Tourism PR: 'Sideways' tie-in advances profile of Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, CA, has long been a popular filming destination.

Santa Barbara, CA, has long been a popular filming destination.

Only a short drive from LA, its pristine coastline and small-town charm have made it a favorite of directors since the beginning of Hollywood.

When Fox Searchlight Pictures' Sideways came to town, however, it was a bit different than most films because it actually dealt with the local wine industry and used real locations and names of businesses. Seeing the potential to reach huge audiences, the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau (SBCVB) and the Santa Barbara Film Commission decided to create a marketing campaign to capitalize on it.

"The movie is really a picture postcard of the community," says SBCVB president and CEO Kathy Janega-Dykes. "Essentially, people saw it, and it really spurred interest in wine, wine tastings, and wine vacations to Santa Barbara County."

Strategy

The idea for leveraging Sideways first came from Martine White, head of the local film commission, who attended a seminar in which New Zealand's film commission discussed its experience with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. She came back to Santa Barbara with the plan of creating a movie map that helped tourists find the restaurants, wineries, and other businesses featured in the film. That map became a centerpiece of the campaign.

With the broader goal for the initiative being the establishment of Santa Barbara as a food, wine, and film destination, the team also realized it was crucial to have countywide support of the plan. As such, it coordinated with local businesses to create not only excitement, but specific packages for tourists to allow them to recreate the movie's experiences. Doing this involved creating a bureauwide commitment to talking up the film to both local and tourist audiences whenever possible, says Shannon Turner Brooks, communications manager at the SBCVB.

Tactics

In addition to the map, which was enormously popular with tourists, the team also created a direct-booking website and worked with local tourist-centered businesses to create partnerships and packages.

The team also helped coordinate the premiere of the film at a local theater. That event was catered and staffed by local businesses, bringing some of them together for the first time.

"That was the first big get-together over a filmmaking event," says White. " It gave a big push to culinary tourism."

The team also aggressively pitched the story to media and at tourism events, working a variety of angles, from the business impact of the film to the area's culinary variety.

Results

"It's incredible," says Turner Brooks. "We couldn't have planned for this."

Both the press and tourists loved the Sideways campaign, resulting in an increase in tourism (as measured by bookings), as well as hundreds of media stories, says Turner Brooks. And with the numerous awards the film garnered earlier this year, the buzz continues to build.

Turner Brooks adds that there have been other benefits that the organization didn't plan on - most notably a rise in its own profile locally.

"It's been one of our goals as an organization to gain community support of tourism," she says. "It's been a great bonus that [Sideways] has brought the hospitality industry in Santa Barbara together."

Future

"From our perspective, this will have a long-term benefit for our area," says Turner Brooks. "A lot of press is still coming. CNN is coming this weekend to do a story."

The Sideways tour will continue as long as tourists are interested, but the team is already looking to future movies. In addition, White says, it is currently putting together a list of all locations that have been used in filming and will make a map out of that information, as well.

PR team: Santa Barbara, CA, Conference & Visitors Bureau and the Santa Barbara Film Commission

Campaign: Sideways in Santa Barbara

Time frame: June 2004 to present

Budget: $30,000

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