Let’s be honest: Columbus is an awesome place to live. Known for its low-cost of living and higher than average wages, it's the top metro for job growth in the Midwest and home to Fortune 500 companies like American Electric Power, L. Brands and Nationwide Insurance. Recently crowned a Smart City by the U.S. Department of Transportation and winning a $50 Million grant (that’s still growing), Columbus is thriving.
But why do all the cool kids love Columbus?
As you may have suspected, one answer is a solid travel PR and brand-building strategy. Generating a positive reputation for the country’s 14th largest city is no easy task. With almost a million people and tons of businesses and organizations, it's hard to get everyone singing from the same songbook.
Our team recently attended PRSA’s luncheon Pitching Columbus: How Local Professionals are Making a National Impact. There, we heard from a panel of peers – fellow PR pros - who are responsible for building Columbus’ reputation and the strategies that make this city’s tourism approach so effective.
Here are some travel PR best practices that have contributed to Columbus' stellar reputation and which can aid in pitching any city:
Storytelling is Essential
Great travel PR isn’t about places, but the stories that make them special. For example, Bexley, Ohio may not be the most famous Columbus neighborhood, but knowing it’s where famous children’s author R. L. Stein was born and raised makes visiting more significant. A story can turn passive visitors into enthusiastic photographers who snap pictures to share on social media and paste in family scrapbooks.
Communicating a location’s contributions to society is the key to setting it apart. Whether highlighting notable businesses, residents or one-of-a-kind stories, conveying what makes that location important is the best way to transform a city you’ve never heard of into your next must visit vacation destination.
Simplicity is Key
Understanding that less is more when communicating a city’s brand keeps messaging memorable and focused. With thousands of things that make Columbus special, recent success has come through its “smart and open” messaging that simplifies many city attributes into something everyone can understand and remember.
Boiling down complex messages and diverse characteristics into simple, memorable and insightful key messages is essential to effective travel PR. It helps visitors retain why they should visit and allows residents to add a unique, personalized spin to the core messages.
Social Media Is a Must
With consumer trust in corporations waning, research shows people are much more trusting of online reviews and recommendations. Creating a city-specific hashtag that organizes location specific social media posts allows cities to capitalize on visitor posts and leverage them as trustworthy, third-party recommendations.
Our own FH team co-authored the Columbus Trust Study that examined consumer trust in Columbus. Findings reinforced long-held ideas about the changing trust landscape and shed valuable insight into the specific state of trust in Columbus. As a whole, it demonstrated how solid research can influence travel PR and inform a strategic approach to location specific campaigns.
Know Your Audience
Even though it’s a basic communications principle, knowing your audience is so important it still warrants a mention. The best travel PR pitches happen when PR pros know the journalist they’re pitching, what their beat is and what their audience wants. Tweaking pitches to account for these factors increases their effectiveness and generate stories that better resonate with key audiences.
Ultimately, a good brand-building, travel PR strategy is the gift that keeps on giving. Generating positive public perception attracts tourists and spearheads economic development, which in turn improves public perception – further attracting more tourists and economic development. A good reputation can be a city’s best asset and biggest advocate.
As the saying goes, if you don’t tell your story someone else will, and our team loves to help great cities tell their stories. If you have any tips about travel PR or you’re looking for help telling your city or brand’s story, let us know in the comments below!