Mexico is undoubtedly a challenged brand. Drug cartels, violence, murder and kidnappings have been grabbing headlines, thus deterring tourists who typically flock to the country for its beaches, Mayan archaeological sites and tequila.
To turn things around, the Mexico Tourism Board is launching an offensive on two fronts: one, a positive branding campaign carrying the tagline, "The Place You Thought You Knew," and the other, a heightened PR effort to dismantle drug- and violence-related U.S. press. While the first effort won't touch the second with a 10-foot pole, both represent a shift in marketing investment to favor PR and digital, as well as an attempt to make people feel better about traveling to Mexico.
At the helm of the radical shift in marketing dollars is CMO Gerardo Llanes, who took on the role just four months ago. He plans to reallocate up to one-quarter of the Mexico Tourism Board's $100 million global marketing budget, much of which has been spent on traditional media buys in the past, to public relations and digital efforts. His approach will see PR spending double to $21 million, while traditional media spending will shrink from $21 million in 2010 to an expected $6 million next year.
"We believe word-of -mouth is getting to be a better tool for us right now, especially now that we're seeing some not-so-positive things in the media, especially in the U.S.," Mr. Llanes said.
Mr. Llanes has experience on both the agency and marketer sides of the business -- he worked on the launch of Diet Coke in Mexico -- but when the head marketing role at the Mexico Tourism Board opened up, he jumped at it. There's nothing quite as appealingly challenging as Mexico, he said. "Managing a country brand is big," Mr. Llanes said. "I knew what was being said and done outside of the country."
Much of the "not-so-positive" media has appeared in mainstream publications, with claims that drug cartel-related violence and murder, typically contained to U.S.-Mexico border areas, has seeped into tourism destinations. Working with Ogilvy PR, Mr. Llanes has developed a public-