William Pate has decided to move beyond a question that has gone without a good answer for decades: How should Atlanta brand itself?
As CEO of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, Pate knows that despite several attempts, no marketing campaign for the city has captured the imagination for many years. The last attempt, “Every day is an opening day,” may have been DOA. (For the record, former Mayor William Hartsfield popularized the phrase, “the city too busy to hate,” which was not a marketing campaign.)
So Pate, who has been in the marketing game for 27 years, has turned a traditional approach on its head. Instead of figuring out the overarching theme or slogan first, he’s leaving that for last as he tries to generate tourism dollars in a rough economy. One stat: Visitation for the $11 billion hospitality industry was 35.4 million in 2008 – down from 38 million in 2006, the latest figures show.
To try to turn that around, Pate, 49, has been focusing on two other parts of selling the city since taking the helm of ACVB a year ago. The first is to promote the attractions, hotels, shopping and dining. The second is to work with those businesses, so they offer discount packages with others.
“Momentum drives markets,” Pate said. “You’ve got to build momentum by constantly barraging people with new news.”
But what’s new to one group is not to another. For example, some meeting planners – key people in this business – know about the recent upgrades to the Centennial Olympic Park area, such as the fish tank and Coke museum.
Other meeting planners, however, have not visited the city for years. So the ACVB has to bring that group up to date. At the same time, it has to focus on upcoming attractions with the former group, including the College Football Hall of Fame and the Center for Human and Civil Rights.
That same education has to be done with out-of-town families discussing where to take their next vacation.
In all cases, Pate faces three hurdles. First, people instantly know what they’re getting when you mention Orlando, Las Vegas or New Orleans. That’s less true for Atlanta.
Second, even if Atlanta had a slogan, Pate would need a good bit more money than he currently has to promote it like it should be. He knows $2.9 million – the cost of just one 30-second Super Bowl commercial – is not enough to market Atlanta on an annual basis.
“We continue to look for additional revenue sources,” he said.
Finally, Atlanta does need a branding campaign. It’s not optional. “Cities that brand now will stand out,” Tim Calkins of Northwestern University told AJC reporter Leon Stafford.
Pate says surveys repeatedly show that visitors are impressed with the friendliness and helpfulness of the people here. So Southern hospitality does exist, despite all the transplants, including me.
“Ultimately, we will find that stake in the ground,” Pate said. “It will take some time.”
I hope not too long. To speed the process, if you have a good idea that captures Pate’s friendliness theme, please post it below. Since the pros haven’t come up with the right prose yet, maybe you can.
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