Episode 97

Marketing The Same Product to a New GenerationNeal McCoy

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About Our Guest

Neal McCoy

In this episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast, Adam takes the show to Tupelo Mississippi, a small town that proudly holds the title of the birthplace of Elvis. He is joined by Neal McCoy, the executive director of the Tupelo CVB. Listen to learn about some of the things you can find in this amazing town, as well as hear Neal talk about how they are strategizing their marketing campaigns to fit both the current global coronavirus situation as well as an aging target market.

Episode Highlights

  • Name: Adam Stoker
  • Position: Co-founder and CEO of Relic
  • Favorite Destination: Fiji
  • Dream Destination: New Zealand
  • Name: Neal McCoy
  • Position: Executive Director, Tupelo CVB
  • Favorite Destination: Reno & Lake Tahoe
  • Dream Destination: Grand Canyon

“Marketing the Same Product to a New Destination” – Show Notes and Highlights


Show Highlights:

  • During the 2008 economic downturn, Tupelo’s tourism economy survived as a destination with its increased visitor tax collection. 
  • Tupelo, Mississippi is the birthplace of Elvis. As a destination, it is a heavy industry-driven visitor market. 
  • Rely on the sentiment index to determine whether or not visitors are ready for travel and identifying the change of target customers. 
  • Tupelo’s efforts during COVID are focused on inspiration for the future. Create brand ambassadors or influencers for short-term actions. 
  • The pro-activity seen taking place with some rural destinations is great because of the pent-up demand. 
  • Seeing a disconnect between the community and community partners, Tupelo has created the position of an in-market strategist to be the conduit and resource between partners. 
  • The destination tries to be business-friendly to help ease the burden on our restaurants during the COVID crisis.
  • Tupelo emphasizes the authenticity of the experience. 
  • DMOs shifting from being marketers to managers. 
  • Tupelo’s finding the next attractor for the next 15 to 20 years such as festivals, events and outdoor experiences.


Resources Mentioned in the Podcast:

Episode Transcript

Neal McCoy: [00:00:00] We have seen some challenges that we have faced when it comes to natural disasters and so we’ve weathered those storms, literally. I think what it has proven to us is that we have to be diverse and we have to be ready for a shift in the economy and in our industry.


Adam Stoker: [00:00:20] 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 plans, 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. And 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 adam@relicagency.com. I would love to set that up with my team. 

Hello, everyone, and welcome 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 guest for you and as you may recall over the last few episodes, we are on the road and we’ve made several stops in Tennessee, Alabama and I just left Oxford, Mississippi and I am now in Elvis Presley’s birthplace, Tupelo, Mississippi. I’m with Neal McCoy, the executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau here in Tupelo. Neal, welcome to the show.


Neal McCoy: [00:02:03] Hey, Adam. Thanks for having me. It’s great to have you here in Tupelo. 


Adam Stoker: [00:02:06] Oh, man. It’s exciting. Before I came into your office, I drove out to Elvis Presley’s house and wanted to get a look around there. Cool little area and I’m sure we’ll get into it today. But what a great asset to have in your destination.


Neal McCoy: [00:02:22] Right. Everybody always says, you got to find something that separates you in the marketplace and we’re the one and only destination to say we birthed the king of rock and roll. That’s our claim to fame and we will always be that. And hopefully, for your listeners and many other people out there, will be so much more.


Adam Stoker: [00:02:41] Awesome, awesome. We’ll dive into all that, but before we do, I’ve got a couple of icebreaker questions I want to ask you, just get the juices flowing a little bit. So the first question I have is what is your dream destination. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be? 


Neal McCoy: [00:02:55] Well, actually Adam. I was working on that bucket list item and then Corona stopped me. I had the itinerary, I had the flights booked, and I was headed to the Grand Canyon and doing some national parks with my kids this summer. It was booked for the first week of June and we were going to do Zion and some of the slot canyons, and through the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe then-


Adam Stoker: [00:03:19] You were headed to my neck of the woods. 


Neal McCoy: [00:03:20] Yeah, yeah, I was. But corona hit and those changes took place. So we are scheduled to go back out maybe hopefully in May or June of 2021. Still going to go but just got to slow down for a little bit.


Adam Stoker: [00:03:36] Oh, I’m sorry to hear that because that is an epic trip.


Neal McCoy: [00:03:39] Yeah. I’m looking forward to it. My kids are of the perfect age. They’re two teenage boys and a 10-year-old daughter. It would have been amazing to unplug and just take in the beauty of the western United States.


Adam Stoker: [00:03:52] When they’re old enough, you can do the real hikes, right? 


Neal McCoy: [00:03:55] Yeah. So we had talked about that. We were going to do some of the more challenging things and they were up for it. We’ve watched a documentary two weekends ago about a couple of guys that hiked through the grand canyon.


Adam Stoker: [00:04:12] Oh, wow.


Neal McCoy: [00:04:13] And it was on National Geographic. It was pretty intense. We saw some things like that’s pretty intense. I’d like to do that. I’m staying away from that. 


Adam Stoker: [00:04:23] Well, the good thing about your trip getting canceled is now you’ve got somebody that can help you plan that trip and tell you what you need to see, what you need to do because man, that is my backyard.


Neal McCoy: [00:04:33] And we were looking forward to part of the drive, but mostly getting out and exploring outside the vehicle too. 


Adam Stoker: [00:04:43] Great. So that’s one question and that’s a good piece of your bucket list there. Let’s talk about your favorite trip you’ve ever been on.


Neal McCoy: [00:04:51] Okay. Again, I’m going back out west in Reno, Lake Tahoe… Mostly Lake Tahoe. That skiing at Heavenly is absolutely my most favorite thing to do.


Adam Stoker: [00:05:04] Okay. So you went in the wintertime. 


Neal McCoy: [00:05:06] Yeah. 


Adam Stoker: [00:05:07] Okay and skiing up there in Heavenly is heavenly, huh?


Neal McCoy: [00:05:10] It is. As much as you would let me, it’s absolutely… I think the lake with the mountains and it’s just picturesque and the skiing is phenomenal from my level. There are probably others that could probably ski, probably- 


Adam Stoker: [00:05:30] Actually, there’s some people in Utah that will take a little bit of offense to that, but that’s okay. 


Neal McCoy: [00:05:34] That’s fair, that’s fair. Before we turn the microphones on, I was talking about a great experience I had there in Utah and some of the driving up to Sundance, having a meal there. But as far as going and experiencing, it was absolutely my ski trip to Heavenly. 


Adam Stoker: [00:05:51] Great. Sounds like a great time. 


Neal McCoy: [00:05:53] Yeah.


Adam Stoker: [00:05:53] All right. Well, that’s good stuff for us to kind of get to know about you. it sounds like the outdoors is really what motivates you. You sound like you’re more of a rural than an urban traveler. 


Neal McCoy: [00:06:04] Yeah. I do love the city. I love big cities. I love to see them, but as far as going and doing I want to go and explore and actively explore.


Adam Stoker: [00:06:14] You don’t want to sit in a bus and-


Neal McCoy: [00:06:15] Nope, I do not. I do not want to be contained.


Adam Stoker: [00:06:18] Awesome, awesome. Well, let’s learn a little bit about you, Neal. Tell me about your background and how you got into tourism. 


Neal McCoy: [00:06:26] Yeah. I graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in recreation management. I went to work for the parks and recreation department putting on sports tournaments and I kind of cut my teeth doing that. I then moved to Jackson, Mississippi and I was putting on special events, putting on triathlons, century bike rides, Christmas parades, Easter Egg hunts, fourth of July events for the city of Ridgeland and then had the opportunity to come back home which Tupelo is home for me. It’s where I grew up. 

Had the opportunity to come back here and do sports, sales for the Convention and Visitors Bureau and did that in 2004. And then in 2010, I was fortunate enough to be offered the job as executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau and a decade later, here we are. 


Adam Stoker: [00:07:16] So I actually love talking to people that have been in the industry as long as you have and the main reason for that is that this is not your first crisis. The Coronavirus crisis is not your first crisis. You’ve been through the economic downturn of 2008 and ’09. So I’ve got to imagine that that has given you a unique perspective on how to approach the coronavirus crisis during this time. Can you tell me a little bit about maybe how that helped prepare you?


Neal McCoy: [00:07:45] Well, oddly enough, Tupelo survived the ’08, ’09 economic downturn probably better than most. 


Adam Stoker: [00:07:54] Great.


Neal McCoy: [00:07:56] Especially from our tourism economy, we saw a lot of folks continue to take small road trips, which is what our destination is geared for. We’re a drive market. So we were able to shift and pivot which are kind of keywords, buzzwords right now shift and pivot. But we were able to do that in ’08 and ’09. We didn’t see a downturn. Our tourism tax collection continued to increase in those years. 


Adam Stoker: [00:08:22] Wow. 


Neal McCoy: [00:08:24] So we were fortunate there. The other thing is that, we were just very fortunate and that Toyota, Mississippi was announced so they manufacture the Corolla right here in North Mississippi. So they were building that and part of that upswing is when they were starting up the plant in ’08, ’09. 


Adam Stoker: [00:08:45] Oh, so the timing really landed for you.


Neal McCoy: [00:08:46] The timing helped, that’s right. But we have seen some challenges that we have faced when it comes to natural disasters. So we’ve had a hurricane… I mean, I’m sorry, a tornado that affected our city that had some shutdown. We’ve weathered those storms literally. I think what it has proven to us is that we have to be diverse and we have to be ready for a shift in the economy and in our industry. 

From a hotel perspective, we were okay. From the restaurant industry, that’s been quite the challenge. Then when the pandemic hit, it’s almost the hotels are still suffering because people still aren’t traveling like they were. The restaurants, we’ve seen some of the best of what they’re made of. The restaurant industry really did what it could do to stay alive and stay open. We have tried to shift and be a resource for them more so than the hotels. 


Adam Stoker: [00:09:52] I think you’ve given me some interesting pieces of Tupelo as a destination. Now, let’s look at kind of the 10,000 foot view. Give us an overview of what is Tupelo, Mississippi. 


Neal McCoy: [00:10:05] So a lot of folks that may or may not be familiar with us as we mentioned earlier, our calling card is we’re the birthplace of Elvis. We’re located in the northeast corner of Mississippi, about halfway between Birmingham and Memphis along interstate 22. We are about three and a half, four hours from Nashville, Tennessee and we have a direct connection with them because of the Natchez Trace Parkway, which is a 444-mile long scenic byway.


Adam Stoker: [00:10:34] It’s beautiful.


Neal McCoy: [00:10:34] Thank you. The headquarters are right here in Tupelo. So we have a visitor center. We have a national scenic trail that starts here in Tupelo and that moves south. So a lot of people hike that trail here. And from a destination standpoint, we are a heavy, heavy, heavy industry-driven visitor market. So 40% of the rooms purchased in our market come from business travelers. And then the CVB steps in and tries to drive the convention market and the sports market. And we do that with about 30 to 35% of rooms sold in the market there. 

Then the other 20 to 25% comes from the leisure, travel market that’s from people that are coming here for weekend getaways or for festivals, concerts, those kinds of things and then we have probably another five to 10% that are family reunions and those kinds of things are the medical community. We have a large hospital here in our community, so we have some rooms that are booked because of medical reasons. 


Adam Stoker: [00:11:40] Okay. So those percentages I’ve got to imagine have changed over the last several months. So obviously there’s been more pressure on your leisure traveler to sustain your hotels and help them keep going. How did you pivot? And I’m using the buzzword, but I’m going to do it? 


Neal McCoy: [00:11:56] Well, we’re still trying to figure that out. Certainly the sports market has helped us in the short term. In early June, we started having sporting events again. Mostly the amateur sports, youth sports and that has helped. That’s been what has helped in our recovery, what’s driven the market. Some leisure, travel. The business traveler, the midweek visits are still down 35% or more. So that’s a struggle and that’s a place that the CVB can’t move the needle. 

We can affect that. We don’t even try. It’s not a strategy of ours. So what we have done is we’ve seen… The convention market is just on halt. They’re not having meetings. So we’ve determined that what we’re going to do is we’re going to lead with sports and we’re going to lead with ways that you can travel and visit Tupelo safely and put out the ways you can visit here. You’ve got to wear a mask when you go inside. Restaurants are now at 75% occupancy. 

You can have drinks until 11 pm. So all those things, we’ve promoted and we’ve done that. The other thing that we did early on is that we hired an ad agency to come in and help us and determine travel sentiment. So we’re keeping our pulse on what the travel market is saying, they’re willing to do. And that’s tricky. And because it changes, it changes weekly based on COVID numbers and it just changes based on the feeder markets that we’re in that typically travel to Tupelo. So it’s just trying to keep a finger on what’s really the sentiment of the traveler out there.


Adam Stoker: [00:13:44] I know that because there’s so much more pressure on your leisure market, it’s been a challenge, but at the same time, I know the state of Mississippi has taken some great steps to get some money appropriated from the CARES Act to be used for tourism promotion. And there’s only a handful of states in the country where I’ve seen that happen. So how are you guys taking advantage of that program to help get leisure to supplement what the void that’s been left from business and convention travel? 


Neal McCoy: [00:14:15] Yeah. If your listeners could be here with us, they would see our metric board here.


Adam Stoker: [00:14:21] I like the brainstorm board you have.


Neal McCoy: [00:14:22] We have a brainstorm board where we started going through tag lines and things that we think would be inspirational for travel during these times. Again, you rely on the sentiment index to say whether or not we’re ready for travel. Adam, just being totally honest, our visitors just aren’t ready to travel. So what we’re doing is we’re planning to spend of that money to know when they would be ready. And if they’re not ready, what we’re just doing is trying to build brand ambassadors for when it is time to travel. And what we’re trying to do is put out inspirational messages about who we are in Tupelo.


Adam Stoker: [00:14:57] Yeah. So basically, what you’re saying is you’re taking that money because it has to be spent in 2020, which is really a complication and I know there are efforts being made to maybe extend that deadline. We’ll see, right?


Neal McCoy: [00:15:08] We’ll see.


Adam Stoker: [00:15:08] But because of that, there’s pressure to spend that money now and anytime there’s a use it or lose it type scenario, you want to err on the side of using it as long as you can do it responsibly. 


Neal McCoy: [00:15:18] Right. 


Adam Stoker: [00:15:19] So your efforts right now are focused on inspiration for the future, and we don’t know what that timeline is, but that’s where you’re headed at this point. 


Neal McCoy: [00:15:29] Right, yeah. That’s exactly right. So what we’ve done is we’ve sat down and put out a timeline. So we have a short-term, midterm, and then long-term goals in this. And you really don’t even know how to put a time on what is short-term, what is midterm, what is long-term. You just don’t know. So what we have done is we’ve identified that we want to create brand ambassadors in our short-term. We want to create inspiration in the midterm and then we want a call to action for long term.


Adam Stoker: [00:15:59] So brand ambassadors, I just want to make sure that our listeners are understanding this correctly. These are influencers.


Neal McCoy: [00:16:05] That’s right. These are influencers. These are people that we think will travel and when they do travel that they will have an effect on others and that we want people to believe our message. So we have to be truthful in our message. My biggest thing is always, whatever we’re selling, we have to deliver on that promise.


Adam Stoker: [00:16:26] I love it.


Neal McCoy: [00:16:27] So that’s a big thing is that… And working with a new ad agency that is learning about us is we have to be truthful because at some point, we’re going to get called out on it if we’re not being truthful in our marketing.


Adam Stoker: [00:16:43] It’s funny you mention that. That is a huge portion of my book is authenticity. It is so critical that the message matches the experience, and I’m glad you’re putting so much work into that. I also like that you’re taking a research focus to help understand what traveler’s sentiment is. I’m wondering if in that research process that you’ve been in, have you seen your target customer or persona change during COVID?


Neal McCoy: [00:17:13] Yes. It has changed.


Adam Stoker: [00:17:16] How did you discover that?


Neal McCoy: [00:17:18] I mean, it’s through the sentiment index. It’s through who is willing to travel. Quite honestly, it comes down to demographics of one, who is capable of traveling in these uncertain economic times, and then who is willing to travel and who’s willing to travel somewhere wisely to understand what’s going to be there. I mean, this country and all the decisions that are made, every decision can be picked apart and be politically divisive and all we’re saying is when you travel, travel wisely and here’s how to travel to Tupelo.

Yes, our visitor profile has changed a little bit. We’re still in the same feeder markets and what we’re saying is maybe you would be typically a traveler that would take a trip to Vegas or to Chicago. Well, then, put a pulse on that because that’s a little uncertain. Why don’t you take a road trip and find out through Main Street Americana and see a small town southern city that had a great influence on the King of Rock and Roll?


Adam Stoker: [00:18:30] This is where I think we’re going to see a real resurgence of the rural destination. And what I mean by that is you’ve got so many people that as they thought, I want to take a trip this year, right? Sometimes they were choosing do I go to New York City or do I go to a rural destination? Well, in many cases because of the number of attractions and opportunities that New York and I’m using New York as an example, but that it presented they would choose New York. By the way, New York, millions and millions of travelers every year, right? Now, a large portion of those say, “Oh, New York doesn’t look as attractive as it did last year.”


Neal McCoy: [00:19:11] Right.


Adam Stoker: [00:19:11] Right? And suddenly the rural destination comes to the forefront. And that’s why I think the pro-activity that I’ve seen taking place with some rural destinations is great because there’s so much… Some people call it pent-up demand. I would even call some of it diverted demand.


Neal McCoy: [00:19:27] That’s exactly right. 


Adam Stoker: [00:19:28] And I think the rural destinations that are being proactive like it sounds like you are, are going to be able to capitalize on that opportunity.


Neal McCoy: [00:19:36] Yeah. And we’ve got to start now creating that inspiration or at least that intrigue of hey, wait a minute. What is this city? Who is this? I mean, if you look deep enough in this board, you might find a moment where we talk about… You look at us as trying to be a southern music destination. Well, we’re three and a half hours from Nashville. We’re an hour and a half from Memphis which are great music destinations, right? 

They’re the big cities from our perspective and they have the glitz and the glamor and they have great destinations. Well, we’re not. So we’re small towns, slow down where you can walk by and hear an amateur on the microphone singing some great music, enjoying main street and it’s very safe. It just looks completely different than Nashville and Memphis. Those are great destinations, but we’re just completely different. It’s going through our creative and finding a way to inspire that and staying top of mind when they do get ready to travel again. 

To do that, we have to be very smart and careful because we like working with Nashville and Memphis. We’re not saying don’t go visit them, but we’re saying we’re an alternative. So that diverted demand. 


Adam Stoker: [00:20:53] Yep, absolutely. I want to talk about Tennessee. You touched on Memphis. You touched on… Oh, darn. What was the other one that you said? 


Neal McCoy: [00:20:53] Nashville. 


Adam Stoker: [00:21:01] Nashville. Of course, Nashville. One of the things that I find interesting about Tennessee specifically, they were one of the first to open. So what you had is markets that may not be ready to receive travelers and a market that was ready to travel, right?


Neal McCoy: [00:21:16] Yeah.


Adam Stoker: [00:21:17] Because they opened up. Then you also had a market that was ready to receive travelers. Marketing to travelers that weren’t ready to travel. So it was a paradox there. But have you guys focused more on Tennessee because of their willingness to open up sooner than other states? 


Neal McCoy: [00:21:33] Probably not for those reasons. Tennessee is one of our bigger feeder markets. Tennessee and North Alabama-


Adam Stoker: [00:21:39] It’s already there.


Neal McCoy: [00:21:40] It’s already there, that’s right. So we’ve stayed and remain consistent there because a lot of our marketing spend has already been in those markets and we’re just continuing on and just maybe shift in the message that we’re putting in those markets.


Adam Stoker: [00:21:53] Got it, got it, okay. Let’s talk about your recovery campaign then because I love this… I wish our audience could see it and I’m not going to post it because I don’t want to share your creative secrets. 


Neal McCoy: [00:22:06] It’s certainly not ready yet. That’s for sure. 


Adam Stoker: [00:22:08] But I love it because it’s clear to see that you guys are really putting some thought into this messaging. How did you go about even knowing when to start this brainstorming session? 


Neal McCoy: [00:22:20] Well, we went through an RFQ process to find an agency to work with us and then going through that RFQ we just basically looked at each agency’s thought process. How are you arriving at that? So we settled with an agency. I’m not going to mention their names. I don’t want to do that to you on your podcast, but we felt very comfortable with their thought process and how they go about it. There’s a lot of people that are already in the marketplace with ads and creative, and we’re not. We’re okay with that because travel sentiment is still saying they’re not coming just yet. They’re not coming enough to make a difference to move the needle. 


Adam Stoker: [00:22:59] Right. Well, because you’ve got to get a return on investment.


Neal McCoy: [00:23:01] That’s right. That’s exactly right. So what we have done is we’ve gone through it. And here’s the other challenge is the agency could not travel here. They just couldn’t travel to the destination yet safely. So we understood that and so what we had to do is to send them a lot of our assets that we have and just help them understand who we are, a lot of our brand strategy. Sent them a lot of our research that we already had, put them in touch with our PR agency which we’ve worked with for a number of years. 

So they did a good job of figuring out who we were and what our message already was, and then how does that compel into the or how does that land into this pandemic. We are just now at the end of our discovery phase and what we’re doing is we had our first look at creative. So to paint an illustration here, we have four quadrants of four different pitches and we liked two of them really well, and then we just like some small elements of three and four. So we’re blending those and trying to come about a way to inspire travel and people aren’t ready to travel in masses yet.


Adam Stoker: [00:24:15] So one of the things that I like that you did is early on, you said, “We need help.” Right?


Neal McCoy: [00:24:22] Uh-hmm.


Adam Stoker: [00:24:25] I think some people would maybe perceive that as weakness or whatever, but I think to me it says you were taking action immediately, right? And it was pretty early on in the process of COVID hitting and everything. You guys realized you needed to do that. 


Neal McCoy: [00:24:39] That’s right. 


Adam Stoker: [00:24:40] How did that come about? 


Neal McCoy: [00:24:43] Well, early on I was asked to be a part of the COVID task force with our city administration. So I had to peek behind the curtains if you will, with eyes there. So I see that we’re in this for the long haul. So what we did is we rallied together as a team. We pulled everything off the marketplace, all of our ads. We pulled back in and we just went quiet. 

Social media shifted to being more of an information source than anything. We were fortunate that we have a staff member, her title is the end market strategist and she’s kind of the conduit between us and our partners and our partners and us. 


Adam Stoker: [00:25:23] Oh, I love that you have that role. 


Neal McCoy: [00:25:27] She stayed on the phone probably more than anyone else. Like most everyone else, those executive orders change both from a state level and a local level, she was pushing that information out trying to be very clear and very concise. We would do Zoom calls with every restaurant owner that wanted to get on and our mayor was getting on those Zoom calls and answering questions specifically and we’re saying, “Hey, we’re trying to be as business friendly as we can. So these are the things that we can do. These are the things that we can’t do.” 

So we were an information source more than anything else for about six to eight weeks. I mean during that early on early parts, so we divided up the staff and say, “Okay, y’all are to assist Elizabeth in her end market strategy and you contact these people.” The other half of the staff, okay, let’s figure out where we’re going to be on the back side of this.” So that’s how we started on RFQ and we started finding an agency. So we started that process probably in early April.


Adam Stoker: [00:26:28] Wow. That is early. That’s good. And I love that you took action. I mean, engaging your stakeholders and understanding that you needed to find a partner to help you and everything. You really turned me onto this role that you guys have here. What’s her title again? 


Neal McCoy: [00:26:47] In-market strategist.


Adam Stoker: [00:26:48] In-market strategist. See, I feel like one of the things that coronavirus has done for destinations that is a real positive is it has forced us to engage our stakeholders at a much higher level than we ever had before, right? Because the restaurant that’s doing really well because we were at a 10-year high when everything crashed, right? That restaurant doesn’t really… It’s not a priority for them to call you back and say, “Hey, we’re up 14% or we’re down five…” It just didn’t really have much incentive to communicate. But if you built that relationship during the time that things were good, all of a sudden when they need help, who’s their first call?


Neal McCoy: [00:27:28] Yeah.


Adam Stoker: [00:27:29] Right? So tell me a little bit about how that position was created and how long it’s been around and what you’ve seen from having someone in that role? 


Neal McCoy: [00:27:37] That position was created. It came out of research. Young strategists do all our research work for us and so we identified that there was a disconnect between us and the community and especially our community partners like our arts groups and our hotel partners. So that position has been on staff for about six years. But the last four years have has been managed by Elizabeth Russell in our office. 

So she is less of tourism marketing and promotion. It’s about when the visitor checks into the hotel room, the last thing we want them to do is to sit in the room and channel surf. When they arrive, here are all the things that are going on in Tupelo tonight. So she goes and shuffles through the toy box and gets all the great toys and sets them on the counter and she says, “Look at all the great things to do here. So don’t just go channel surf, get out and go to trivia night here. Here’s live music here. You can go get… Mississippi’s only meadery is located right here, and they have a game night and they do this.” 

So it’s her role to get out there and do that. So she attends all of our arts meetings. She attends all the downtown main street business promotion meetings. She hosts meetings for our all of our festival organizers and she goes against industry best practices and is considered a resource for the community. So she was already considered the connection point between the CVB and hotel restaurant attractions, arts groups, and that just amplified a little bit more during the pandemic and during the shutdown.


Adam Stoker: [00:29:16] Yeah. We touched on this in my previous recording with Oxford. The time to build the relationships with your stakeholders is not when the crisis hits, it’s before the crisis hits so that you can lean on that relationship when the crisis hits. 


Neal McCoy: [00:29:30] Yeah. And we saw that. It was very evident. Elizabeth does a great job. She’s a very personable person and she’s trusted. I think that’s the other thing is trust and follow-through is a big, big deal. You touched on something. When all this happened, our restaurant owners, they were scrambling just to get people to show up. 


Adam Stoker: [00:29:50] Meaning employees.


Neal McCoy: [00:29:51] Employees, right. Their employees were making more sitting at home than they were by showing up. We were just trying to help them. We went through and said, “Okay. What can we do to make this easier on you?” We went in and we said, “Okay, there used to be a city code that said you couldn’t set up tents.” Well, that’s out the window. You can now set up tents in front of your thing, for curbside take away to protect your employees from the elements. You can do tents out front. You can hang a banner from it, say what your new hours are. 

So eliminating those things. Now, we’re going to do to-go cups. We had a to-go cup ordinance where you could walk out of an establishment with a to-go cup with alcohol. So we said, “All right. We’re going to do that city-wide.” So our city council approved that. Now, you can do to-go drinks. So you can get margaritas to go with your Mexican food. Before, you couldn’t do that. So we tried to do things to make it business friendly. We relax some of our ordinances as it relates to outside dining and how do you do that.

So we just try to be business-friendly to help ease the burden on our restaurants in particular during this time. I mean, it’s tough. Food costs went way up and the profit margins were coming down and you couldn’t put as many people in your dining rooms. So we tried to be as sensitive as we could to their needs.


Adam Stoker: [00:31:14] Yeah. That’s great. I want to shift gears a little bit. We touched on earlier the asset that you have in having Elvis’ birthplace here. A lot of destinations would love to have an asset like that, but a lot of destinations have that core asset and what it causes is a lot of political issues because everybody feels like, “Well, they don’t need any help. Why would you promote Elvis’s birthplace over our little business that needs help.” When you have a big rock attraction like that, how do you keep everybody happy? 


Neal McCoy: [00:31:51] Well, you don’t I’m not going to pretend that we do, but what we do is have very honest conversations with people. We refer to it as an attraction, but I also like to use the phrases attract doors and attractions. So an attractor is going to get somebody here and attraction is something for them to do while they’re here. 


Adam Stoker: [00:32:11] Oh, TM. I like that.


Neal McCoy: [00:32:12] Yeah. I’ve heard somebody else refer to them as linger-longers. If you have this, then they can linger in your destination longer. But it’s not going to attract them to your destination. So we’re very honest with folks and say look, people probably are not traveling to Tupelo because of your spot, but they are traveling because it’s the birthplace of Elvis Presley and there’s no other place like that. 

So we have that conversation with them. What we try to do is we try to include them and as many itineraries as we can. We try to include them in our PR effort. So our PR effort is managed really well by our public relations agency. They do a great job of keeping us out there and anytime we get some hits from them, we’d like to share it with those partners. 

So anytime we can get them shared in the media, we do that. But it’s really just being honest with them. Sometimes that may cause heartache and that may cause some ascension, but at the end of the day I have to be accountable and I have to… When it comes to reporting numbers and those kinds of things, I can’t make up stuff and sell it. So if I’m at least honest with them, then they appreciate that. They may not like it, but they’ll at least appreciate the honesty. 


Adam Stoker: [00:33:31] Yeah. Well, good. I think that’s a great answer. I mean, authenticity, it seems like it’s kind of the theme of this episode here, right?


Neal McCoy: [00:33:42] Well, that’s right. For us, in the Elvis story, it is authenticity. It’s the first 13 years of his life. I mean, you said yourself. You drove up to that little house and people can’t truly appreciate Graceland until they see the two-room house that he was born in.


Adam Stoker: [00:33:59] Right.


Neal McCoy: [00:34:01] And having that authentic experience of walking in the house that he was born in with his twin brother who died at birth. And hearing that story, and being in that room, and then walking into the actual church he attended as a child, that’s a very authentic experience. Again, I tell people all the time, if you want to know the Elvis story and if you want to read a biography, you don’t start on chapter 14, you start from the beginning and the beginning is here in Tupelo.


Adam Stoker: [00:34:30] I like it. I like it. Okay. So you have obviously been doing this a long time. You’ve been in your role for 10 years. You’ve been at the destination for 16. You’ve obviously learned a lot over time. Tell me some of the key things that you’ve learned that might benefit people that may not have been in the industry as long as you’ve been. 


Neal McCoy: [00:34:51] The thing that I like the most and I tell my staff all the time was when you get comfortable, you probably need to check yourself. Once you get comfortable and things are okay, then that’s the time when you need to make change. We have changed and we’ve gone about change here in the work that we do and we’re actually in that shift now of going… We refer to ourselves as DMOs and destination marketers. Well, we’re changing the focus on the M. It’s not just marketers, it’s management.


Adam Stoker: [00:35:21] This sounds like Bill Geist. Have you been listening to Bill Geist?


Neal McCoy: [00:35:24] Maybe a little bit. I’ll give him some credit. Bill is a good guy, a very smart guy. But we truly are. So what we’ve done is we’ve allocated money in our budget for destination development and we’ve got to invest in just talking and having very honest conversations. The other thing is the Elvis consumer is aging. The people that saw him firsthand, they’re not going to be traveling in 15 years. They’re not going to want to come and see… Or the typical traveler we have now is not going to be traveling like they are now in 15 to 20 years and it’s up to me to set us up for success for the next 15 to 20 years. 

We have to find the next attractor to sustain Tupelo for the next 15 or 20 years. So those are things that we’re doing and we’re looking at what are we going to be able to do to pull ourselves out of this? It’s going to be through festivals and events and outdoor experiences. So we’ve had to create those. It may be repackaging some of our assets we have now or it may be creating new assets. But we do have to get out there and we have to challenge ourselves. I think that’s one of the things that our staff has done. 

Probably about six years ago, we saw the demand for video and how important that is for inspiration. So we created a position on staff that that’s all they do. Well, we’ve already divided that position up. Now, we have digital content and now we have a content creator. Just constantly evolving. That’s the big thing is just being aware of what’s changing in the market. I think that we just get hung up too much on placing ads and not really focusing on the visitor experience once they arrive, and making sure again going back to delivering on the promise made in the ad. Are we doing enough of that for when the visitor arrives? 


Adam Stoker: [00:37:24] Yeah. So continuing to manage the destination over time and not just market it. And I love- 


Neal McCoy: [00:37:31] All of the Touchpoints with the visitors.


Adam Stoker: [00:37:33] All the Touchpoints, that’s right. He’s got a copy of my book there, for those of you that everybody can’t see.


Neal McCoy: [00:37:39] Shameless plug.


Adam Stoker: [00:37:40] Yeah. If you want to learn how to do that, my book is a great way to do that.


Neal McCoy: [00:37:43] Well, I’m looking forward to getting into it because seriously we talk about Touchpoints with our visitors and when we rolled out our brand, our brand that we —


Adam Stoker: [00:37:50] Which I love, by the way.


Neal McCoy: [00:37:51] Well, thank you. We talked about Touchpoints and how did, we roll that out. It had to arrive digitally and then we had to have the website and then we had to have our visitor center in our office and signs when the visitor arrives to go from inspiration to activation, and then to arrival.


Adam Stoker: [00:38:13] I love it. Awesome. Well, this has been great. One of the things that you talked about is that over time, you’ve learned that you have to be willing to evolve. And I think that’s one of the biggest plagues that’s in our industry right now is I think there’s a lot of people that say, “Well, that’s how we’ve always done it, right?” If you’re saying that if that’s your answer to any question, well, that’s how we’ve always done it. You got the answer wrong, right? 


Neal McCoy: [00:38:42] Yeah. And I will say that so much of the frustration comes and that people in my position and others, get bogged down in the political climate and having to justify to either board members or council members or to mayors, and you lose sight of what you’re truly trying to do with that money and that is to grow and cultivate an economy. In Tupelo, our tourism tax is viewed as just fertilizer. So if we divert that fertilizer then you’re not putting any kind of fertilizer on the grass and getting it to grow. 

We have been very fortunate that our city leaders have left us alone to do the work of the industry. So I’m very appreciative of that and recognize that that’s one of the foundations for what has given us success over the last 10 or 15 years. 


Adam Stoker: [00:39:39] Yeah. Support from the municipality is critical to the success of a DMO. But once again, it goes back to relationships. You’ve built those relationships and that’s the reason you’re getting the support. Not to mention success also breeds support as well. 


Neal McCoy: [00:39:54] Yeah. Well, it is and you have to value that and we do. We place an emphasis on that through Elizabeth and her work. So you’re exactly right about cultivating relationships and good times so that you can lean on them in the hard times. 


Adam Stoker: [00:40:08] Well, this has been great. Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you feel like would benefit our audience? 


Neal McCoy: [00:40:14] I don’t know. I think just so many times people talk about looking ahead and now this pandemic has forced us to take the bright lights off and let’s focus on what’s right in front of us. I think the ones that will be successful are the ones that are taking a short-term and long-term approach to this because it’s very obvious our industry is changing. 

The way that people travel is going to change. I think the way they travel, the trends in which they travel will change. I hope we don’t get too short-sighted of just trying to get people back and that we think about this long-term is what long-term effects will this have on the travel industry. 


Adam Stoker: [00:40:56] Yeah. Everything should tie into what is best for the long-term vision whether that means short-term traffic or like you guys are doing, holding off for a moment.


Neal McCoy: [00:41:05] Yeah. That is very much one of the things we just said is let’s hold off. It would be wasteful dollars and the other thing is just when you report and try to provide a return on investment report, I’m scared about what that’s going to look like if all of these DMOs are having to spend the money by December 31st and then our political leaders are going, “Well, you didn’t even make a dent. You didn’t get more people to travel.” Well, it’s because people weren’t ready to travel. 

So it’s going to be some interesting times and I think it will be maybe fun to look at in two or three years and look back and see how this truly affected a shift in change in travel patterns across the United States.


Adam Stoker: [00:41:56] Great. Well, how could people learn more about Tupelo? 


Neal McCoy: [00:41:59] Tupelo.net is our website. On social- 


Adam Stoker: [00:42:02] T-U-P-E-L-O, for those of you worried about how to spell it.


Neal McCoy: [00:42:06] That’s right, tupelo.net. You can search Elvis and birthplace of Elvis. It will show up. The other thing is on social media, My Tupelo on all the channels. So you can find us there. 


Adam Stoker: [00:42:16] Great. Well, this has been awesome. Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it.


Neal McCoy: [00:42:18] Adam, thanks for stopping in. I really enjoyed it.


Adam Stoker: [00:42:20] Yep. It’s been a lot of fun. Well, everybody, this has been another great episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast and if you would like to have your destination featured on the Destination Marketing Podcast on the road, I would love to come chat with you in person and get out of quarantine. Neal and I are socially distanced here. He’s six feet away from me, but we’re having a great conversation. If you want me to come to your destination, it’s adam@relicagency.com. Reach out to me, we’ll get you set up. Thanks everybody and we’ll talk to you next week.

Okay, guys. Since we started the Destination Marketing Podcast a little over a year ago, I’ve had several destinations reach out and say, “Hey, could you help me start a podcast.” And at first, we’re like, “Well, no, that’s not really what we do.” But after enough requests, we said, “You know what, let’s explore this.” We’ve created a turnkey program for destinations where we will produce, we will host, we will edit, and we will publish your podcast for your destination on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis and all you have to do is show up and answer some questions. 

We’re really excited about this program. We’ve got a few destinations that have been doing really, really well with their podcast. And if you’ve ever thought about creating a podcast for your destination, but you don’t have all the equipment or you don’t have the expertise or any of that type of stuff, let us take that off your hands. Let Relic handle your podcast creation and production, and all you have to do is show up and answer questions about all the amazing things there are to do within your destination. So let me know if you’re interested. Email me at adam@relicagency.com and we’ll get you set up on this podcast program.