Hills Balfour beats incumbent to win $1m UK PR brief for Brand USA - but tourism body faces being fired by Trump

Hills Balfour has unseated five-year incumbent Black Diamond to win the UK travel marketing and PR contract for Brand USA - but the tourism body faces elimination by the President Trump.

Washington-headquartered Brand USA was formed in 2011 and is jointly funded by industry and a cut of admin fees paid by visitors entering the US using the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) programme.

Black Diamond has represented it in the UK since April 2012. Brand USA had given the agency new one-year contracts each year since, but then put out an open RFP in March for a new 12-month brief, worth up to $1.15m (£890,000).

Independent agency Hills Balfour was informed on Friday that it had won the brief following a process which PRWeek understands included Black Diamond and Freuds, among others. Hills Balfour is due to start work officially on Tuesday next week (30 May).

It works for the tourist boards of several individual US cities and states, including recent win Santa Monica. MD Jonathan Sloan was appointed chair of Visit USA, a trade body separate from Brand USA, in 2014. Visit USA and Hills Balfour are based in the same building in Southwark.

Black Diamond MD Guy Chambers said: "We are proud to have held the account for the last five years and establish Brand USA as the official destination marketing organisation for the USA in the UK and Irish markets. We take pride in the successes we have achieved."

Potential abolition

Although Brand USA was created under former president Barack Obama, it enjoyed cross-party support and was felt by some to be relatively safe under Donald Trump's administration, in part thanks to the new president's significant interests in the travel and hotel industry.

However, Trump presented a budget on Tuesday that proposed eliminating Brand USA in order to "funnel more money towards border security", according to political news site The Hill.

Brand USA chief strategy and comms officer Anne Madison told PRWeek UK that it was "important to note" that budgets are a "statement of priorities", not a done deal.

"The Administration’s proposal serves as a way to outline the priorities of the administration, but it is ultimately up to the Congress to formalise and vote on a final budget," she said via email.

Madison also said: "While we are not allowed to lobby (as noted in the Travel Promotion Act that created us), as a public private partnership (not a government agency), we do have an obligation to report to Congress our results, which have been steadfastly strong and significant in contributing to the US economy.

"In fact, the campaigns and marketing initiatives we have launched over the past four years, together with our many partners, have helped welcome 4.3 million incremental visitors to the USA and infused the nation’s economy with $29.5bn [£22.8bn] in total economic impact and, on average, nearly 51,000 incremental jobs a year."

In the year ending September 2015, Brand USA spent a total of $136.2m on marketing, globally. Other agencies that it has awarded contracts to this year include Four Travel, The Story Lab and others for influencer programmes; Brazilian agency Aviareps; India's Sartha Global Marketing; and MediaCom, which won its global media planning and buy business in February. It has also worked with Ogilvy on a global basis and in specific countries.

The are also currently live RFPs for a content creation agency, as well as country briefs for Japan, Germany, Mexico, and Australia & New Zealand.


Read next: Watch – BA promotes world sale in Tumblr-powered partnership with Brand USA

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