Weber Shandwick plots comms course for Explore Minnesota

The IPG firm beat out nearly two dozen other shops for the account.

Caption: Split Rock Lighthouse on the shows of Lake Superior. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
Caption: Split Rock Lighthouse on the shows of Lake Superior. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

MINNEAPOLIS: State tourism agency Explore Minnesota has named Weber Shandwick as its PR AOR with a two-year, $430,000 account running through November 2022.

The contract could be extended for up to five years, said John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota. Laura Cederberg, VP of public affairs, will lead Weber’s team, though it declined to say how many staffers will work on the account.

The Interpublic Group agency will help the organization attract tourists as the world reopens for travel, Edman said.

“Weber will help us with communicating to consumers those things they can do safely to fulfill the pent-up demand for travel,” he said. “Working with a PR agency is very critical to get that authentic message out versus strictly using advertising.”

Edman added that the firm has deep knowledge of and ties to Minnesota. He expects it to be a strategic partner for media relations and crisis issues. Weber’s Minneapolis office has worked with clients such as Honeywell, Land O’Lakes and Sleep Number.

“Our industry is facing some huge challenges,” Edman said. “We’re at a crossroads because the pandemic impacted hospitality more than any other industry, and it’s important to have a strong agency as we continue to build that confidence back.”

Weber will work with advertising agency Adventure Creative and media firm True Media so the state’s tourism paid media messages “will be supported through PR,” Edman said.

“The strategy we have planned depends a lot on the changing protocols for what is open and what is not,” he explained, “so we have to have plans in place to get people thinking about travel.”

As a state agency, Explore Minnesota was required to issue an RFP and search for a new firm after five years, Edman said. It reviewed proposals from nearly two dozen PR firms from across the country, including Ketchum, Zapwater Communications, Finn Partners, Allen & Gerritsen, and Charles Mardiks Public Relations.

The incumbent was Minneapolis-based Bellmont Partners, which had served as AOR since 2015.

“While we really value our longtime relationship with Explore Minnesota and the work we did together — and we know they do, as well — we didn’t pitch the account,” said Brian Bellmont, president of the eponymous firm. “State procurement guidelines require Explore Minnesota to solicit new PR partners every five years, and after serving as agency of record for the past half-decade, we opted to take a step back and not submit a proposal. Several of us at Bellmont Partners started our PR careers together at Weber Shandwick, and we know that Explore Minnesota is in extremely capable hands.”

Tourism has historically earned Minnesota $1 billion in state sales tax on $16 billion in leisure and hospitality sales, Explore Minnesota said in a statement. It employs nearly 273,000 Minnesotans. 

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