Tourism: Philadelphia takes youthful approach to drawing visitors

Philadelphia has a well-earned reputation as a historical, cultural, and business center.

Philadelphia has a well-earned reputation as a historical, cultural, and business center.

But unlike New York or Boston, Philadelphia has never been well-known as a hot youth market, despite 50 colleges that attract 88,000 new students to the area each year.

But when MTV chose the city as the location for the latest installment of its popular The Real World series, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) decided to change that perception by creating a campaign for regional and national media to showcase all the area offers to the 18 to 35 demographic.


One of the first challenges the GPTMC faced was having to execute the effort with minimal support from either MTV or The Real World producers. "Though the producers worked closely with the city's film office during the filming, they didn't really need or want a lot of visibility," explains Paula Butler, communications VP at the GPTMC. "They wanted to do their own low-key thing,"

But the program's popularity among teens and 20-somethings is undeniable and proved to be an appealing news hook.

As such, Butler and her staff worked to ensure that the media kit and press trip reflected far more than Philadelphia's appeal as a general tourist destination.

"We have 300,000 total students in the area," Butler notes. "Part of our goal was to encourage them to explore the city while they're here and stay after they graduate."

To ensure that the pitch wouldn't have a standard travel and tourism feel, Butler turned over most of the responsibility for Real Fun, Real Young, Real Philly to three under-30 staffers - PR coordinator Ayele Ajavon, media relations coordinator Caroline Bean, and editor Cathy McVey.


Ajavon, Bean, and McVey worked first to fine-tune their media targets for the campaign. "We sat down to figure out what newspapers and magazines we all read, and then we built the list to include magazines like Cosmopolitan and Essence, as well as reporters at general outlets that write for this demographic," explains Bean.

The team then hired young, local freelancers to ensure the press kit reflected both the language and the attitudes of their target market, taking care to include dedicated content for such audiences as blacks, Hispanics, and gay youth.

"We themed it around the "real fun" concept - real culture, real romance, real dark, real splurge, real deal - because we wanted to focus on topics that we thought appealed to this audience, such as nightlife, shopping, and restaurants," says McVey.

The team mailed out media kits complete with a CD-ROM full of art to targeted journalists not just along the Northeast corridor, but also in Dallas, Chicago, and other cities that offered direct, cheap flights to Philadelphia.


The September 9 to 12 press trip took place the week The Real World Philadelphia launched and was attended by reporters from regional and national outlets, such as Stuff, Essence, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The trip and other efforts resulted in coverage from local radio and television, as well as stories in Newsweek, TravelSavvy, and the Philadelphia Business Journal, with more expected in the coming months. More important, the campaign helped drive more than 10,000 visitors to the Real Philly itinerary at the city's website, making it the most popular portion of the site, says Ajavon.


The GPTMC team continues to leverage the popularity of The Real World Philadelphia by bringing additional journalists to the city to document its appeal to the youth market. And even after the show ends, Bean says, the targeting of youth-centric publications will continue.

"I think all of the content we developed has a longevity far beyond the show in marketing Philadelphia as the cool and hip place to be," she says.

PR team: Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp.

Campaign: "Real Fun, Real Young, Real Philly"

Time frame: June to November 2004

Budget: $12,000 to $15,000

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