New Orleans Tourism To Launch $5 Million Advertising Campaign: “This Isn’t The First Time New Orleans Has Survived The British.”

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The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) plans to launch a rapid-fire public relations and advertising campaign across major US markets starting Friday, June 18 — burning through its $5 million share of a $15 million tourism check written to Louisiana by BP on May 17, within five weeks.

An emphasis will be placed on separating New Orleans in the public imagination from the disaster afflicting the Louisiana coast. One campaign slogan will say: “This isn’t the first time New Orleans has survived the British.”

New Orleans Tourism — Anti-British Campaign

Advertising sample, courtesy CVB/Peter Mayer

The ad campaign has been coordinated through the CVB’s global public relations firm Weber Shandwick and New Orleans-based advertising company Peter Mayer.

We’re a momentum driven business, and that’s why this oil disaster could not have come at a worse time,” said CVB President Steve Perry, introducing the ad campaign to a meeting of about 100 members of his organization at its headquarters on St.Charles Avenue last Tuesday, June 8. Gambit is a member of the organization.

Perry unveiled a poster showing New Orleans’ distinctive St. Louis Cathedral, with the anti-British slogan underneath it — a statue of Andrew Jackson, the general who repelled the British from New Orleans in 1814, graces St. Louis.

“You can’t just say we’re open, come,” said Perry, explaining the advertising concept. “You have to acknowledge it. It’s sorta like the poster with the family in front of the shark tank at the aquarium after Katrina, saying we’re pleased to report that this is the only part of New Orleans that’s still under water.”

Perry also distributed a list of “key messages” to members of the city’s hospitality industry at the meeting, which stressed: “All of the things that visitors come to enjoy in New Orleans remain unchanged by the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf.”

“You’ve got to be deeply honest about this, saying this breaks our hearts, it’s literally a gut-wrenching, horrible catastrophe,” said Perry. “…that’s the same distance away from us that Philadelphia is from New York. And that’s the second part.”

“Every time you talk, run your dual message,” Perry encouraged.

The TV campaign will roll at prime time as early as this coming weekend on major networks in Atlanta, Houston, Dallas Fort Worth, Memphis, Chicago and Austin. There are also paper ad buys planned in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and in alternative weeklies across the Southern states, starting Friday, June 18.

New Orleans Tourism — Breakdown of Advertising Spending

Breakdown of advertising spending.

The CVB had already planned a $3 million campaign to promote New Orleans this summer unrelated to the BP disaster, but has shelved that campaign for the time being, says Perry.

Conventions and tourism have generated $600 million a month for the New Orleans economy in the first five months of 2010.

“So if business drops off 10 percent for the next eight months, we’re looking at half a billion dollars out of pocket,” Perry says.

Conventions and tourism draw $5 billion to New Orleans, annually, and the industry employs 70,000 people. Perry estimates that a 10 percent business loss could mean 7,000 to 8,000 job losses for the industry over the coming months.

“The $5 million [from BP] is very deeply appreciated,” Perry told the crowd last Tuesday. “But it is going to be relatively short-lived. There’s going to have to be a phase two ask.”

The campaign includes a $1 million public relations push — a member of the CVB’s public relations team told the room last week that her team had spoken with Rachel Maddow’s producers at NBC, for example, when Maddow described the city as “the big greasy” recently.

Media coverage of the disaster on NBC Nightly News is running at 12 to 17 minutes a night, Perry added. “That’s 9/11, that’s more than Katrina level of coverage.”

Of the $15 million tourism check written by BP on May 17 to Louisiana, the remaining $10 million will be divided equally between the state and coastal parishes. Alabama also got $15 million for tourism spending from the oil company, while Florida got $25 million, and rushed to market last month with a “Coast Is Clear” TV advertising campaign.

“They’ve already been pulled down,” said Perry last week, referring to the Florida ads. “That’s the problem when you go heavy into TV. The story keeps changing.”

Another slogan being considered for use in the New Orleans campaign was “in times of stress, we eat.” But the word “stressed” has since been ruled out as too negative. The CVB has also added a line under the anti-British slogan, saying that "our friends from England" are particularly welcome following the oil disaster — to mitigate any possible offense.

Gambit met with Perry at his office last Friday, June 11, to hear more about the campaign. On Perry’s desk sits a statue of a tiger jumping out of a wave — the tiger is the mascot of its owner’s alma mater, Lousiana State University.

On the office wall, near a photo of Perry shaking hands with Ronald Reagan, there’s a framed copy of a Times Picayune article about Perry’s decision to quit former Governor Bernie Foster’s office for the CVB in 2002. Perry was instrumental in persuading the New Orleans Saints football team to stay in New Orleans at the turn of the millennium, and he lured the Hornets basketball team to the city from Charlotte, says the framed piece.

“We have a difficult two-part tourism message to manage,” Perry told Gambit. “As far as the physical effects go, New Orleans is completely unscathed. But because every TV crew and anchor is reporting from here — you’ve got CNN, Anderson Cooper and James Carville standing on the river here at Woldenberg Park — and what that does is it sends a message to the world that associates us by inference, and that poses a problem for us.”

2010 was looking to be a breakthrough year for New Orleans tourism, before the disaster hit. Hotel room tax revenues in April were up 16 percent on last year, when the recession slightly slowed a steady recovery from the loss of business since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

New Orleans Tourism — Comparison Of April Room Tax Revenues

Comparison of 1 percent Room Tax Revenues for April, 2004-2010, statistics courtesy CVB.

According to a study commissioner by the CVB for the first five months of 2010, New Orleans was second in the country after Boston in growth of revenue per available room — a key measure of demand for tourism services.

“For us, we’re not a modern corporate American city like Atlanta,” Perry says. “Our businesses are international trade in shipping, tourism and hospitality, and oil and gas. So we’ve gotten two of the three in serious trouble.”

We were just on the road of recovery from the Katrina mindset, and now there’s a twin set of worries,” he continues. “Which is why the need for marketing dollars right now is so critical.”

—Matt Davis

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