CAMPAIGN: NYSCC gets good mileage pushing canals' proximity

PR Team: New York State Canal Corporation (Albany, NY) and Eric Mower & Associates (Rochester, NY) Campaign: Promotion of Canal System Time Frame: February - September 2002 Budget: $48,000

PR Team: New York State Canal Corporation (Albany, NY) and Eric Mower & Associates (Rochester, NY) Campaign: Promotion of Canal System Time Frame: February - September 2002 Budget: $48,000

After the September 11 attacks, Americans were expected to vacation at nearby spots rather than far-flung locales. That in mind, Rochester advertising and PR agency Eric Mower & Associates (EMA) needed to take a new approach in promoting the state of New York's 524-mile canal system as a tourist destination for 2002. The campaign would also prove to be an uphill climb because 2000 was the 175th anniversary of the cornerstone canal, the Erie, and that event garnered much media attention, which helped the next year's season enjoy a healthy 4.6% rise in boat traffic. The threat of media and vacationer fatigue hung over the PR initiative like a rain cloud. Strategy The New York State Canal Corporation's (NYSCC) past promotions for the four waterways - the Erie, the Champlain, the Oswego, and the Cayuga-Seneca - cast a wide net. "We tried to generate more tourism from around the country and internationally," says EMA senior partner Rick Lyke. That work included ads and media relations efforts directed at national and global magazines. But research, coupled with the events of September 11, showed that a regional campaign targeting "drive-distance" families was the best way to go. The agency surveyed previous vacationers to the canals, and learned that 65% had arrived by car, and most stayed for two or three days. "We wanted to focus the majority of our efforts on New Yorkers, and the three- to five-hour driving market," says Kristen Hanifin, the NYSCC's marketing director. The new messages would be about proximity, low cost (especially important with the down economy), family aspects of a canal trip (outdoor activities such as biking and boating), the scenic beauty of the area, and the quaint towns and historic homes in the area. Tactics The agency and in-house team essentially split the PR work. The NYSCC publicists handled promotions for the local festivities along the canal. Meanwhile, EMA focused on the larger events: the season opening and the simultaneous launch of a revamped website (www.canals.state.ny.us); the 18-day canal cruise across the entire state in July; a study showing that the canals have an economic impact of $384 million on the state; and the canal system's first radio advertising campaign, which featured a sweepstakes. Nicole Glab, EMA account executive, began contacting long-lead magazines in February, including some national publications. Focusing on local media, she created itineraries with activities for each region. A press kit included releases on the canal cruise, boating information, the opening of a campsite, historical and cultural attractions (such as the Chittenango Museum), canal statistics, a history of the canals, and a calendar of upcoming festivities and events. EMA wrote a NAPS article extolling the excitement of a New York State canal vacation, redid the canal system's brochure, and refashioned three of its maps into one. For the annual canal cruise in July, welcoming committees and print, radio, and television journalists were often waiting at stops along the "trail" to interview participants when the boat convoy arrived. Results During a summer season in which attendance dropped at many, if not most, US vacation destinations, boat traffic on the canals rose by 3.1%, for a total of 139,420 - mostly recreational. Hanifin attributes a lot of that increase to the PR campaign. "Over the years, our biggest problem has been lack of awareness that this destination exists. New Yorkers who own boats primarily stay on lakes. This gave state residents another option for boating that perhaps they didn't realize they had." Throughout the year, the campaign garnered 300 media hits (not including more local stories generated by the in-house team). An ad-equivalent comparison showed that the $48,000 in PR had an ad value of $300,000. Future Glab says that for this year, with the economy still lagging, the agency will probably focus even more on the affordability of a New York State canal vacation.

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