The marketing of Los Alamos

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County > Multi-tiered effort raises visibility

By Arin McKenna

In today’s adversarial and competitive environment, public relations and marketing are key components of every county and municipality’s structure.

Los Alamos County also has its team of staff and contractual experts who not only convey information but promote the county in a range of markets.

Communications and Public Relations Administrator Julie Habiger leads the county’s efforts with regard to media relations, public affairs and information, and community relations. One of her more visible roles is keeping residents informed about such things as public meetings, county projects and ballot initiatives.

Marketing Specialist Kelly Stewart executes marketing and public relations plans for economic development, tourism and the overall image of the county. Stewart also serves as film liaison, plans and implements special events.

Stewart is also liaison to the Lodgers Tax Advisory Board (LTAB) and oversees the two marketing and tourism contractors funded by the lodger’s tax. Those are the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation (LACDC), which oversees both of the county’s visitor Centers, and Griffin & Associates, the firm hired to promote Los Alamos to outside markets.

It is common practice among both local and state governments to hire a marketing firm with the resources to promote the area on a more global scale. At one time the marketing contract was held by HK Advertising, the same firm that handles the regional marketing for New Mexico.

When Stewart was hired in 2005, LACDC held the contract for both the visitor centers and the marketing. Shortly afterward, LTAB decided it wanted to separate the two, and put out a request for proposals for marketing.

The board selected Griffin out of a half dozen proposals, and has continued to select the company over competitors every time its three-year contract comes up for renewal.

“Griffin has consistently come in with the best proposal to meet our needs, which is really to reach out to the rest of the state and beyond, to get our presence out in the tourism marketplace and bring visitors to Los Alamos,” Stewart said.

A good marketing firm provides manpower, expertise and technology far beyond what the county could manage on its own, officials said.

Griffin has at least five people with various areas of expertise promoting the county in a range of venues.

The company has its finger on the pulse of state tourism, and helps the county vie for state marketing dollars and promotions, according to the county.

“For example, there was like a radio road show promotion. Griffin has relationships with KKOB, and got us that radio broadcast up here, with placement on their webpage, placement in sound bites on their radio program and that kind of thing. That had coverage during certain times of day as far as California because people stream the broadcast,” Stewart said.

Griffin keeps a presence at events such as the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, where they join forces with Bandelier National Monument, next to the State marketing booth. The company provides maps and visitor guides and creates individualized day trip itineraries to encourage people to visit Los Alamos after the mass ascension.

“So they take full advantage of what’s out there. They pick up on things I would not be able to normally. I’d have to be on the road half the time doing the kinds of outreach they do. They’re an extension of where we just can’t possibly be,” Stewart said.

Griffin also uses state-of-the-art marketing software such as Vocus and PRWeb to send out press releases, which it develops with Stewart and various organizations around town. Stewart said that with the current budget restrictions this type of marketing has taken a larger role than print or radio advertising, although Griffin handles that as well.

Vocus is a public relations software program capable of reaching 1.4 million reporters throughout the world, including the Associated Press, bloggers and alternative news sources the county might not be able to connect with otherwise. The software costs $15,000 annually.

PRWeb boasts “250,000 subscribers, thousands of news sites and 30,000 journalists and bloggers.”
The county works with Griffin to tailor their press releases to target audiences, mainly through a regional list with an 800-mile radius and an “A-list” that reaches 1,395 contacts, including radio, TV, magazines and print media.

The A-list reaches outlets such as Chicago Tribune, Cowboys and Indians Magazine, NY Times, CNN.com, Conde Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Sunset Magazine, Travel and Leisure, Outside magazine, Oprah magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, Star Tribune, Time, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.

Griffin also markets to more targeted audiences, such as sports editors for events such as Atomic Man Duathlon and Pajarito Punishment.

The company has social media experts who help keep the Los Alamos Travel Insider Facebook page updated, encourage locals and visitors alike to post comments and photos during events and devise social media campaigns.

They also conduct workshops for local organizations to teach them how to utilize social networking to maximize their exposure.

According to Stewart, the firm often exceeds the county’s expectations with efforts such as providing referrals or soliciting advertising to pay for the visitors guide when LTAB was short on funds to update it.

“So they’re always looking at our best interests, and have the time, just by virtue of what they do–they’re out and about more than we can ever be,” Stewart said. “So they’ve come along with us in the contract process and have said, ‘we’ll work with whatever we have, we’ll do the best we can do and get the best return on investment we can.’ So they’ve been a good partner.”