Pure Grand Rapids coming to town

September 10, 2009
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Sometimes, hospitality begins at home.

The marketing team at the Convention and Visitors Bureau has added a new twist to ads featuring downtown Grand Rapids, in a radio buy that is part of the highly touted Pure Michigan advertising campaign promoted by Travel Michigan, the state’s tourism agency and a division of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

In the 30-second radio spot, actor and Michigan native Tim Allen talks about the value of visiting downtown Grand Rapids.

“We use that in partnership with Travel Michigan. When I say ‘partnership,’ I mean we share an advertising buy. We ran that last winter, this summer, and we’ll be taking it into the marketplace this fall,” said CVB Vice President of Marketing Janet Korn.

In the past, the ads have aired in Traverse City, Flint, Saginaw, Lansing, Detroit and South Bend. But the run this fall adds another market much closer to home: For the first time, the commercial will air in Grand Rapids.

Why hasn’t the ad been heard here before?

“Because the state can’t market a destination within its destination, but we can, and they don’t mind that we do,” said Korn.

The Downtown Development Authority awarded the CVB $25,000 in June for the local ad schedule, which was part of the board’s funding to promote the district. The total award was $160,000 with all but the ad campaign money going to the Downtown Alliance, which markets the district all year long.

Korn said the bureau wants to run the ads here to encourage local residents to come downtown, and to remind them that downtown is a Pure Michigan destination — a designation she said can make people feel good about where they live.

“That gives people who listen to our area radio an opportunity to hear something besides the ones we have been hearing for places like the U.P. and Alpena. I’ve heard one for Flint, Saginaw and Genesee County. So now people in our market will be encouraged to visit downtown Grand Rapids,” said Korn.

One city the Pure Michigan GR ad hasn’t aired in is Chicago, which would seem to be a natural target market, especially following a glowing story about downtown written by a Tribune reporter who visited here a few weekends ago. But the bureau hasn’t placed a buy in the Windy City because the radio ad rates are too high.

“The price of entry into Chicago is still such a hurdle. However, my goal for 2010 is to get there. I just think we need to get there,” said Korn.

Travel Michigan does place Pure Michigan ads in the Chicago market and Korn said the city benefits from those commercials as a designated state destination. Korn estimated the state agency has spent about $5 million on TV, radio, billboards and bus wraps in Chicago.

“They’re spending a lot of money in Chicago, and we’re part of their call to action,” she said. “So that’s why we value Pure Michigan having the resources to reach that market for us, because we don’t have $5 million.”

Forbes thinks pretty highly of the Pure Michigan campaign too, naming it the sixth best of all time in the travel category in a June ranking of top international campaigns.

Pure Michigan, which went national this year for the first time, was the top-rated tourism campaign offered by a state. McCann Erickson, an ad agency in Birmingham, created it.

“Having the Pure Michigan campaign recognized as one of the best campaigns ever is quite gratifying. The award-winning campaign has produced a dramatic increase in the number of travelers seeking tourism information,” said George Zimmerman, vice president of Travel Michigan.

Korn said she had no idea how big the Travel Michigan budget would be for the fiscal year that begins next month. The agency spent $30 million this year. Some of that money, though, was allocated in 2008 and held back to help debut the Pure Michigan campaign nationally this year.

Pure Michigan wasn’t alone in being rated among the best this year. The CVB marketing department, which Korn heads, was named a Destination Champion for its out-of-the-box thinking by Destination Marketing Association International. The department was honored with others in the field at the DMAI convention in Atlanta a little over a month ago.

The bureau was cited for its ongoing virtual community called the G-Rap Social Lounge and for its summer hotel promotion called “Feel the Beat,” which has been extended.

“I was pretty proud of that,” said Korn of the honor. “We weren’t the only one given recognition, but we thought it was something that was worth investing in and exploring, and we are planning to continue that promotion through October.”

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