The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.
My hometown has never been short of opinion. Me either. Our opinions often come from something we really know about, and most of us are rather sure our opinion is truly informed. Yet, it’s also not uncommon for uninformed opinion to run rampant, even here. Usually, though, and I’m sure all of us can agree on this; uninformed opinion is never us, it’s all of those other people.
With Clarksdale going through a search for a new Director of Tourism, I’m asked what I think about it frequently, and I thought I’d share some, but not all, of my opinion on the matter. Some of it, I assure you is informed.
A Director of Tourism is a multi-faceted position with key component parts. This includes administration, managing people, marketing expertise and Tourism industry experience. Here in Clarksdale, and it seems especially so, the job is also subordinate to understanding and dealing with local politics and boards.
My interest, and informed opinion, is pretty much about marketing only. When it comes to Clarksdale politics, just about every time I get near that quarter I end up feeling like the Aflac Duck trying to talk to Yogi Berra (you’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there!).
Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.
Here’s why I think my opinions on marketing are informed. I am the former Senior V.P. Marketing of a high tech company in Los Angeles. I was a co-founder (by accident), wrote the company’s business plan, and ran a national marketing operation for over a decade. I designed all funding packages and presentations for the start-up, and was a key part in taking the company public (NASDAQ).
We had a national sales force and all of my marketing efforts were to generate leads for each of our 70 or so salespersons. Our target audience was primary care physicians, osteopaths, bariatricians, fitness clubs and chiropractors across the United States (somewhat less than a million individual targets). Among our product array were two key devices, a computerized body fat machine and an ambulatory blood pressure monitor.
The leads I generated to keep the company afloat came from direct mail, public relations (generating news), trade shows, and partnerships with key medical associations. A minimum of magazine advertising was also in that mix.
Most leads came from direct mail. Each mailer went to some 800,000 addresses across the country. Printing was in the millions for each one, and outcome success was measured in percentages. We got a 3% response on my first direct mail piece (1% was considered good), which was a bit more than 20,000 leads. I can’t remember how many mailers we sent out over the next decade and a half; it was a lot. (List management and the actual mailing, literature fulfillment for each lead, lead processing and distribution were done by sub-contractors managed by me. All leads also crossed my desk. Management level sales meetings helped to coordinate what was working, what wasn’t, and what objections the sales force was getting, which then led to collateral design and copy for whatever the next marketing pieces became. I wrote and produced them.)
Public Relations were managed by me, and executed by a friend who had a firm specializing in business PR. Our efforts focused on trade journals, medical association publications, physicians magazines and journals… etc. I can’t remember how many trade shows we worked each year; that too was a lot.
Each salesperson had their own territory, which was divided out by zip codes. Leads had to be fed out to them monthly for the company to remain sustainable. We had a manufacturing facility in a high-tech center outside of Portland, and our G&A offices were in Brentwood in Los Angeles. Not counting the sales force, there were some 40 employees. The first of each month at our apex took nearly 7 figures to keep the doors open.
It was at this company that I co-founded that I got a true corporate marketing background, plus got exposed to the very beginning of the high-tech computer revolution (I fell into having to learn and professionally use Photoshop, Illustrator, Freehand and Quark, at the very beginning of digital design software’s emergence as essential marketing tools). Much has changed since then, almost all of what was done for lead gen then would not work now. Marketing today is much about the web, websites and social media. I am grateful that I had a solid enough tech foundation to constantly evolve my marketing chops to meet the demands of today’s world.
The future ain’t what it used to be.
This Can Work
Here’s a few things I think Clarksdale Tourism should do, and of course I’ll add my 2 cents with an observation or two along the way.
• Align Clarksdale Tourism with State Tourism
This was already being done well before. That needs to continue with our new Tourism Director.
• Tour Operator Direct Marketing Campaign
This is key, and there are a few moving parts to what needs to be a consistent, ongoing marketing effort.
- Get a list of every tour operator that runs a bus through the State of Mississippi (the Target list).
- Establish discounts that restaurants and lodging will give for each tourist that comes off a tour bus to use their services (see next item below).
- Create a certificate for each discount (takes 15 min. and is a marketing tool unto itself).
- Campaign focuses on how much tour operator gets when they stop a bus in Clarksdale (and those on bus eat and/or stay here).
- Each tourist pays full price, operator gets the discount from the merchant or 3rd party handling the accounting.
- The list is in Excel. It must include name, address, phone number(s) and email address.
- Target List needs to be merged into auto email program (mail chimp or constant contact).
- Monthly news letter needs to be created and sent to each email address (new Newsletter every month too).
- Target List divided by 20 (this becomes the number of daily phone calls that Director makes to target list; it never stops).
- Any association/industry meeting where a large group of our targets can be found must be attended and worked.
- Successes that come from tour bus stops become part of the next newsletter and all outgoing collateral to get more tour operators to join the party (every time a tour operator agrees to work with us, we amplify that back to the rest of them who haven’t).
(Like the direct mail experiences I have discussed above, this is a daily numbers game: do the work, be consistent, never miss and success always comes.)
• Coordination with Local Businesses
Collaboration with local business is also essential for our new Tourism Director for multiple reasons. The most obvious is it will help our local merchants to increase sales. Also importantly the Director’s relationship with merchants becomes “news”, and continuing coordinating efforts become stories that are amplified online, and throughout all Tourism/Chamber campaigns. This attracts more new business to come to town (it’s things like this that shows we’re on our game, and being on one’s game is contagious).
Here the term “online” means the web, website(s) and social media.
To get merchants involved with the Tour Operator Campaign:
- Create local biz target list. Meet merchants, explain campaign, get basic discount agreement (if a bus drops off 30-40 people in front of your business is a good start).
- Create an actual discount certificate for each business (these are amplified online, sent to tour operators and become part of the collateral mix for the campaign itself).
- Explore possibility of City, County, Chamber, CRI to partner in this discount program (this too becomes “News” and even more attraction marketing within the campaign itself).
ClarksdaleNews believes that collaboration of all local government entities with local business is a recipe for greater success, and that Tourism, the Chamber and CRI are at the forefront (this also a key in John Henshall’s economic development report on the revitalization Clarksdale where he states that a focused local government is central to revive downtown Clarksdale).
Most all of ClarksdaleNews projects are also focused on Clarksdale attraction, and some are specifically designed to help local business as well (which is grass roots economic development in a nutshell).
- All of the downtown signs are Clarksdale attractions, and soon each one of them will talk (demos are done, thanks to The Magdovitz Foundation, you’ll see a few very soon).
- The two silhouette memorials are attractions, and more of these are coming (probably not until next year).
- The Clarksdale Television Network is also coming (it is running in ClarksdaleNews office right now) and will also likely appear at the earliest later this year (Talking Signs has to be finished first). Each hour of programming has at least 6 ads for local merchants (supported by video stories about that merchant), and daily specials, discounts and whatever a local merchant wants can easily be added. Basic service will be free to each merchant as well (though affordable advertising could come), and free for the public to see in places around town where people gather.
ClarksdaleNews is already running test ads for local merchants. Here’s some numbers for our merchant ad tests here on the site since our launch two months ago.
Ads started on different dates (numbers as of 7 am, July 24).
- Barnes Pettey: Started May 26, 21,516 total views, 7 clicks to their website.
- Chateau Debris: Started June 22, 17, 308 total views, 46 clicks to their booking page.
- Delta Bohemian Tours: Started May 30, 22,676 total views, 11 clicks to Billy’s booking page.
- Merkel & Cocke: Started May 26, 21,703 total views, 12 clicks to their website.
- Live Music Nightly: Started on May 30, 22,978 total views, 64 clicks to Sounds Around Town link on ClarksdaleNews.
- Smith & Weiland: Started June 2, 20,822 total views, 8 clicks to their website.
- Hartley’s Greenhead Outdoors: Started May 30, 22,785 total views, 12 clicks to Hartley’s website.
- WROX: Started on May 30, 23,013 total views, 8 clicks to WROX website.
- Saf T Cart: Started on May 30, 22,839 total views, 6 clicks to SafTC website.
- Clarksdale Press Register: Started June 1, 22,831 total views, 4 clicks to CPR website.
- 3rd Street Bistro: Started on June 30, 14, 312 total views, 31 clicks to 3rd St. Facebook page.
- Abes BAR B-Q: Started on June 30, 14,326 total views, 9 clicks to the Abes website.
- Bee Cee’s Place: Started on June 30, 14,330 total views, 27 clicks to BC Facebook page.
- Yazoo Pass: Started June 30, 14, 403 total views, 11 clicks to YP website.
- Luckett Law Firm: Started June 26, 14,492 total views, 8 clicks on the ad itself.
- Busters Tree Service: Started June 23, 15,306 total views. 14 clicks on the ad itself.
- Newson Center: Started June 23, 15,088 total views, 6 clicks on the ad itself.
- Lofts at the Five & Dime: Started June 22, 17,250 total views, 10 clicks to 5×10 booking page.
- The Hooker Hotel: Started July 21, 463 total views, 2 clicks to their booking page.
- Clark House: Started on July 21, 487 total views, 0 clicks to their booking page.
ClarksdaleNews is learning how to increase the number of clicks off of ads onto a merchant’s resource. If merchants would help by sending photos, captions to ClarkdaleNews to help create a consistent flow of stories about their business, this will increase what is called their “click-through ratio.” Adding discount certificates to incentivize tour operators to stop more tour buses in town would add to their business volume as well.
• Support All New Clarksdale Attraction Efforts
Our last Tourism administration primarily focused their efforts outside of Coahoma County. What to do about empty buildings downtown, or adding new attractions into town, for example, was not their priority. In theory, what Tourism was doing to cause visitors to come to town made sense; it was what they were charged to do, but with whatever success Tourism was having, Clarksdale remained in steady decline.
Something different needed to be done to expect a different result, and doing something different always comes from a new way of thinking. This also means, egad, Clarksdale has to be willing to accept change.
That new way of thinking in this case has to be a focus on adding more things of interest to attract more people to come here. Blues tourism has done well for us, but has only taken us so far. Such new things of interest should certainly be blues oriented, or Tennessee Williams oriented, but rock and roll happened here too. So did civil rights. And other artists. Even a rocket scientist. And remarkable people with remarkable stories to tell have always been here. The one other key component in John Henshall’s economic development report on the revitalization of Clarksdale, he states “in order for downtown to prosper new attractions must be added, and they must be promoted rigorously.”
With a little, but certainly not a lot local government support, excellent attraction work has been done, and continues to be done by local citizens. Bubba O’Keefe, Nan Hughes and Roger Stolle have lead, and continue to lead the charge. Excellent work is also being done out of New Roxy by Robin Colonas, Meghan Maike and John Magnusson (Clarksdale Collaborative). Everything Hopson, Shack Up Inn and Quapaw have attracted many. Then there’s Mark Benson, Charles Evans and Stan Street. Bill Luckett has done a lot. Karen Kohlhass too. Cohoma Collective is setting their mark. So have many more.
Jon Livingston is likely doing something particularly significant right now with jobs and economic development (land it please, Jon), which is also an attraction to attract even more business within itself. CRI’s downtown effort right now with FREE public Wi-Fi and Art in the Alley are also important projects.
Anything visual, cultural, educational that is consistent with Clarksdale’s past and present that can become new attractions here in town needs all of our support, even it it’s only encouragement.
Our New Tourism Director should support and be emotionally involved with all attraction work in town. It just makes sense to expand our core; and give others even more of an experience to appreciate. That simply must be our new priority. If we build it, they will come.
(Tourism money, and financial support abilities in conclusion below)
• Focused Marketing Website
The Tourism website was recently updated. The new photography is a bonus; the site is a much better visual, but the copy is essentially similar, with some new additions, of course. There are 27 pages on the site. It’s much better than it was, and kudos for the effort, but a daily growing, marketing attraction tool it isn’t. That takes a full time job in itself, doing nothing else, 7 days a week.
A robust marketing attraction website must change constantly and consistently. New stories, articles, any and all successes, and all positives must appear daily. The daily news flow must be truthful, with as much substance as possible, and include investigative negatives when necessary, and with all such negatives overcome by moving forward community initiatives and/or solutions. It is here that we build trust, and consistency, and this is how one builds an audience.
The central thought in audience building is causing repeat visits, getting people to return time and again, and to want to!
We, and Tourism, are much in the business of causing our online visitors to have this one thought: what’s new in Clarksdale today? From that comes a daily appetite that needs to be filled, and then comes a daily habit of visiting Clarksdale online, and then comes an even bigger thought: with all this good stuff going on, I gotta go check it out.
As our online visitors take in increasing attractions, positives, watching an arts and cultural community moving forward, they can’t help but talk about it to others. “Have you seen what’s going on in Clarksdale” is the hue and cry, and social media is where a good sum of this word-of-mouth happens; it rapidly breeds passionate advocates who become in themselves marketing tools in an ever expanding mix. With a fully functioning marketing website as the hub, it is though social media that we increase interest in us exponentially.
This is not pie in the sky thinking, the good news is… this is already happening!
ClarksdaleNews was created before I was asked to do the website for the City. All of the economic development and arts and culture pieces were already there. The City site was done in the Luckett administration, and there was a committee involved: Curtis Boschert, Cathy Clark, Ken Murphey, Mac Crank and Warren Mathews. Since the economic development and arts & culture presence that I wanted is not normally seen on a municipal website, the question I needed most answered was would I be allowed to do it? In other words, would I be allowed to create a fully function marketing website for us, with all of the force behind it as discussed above? With committee approval, I began on the City site, let the original ClarksdaleNews go by the wayside, and transferred all of the marketing tools and functions off it onto the City site.
I was aware, it was more than conscious; it was a firm resolve that I was creating a website to serve us that should have been done elsewhere, but it wasn’t. As an aside, I offered former Tourism Board President Wayne Winter to do this free of charge for Tourism, which is where I thought it should be in the first place. Winter could not have been less interested. In fact, I was told that having me do this for them was “a conflict of interest” (and there again was the Aflac Duck talking to Yogi Berra).
It gets late early out here!
Thank goodness Curtis Boschert, Cathy Clark, Ken Murphey, Mac Crank and Warren Mathews saw things differently (and so did Buster Moton, Ed Seals, Bo Plunk and Bill Luckett who ordered it, and Johnny Newson, Darrell Washington and the other County officials who encouraged it).
There was a few more than 300 pages on the City website when I launched it. I ran it daily for 6 weeks, doing exactly what is discussed above. During that time the site got more than 25,000 views, which were in Clarksdale, the State, the Country and around the world. How rapidly it grew was startling. We had an audience in every state in the Country, and in 54 different countries outside of the United States. (I could see the data flow real time, and I openly discussed this increasing success at City Board Meetings). Call-to-action tests were also being done,
which means something for a reader to do was being placed in some of the articles, and we were already seeing that about 13% of our readers where taking that action. The purposes of these tests were to better understand how we would add calls-to-action into the mix for a reader to buy something online from Cat Head or Oak and Ivy, for example (remember online buying is here to stay, and the owner of Amazon is now the wealthiest person in the world).
We were averaging 464 views a day, and I was learning how to double that at will by posting articles that I knew that a particular demographic would find of interest. An article about the Arts & Culture District sign of Dr. Peggy Wells got thousands of views, and it was shared on Facebook more than 1,000 times.
Of the entire audience, this is particularly important, 53% of it was outside of Mississippi. This is tourism in a nutshell, and it was not costing anything (because I was doing this under my consultant relationship with the City, nor was I in this to make a chunk of money). Other than therefore being exceptionally cost effective, the real reason why this is so important goes back to John Henshall’s economic development report, where he avows that “cultural tourism is an export industry.” Of our Mississippi audience, about 75% of it was not in Clarksdale, which further substantiates the core strategy that John and I were working on: build from within, expand out, they will react, and overtime more will come.
Well, all of it suddenly stopped. One leader chose not to get it.
In baseball, you don’t know nothing!
Within a week of leaving the City and the site, the audience started dropping, and it is averaging somewhat less than 100 visitors a day at present. Since Feb 13th, the day that I left, there has only been 26 new articles and updates on the City site (a .17 per day average, and this is not to disparage anyone at the City, this is a full time job, and everybody at the City already has one of those to begin with).
So, ClarksdaleNews got dusted off, with the economic development, arts and culture presence still on it, and here we are. We talk about audience trust above, and how that trust comes from both truth and frequency. Knowing that it always takes longer to rebuild an audience than it does to build one from scratch, particularly when frequency is broken, I knew ClarksdaleNews was going to be slower going than the rapid build we had on the City site. The good news is , though, we’re off to a good start (which the test advertising numbers above clearly show).
There are 10,600 plus views on ClarksdaleNews so far, an average of 176 a day. Counting all post pages and the bios for each downtown sign, there are about 453 pages on ClarksdaleNews. The first article about Dollar Bill, more than 4,000 of you read that. To date 265 articles have been posted (4.16 per day avg). The current strategy is an almost singular focus on building our audience in Clarksdale. That will continue for at least another few months. We are still getting visitors from all over the country, and globally, and that will certainly grow as the plan shifts to a wider cultural tourism export philosophy.
In summary, that the website is a full time job can not be overstated. It is also my opinion that the new Director of Tourism needs to know that as well, and that much of the heavy lifting of what Tourism should do in exporting Clarksdale attraction beyond us is already being done. It would also be a good idea for the Tourism site to be in sync with ClarksdaleNews, so that it’s inherent downside can easily and quickly be overcome (it won’t take much).
And again, remember this is only a beginning. I ran a real estate site in Lake Tahoe before I came back home, which was much more boring than what we have to offer here in Clarksdale, and it developed more than 150,000 readers over 2 years (it also spawned real estate inserts into a local television station, heavily attended free public seminars and monthly market reports in the Tahoe Daily Tribune newspaper. It also led to a high-tech start-up company).
This Would Never Work (it makes too much sense)
The big thought, though, is consolidation, why Tourism at all? Tourism gets about $400,000 a year from tax proceeds. Heretofore, about 70% of the annual Tourism money has gone to administrative overhead (one can not sustain a business with such an overweighted expense ratio). The items above can all be done for at least a third less than this $400,000. That leaves almost $300,000 dollars a year that drops directly onto our bottom line (say, $200,000 if I’m wrong).
The job at hand from consolidation could be done quickly and effectively. So, bring Tourism back to the Chamber, there is redundancy in what they are both supposed to do in the first place. Also, the Chamber is currently underfunded and understaffed. Even with a new Director, Tourism still faces uncertainty, and the effectiveness of both entities is at risk. By consolidation, all negatives are gone, and now we have the means to do two of our critical revitalization jobs great, with a professional team, instead of doing neither of them as well as they could be.
Let the Chamber manage those annual funds, let the Chamber gather the professional staff and team needed to get the whole job done. Administration and management of this will be effective because of the Chamber Director’s administrative and management skills. Instead a Tourism Director, how about a manager, which involves significantly less overhead? And, as for dealing with local politics (to keep the negative territorial gremlins away), Jon seems quite adept at dealing with Yogi Berra.
When you come to a fork in the road, take it!
It turns out baseball is teamwork, after all, and Clarksdale’s progress is nothing but a teamwork exercise too.