CAMPAIGNS: Mullen campaign resurrects resort

PR Team: Mountain View Grand Hotel (Whitefield, NH) and Mullen (Wenham, MA) Campaign: The reopening of the Mountain View Grand Hotel Time Frame: October 2001 - June 2002 Budget: About $100,000

PR Team: Mountain View Grand Hotel (Whitefield, NH) and Mullen (Wenham, MA) Campaign: The reopening of the Mountain View Grand Hotel Time Frame: October 2001 - June 2002 Budget: About $100,000

"When I bought the hotel, it was like looking at a dead person that wasn't in a coffin," says Kevin Craffey, owner of the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield, NH. "It had been abandoned for 15 years." Bears, porcupines, and skunks had taken up residence in the shell of what was once a magnificent resort, a favorite of dignitaries (including six presidents) and celebrities alike. Craffey found the 400-acre property listed for $1.3 million in a Boston Globe ad when he was looking for a family vacation home. His original intent was to raze the building, but he found that difficult upon imagining the property's past glory. He learned from locals that the 146-room hotel had grown from a three-room farmhouse in 1865. Bette Davis even celebrated her 30th birthday there. "It had real snob appeal," Craffey says. "But the downtown was mostly boarded up because businesses that had relied on the hotel died when it died. It was just such a shame." Craffey's decision to rebuild the hotel led to a three-year, $20 million funding battle in which he would need to secure support from government entities, public figures, and private investors. Of course, once complete, the hotel would still have to lure visitors. Strategy "You look for projects that have magic associated with them," says Sheila Leyne, EVP and director of PR at Mullen. "We met this guy who had this far-fetched dream, and we wanted to be part of that ride." Mullen needed politically influential people to speak on behalf of the project, as well as the state's tourism office. The New Hampshire Department of Commerce and Economic Development and state and US senators would be important targets in helping to secure funding. But there was still the problem of luring media with nothing but a broken-down palace. "We couldn't go to the glossy travel magazines with 30-year-old pictures and say, 'Imagine...'" Leyne says. Tactics "We used the human-interest strategy and relied on Kevin's passion to engage national press," says Leyne. "We needed The Wall Street Journal and New York Times because, ultimately, New Hampshire tourism is going to draw from the New York and Washington areas." Mullen studied newspaper columns and pitched Craffey to editors one-on-one. "Press releases were a follow-up," says Leyne. Then editors were "trekked through the rain and snow" to visit the site and meet Craffey. "As we got about 90% complete, we conducted familiarization tours for travel editors at major consumer publications," says Leyne. The first round of tours was done with the Waterville Valley Chamber of Commerce. Later, the agency held sleepovers for editors at broader-reach outlets. "Former Governor John Sununu and Assistant Commerce Secretary David Sampson both had a vested interest in tourism, and getting them was very important," Leyne says. Sampson helped secure grants and other funding. Sen. Fred King drafted a change to the New Hampshire Constitution allowing for a tax break, and Sununu was enlisted as the keynote speaker at the May 23 dedication. Results A number of key media outlets covered the story of the Mountain View Grand Hotel's rebirth, drawing much of the necessary funding as a result. They included The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, New York Daily News, The Baltimore Sun, Newsday, the Associated Press, National Public Radio, Live! with Regis and Kelly, Family Circle, Fitness, and Spa Magazine. After it opened, the hotel was booked at 90% capacity on weekends through the end of this past July. Furthermore, the hotel itself created 200 jobs, not to mention numerous others in the local community with the reemergence of shops and outside vendors needed to service the hotel. Interestingly, the project came close to never getting off the ground. Despite Mullen's success, Craffey was still $1.8 million short. But 24 hours to deadline, Craffey (who also owns construction companies) called his drywall supplier and "told him I would buy all my drywall from him for the rest of my life if he would sign over $1.8 million in tax credits," he says. "Turns out he was a golf pro from the area in his youth, and still owns the course records. Forty years later he's in charge of this big-ass company, and the fate of this hotel was in his hands. He wrote the check on the spot." Future Mullen's job is done, but Leyne says "we're still very helpful because Kevin is a great guy." "Mullen educated me on having a strategy from selling the dream to selling the product," Craffey says. He has since hired a president and one in-house PR person to build on what the agency started, and he attributes 50% of room sales to Mullen. "We've gotten far more out of our investment with Mullen than we got out of our advertising, that's for sure," he says.

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