Louisiana displays its passion in effort to win back tourists

Last year's BP oil spill seriously threatened Louisiana's $9.4 billion tourism industry, as powerfully negative media images continuously drove unfavorable public perception.

Client: Louisiana Office of Tourism (Baton Rouge, LA)
PR agency: Deveney Communication (New Orleans)
Campaign: The BP Oil Spill Response
Duration: June 2010-April 2011
Budget: About $700,000

Last year's BP oil spill seriously threatened Louisiana's $9.4 billion tourism industry, as powerfully negative media images continuously drove unfavorable public perception. The Louisiana Office of Tourism asked AOR Deveney Communication to develop and execute a response campaign to correct false perceptions and mitigate tourism backlash.

"That image of the oil-covered pelican was the one most people had," says Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne. "We had to correct misperceptions and put Louisiana in a positive light.

"Managing the message amid the crisis was pivotal," he adds. "Then we needed to pick up on how it had to be modified and delivered once the spill was capped and focus on anecdotal fallout."

Ongoing media audits, analysis of best practices from the Exxon-Valdez spill, the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and various research report findings helped inform outreach and messaging strategies.

"Looking at research and monitoring media coverage allowed us to anticipate where media would go," explains John Deveney, agency president.

Coordinating and supporting a vast network of partnerships and spokespeople to deliver messages to quell negative perceptions was key, as was emphasizing positive news and trends. Consistent outreach was conducted through numerous media channels, including LouisianaTravel.com.

More than 1,100 strategic partnerships and alliances were activated. An "experts bureau" of 86 spokespeople from industries and government agencies was created. All were media trained and gave interviews as opportunities arose.

The team conducted more than 160 daily media audits, initiated "triage responses" to negative coverage, and emailed key messages daily to all 1,100 partners. Weekly reports were also issued.

Media outreach focused on national, regional, and select international outlets.

Deveney highlights the need to keep information updated on LouisianaTravel.com. To that end, a "Reel Louisiana" microsite launched to collect traveler videos, photos, and reviews in multiple languages. The overall site was updated to reflect new branding, including the tagline "Louisiana - Pick your Passion."

To mark the 100th day of the spill, consumers submitted reasons to visit Louisiana on the state tourism office's Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or Flickr pages. The top 100 reasons were posted on LouisianaTravel.com.

The team also supported "Dine America," a national initiative to promote eating Louisiana seafood on December 1. Dardenne conducted numerous interviews on the topic.

Deveney cites a Smith Travel Research study showing hotel/motel occupancy rose nearly 13% from April 2010 to April 2011 in eight parishes surrounding the hardest-hit areas.

A March 2011 state-conducted perception study showed an 18% reduction in the number of respondents who believed restaurants that serve Gulf seafood put customers at risk compared to a June 2010 study. The March study also revealed only 8% of would-be regional visitors cancelled or postponed plans to visit Louisiana because of the oil spill, as opposed to 32% in a preceding study.

Media placements topped 1,600 in outlets including the Chicago Sun-Times, ABC News, and The New York Times. ROI was 157 to 1, says Deveney.

The campaign goes on, with seafood safety being a key message. Focus will soon turn to upcoming events, including the state's 2012 bicentennial.

PRWeek's View
Deveney says the state's crisis plan for Katrina was "very good." Moreover, it was refined during the spill. The basic strategy of supporting a vast network of communicators was certainly wise, while the constant media monitoring and use of numerous research studies to craft the most effective messaging was critical and seems to have really paid off. This team was adept and committed to both short-term wins and long-term accomplishments. The state's ongoing support and commitment to the campaign is critical to its success.

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