Public Relations RFP Issued By West Virginia Tourism Office
The West Virginia Tourism Office (“Tourism Office”) is soliciting expressions of interest for a creative marketing agency to assist with strategy and continued implementation of the state’s Almost Heaven brand campaign. Agencies will be asked to propose strategies for extending the Almost Heaven tourism brand through advertising, marketing, and public relations. The successful vendor will be expected to provide and manage strategic brand development, creative services, media buying and planning, experiential marketing, public relations, and strategic partnership planning. Though this contract will primarily service the Tourism Office, the successful vendor may be asked to provide advisory services for other State of West Virginia agencies implementing the Almost Heaven brand campaign in coordination with the Tourism Office.
Agency Overview & Mission The Tourism Office is the state’s lead destination marketing organization that works with private industry partners to build and promote a world-class destination that provides jobs, stimulates investment, grows existing businesses, and promotes a positive image of the state as a place to visit, go to college, live, work, and retire Tourism Funding A pillar of the Justice administration has been to grow West Virginia’s tourism industry. At his request in 2018, the legislation granted a request for a historic budget increase, nearly tripling the Tourism Office’s advertising budget for tourism promotion. The Tourism Office has been fortunate to continue receiving the support from the Governor and the Legislature and currently operates at an annual budget of nearly $25 million. Recent Growth In 2018, the Tourism Office launched its new brand campaign, “Almost Heaven,” after nearly a year of research and consumer testing. The campaign leverages the international recognition of John Denver’s “Country Roads.” Consumer testing demonstrated both recognition and affinity toward the song and the slogan “Almost Heaven.” The Tourism Office asks all bidders to use the song and/or its lyrics when developing ideas for ways to further extend the brand. Since the launch of the brand campaign in April 2018, the Tourism Office has seen historic growth in traveler spending and increased private investment, notably:
• Traveler spending in West Virginia increased by 9.9% in just two years following the brand launch, outpacing the national growth rate by 58% and reversing several years of decline.
• Private investment in the last two years has exceeded $250 million in new tourism projects across the state.
Investments total more than double the investments seen in the first 14 years of the program. The successful bidder will work in part with the Tourism Office team to identify ways to capitalize on this momentum for West Virginia tourism and grow these metrics through eye-catching creative, a sophisticated media strategy, new strategic partnerships.
Impact of COVID-19
Like every destination, West Virginia’s tourism industry was hit hard by the pandemic. However, West Virginia is well-positioned to accept post-COVID travelers. Our uncrowded mountain towns, miles of winding country roads, and plethora of outdoor experiences that will allow plenty of room to roam and social distance. We believe there has been no better time for the West Virginia product, and we are looking for the successful bidder to help us capitalize on these natural advantages.
Scope of Work:
• Propose and implement strategies for using the Almost Heaven brand to increase visitation and traveler spending in West Virginia.
• Implement cutting-edge strategies for exposing consumers to the Almost Heaven brand.
• Identify strategies to position West Virginia as a top post-COVID travel destination.
• Develop a plan for expanding the Almost Heaven brand into a single public-facing consumer brand for West Virginia that can be used for a multitude of purposes, including but not limited to government business, tourism marketing, economic development, and talent attraction.
• Develop enhanced media strategies with real-time reporting to support increased investment in tourism advertising. The selected partner should create and implement a media strategy designed to not only increase brand awareness, but drive visitation, traveler spending and overnight stays.
• Develop co-op advertising extensions for the Tourism Office’s brand campaign to secure buy-in from tourism partners and increase overall reach of the statewide campaign, while providing promotional support for individual partner messaging.
• Provide guidance and develop strategies for translating the tourism brand into a business recruitment campaign for the West Virginia Development Office. Strategies should include business-to-business branding, outreach and advertising.
• Propose and manage strategic partnerships with harmonious brands that elevate the Almost Heaven campaign and position West Virginia as a trusted vacation destination.
• Cultivate new strategies to accelerate growth in expanding market segments such as national park visitation, rental properties, and outdoor recreation.
• Provide ongoing creative services related to brand management, tourism advertising, and public relations.
• Monitor all travel and tourism trends to ensure the Tourism Office utilizes the latest technologies and creative strategies to grow visitation.
• Assist in strategic long-term planning and research gathering. *The scope of work is subject to change pending final negotiations.
The successful bidder shall convey a deep understanding and knowledge of both the travel and tourism and economic development industries in West Virginia, as well as possess extensive experience with brand management and brand strategy. Bidder shall be adept at providing recommendations on integrating new brand executions into every aspect of the Tourism Office’s marketing activities, including cooperative advertising, traditional advertising, publications, e-mail marketing, social media, and public relations. Recommendations must also be made on how to successfully use the brand across marketing efforts of supporting state agencies, as referenced above.
The successful bidder shall have the ability to develop comprehensive advertising concepts that are consistent with brand attributes and standards.
The successful bidder shall collaborate, as appropriate, with other marketing agencies, including the Tourism Office’s current partners Digital Relativity and Meredith Travel Marketing. Other partners may be added to the marketing team, as necessary.
April 23, 2021 at 5 p.m. EST
Kara Gillenwater, Executive Assistant West Virginia Tourism Office 1900 Kanawha Blvd. E, Building 3, Suite 100 Charleston, WV 25305
MWWPR and Lippert Heilshorn are agencies to consider.