Thanks to some additional funding, Visit Sarasota County amped up its advertising of the area before the summer.
At the request of Visit Sarasota County, the Sarasota County Commission allocated an additional $769,500 to the organization at its April 23 meeting. The financial support came out of the Tourist Development Tax funds.
Visit Sarasota targeted Atlanta and Chicago, said Erin Duggan, director of brand, because airports in those cities have direct flights to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
In July, the organization placed two banners and smaller ads in the terminals in the Delta-served concourses A and B of the Atlanta International Airport. Visit Sarasota held a four-week contest on Twitter featuring the hashtag #SendMetoSarasota, and the winning tweets were put on the banners.
This past winter in Chicago, Visit Sarasota wallpapered a carriage car on the L-train with a Sarasota blue sky and ads for other attractions in Sarasota. Visit Florida, the tourism and marketing bureau for the state, was the umbrella organization that helped secure four car advertisements on the L-train showcasing Florida destinations such as Orlando and Panama City.
In addition, Visit Sarasota marketed Sarasota in several other locations this summer. The Orlando Premium Outlets features Sarasota banner ads, and the city of Philadelphia is home to outdoor billboards.
Visit Sarasota was a primary sponsor of Broadway in Bryant Park, a theater festival in Manhattan, N.Y., and of the Tanglewood Music Festival in the Berkshires region of Massachusetts. Both festivals had a Sarasota display.
These away-from-home strategies increase Sarasota County brand awareness in people’s minds, Duggan said.
The next step is not necessarily for people to look up the URL listed on the ads, Duggan said. When people are in transit during the day they might not visit the specific URL, but they might Google Sarasota later.
First, the organization wants people to associate Sarasota with Florida, and then that Sarasota is on the Gulf of Mexico.
“I know a lot of people in state, when I say to them, ‘I live in Sarasota County,’ they say to me, is that the east coast or the west coast?” Duggan said.
The organization receives many calls from people who get Sarasota confused with Saratoga, N.Y., she said.
Despite this year’s push, Visit Sarasota’s budget faces a $1 million cut in the coming fiscal year. But that doesn’t mean the organization will let up on its marketing strategy. The cuts will mean negotiating better deals and finding better opportunities to fit its economical stance and trying to complete more tasks in-house.
“We always, internally, want to out-do what we did the year before,” Duggan said. “Our biggest competition is ourselves.”
Duggan couldn’t say what else Visit Sarasota is considering for the coming year, because the next fiscal year won’t start for a few more weeks, but the organization is planning to wrap the inside of the Chicago train car again, she said.
“We’re already coming up with some great ideas for things that we’re going to be able to do this year to try to take the stage that we set this year and raise it to the next level,” Duggan said.