Portland drives meeting planners online to show city's strengths

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The Portland Oregon Visitors Association wanted to put its city on meeting planners' short lists.

Though the association had a high rate of sales conversion once planners had visited the city, it wanted to establish preference earlier in the evaluation process, said Brian Mount, managing partner at Young & Roehr, POVA's ad agency.

Complicating matters, Mount said, Portland lacks several of the ingredients that are traditionally essential to major meetings, including a headquarters hotel adjacent to the convention center and frequent and direct access by air.

But Portland also has a lot in its favor. "As the `Keep Portland weird' bumper stickers around town testify, Portland is proudly quirky, progressive and protective of its invigorating quality of life," Mount said. "We ... have aimed to appeal to those organizations and their planners for whom the `inconveniences' of Portland are a small price to pay for its many unique assets."

Originally, Young & Roehr ran ads in trade publications and sent direct mail to broad-based lists of meeting planners to let POVA's audience self-qualify themselves. "But through a close collation and analysis of the POVA house list ... we have more closely identified the most-likely prospect markets, optimally sized organizations and other key criteria for more rifle-shot communications."

Most recently, Young & Roehr executed a campaign integrating print ads, direct mail and Internet content that has yielded an ROI of 300%.

"Portland's appeal isn't based on any single icon or activity, but on an accumulation of experiences, activities, opportunities and anecdotes, which is why a first-person visit to Portland is really the best way to sell the city," Mount said.

Young & Roehr wanted to mirror this multifaceted Portland experience in its messaging and realized that the best way to do so would be online.

The agency created a series of four teaser stories-4-page print ad inserts that also could be converted to direct mail pieces and customized to specific vertical markets-that directed audiences online to fun, Flash-driven landing pages. The sites completed the stories in the print teaser pieces, but only after users registered their basic contact and qualifying information. As a secondary motivator, the agency promoted the chance to win $30,000 off a future meeting held at Portland's convention center.

The direct mail piece to the education and medical markets-verticals that POVA had identified as key targets-yielded a 1.8% response rate. "Of those, 28% converted to warm or hot leads, and more than $3 million in potential economic impact for the city," said Greg Newland, POVA's director of marketing. "While the response rate does not seem particularly high, the high quality of the leads made the campaign a success." Some planners even submitted an RFP during their first visit to the landing page, he said.

All told, POVA tracked 546 visits to its Web landing pages. Of these, 138 took action, a 25.3% conversion, yielding 47 RFPs and 91 other leads.

"The success of our campaign hinged on our ability to customize our messaging to niche audiences," Newland said. "Looking ahead, we will generate even better returns if we go even deeper with our data. Our forthcoming campaigns will drill down to one-to-one communications-personalized and customized printed mailers complemented with personalized and customized Web landing pages."

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