oh you want to go from St. Paul to Chicago? That’s great.” I’d feel bad if they went to a smaller market.

Credit: Teresa Boardman

“It’s really important to hire people and put together a team of people that are probably going to be smarter than you in certain areas.” - @mayorgatsby #podcast Click To Tweet

I think it’s just so important as a manager that you can feed off of with some of the creativity stuff that we’ve been talking about today. We love the opportunity. We meet weekly but once a month we go around offsite and pick a breakfast joint because we all enjoy a good breakfast. We pick a breakfast spot and we talk about things we can do, videos we can shoot, all types of stuff like that just to really keep the creativity flowing because I really think that’s key. When I go on these conferences and hear what your peers are doing, the ones that really seem to resonate are the ones that were like, “Man, they really put some thought into that and created a cool campaign and it came down to the creativity piece of it.”

That’s a skill that’s hard to ascertain in an interview. You kind of figure it out as you go along, but I’ve been blessed to pull together some really talented people who are creative and hardworking and really just passionate about what they’re doing. That makes it a lot of fun.

That was great. Thank you for sharing all that because I think you’re right. You’ve got to have the right team in place to make it successful, and things are changing so quickly. You have to have the right team, the ones that are excited by all the change, and willing to move with it

I hear you talking about your team. You really do have a mini-agency right within your CVB and you need to have those creative moments, the breakfast, or that car ride back from the state tourism conference or whatever it is to keep you all connected and inspired. I think that’s just really awesome.

Absolutely. I was actually so glad you said that because one of the things that gives me the most pride in this industry is when I’m at a national conference and people will see our visitor guide, or they’ll see the Adele video, or they’ll see something we’ve done and they say, “Who’s your agency?” I say, “My agency is my staff and we’re all in-house.” And they’re like, “No way. Are you serious?” Because so many of the big entities have agencies that they just lean on. The agencies just feed them stuff to push out.

I take a lot of pride in the times that people think we have an outside agency and I can tell them, “Nope. That’s my team of four that rolls up our sleeves. Our joke is they all have their individual job responsibilities, but the underlying joke with us is “other duties as assigned,” which can really be anything. We do a couple of street parties each year related to sporting events or St. Patty’s Day and they’re out there moving bike racks or setting up and tearing down. They’re all in on it and understand that while they do have their core responsibilities, they’ll do anything to move the mission of the organization along. It’s great when you can find those people.

Yeah. That’s really awesome. Well, thank you so much, Adam, for joining us. We’ll make sure we have a link to that Adele video in the show notes, of course as well as a link to your website. We’ll look forward to catching up with again.

Perfect. Thanks so much. I really appreciate it. Love talking about our work and the industry. I think it’s one of the best industries people can work in and I appreciate you giving me some time to do that.

That’s great. I couldn’t agree more.

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