Hicks on Biz: Spend your marketing money on made-in-Edmonton BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: THURSDAY, JUNE 29, 2017
We get it – sort of.
The City of Edmonton/Edmonton Economic Development/Edmonton Tourism/Alberta Tourism spend millions of dollars on “marketing” our fair city – striving to create an impression out in the world that Edmonton is a most enjoyable place to visit and live.
Those very-well-done, fast-paced, colourful, Edmonton-is-fun TV ads that ran during Oiler telecasts during the 2016/17 season represent “brand” marketing for Edmonton.
The ads reached a big, targeted audience outside Edmonton and presented a pleasing impression of the city. We didn’t mind watching them over and over again. They were quite justifiable in terms of a return on the dollars spent.
Our tourism/marketing folks are big on “brand awareness.” Millions of dollars are being spent to attract and subsidize targeted extreme sporting events to the city — the Red Bull Crashed Ice event, the Extreme World Series, the Tour of Alberta bike race. These events, our tourism experts claim, build Edmonton’s external image as a hip, youth-oriented city.
But here’s the rub: The current marketing mind-set turns its back on the made-in-Edmonton festivals that have given the city its reputation as Festival City.
The Fringe, Heritage Days, Edmonton Folk Festival, Taste of Edmonton and so on are being passed over in favour of a policy that, at its worst, produced an event like the Red Bull Crashed Ice.
Crashed Ice came and went in three days, gave the city a few seconds of national/international exposure, had no community partnerships, cost $500,000 in taxpayer sponsorship and free-of-charge services. Then Crashed Ice decided not to come back.
Meanwhile our not-for-profit festivals, which run on tiny budgets yet have tangible economic benefits, keep being financially squeezed. (That being said, kudos to the city for coming up with an interim solution to cost-share city transit, policing and other civic services with the festivals.)
Here’s a proposition.
Stop chasing international “extreme” sporting events that come and go. Re-direct those tourism marketing dollars and creativity: Spend those millions working with the major made-in-Edmonton festivals to re-invent their own images.
Once the images are updated, create a national/international campaign around those major home-grown festivals – a campaign that would continue to build the image of Edmonton as hip and youth-oriented – just like the city ads that ran during the Oiler games.
Do it properly, starting with cold, hard numbers. Determine which festivals, cultural and sporting events actually put, as the hospitality industry says, bums in beds. Downplay arguments based on social benefits, if only because every organization has social reasons to justify funding.
There’s never been such a thorough survey — nobody’s had the dollars. The festivals themselves come up with questionable numbers based on inexpensive and inadequate surveys.
It’s self-evident that Garth Brooks’ nine shows attracted thousands of out-of-town visitors. No question the annual Canadian Finals Rodeo or Eskimos-Roughriders football games put thousands of bums in hotel beds.
But how many Heritage Days visitors come from out of town? How many stay in hotels (as opposed to bunking down with relatives)? How many eat out? What kind of direct economic impact does the Fringe actually have? How about the Edmonton Folk Festival? How about the triathlon? How about The Brick’s Invitational Hockey Tournament?
Get a baseline on reality – let’s find out which events/festivals currently create serious tourist dollars. The hotels pay a hotel room tax that finances many tourism initiatives. What are they getting in return?
Once the Edmonton tourism people know what’s actually going out there, rigourously determine which festivals have the potential to attract more tourists (economic benefit) and which ones would best serve the city’s marketing goals (brand and exposure).
Take the same budget that’s currently hyping and purchasing drop-in events, move it over to build world-class marketing of that which we have.