Destination Marketing: Creating a Unified Brand Experience, with David Gilbert

Episode 128:

David Gilbert serves as president and CEO of Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, an organization dedicated to making Greater Cleveland a premier destination for amateur sporting events, and Destination Cleveland, the region’s convention and visitors bureau.

The Greater Cleveland Sports Commission is responsible for attracting, promoting, and managing major amateur athletic events, and for creating sporting opportunities for youth and amateur athletes. Since 2000 the organization has attracted or created more than 190 events, including 25 NCAA championship competitions. These events have contributed more than $570 million in local economic impact.

At Destination Cleveland, David is responsible for carrying out the organization’s mission to drive economic impact and stimulate community vitality by positioning and promoting Cleveland as an exciting, vibrant destination. Among many accomplishments, they notably landed the 2016 Republican National Convention. David serves as vice president on the board of the International Children’s Games based in Leucine, Switzerland, and sits on the boards of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Greater Cleveland Film Commission and the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.

He was named by Crain’s Cleveland Business as one of Cleveland’s 30 top influencers of the past 30 years, Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, and in 2016 he received the SME Cleveland Business Executive of the Year award.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with David about making destination marketing more entrepreneurial and working more strategically at creating a unified brand experience. All destinations have unique challenges. How do you encourage locals to promote tourism? How do you reach out to potential visitors and make your destination their top choice? David and Cleveland have faced some unique challenges and found some remarkable solutions.


What You Will Learn on This Episode:

  • Why DMOs need to become more entrepreneurial
  • The many ways tourism and economic development intersect
  • How to shape the perception of your destination
  • How to be more strategic in your tourism branding
  • Ways to create stronger alliances between DMOs and stakeholders

We’re All in This Together

Unless you’re a literal island, no travel and tourism entity can afford to function as an island unto themselves. When organizations think that way, everyone suffers.

Part of the challenge David faced was to help all the various cultural institutions, museums, sports teams, and local legends to realize they were part of a broader ecosystem. Together, they could accomplish far more than they could alone. But local DMOs also need to make sure all these groups understand the value a DMO can add- then the DMO needs to deliver.

Brand Perception

“Yeah, but you’re Cleveland.” A decade ago, Cleveland had a perception problem. Outsiders had a visceral (read: negative) reaction to the name. A significant portion of the population would not recommend it as a place to visit for friends and family. As you can imagine, that is a LOT to overcome.

But overcome they did. David and Nicole explore how he and the team at This is Cleveland flipped the script. They did it through some very deliberate steps in reshaping the City of Cleveland brand in a way that was both authentic and positive. “If it’s not real, and if you don’t deliver on the brand promise, everyone will be able to see that.” David shared. There is some great conversation about finding the promise of your brand and then living up to it.

To sum it up, David says, “You don’t have a brand for different audiences. A brand is a collection of stories about who you are. And if you hit it on the mark, that’s not going to change. The way you deliver it might change, but the brand will not change.”


Episode Transcript

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