The Tourism Board is tasked with marketing the city of 6,200 using funds garnered from the city’s lodging tax, which levels a 4 percent tax on traditional hotels and short-term rentals, such as Airbnbs.
The board has seen pushback over their mission, with some attendees at prior meetings demanding the board’s portion of the tax revenue — amounting to $120,000 in 2018 — be spent on projects targeting the needs of Hudson residents.
The board’s mission is to “establish the City of Hudson as a preferred destination in the Hudson Valley, while embracing smart growth and enhancing the economy and the quality of life for all Hudson residents,” according to the Request for Proposals (RFP).
The board, in part, is focusing on attracting visitors mid-week and in the off-season, as well as keeping tourists in the city longer, making Hudson more of a vacation spot than a weekend getaway.
The board’s eight members have whittled down the original group of advertising companies responding to their RFP down to four, three of which gave hour-and-a-half presentations Friday afternoon about how they would approach marketing the city.
The Orange County marketing company was established in 1997, according to the New York State Department of State (DOS), and counts Dutchess County, the village of Ellenville, and Poughkeepsie’s Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park as customers.
BBG&G was the only company to address in detail the board’s desire to attract mid-week visitors, advocating a “hub and spoke model,” wherein Hudson was the nexus for tourism in the region, serving as a jumping-off point to other destinations and attracting visitors to the city for longer periods.
BBG&G President Deborah Garry and Destination Marketing Manager Traci Suppa had problems connecting their computer to the projector during the presentation, eventually showing their PowerPoint from a laptop.
Branding Hudson was “much more than a logo or a tagline,” Garry said, and their process would “decipher what Hudson’s true essence is.”
This could mean different things to different people, and the company would strive to accurately portray Hudson in its campaign, so visitors’ experiences matched up with what the city was, and what the campaign promised, she said.
It was important to get “buy-in” from residents, Garry added.
The company would begin the process by interviewing stakeholders in the lodging, restaurant and retail industries, as well as everyday Hudson residents. They would also survey visitors and potential visitors, creating different profiles of who visits Hudson.
The company wants to create a destination website and branding that could be used online and in traditional media, Garry said.
Garry and Suppa touted their marketing for Ellenville, a small urban center abutting the Shawangunk Ridge, as a good comparison for what the company could do for Hudson, as the municipalities had many similarities.
Tourism Board member Ted Gramkow asked if the board would need staff to implement BBG&G’s plan once it is devised.
In Ellenville’s case, BBG&G implemented the strategy, Garry said, but the website BBG&G created failed to be regularly updated by the municipality once the company’s contract ended and fell into disrepair.
Board member Jamie Smith Quinn surmised Hudson would need to continue the marketing process once the contract ended, something the Tourism Board — which is all-volunteer and meets once a month — would be able to do.
This might necessitate hiring someone.
“Whatever money we have, it’s not enough,” Quinn said.
Garry and Suppa touted their location in the Hudson Valley and their experience handling municipal and county marketing campaigns when arguing their company should receive the contract.
The Manhattan-based marketing company was established in 2011, according to the DOS, and counts numerous metropolitan health care organizations in its client roster, including Northern Westchester Hospital and Staten Island University Hospital Northwell Health. It also worked for Gazprom International, the global branch of the Russian state-owned natural has giant Gazprom.
“We’ll be here a lot,” McLarin said.
During his opening pitch, McLarin noted one of the possible positives of their campaign would be to raise property values for residents, which elicited a chorus of laughter from the board due to recent events.
Representatives of Fifteen Degrees mostly focused on their marketing campaign for Westchester County, where the company has worked for more than two years.
Fifteen Degrees started the “Welcome to Bestchester” campaign, which focused on making the county a destination for those within 90 miles.
The company shot 500-plus hours of video around the county during all four seasons, creating a long-form video to place in the new county website they launched, as well as producing numerous short videos for targeted advertising via social media, McLarin said.
The company also created more than 100 Instagram pages and expanded the county’s profile on Google Maps by shooting 360 pictures for its street-view map.
Westchester spent less than $150,000 a year for these services, according to Fifteen Degree Co-Founder Richard Clarke.
However, Hudson’s campaign would be more concentrated, with McLarin saying “there’s no reason” it can’t be completed within 12 weeks.
The company touted the amount of engagement their marketing materials got online. Over six months in 2018, the various “Bestchester” videos received 825,000 views, MacLarin said.
However, the board asked if Fifteen Degrees had any data on how this online engagement translated to real-world results, such as stays at hotels.
Most of the information about increased visits were anecdotal evidence from hotel owners, McLarin said, adding many hotels in Westchester were corporate chains that refused to share most of their data, though he suggested he might be able to get further information from the hotels for the Tourism Board if they signed non-disclosure agreements.
The board needed to validate spending the tax dollars on a marketing company by proving its efficacy, Gramkow said, adding it may be up to the board to get this data, but they had not so far come up with a good way of doing this.
Fifteen Degrees also presented an initial idea for the campaign — “Small Enough to ____ – Large Enough to ___ — wherein the blanks would be filled in with unique activities in Hudson and the greater region.
Neo Design Group was created in 1997 and is based in Manhattan. Many of its clients are in the financial industry, such as Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse and JP Morgan Chase, but the company has also done marketing campaigns for the American Museum of Natural History and The Julliard School.
Eric Teng and Nadia Shen, who made the presentation, live in Hudson.
After research and interviews with Hudson stakeholders and locals, the company would create a digital-only campaign that “resonates with residents, businesses and visitors alike,” Teng said.
The campaign would include a new Visit Hudson website, targeted advertising on Instagram and Facebook, and different online guides for people seeking various vacation experiences.
The company also wanted to use “social media influencers” to help promote the city — individuals with large followings on Instagram or other sites.
Neo could engage local influencers to post about the city and integrate their posts into the city’s own social media sites, Teng said.
The company also wanted to create audio ads for Spotify and NPR.
Teng admitted Neo has never done a tourism campaign but said “it doesn’t scare or deter us.”
“[This] doesn’t change the approach, Shen said. “The process is the process.”
The company would need the city to continue to create content once the campaign was launched, Teng said.
“All we need is one (person), maybe two, not necessarily full-time,” he said, or the city could pay Neo a retainer to do it.
The board again noted it was volunteer-only and had a limited budget.
RFPs for the branding consultant were sent out in mid-November, seeking a contract with a consultant to “assist the (Tourism) Board in developing a tourism branding and marketing strategy that encompasses strategic research and analysis, development of a competitive identity, brand strategy and marketing strategy.”
The Tourism Board is funded by the lodging tax. Annually, fifty percent of the first $250,000 raised by the tax goes to the board, 25 percent of the next $250,000, and ten percent of any money raised above $500,000, though the board can receive no more than $250,000 a year from the tax.
The board received $120,000 in 2018, and should receive just over $137,000 this year, according to Hudson’s 2019 budget. Board members voted in April to transfer $20,000 to the Common Council Finance Committee so the money can be used to fund city events, such as parades.
Correction: An earlier version of this article mis-stated the maximum the Tourism Board could receive from the lodging tax. It is $250,000, not $500,000.
Afterword: The Brand of Re-Branding
No one likes being branded.