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Pitching ‘Play On’: Jackson considers who to woo and how

fr tdaThe type of visitors being eyed by Jackson County tourism officials fall into various categories. Each one of those “types” is being targeted through different ads.

There are advertisements featuring flyfishing. And gambling. Or how about kayaking or pottery?

Right now, the Kick Back ad featuring a pair of Adirondack chairs couched in a setting of weathered relaxation is testing better than the Grab Hold ad, which features a zipline. 

“That surprised me,” George Durant, strategic marketing director with the Brandon Agency, told members of the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority’s Marketing Committee during a recent presentation.

The Brandon Agency is the advertising firm handling the county’s tourism marketing campaign. The campaign centers around Jackson’s all-encompassing tourism slogan ‘Play On.’

“That doesn’t surprise me for this area,” replied Clifford Meads, chairman of the TDA’s marketing committee. “I have very few zipline friends. My friends will kick back in a chair and take it in.”

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Durant explained that the county should hold onto the Adirondack-chair crowd, but also focus its energy on attracting more of the zipline-variety of visitor. If not ziplining — it was pointed out that Jackson doesn’t actually have a zipline — then at least something active, or “any soft adventure that would resonate with people.” 

“We still believe from our research that active is better,” Durant said.

Jackson’s TDA is in the process of determining what direction it wants to take its marketing campaign. During the Brandon Agency’s recent presentation to the marketing committee, the campaign’s initial months were detailed and options were discussed for future efforts. 

In addition to their zipline-advice, the Brandon Agency team also suggested that the TDA gradually shift more of its marketing efforts from print-based advertisements to Internet-based ads. And focus on Millennials — who will soon outnumber aging Baby Boomers — and women, who tend to make a family’s travel plans. 

Following the presentation, Mead described the path suggested by the marketing team as “a pretty good blueprint” and “probably 80 percent correct.” The full tourism authority board will decide, possibly at its August meeting, exactly what to pursue.

“It’s the first swipe at the ball,” Meads said. “Now we’ll huddle up, go through it line by line and make sure it dovetails with our budget.”

From March through June, the TDA spent $83,800.97 running advertisements in both print and digital media. That money generated 3,191 leads, or potential tourists, meaning that each lead costs $26.26.

Online ads are run on travel sites like TripAdvisor. In print, specific demographics are targeted by placing ads in particular publications like Southern Living, Outside Magazine and Garden and Gun.

For the next fiscal year, the Brandon Agency is suggesting spending $159,182 on digital marketing and $158,286 on traditional print advertising. 

“You’re gonna have a lot more print than we’d normally recommend,” said Durant, explaining that Jackson’s current boomer tourism base relied more on print, while a shift toward digital could be pursued once an effort was made “to start youthening our appeal in Jackson County.”

The Brandon Agency team also discussed the county’s main tourism brand with the marketing committee. Currently, the brand features the Play On tag, along with mountain imagery and the words ‘Jackson, NC.’ Should it also feature specific towns within the county?

“That’s the thing to do unless you have 50 towns,” Durant said. “Where’s the cut off?”

Jackson County has a handful of towns, some quite small. The committee ticks off their top choices: Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro and Sylva. But what about Balsam, Cullowhee, Glennville and Sapphire, they wonder.

“Eight?” Durant asked. “It’s kind of unwieldy in small space ads.”

“It is,” agreed Meads, “but four wouldn’t be.”

Some areas, agreed committee members, were just too small to make the cut. Whittier and Tuckaseegee will probably not find themselves featured on the county’s tourism logo. 

“Yeah, like Little Switzerland. You don’t have a hope in hell,” said Meads.

The importance of cementing Jackson’s tourism brand was also discussed. Meads suggested the TDA consider earmarking some funds, maybe $30,000, to purchase marketing items such as Play On stickers and window clings. 

“If we’re going to make this brand come to life we’re going to have to jumpstart it. We have to have that money in our budget to do that, it’s not going to jumpstart itself,” Meads said. “I just think the time is right and we need to plant the seeds.”

The Jackson County TDA operates on a budget of about $600,000 collected via an occupancy tax. The previous fiscal year’s marketing budget was $261,000.

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