Conceived as a temporary entity to create ads, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation has become an innovative, invaluable force for touting all the city has to offer.
Drawing visitors to Philadelphia would seem to be simple. The city boasts such attractions as the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art - immortalized in Rocky - and a quarter of the US population lives within 500 miles.
Yet because Philadelphia is situated between two of the world's leading tourist destinations, New York and Washington, DC, and is just 300 miles from Boston - another historic US metropolis - it faces fierce competition in luring travelers.
And the need to draw visitors has become increasingly crucial over the last decade, after economic development officials positioned tourism as a key revenue generator for Philadelphia and its surrounding counties. That led to the formation in 1996 of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC), a nonprofit organization originally envisioned as a temporary entity focused on developing advertising campaigns.
Following its initial success, the GPTMC added a PR component and became a permanent entity in 1999. The organization now follows an integrated strategy that includes marketing partnerships and alliances with private and public organizations. Its $1 million annual operating budget is funded through a hotel tax, state allocations, and grants from such resources as the Delaware River Port Authority and the William Penn Foundation.
To oversee the PR launch, GPTMC president and CEO Meryl Levitz recruited Paula Butler from Porter Novelli to serve as VP of communications. Butler, who grew up in the Philadelphia area, previously headed PN's travel and tourism group.
PR reduces the need for the GPTMC to implement expensive ad campaigns and generates the credibility that comes from having Philadelphia mentioned in media articles, says Levitz.
Among Butler's first moves was to commission photographers to produce high-quality images of the city and writers to generate materials that documented Philadelphia's history and such attributes as its art, food, and music. The content was positioned as a first step toward eradicating the perception by the media and public of Philadelphia as primarily an industrial center, and toward making it easier for editors and writers to provide coverage of the city.
An editorial calendar listing events throughout the year was created to help promote those events. The GPTMC began tracking press coverage of other cities, with the aim of having Philadelphia included in articles on regional events and activities.
Staffers also started formulating what now is a 3,500-person media database and launched a tourism website, www.gophila.com, which contains an event calendar, dining guide, details on hotel packages, and other features.
Much of the initial marketing, however, was directed at the local and regional media to spur area residents to visit attractions. It also sought to garner greater interest in the GPTMC by business leaders and other stakeholders in order to generate funding. The strategy proved sage when many Americans began taking shorter trips following 9/11, Butler notes.
The corporation also markets the region locally through its "Philly Friends" campaign, which encourages residents to educate their relatives, peers, and out-of-town guests on area attractions. About 5,000 people have joined the program to date.
"We're trying to get people to think of their own hometown as a getaway, to show that their visitors don't have to sit on the couch and watch television the whole time they are here," says Jeff Guaracino, GPTMC director of communications.
Attracting travel writers from all over the US and Canada also is a priority that is being addressed through a "Visiting Journalists" program. The corporation invites specific media to the city in conjunction with targeted promotions that could involve museum exhibits or a focus on the restaurant scene.
Along with offering to pay the expenses of journalists, the GPTMC creates itineraries and schedules interviews with sources for those journalists. More than 112 travel writers participated in such events over the past two years.
The corporation also sponsors international trips. To generate early interest in the current Salvador Dali exhibit at the Museum of Art, the GPTMC brought journalists to Spain so they could get a sense of the environment that Dali channeled into his paintings. Curators from Europe and the Museum of Art also provided the writers with additional background information.
Journalists also were taken to Venice to view the exhibit before its opening in Philadelphia. Such activities resulted in coverage that included a feature on Dali in USA Today, with a listing of Philadelphia hotels that would be suitable for event visitors.
Through a partnership with the French government's tourist office, journalists also traveled to France to learn about Edouard Manet in conjunction with the "Manet and the Sea" exhibit at the Museum of Art.
To ensure that the GPTMC learns of upcoming events and has the necessary lead time to formulate campaigns, Butler created "Power PR," a periodic gathering of PR professionals from many of Philadelphia's major attractions that provides a forum for the individuals to share information and ideas.
Denise Venuti Free, PR director for Philadelphia's National Constitution Center, a nonprofit interactive museum dedicated to the US Constitution, says "Power PR" has fostered a cooperative spirit among the participants and has led to joint marketing efforts. "We were all doing our own things and looking at each other as competitors, and the GPTMC showed we can all benefit from each other's activities if we only know about them," she notes.
Free, who previously handled PR for the Pennsylvania Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra, has worked with the GPTMC for eight years and says the organization's meticulous preparation enables it to develop astute programs.
"They have done an amazing job capitalizing on all of Philadelphia's amenities, and a lot of that is because they do their homework," says Free. "The GPTMC conducts extensive research, looks at patterns in travel, and studies statistics so that the campaigns make sense. They don't develop programs without knowing their audience, the challenges, and the opportunities."
And the corporation is better able to stay abreast of area happenings and market trends by hiring a diverse group of employees, Butler says. Its 10 PR staffers, including two who are on a temporary assignment to support next year's celebration of Benjamin Franklin's 300th birthday, represent different ethic and demographic groups.
"We have 20-somethings who were instrumental in creating a press trip for other 20-somethings when MTV's The Real World: Philadelphia debuted in September," says Guaracino, who also heads the organization's gay tourism campaign.
That initiative, called "Get your history straight and your nightlife gay," positions Philadelphia as a gay-friendly destination Through such efforts, the GPTMC reports that it doubled its publicity during fiscal year 2004, which ended last June, and generated $50 million in ad equivalences. That included 22 placements in The New York Times, 17 placements in USA Today, eight in The Wall Street Journal, and four in The Washington Post.
The organization also notes that it helped boost hotel occupancy last summer to 80 percent, the highest level in more than five years. Total visits to the region increased 12% to 24.2 million from 2002 to 2003, and leisure travel grew 16% during that period to 17.9 million trips. Total traveler spending in the five-county area reached $6.34 billion in 2003, 19.6% more than in 2001. And leisure travel accounted for 56% of that amount.
While most PR activities have been handled internally, Butler says, the GPTMC uses Toronto-based Anne Cousineau PR to market Philadelphia in Canada. The GPTMC also just hired Cardenas, Grant & Negron to reach out to the Hispanic community.
Future initiatives include additional group press trips that will enable journalists to explore Philadelphia's diverse neighborhoods and learn the story of the city's Underground Railroad, which helped slaves escape in the 19th century. The corporation also will continue to market Philadelphia at national journalist association meetings.
"Attending conventions is a very powerful way to get our message across," Levitz notes.
VP of communications Paula Butler
Director of communications Jeff Guaracino
Director of national media relations Cara Schneider
Director of visiting journalists Donna Schorr