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Montana on the mind

Ben Goldstein on Wednesday, August 23, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

At 3,000 feet above sea level, tucked away between Big Mountain and Glacier National Park to the North and Blacktail Mountain and Flathead Lake—America’s largest— to the south, Kalispell, Montana, isn’t the first place you think of when you think winter getaway.

So, when United Airlines announced it was launching a two-month trial series of direct flights from San Francisco to Glacier Park International Airport in December 2016, the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitor Bureau (KCVB) knew it had to find a way to capitalize on the opportunity to attract tourists and increase regional awareness.

“The main driving factor was filling the seats on those flights,” said Kate Lufkin, marketing and communications specialist at the KCVB. “With a trial flight like that, the better it performed, the more likely the airline is to expand service, so we really wanted to fill those seats.”

The KCVB teamed up with a public relations firm based in Missoula, Montana, to brainstorm a marketing and advertising campaign to promote the region as a wintertime tourist destination in the San Francisco Bay Area market. The intended target audience was young, active adults who are passionate about outdoors adventure and skiing.

“A lot of people don’t think of us as a travel destination in the winter, but this area doesn’t shut down by any means,” said Lufkin. “We wanted to promote our skiing, snowmobiling and other winter activities, and San Francisco was a fantastic addition, because of the likeminded folks there that are drawn to the outdoors.”

The PR firm created native content for the Weekend Sherpa, a popular northern California-based e-magazine geared toward outdoors adventuring, which was promoted through social media, email newsletter blasts and as a feature on the online magazine’s homepage.

The series of sponsored stories, dubbed “Montana on the Mind,” featured rousing images of northwest Montana’s rugged, snow-covered landscapes, and generated hundreds of thousands of impressions on social media.

The KCVB also targeted outdoor enthusiasts in the San Francisco Bay Area through Facebook advertising, including carousel ads on both mobile and desktop newsfeeds. These digital efforts garnered over one million total impressions and generated nearly 3,000 link clicks to the campaign’s website.

The biggest development, however, occurred just after the campaign’s conclusion in February 2017, when United Airlines and Glacier Park International Airport announced expanded daily commercial air service to and from San Francisco for July through September 2017. The KCVB credits the success of the campaign in-part for the decision by United to expand its flight offerings to the area.

“I think it’s a huge testament to see the confidence United had to expand the flight beyond the two-month trial period,” said Lufkin. “We hope to see it continue to grow, and maybe even become a new year-round direct service.”

Another rewarding moment for the KCVB came when it learned it won a Communications Excellence Best in Show award from the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives at the group’s annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee in July 2017.

“As a smaller chamber in a smaller market, we were thrilled to be recognized, even just as one of the finalists,” said Diane Medler, director of the chamber’s convention and visitor bureau. “When we found out we won Best in Show, we were just over the moon.”

Medler says the KCVB has continued to build on the winter campaign’s success with a spring and summer campaign. She says the key to launching a successful destination campaign as a smaller-sized chamber is to “be targeted and strategic” in your communications.

“You can’t be everything to everyone, and you have to decide who your audience is and what results you hope to achieve,” said Medler. “If you’re more targeted, then you’re ultimately going to be more successful, because your message will amplify and resonate within that group.”

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