Navigating COVID-19 in Putnam CountyKelli Steele
About Our Guest
Kelli Steele, Executive Director at Putnam County Convention and Visitors Bureau, joins the Destination Marketing Podcast to discuss some of the ways that she is navigating the coronavirus pandemic in her destination. Listen and learn about some of the unique challenges she faces as a small CVB, and how collaboration with others in the industry has helped her navigate these uncertain times.
"We don't know what the future is going to hold, but what can we do right now, and what makes the most sense to do next? We just try things, pay attention to the metrics, see what people are responding to and what they're not, and make the next right decision based on what we know right now." -Kelli Steele on making decisions during the coronavirus pandemic
- Name: Adam Stoker
- Position: Co-founder and CEO of Relic Agency
- Favorite Destination: Fiji
- Dream Destination: New Zealand
- Name: Kelli Steele
- Position: Executive Director at Putnam County Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Favorite Destination: Santa Fe, New Mexico
- Dream Destination: The Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest or Europe
- Kelli got her bachelor’s degree from Marshall University in West Virginia where she currently still resides. With an advertising degree and a marketing minor, her first job out of college was at a PR firm. Then, she worked in the marketing department at an industrial company. Becoming restless with her work, she freelanced as a graphic designer and photographer and soon built a small business working as a one-woman marketing department for other organizations. She ran the business for 12 years and worked from home.
- After 12 years of working from home and raising kids, she became restless again. That’s when the job at the Putnam County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau opened up and fit her experience and desires perfectly.
- She learned everything she could about the tourism industry and received TMP certification from the Southeast Tourism Society’s Marketing College.
- Kelli has a group text message with other CVBs nearby and they started doing weekly Zoom meetings to share ideas and information.
- Kelli shared a free software program called Visme she used to create an infographic for her website to identify what restaurants had dine-in, takeout, carryout, etc.
- She and her friends also collaborated to create an Instagram account called WV Metro Valley where they highlight and talk about things to do on Route 60. They call it the “Route 60 Ramble.” It’s the perfect way to show people what’s right in their backyard.
- In April, Kelli created a marketing plan amendment for COVID-19. She paused all marketing efforts and focused to see what people were going to do next. When outdoors became a popular topic, she took some collateral pieces her area was already working on and took better photos and videos to make the marketing pieces even better.
- During that time, she also added more digital marketing to her mix including display ads, retargeting, and social media specifically targeted toward drive markets four hours or less away from her destination.
- She bought a GoPro! Creating new things to better the customer experience doesn’t have to be hard. She put the camera on her car’s dashboard and did timelapses of how to get to trailheads that are hard to find. She walks and hikes with it. It’s a great tool for social media, websites, and more.
- One act of recovery that Kelli is working on is collaborating with venues that hosted one of the many sports tournaments in the area before COVID-19. She is working to partner with them for sports marketing in 2022. Thinking about the long game in this way is important.
- In the next six months, Kelli will continue these strategies of new content creation, digital advertising, and regional and state collaboration focusing on outdoor recreation messages.
Resources Mentioned in the Podcast
Kelli Steele: I think just looking at you can say, “Okay, we don’t know what the future’s going to hold, but what can we do right now.” What makes the most sense to do next? We just try things, pay attention to the metrics, see what people are responding to and what they’re not, and just make the next right decision based off of what we know right now. Just keep moving forward.
Adam Stoker: 00:20 Okay, everybody, we’ve been talking about recovery for a while now. My team at Relic has been working on recovery campaigns for several destinations over the last couple of months. They’ve actually developed a pretty amazing, we’ll call it an algorithm, to know when it’s safe to do acquisition marketing in a market. What I mean by that is, you’ve got government regulations, you’ve got, how is the virus affecting that market? Whether there’s been a decrease in cases or a decrease in deaths in that market. When is it safe to advertise, hey, come to our destination.
Like I said, our team has come up with this algorithm to provide that information for you. And we’re offering a free market report, we’re calling it Recovery Triggers. If you’d like a free Recovery Trigger report for your target market where you want to draw visitors from, please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can go to recoverytriggers.relicagency.com, and we’ll get you set up with a free report. We even have the ability to send you a weekly recurring report so you can see what’s happening in that market on a weekly basis, and make sure you’re launching your acquisition campaign at the perfect time.
Adam Stoker: 01:39 Welcome, everyone, to another episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast. I’m your host, Adam Stoker. I’m excited to be with you today. We’ve got a great show for you today. I’ve reached out to someone that I haven’t interacted with before, and she agreed to be on the show. We really appreciate it. Her name is Kelli Steele, and she is the executive director of the Putnam County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Kelli, welcome to the show today.
Kelli Steele: Thanks, Adam. I’m super excited to be here.
Adam Stoker: 02:06 Well, we’re excited to have you. You’re all the way across the country from us in West Virginia. I’m excited to hear how you’re navigating the tourism challenges of today. We appreciate you joining us, and it’ll be a fun conversation today.
Kelli Steele: Thank you.
Adam Stoker: 02:24 Well, if you’ve listened to the show, you know that we have a couple of icebreaker questions we like to ask at the very beginning, and you’re going to be no different. We really want to know, if you could go anywhere in the world, Kelli, where would it be?
Kelli Steele: 02:37 There are so many places I still want to travel to. High on my list are the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest. I have been out West some, but I have not seen those things, so I’m super, super excited to get out West a little more and explore the other half of the country. Then, I’d also love to go to Europe, but I have to admit that most of my travel dreams include food. And so I just want to go and eat all the pastries and pasta. I mean I’d like to see the sights too, but food is a big thing for me, and so when I think of Europe, I think of some beautiful scenery and then all of the food.
Adam Stoker: 03:19 Oh, that’s great. I’m going to go back to your Rocky Mountain desire there, because I might be biased being in Utah. I could help you plan a pretty amazing trip to the Rocky Mountains. So, we’ll have to collaborate on that one.
Kelli Steele: Yeah, that sounds great.
Adam Stoker: 03:36 Well, tell me a little bit about your desire for the Pacific Northwest. What is the draw? I obviously understand the Rocky Mountain draw. What’s the draw or the appeal of the Pacific Northwest that kind of calls to you?
Kelli Steele: 03:49 I think I love the evergreen forests. West Virginia is beautiful and green, and we have these amazing mountains, but it’s mostly deciduous and I really enjoy being outdoors and exploring all the plant life. It’s a little nerdy, but true. Any time I see photographs of hikes or landscapes in the Pacific Northwest, I just think, “I would love to get my feet out there.”
Adam Stoker: Oh man, yeah. The outdoor aspect of the Pacific Northwest is unbelievable. I’ve driven through parts of Washington and Oregon. As I drove through, I’m thinking, “This should be my destination, not my pass-through here,” as I’m going through it because it really is just beautiful.
Kelli Steele: Yes, I agree.
Adam Stoker: Great, okay. Europe, it’s mostly the food, but you might see some sights along the way.
Kelli Steele: Yes, correct.
Adam Stoker: Any sights, in particular, that would distract you from the food for a short period of time?
Kelli Steele: 04:54 Oh my goodness. I mean the cliffs and pools in Iceland, and I don’t know. I mean, I have not been to Europe, so I just want to see it all. Cities —there are plenty of cities. I’d love to visit, Geneva, Switzerland, and oh my goodness, Greece. Greece is not a city. I am aware it’s a country. There’s just so much about the architecture, the history, and the culture that I would love to experience. Someday I’ll get there.
Adam Stoker: Sounds like you’re a little bit of a Europe generalist, that you’d like to just see it all. You want to take it all in. You’re not going on one specific type of trip. You want to see it all.
Kelli Steele: 05:42 Yeah. I mean, I feel like for my first trip, I need to get an overview before I go really drill down and get into the specifics, so I would be your quintessential tourist and see as much as I could the first time or two. Then I’d love to go back and really find some specific places that I could spend a little bit more time in.
Adam Stoker: 06:05 Well, the good news is to see all the places that you mentioned, you’re only going to need a three-month sabbatical to do it. So, should be easy to find the time to get out there and see all that.
Kelli Steele: Yeah, I’ll work on that.
Adam Stoker: Well, Kelli, thank you for sharing that. What about your favorite place you’ve ever actually visited, your favorite trip you’ve ever taken?
Kelli Steele: Yeah, my favorite place I’ve been is Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Adam Stoker: You’re not the first to say Santa Fe. Santa Fe has some real appeal. I’d love to hear about your trip.
Kelli Steele: 06:36 It does. I was out there just for, I think, four or five days. It has a really strong sense of place, which is always really attractive to me when I visit somewhere. It’s great when you can go somewhere, know exactly where you are, and not feel like it could be any other town. The landscape is so different from here. There are mountains, and I love mountains. I love that there’s some interesting topography, but the actual vegetation and the shape of the land is so different from what we have here in West Virginia and all along the East Coast. I love that. I love that there’s so much culture and the food, of course.
Food is a recurring theme with me, but all of the spices, the chilies, and the Southwest culture. The food there was so great. I also love the art in Santa Fe. I walked on Canyon Road and spent an entire day going in and out of all of the art galleries, finding artists that I love, and following them on Instagram. I mean that was my best day ever. It was just walking and walking into art galleries all day. I think it hit all of my favorite things, art, food, and the outdoors. I loved it so much.
Adam Stoker: 07:57 Santa Fe sounds amazing. They’re a pretty unique destination in that they don’t really fit very tightly into the rest of New Mexico as far as New Mexico’s brand. They have a lot of uniqueness to them, I guess, is the best way I can describe it. Was there anything that you saw when you were there that you said, “I’m going to go incorporate this into my destination? I’m going to take something from what they’re doing and use it to improve what I’m doing in Putnam County.”
Kelli Steele: 08:29 I did not because when I visited there I had not yet started working in tourism. So, there are things that I think back on now that I’m in the industry. I think about places I’ve traveled to, things that appealed to me, and what I liked and didn’t like. When I was there, since I wasn’t in the industry, I wasn’t really thinking so much about it from a marketing perspective.
Adam Stoker: 08:54 Isn’t that so funny how being in the industry changes the way we travel and the way we look at our trips. I mean, I feel like I’ve ruined travel a little bit for me because it always turns into a research activity, but, man, it sure is a fun industry to be in.
Kelli Steele: It sure is. I love it so much, and I’m very thankful to be working here now.
Adam Stoker: Well, tell me how you ended up here. When you went to Santa Fe, you weren’t yet in the industry. Tell me how you ended up getting in the tourism industry and a little bit of your background before that.
Kelli Steele: 09:31 Sure. I got my bachelor’s degree from Marshall University, which is a college here in West Virginia, in advertising, and I had a minor in marketing. About four years out of college, I worked in a small PR firm and then in a marketing department for an industrial company. After that, I was a little restless, and I began freelancing as a graphic designer and then later as a photographer. I built a small business working as a one-woman marketing department for really small businesses and nonprofit organizations that might not have the budget for a full-service agency. I did that for 12 years. I worked from home.
Adam Stoker: Wow.
Kelli Steele: 10:12 Yeah. Worked from home, had two kids. I was able to work from home while my children were young, which was great, but after 12 years, I didn’t really want to grow my business at that time into anything larger. I got a little restless. I felt like I had done all I could do in that position. So, I heard about the job at the Putnam County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, where I am now. I had been watching for career opportunities, and this aligned perfectly with my resume and my experience. If you took all of the marketing skills that I’d developed over the years and combined those with the skills I had running my business, accounting, and administrative stuff, it was exactly the kind of job I was looking for.
I had no experience in tourism and very naively thought that it couldn’t be all that much different from marketing nonprofits, healthcare, or the beauty industry, which is what most of my clients were in. I learned within about a month that I really had a whole lot to learn about destination marketing. Looking back, it’s funny because the things that I was nervous about when I took the job, like managing a staff or managing a budget that was larger than my business, were actually really easily transferable to the job I have now. The most challenging was learning the industry.
I mean, it did not take me long to realize I don’t have it all figured out, and I needed some resources. So, I read and listened to everything I could. I made contacts with peers in the industry here. Then, I attended Southeast Tourism Society’s Marketing College to get my TMP Certification. That was incredibly helpful. Through all that, I actually fell in love with the tourism industry and hope to have a long career in the industry. I love it very much.
Adam Stoker: 12:13 Awesome. Well, there’s a lot to unpack in your background because you started with PR. You did graphic design. You did marketing. You have kind of a general marketing skillset that allows you to look holistically at everything your destination is doing. Would you say that’s an accurate description of your background and abilities?
Kelli Steele: 12:37 For sure. I have a little bit of agency experience, which was invaluable, especially right out of college, and then all of those skills that I developed over the year in design, and photography, and even marketing strategy. We’re a very small destination, and I use those skills on a daily — if not daily — weekly basis for sure. I don’t do all of the creative work here, but I’m able to step up in times of need when we’re on a tight deadline or we’re in a budget crunch like right now when every destination is facing these budget challenges. I can really step up and take over or not even take over but take the lead on some things that other people may not be able to. Because we’re so small it feels like I was made to be here for now.
Adam Stoker: That’s great. Your role at Putnam County that we’ve been describing, you’re the executive director of Putnam County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, right?
Kelli Steele: That’s correct, yes.
Adam Stoker: So, what does that entail for you? What does that role mean to you?
Kelli Steele: 13:47 I’m laughing because it means ultimately I’m the one responsible for marketing tourism and Putnam County as a destination, but if you looked at my schedule on any given week, I mean, who knows what I might be doing. I might design an ad. I might be taking photos or videos of an attraction. I’ll be attending board meetings for local nonprofits or meeting where our staff goes over goals and projects, or make updates to the website, or respond to questions on social media. I mean, it’s just whatever needs done in the organization. Then again, we’re just going to pull together and do it because there aren’t many of us here.
It’s me and I have a part-time office manager and a woman who has worked here for a long time. She actually used to be the director before me. She still does some social media management and provides planning support when we have big projects. She works from home, and that’s been immensely helpful, but we’re very tiny. We have to pull together and do whatever it takes to get the job done.
Adam Stoker: 14:56 That’s got to be nice to have somebody that has been in your role before that’s still in the organization you can bounce things off of and make sure that if you encounter a problem you’re not sure if you’re navigating it correctly, you can bounce it off of her. Has that been helpful to you?
Kelli Steele: 15:16 It was and still is helpful. It was incredibly helpful the first year or so when I would be confused or needed some perspective about dynamics in the community or with even decisions that she made. Having her there to understand where the organization had been and where she was leading it before she got here was so helpful, and even now, the institutional knowledge that she has. Even though she purposefully stepped back in her role, she knows so much. So, there’s a lot that I don’t have to explain to her. If we needed to hire someone new for her role, then it would take so much training and time to get them up to speed with all of the things she knows about the area and the organization. So, it’s been great.
Adam Stoker: Yeah, what a great resource to have.
Kelli Steele: Yes. I’m very thankful.
Adam Stoker: 16:11 Well, obviously, we’re going through a unique time here. You need all the help you can get from a historical perspective and from her experience, but walk me through a little bit about just the lifecycle of this COVID-19 crisis for you in Putnam County and the mental and emotional process you’ve gone through over the last four or five months.
Kelli Steele: 16:36 Sure. I think if you’re familiar with the stages of grief, I felt like that maps pretty well with what a lot of us in the industry are experiencing. I was thinking about this today. In the first probably month, I was in a lot of denial like, “It’s not going to last forever. We’ll be back to normal in a couple months. Everything’s going to be fine.” Here we are several months later, and it’s clear that things are not yet back to normal and don’t look like they’ll be normal any time soon. Things are not quite fine yet. They’re just different.
So initially, we spent a lot of time providing information to locals: what restaurants were open, what stores were offering online shopping, and ways that they could stay safe and still support local businesses. We still do some of that. Then, once it became obvious that this wasn’t going to be short-term or things weren’t going to return to normal right away, I wrote an amended marketing plan.
One of the most beneficial things for all of this was I have a group of friends that work in destinations to the east and west of me in the Huntington, Charleston, and Barboursville CBBs here. We have a group text, and we literally talk every day. In the beginning of COVID-19, we would do weekly Zoom meetings where we would just check in with one and other, but also talk about “what are you all doing that works,” “what are you doing that not working,” “what can we do together?” That has been incredibly helpful for my mental wellbeing as it relates to work because I have these supportive, kind friends who check in on each other every day. It’s so helpful just to know you’re not in it alone, frankly.
Adam Stoker: 18:28 I love that. I love that you guys have a group text going on and that you’re touching base every day. Can you tell me a couple of things that have come out of that text string that have specifically helped you? Maybe a piece of advice that you’ve gotten from one of these peers that you’re working with or even if it’s just the emotional support, right? Of somebody that’s going through the same thing. Tell me the biggest benefits you’ve experienced of having that support group.
Kelli Steele: Sure. From a personal perspective, we make each other laugh a lot. We all love The Office, and we share a lot of Office memes or just silly stuff. We’ve actually become quite close friends and so it’s not all —
Adam Stoker: So, the text string is a little inappropriate then. I’m sure we can assume that at this point.
Kelli Steele: 19:19 Maybe slightly, yes, but also good for a lot of laughs. They make me laugh every day. Also, everything from tips to really anything. As an example, I did a chart on our website, which is still up, about what restaurants are offering dine-in, delivery, outdoor dining, and carryout. I did this huge chart, and I found some software that was just especially helpful. So, sharing, “Hey, guys. I made this chart. If you like it, here’s the software I used.”
Adam Stoker: Ooh, what’s the software?
Kelli Steele: Visme, V-I-S-M-E.
Adam Stoker: We’ll post that in the Destination Marketers LinkedIn group and also in the Destination Marketers Slack channel. So, we’ll get that updated.
Kelli Steele: 20:08 Awesome. It’s similar to Canva, but the focus is more on infographics. I loved that. Then another thing that we did was talk about, “okay, what can we do together.” We all know that travelers don’t care about county lines or city lines, and so we worked together on this Instagram account that we created called the WV Metro Valley. That’s our tourism region name is the Metro Valley here in West Virginia.
There’s an old road that runs through all of our communities called Route 60, and so we called it the Route 60 Ramble because we wanted people to be encouraged to get out and explore their backyards a little bit. Well, we like alliteration, of course, but also the idea of a ramble is this sort of meandering walk or a meandering journey. We just wanted people to learn about things they might not know was in their backyard. That focuses on outdoor recreation.
So far, that’s what we’ve focused on, but also we have plans in this month and the following month to focus on public art and some historic and cultural sites that might not be as well-known in the region just to encourage people to get out and do things that feel safer and that are safer, but also maybe that they haven’t done or seen before. That’s been a really fun project that come out of our group text is working on that.
Adam Stoker: 21:40 I love the collaboration of the joint Instagram account because there’s a lot of people that say collaboration as a buzzword, but might not be willing to commit to actually working together, and you guys are doing a joint Instagram account that promotes the entire Metro Valley. Tell me how visitors and potential visitors have engaged with that content. Have you seen an improvement in the reception of that content as a result of working together?
Kelli Steele: 22:11 Yeah. If someone’s in Huntington, we’ve seen a lot of people commenting like, “I had no idea this was in Charleston,” or, “I had no idea this was in Hurricane,” which is a little town in Putnam County here and vice versa. I’m right in between the two cities. It’s only 30 minutes to either, so we’re not talking about a big area here, and there’s so much right in our own backyard that people just aren’t aware of: hiking trails, biking trails, water, public access to the lakes and rivers, and art. We haven’t even gotten to the art yet, but there’s just so much here.
I think it’s really easy to get focused on our own destination and forget about our neighbors, but it only makes sense. When I travel, I certainly don’t look or pay any attention to where something is, except “is this a distance I’m willing to travel in a day” to visit something. So, it only made sense for us to work together on this project.
Adam Stoker: Oh, I love it.
Kelli Steele: 23:14 Right now, we get a lot of people locally commenting because people aren’t traveling quite as much just yet, but it’s been really gratifying to see people discovering things right here, close to home that they can go and do.
Adam Stoker: Yeah, even your locals are taking advantage of that resource. That’s great.
Kelli Steele: Correct. Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun.
Adam Stoker: Well, you mentioned earlier that one of the first things you did was amend your marketing plan. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you did there and what the process was for doing that?
Kelli Steele: 23:50 Sure. I wrote a short-term amendment at the beginning of April when I realized, “all right, this is going to have some long impacts.” We paused a lot of our ongoing marketing, as most people did, and then looked at what people wanted to do when people start traveling again. Outdoor recreation came to the forefront. We have a lot of that in West Virginia, and we have some resources that have been under development here in Putnam County locally, but not a lot of people knew about them yet.
It pushed me to go out and get better photos and videos of those assets because a lot of our focus before has been on families with children, and event marketing. Events are canceled for the foreseeable future. A lot of our attractions that were appealing to families with young children are also closed — at least for the summer. So, it was really like, “What do we have that we can feel good about marketing to people, so they feel safe coming out and doing those things?” So, it was really a shift in content more than anything.
We’ve also shifted more to digital and being really specific in that targeting. I was already doing digital display ads and occasionally retargeting, but I’m doing this sort of combined effort with social media, display ads, and retargeting ads that are really specific to a drive market about four hours or less to here. It’s really focusing on that outdoor adventure component to let people know that we have things here. Some of them are new and some have been here awhile. We have a whole new mountain biking and hiking trail system that’s brand new, and we have a really nice water-access point on our river here that been new just for a year. So, it’s great to really get the word out about those things now.
Adam Stoker: 25:58 Yeah. What a smart thing that you did. I want to go back to the process you went through because I think that’s exactly how every destination needs to look at it is first you said, “Okay. What are the people willing to come here going to want? Well, events are gone, right? So now, outdoor recreation is going to be the most appealing asset that we have, but you know what? We don’t have enough content around those outdoor recreational assets.” So, the first thing that you do is go out and gather those assets. Get the photography you need, the video assets that you need, and promote those to the target persona that’s most likely to visit. Then focus your efforts around that.
I just feel like, as far as framework goes of how to adjust in a time like this when everything changes, you’ve done well. Starting from who we’re targeting to the assets that are most appealing to them, to the length of trip, and the distance they’re willing to drive. All of those things have changed. It sounds like for you, you immediately recognized that and started gathering the content needed to promote the assets that had come to the forefront compared to where they had been before.
Kelli Steele: Yes.
Adam Stoker: Awesome. Okay. Well, if you’re listening, do that. I really like that process you went through. Anything else in how you decided to attack or approach the crisis that you feel like would benefit our listeners?
Kelli Steele: 27:38 When something this drastic happens, it’s easy to feel scared. I mean I’m scared. What’s our budget going to look like long-term? What, when, and how are our longstanding attractions going to be able to return to normal operation? It’s super easy to just clam up and be like, “I don’t know what to do.” I don’t know. I think maybe part of it is this Appalachian heritage that we have here in West Virginia because West Virginians are super resourceful, and we just do what needs to be done. Looking at it and saying, “Okay, well, we don’t know what the future’s going to hold, but what can we do right now, and what makes the most sense to do next, and what can we do.”
Some things might not work. I might try things that fall completely flat, and that’s okay. I don’t want to be foolish in my decision-making, but nobody knows. There’s no playbook for how to market during a pandemic, and nobody knows what best practices are or what’s going to be super effective or not. So, we just try things, pay attention to the metrics, see what people are responding to and what they’re not, and make the next right decision based off of what we know right now. Just keeping moving forward little by little.
Adam Stoker: Yeah, I love that. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, it already happened. So, if there’s ever a time for trial and error, it’s now.
Kelli Steele: Yes, absolutely.
Adam Stoker: 29:10 Oh, great. Okay. You mentioned Visme is the software that you’re using for showing what restaurants are open, and how they’re open, and what visitors can expect. Is there any other technology that you’ve found that has benefitted you in your road to recovery?
Kelli Steele: Well, I bought a GoPro. I strap it on, and I go walk our trails.
Adam Stoker: Great.
Kelli Steele: 29:33 I take videos. I’m sure there are a lot more fancy answers that bigger destinations could give, but I think there is no shame in just strapping on a camera, and going. Even some of our trails are a little bit hard to find, so I put the GoPro on my dashboard, and I did a timelapse. I haven’t even posted them to our website yet, but I recorded timelapses of where to find the trailheads when you enter our parks in case it’s not clear. We’ll be putting those up on the website just to make things more accessible and easier to find for people. It doesn’t have to be complicated or planned out for months in advance. Just think about your destination as someone who’s never been there forever, and where are there not good signs, and what can we do as DMOs to really point people in the right direction figuratively and literally.
Yeah, I think we can’t underestimate just information. That’s photos, and videos, and texts, and just helping make it easy for people to find and get to the things that we have to offer.
Adam Stoker: 30:50 Yeah, I hear so many destinations say, “Well, I just don’t have budget right now for video.” The reality is you don’t need a budget to walk down a trail with a GoPro on like you said. Then, the great thing about social video that you’re going to release on your social media pages is it doesn’t have to be a huge, professional production with effects. Walk down the trail with the GoPro, speed up the video so people can see what the hike is like in a shorter period of time, and you’ve got a great piece of social content there. It’s not rocket science. If there was ever a time to be scrappy, strap on a GoPro and go do it yourself. That time is now.
Kelli Steele: 31:38 Absolutely. I even attached it to my paddleboard, and went out on the river on a day the office was closed and just paddled around so people could see where the water access point was, and what it’s like to paddleboard on the river. We have this huge river, and you wouldn’t think of it as something that would be friendly for paddleboats and paddle sports. It’s right upstream of a dam, so the water is so still there. It’s almost like a lake. It’s a great place to learn. It was a super easy way to show people — this is not scary. I mean I’m prone to anxiety myself and I don’t have any trouble getting out there and paddling around even though it’s this big river. It’s super safe, clean, and an easy way to get out and enjoy the water.
We overthink things sometimes. These are not great videos at all. The lighting’s not great. I know enough to know what’s good and what’s not, and it’s not great, but it’s better than nothing. It just shows people what’s available, and what’s fun. I was not sad to be out on my paddleboard for a couple hours in the middle of a hot day and get to use that time to do something that benefits my community. I loved it.
Adam Stoker: 32:58 Absolutely. The scrappiness that you’ve come up with. I keep coming back to this word — scrappy. You’re just getting out and doing it, right? How do you feel like it is going to benefit you when things get back to whatever this new normal is going to be?
Kelli Steele: 33:14 Well, my hope is that we’re going to have all of this content that we’ve pulled together over the last few months and I’ll continue to pull together that we’ll be able to use those in the months ahead in actual marketing campaigns. One of my favorite photos right now that we’ve got was taken on one of the trails with an iPhone. I have thousands of dollars in photo equipment from my background in photography, and I got an iPhone photo that I think’s pretty the best.
I’m hopeful that this is going to give us the content and the assets we need to position ourselves as a place in the Metro Valley where people want to come and spend time outdoors. Whereas before this, I don’t think anybody would have said, “I want to hike or bike these trails,” or “I want to go to Putnam County and put my paddleboard in the river.” That wasn’t in the forefront of people’s minds. So, I hope we’ve really opened people’s minds to what’s available here.
Adam Stoker: Yeah. Good stuff. Okay. What about from a recovery campaign standpoint, have you guys started to develop your recovery campaign?
Kelli Steele: 34:29 We have. We’ve started with some digital advertising, all of it focusing, again, on the outdoor recreation since that’s what we have ready and available for people to use. Then moving forward, one of the big things that we’re keeping an eye on is sports marketing. This area has grown in the region, and this is actually how I became friends with my group text pals. Sports, well, marketing on our end, but sports tournaments have become a really big tourism driver in our region. Our area in Putnam County has a newly-renovated park that let us be a direct part of that, but even before, people were staying in our hotels when these huge soccer tournaments would come, or baseball tournaments, or other tournaments.
Obviously, that’s not happening this year, but we’re looking ahead and working with organizations that we reached out to before who maybe had tournaments scheduled here that had to be canceled, and we’re saying, “What about 2022?” So, really trying to think ahead about how we can work the long game to make impacts now while other people are maybe, I don’t know, not planning so far ahead. I mean we want people to come back here that had planned to come here this year. That might not be safe to happen in the next few months, but hopefully, within 18 months, it’ll be safe to travel here again in large groups. We want those groups to come here.
Adam Stoker: Yeah. You touched a little bit on how your media plan has changed. How do you intend for it to continue to evolve over the next several months?
Kelli Steele: 36:14 Everyone has gradually moved more toward digital and away from print, which makes me sad because I love my magazines still. I think the immediate impact, the way that you can adjust on-the-fly and make adjustments in the moment with digital that you just can’t do with print. So, I see us, at least for the short-term, focusing a lot more on digital because it gives us control to adjust the campaign as needed. Then, building some print back in as things settle down a bit. As far as a tactical, practical thing, I think a lot of people are doing that. That’s not unique to me, but I think it makes a lot of sense in these times. We’re not completely cutting print out, but I’m just being a little more mindful of those choices.
Adam Stoker: 37:14 Yeah, I mean as budget is super tight, you slowly introduce with digital because of the ability to target and the ability to adjust quickly based on performance and measure that performance. Then as budget starts to loosen up or open up again, you start to introduce tactics that may be a little less measurable but can hit different audiences in a way that digital can’t. I think that’s a pretty great strategy for operating on a limited budget, especially as things start to slowly move into that new normal. I like your plan of attack there.
Kelli Steele: Thank you. I just do what makes sense. Again, none of us know. We’re all guessing a little bit. We pay attention to the research, and listen to what other destinations are doing, and what the research is telling us. Then, we just make our best guesses based off of what we’re hearing. So that’s all we can do.
Adam Stoker: Well, I’m going to ask you to make a guess, okay?
Kelli Steele: Okay.
Adam Stoker: Tell me what do you see is next for Putnam County? What does the next, I don’t know, six months to a year look like for you guys?
Kelli Steele: 38:25 I really see us continuing to develop these new strategies that we’ve taken on in the last couple months, again the focus on outdoor recreation and a bigger emphasis on regional cooperation. Not only do I have my friends to the east and west of me that I mentioned, but I work with a trail that runs along the river with a lot of outdoor recreation sights and assets are along that. So, I have two neighboring CBBs that I work with in that direction. I see a lot more regional cooperation as budgets are tight and people are looking to spread the impact.
I’m hopeful that will drive more cooperation both regionally and with our state tourism office. The state has done a great job here in West Virginia of leading the way, and communicating about what their strategies are, and giving us opportunities to come alongside them with those, and have a greater impact with our own, both dollars and voice in messaging and some partnership opportunities that they’ve given us for advertising. So, I see us doing more of that, working collaboratively. I also think if anything, these last few months have taught us, it’s that we don’t know what the next 90 days or six months are going to look like, we can look at what’s happened, and where things are going, and make our best guesses. So that’s all I’m doing.
Adam Stoker: You control what you can control, right?
Kelli Steele: That’s right. Yeah.
Adam Stoker: Well, Kelli, this has been amazing. Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you feel like would benefit our audience to hear?
Kelli Steele: 40:15 There’s nothing you haven’t asked. I would just reiterate one of the things I really love about this industry is how friendly, and welcoming, and cooperative, in general, people are. Make friends with your neighbors. It doesn’t even have to be geographic neighbors but make contacts with your industry colleagues. We need each other now more than ever, both for support and even just to say, “I know I’m facing the same things, and this is really hard, and you’re not in this alone.”
I think that’s invaluable, frankly. Also share ideas, what’s working, what’s not working, and ways that we can help each other because I think those relationships really pay off in the long run, both personally and professionally for us as individuals and for our destinations. I’ve realized Putnam County is tiny, super, super tiny. My impact as one little community in a tiny state like West Virginia —even though I think it’s amazing here — is not going to have the reach as it does when I work together with people locally, regionally, and statewide.
Adam Stoker: Great. Yeah, don’t be afraid to be collaborative. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
Kelli Steele: Absolutely. It’s made the biggest difference, I think, in what we do here.
Adam Stoker: Awesome. Well, Kelli, this has been fun. I sure appreciate you coming on and sharing your knowledge with us today.
Kelli Steele: Thanks, Adam. Thank you so much for having me. I really had a great time talking to you today.
Adam Stoker: 41:46 Same here. Well, everyone, this has been another great episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast. Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please don’t forget to leave us a rating or a review. That helps us to continue to grow our listener base and grow the show. Other than that, we’ll talk to you next week.
Today’s episode is brought to you by Relic. As many of you know, I own an advertising agency called Relic, and we work specifically with tourism destinations. If there’s any of you that are struggling with what to do next or you’ve tried agencies that don’t specialize in tourism or if you’ve been using the local flavor for years and years, and you’re just looking for something new, I would say give us a call.
Give us the opportunity to take a look at your plan, see what you’re doing. Use our tourism knowledge and industry specialty to examine everything from your brand to your tactical execution and make recommendations of how to help. We’ll do that assessment for free. We’ll give you those recommendations for free. If you like what we say, maybe you can hire us to execute on those plans. So, kind of a risk-free opportunity to have us take a holistic look at everything you’re doing, provide some recommendations, and you can see us in action. If you’re interested in having us do something like that, please send me an email directly at email@example.com. I would love to set that up with my team.