The winning Queen City PR Award 2018 entry for DK Communications Group in the Budget/Solo Practitioner category read this way:
Will writers rumble along country roads and watch cattle graze in search of chicken stew and a medicinal flower garden? That’s what Susan Dosier of DK Communications Group wanted to know after landing The Olde English District as a client with independent Martin Armes. Media analysis found slim coverage in Ft Mill and tiny towns south of Charlotte. Vouching for the barbecue, pimento cheese and colorful characters, Susan and her client hosted six media on an overnight, 200-mile road trip to 13 destinations resulting in 13 stories, three television segments, two national placements, and 233K social media shares.
SITUATIONAL ANALYSIS: In early 2018, DK Communications Group and Martin Armes, a Raleigh independent contractor, teamed up to provide media relations for Olde English District and Old 96 Tourism District. The two clients cover 10 mostly rural counties, south of Charlotte, east to Chester, SC and west to the SC line. Boundaries extend almost to Columbia and Greenville SC. The retainer of $850/month offered to DK Communications Group was small, based on the time and skill needed. “I accepted the contract so I could offer fresh, new content to my media tribe and extend my NC tourism portfolio into SC. The challenge? Neither Martin or I knew the area. The opportunity? It MIGHT be a gem in the rough—one to leverage to existing media contacts with an eye on budget.” -Susan
Research Combo: Primary Research and Introductions, Web-based Media Analysis
Martin and I made a deep dive with a four-day “immersion” tour of both districts to kick off the contract. Neither of us had traveled here, despite the Olde English District’s inclusion of Rock Hill and York, SC, just south of Charlotte. The Olde English District (OED) immersion yielded surprising results. While I’d heard of a few restaurants, I hadn’t tasted their food. With notes on twenty-four pages of a yellow legal pad at the end of the visit, Martin and I brainstormed coverage angles. I heard myself say, ‘Charlotte media doesn’t know about the tourism inventory here—at least I don’t think so.’ I was thrilled with the caliber of authentic food choices and the stories I heard from OED restaurateurs and experts as they discussed South Carolina hash, chicken stew, medicinal gardens, a new cidery, new breweries, ancient Catawba Indian pottery and more. Much of the food (and its story) wasn’t fancy. The authenticity, quality and depth captured my imagination. But would it capture media attention?
I got home and started media analysis (secondary research), examining whether interest in cider/brewery coverage had started to wane (it hadn’t), and revisiting the restaurant coverage in the Charlotte press. I learned: One of the most lauded Rock Hill SC chefs had been covered primarily as a member the Charlotte Soul Sessions team; and Rock Hill, York and Lancaster as destinations (or even cute downtowns) had been covered minimally or not at all since the departure of Charlotte Observer travel writer John Bordsen. With the Charlotte DMA the largest major metropolitan feeder market to this area, it made sense to leverage the city’s media assets for this client.
Media friends from across NC had messaged interest as I posted to social feeds during the immersion trip. From past experience, I knew that Charlotte was more likely to focus on Rock Hill or Ft. Mill. I didn’t know if they’d go further. So, I asked three Charlotte media colleagues (newspaper writer, TV contributor and blogger) what they thought. I learned:
A) Information offered to them needed to be in offered in a manageable time frame.
B) The trip must be affordable; many of the media doing popular local blogs worked other jobs and were paid minimally for the writing.
C) A genuine hunger and curiosity existed.
After discussing findings with Martin, we decided to divide and conquer. Martin would work on media visits and visitation for the other partner while I would devote 2.5 months (I’d already used half of a month on the immersion and research) of my retainer to developing and hosting a familiarization tour for Charlotte writers, bloggers and influencers for the Olde English District.
Our goal was to land meaningful social, buzz and media coverage quickly for this new client in previously untapped Charlotte area outlets. We would measure our success by media placements and social reach.
The research shaped our planning in a profound way:
We decided on a much shorter tour with only one overnight stay—most tours of this kind include two to four nights—to attract in-demand guests. We’d overnight in Rock Hill, SC (a new Fairfield Inn & Suites showcased the latest innovations from that chain) and allow media to sample and explore firsthand on a whirlwind schedule covering 200 miles. To entice media to a relatively unknown experience (not the fancy restaurant, wine-glass clinking events many have as a baseline), we limited the group size. We filled one van and the client would follow in a car with our guests rotating in and out of that car to allow her one-on-one time with them. I made sure the most of the guests knew and liked each other, and I targeted four people whose social media volume would vibrate across Charlotte and garner notice. We named the event the #OEDRoadTrip and requested that hashtag across all posts. During the invitation process, I learned that one of my favorite media colleagues living between Asheville and Florida would be in the area. I couldn’t resist adding her to the group, knowing the quality of her contributions to nationally respected TravelPulse.com and the Orlando Sentinel. It was a fortuitous invitation. The Charlotte participants loved her, and the story she sold to TravelPulse was later picked up by MSNOnline.
To make every stop count, we invited area “makers” to join us at two meals. PuckerButt Pepper Co (home to the world’s hottest pepper, sanctioned by our friends at Guinness World Records) joined us one morning for breakfast and brought his hot sauce. Benford Brewing’s owner joined us at a bbq restaurant which also served his beers. We designed the itinerary and put together a media notebook given to them upon arrival so that media would have one document with every contact, every address, every name. Gift bags were placed in the hotel room with locally made products available in the OED Visitor Center Gift Shop.
The resulting two-day trip spanned 200 miles, stopped at 13 destinations and included six food/travel media, influencer and blogger participants.
$2,127.23 spent by client for meals, transportation, and rooms.
+$2,550.00 my retainer across the exploration/research, planning and tour
Notes: My husband (and business partner), a full-time journalist in the agricultural trade press, agreed to drive the van for us; he still has a few pitches out to some of his long-lead publications. One partner comped media meals, and that is not reflected in total. (I did not count him as a media attendee.)
Evaluation: By The Numbers
We evaluated the trip based on media placements and social impact.
622K Estimated impressions made by stories per CoverageBook.com
Visit our #OEDRoadTrip CoverageBook#OEDRoadTrip CoverageBook and click through to the placements: https://dkcommunicationsgroup.coveragebook.com/b/7f6aee8c
13 Online placements, including four Charlotte Five posts, TravelPulse.com (national travel and industry site), MSN.com
2.3K Social shares of media stories
3 WCNC Charlotte Today television segments featuring a destination or product made/sold in OED
1 Ballantyne Magazine print story has been sent to editor and will appear this fall (long-lead)
109 Instagram story posts. Two top influencers shared analytics: One generated 4,414
impressions for the entire trip. Another generated 3,484 impressions in the first four hours.
18 Facebook posts (most to promote online posts) and Twitter posts
41 Average domain rank of placement outlets, offering great SEO to client site via 7 links to site
96 Domain authority of MSN.com, which picked up the TravelPulse story (100 is highest)
The client was thrilled—and so were the destination partners! Martin and I began calling this the fam tour that “keeps on giving.” One of the television spots landed just last week, and there’s still a fall print story to post in Ballantyne Magazine and in Charlotte Parent Magazine. I have never managed a tour where a participant was pitching their editor from the van, in between stops. (A PR fantasy!)
What made it work? The clear mission focus based on the research and discussions with editors in advance; the short time frame which forced efficient thinking; careful selection of group members based on their outlets, skills and personalities; and an eye and passion for the destination (overlooked in the past) full of unique people and stories.
Thank you for joining our tour! – Susan Dosier