As Gabby McNamara, PR director for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC), points out, "Philadelphia is within a five-hour drive of 25% of the US population.
But being easy to get to also has its drawbacks. Because of its location, Philadelphia is an attractive destination for day-trippers, who by their nature, generate less revenue than those who come for longer stays.
So how do you convince visitors who can motor back to their homes to spend the night instead? That was the challenge confronting the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation when Mayor John Street launched a $3 million effort to revive local tourism after the September 11 attacks.
After allowing the campaign's ads to sink in for two months, the GPTMC rolled out a PR component to "bring the spots to life,
The PJ Party Pack - a portable canopy bed, eight pajama-clad actors, and a van festooned with pink slippers - made its debut on January 31 at Philadelphia's busy Logan Circle. "There would have been no recognition if we'd started it in the beginning,
Hoping to build a sustainable buzz (and avoid overtaxing local media outlets), McNamara and her colleagues decided in advance not to invite reporters to every one of the Pack's appearances. "We determined that at about half of the events, we would not go for coverage, and do guerrilla marketing only,
Armed with pamphlets detailing the discount packages on offer from Philadelphia hotels, the Pack took its act on the road, hitting 30 high-visibility venues through the region. On occasion, flexibility became necessary.
When the actors arrived in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, they were told that soliciting was not permitted on the premises, so they went shopping instead, spreading their message as they browsed through stores. Then the planners learned that the morning they had set aside for mingling with the Today show audience was one when the program would be in Salt Lake City for the Winter Olympics. The Pack juggled its schedule, and wound up landing time on camera with Al Roker.
The campaign's grand finale came at the Sixers-Celtics game on March 4. Fans were encouraged to come to the First Union Center as if dressed for bedtime, and the spectators sporting the best pajamas won vouchers good for free hotel stays. The Sixers' dance team showed their support by swapping their uniforms for Nicole Miller sleepwear.
In addition to distributing 40,000 brochures, the Pack also garnered significant media coverage, including 17 hits on local television and radio stations for the Sixers promotion alone. But more importantly, the campaign helped fill hotel rooms. By the time the Pack packed it in, 26,000 nights of lodging had been sold.
The majority of those people weren't crashing in Philadelphia out of necessity; according to the GPTMC's research, 54% of those who bought packages hailed from just outside the city's limits.
GPTMC PR manager Cara Schneider says that the success of the PJ Party Pack - and the broader Sleep Over campaign - has provided valuable insight about the local market. "We learned that people in the region are willing to buy a hotel room when that's not necessary - that they can be convinced that the city is more fun when you become immersed in it for a few days."