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Destination DC's Newest Ad Campaign Launch

Campaign Aims to Make Washington's Power Accessible

By Anita Huslin

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

 

Washington has long battled the reputation of being mostly a granite and gavel kind of place.

 

A $3 million campaign being launched today by Destination D.C. (the new, shorter name for the Washington, D.C. Convention & Tourism Corp.) aims to turn those perceptions around. The campaign, funded by the city's hotel tax and the group's membership dues, combines advertising and a redesigned Web site through which visitors can book hotels at special rates, buy tickets to events or create their own experience, such as planning a neighborhood walking tour.

 

The intent, Destination D.C. officials said, is to break down perceptions of the District as impenetrable and unapproachable and cast it as a city with cultural flair.

 

"In research, people told us that although D.C. has all kinds of powerful things like the Supreme Court, Congress, embassies and black-tie galas, they didn't know how to access them," said William A. Hanbury, chief executive of Destination D.C. "We're going to focus on helping people personalize the power that is Washington."

 

While D.C.'s marketing budget is dwarfed by those of the perennial top three U.S. tourist destinations -- $90 million for Las Vegas, $40 million for Orlando and $25 million for New York -- it is the most ever spent to market the city, officials said.

 

Research has shown that every dollar invested in marketing returns up to $9 in taxes for the District, according to Destination D.C., which has an annual budget of $12 million.

 

The organization started planning the campaign more than a year ago, before the economy slumped, but the downturn makes the effort more critical, Hanbury said.

 

"We are a terrific drive market for many, many Americans" who live within a 500-mile radius of the District, Hanbury said. "And with the current value of the euro and the pound . . . destinations that are highly dependent on long drives and air travel will be the first ones that will be suffering."

 

The campaign will feature billboards, online ads and advertising in such publications as Saveur, Gourmet, Cond¿ Nast Traveler and Black Enterprise through September. The budget will also buy airtime on local broadcast and cable television stations in the Washington area, Pittsburgh, Raleigh-Durham and New York.

 

The group's previous slogan, "An American Experience," was "like watching C-Span and eating spinach," Hanbury said. "It didn't capture the energy and activity of the city."

 

A survey by the tourism bureau found that the District was rated lower than cities such as Orlando, New York and Chicago on night life and restaurants.

 

To counter such perceptions, the ads feature an African American couple at a nightclub, with the headline "Soul Power." Another depicts Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) running through Rock Creek Park with the slogan "Power Play." Others show a family watching fireworks explode around the Washington Monument next to the phrase "Fire Power," and a father and daughter looking up at the Lincoln Memorial beneath the words "Seat of Power."

 

More than 15 million people will visit Washington this year and bring $5.24 billion in revenue to the city and its businesses, according to tourism officials, who want to increase their marketing budget by $10 million over a two-year period.

 

Liping A. Cai, director of the Tourism and Hospitality Research Center at Purdue University, said that for destination campaigns to be effective, officials should understand the location's appeal and stick to marketing that.

 

Before its successful "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" campaign, that city fumbled when it tried to market itself to the fanny-pack and stroller crowds, Cai said.

 

At Destination D.C.'s new Web site, washington.org, D.C. residents will be able to make their own recommendations to visitors, and links will connect visitors to those venues.

 

Burson-Marsteller, one of the largest public relations agencies in the world, helped create the campaign.

 

"We wanted to take the research and come up with an execution so people could really see Washington outside of the images they see on the evening news," said Jim Lake, chairman of Burson-Marsteller's U.S. public affairs practice. "It is the seat of power in Washington and the United States, but there's also a city inside that."

 

Tourism officials point to the city's new baseball team and stadium, increase in white-tablecloth restaurants and redeveloped neighborhoods.

 

"There have been some huge improvements in the cosmopolitan side of Washington, D.C.," Hanbury said.

  

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Taken on April 2, 2008