Going to market: Mercer is just latest part of N.J. to use professionals to promote tourism, business

David Fink, president and chief communications officer at DavidHenry. – Courtesy photo

Mercer County is traveling down the now well-trodden path of pairing up with a marketing firm to bring more tourists, as well as business events, to the region.

The 17-municipality Princeton-Mercer Convention and Visitors Bureau coalition is among the 565 municipalities in New Jersey that are increasingly deciding that word of mouth doesn’t beat a partner in the marketing industry today. The firm it’s partnering with on a new digital advertising initiative, Creative Marketing Alliance, is based in the Princeton area as well.

“What you have today is a lot of opportunities like this, because, quite honestly, not too many people realize there’s a convention and visitors bureau here,” Jeffrey Barnhart, CEO and president of the firm, said. “And there are many of the bureaus throughout the state also interested in promoting their respective areas.”

These municipalities are heavily investing in self-promotion — and doing it at a time that marketing professionals see as ideal — to support local tourism industries that might be a bigger deal to those areas than one would expect.

For instance, Peter Crowley, CEO and president of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the region his chamber and its bureau partner serve welcomes a sizable 2.5 million visitors yearly.

“Across the state, tourism is actually the seventh-largest industry,” Crowley said. “And in our region, it’s in the Top 4.”

Crowley said the region has been achieving record growth in its travel and tourism economy. Tourism employment is at a high, as is the dollars generated by visitors each year.

“And it all serves as economic development for us,” he said. “So, we want to continue to drive that in this Central Jersey region.”

That marketing professionals understand the current moment to be perfect for these campaigns might sound self-serving; but as marketing and media company executive David Fink explained, it’s widely accepted that there’s a trending interest in “staycations,” or staying local for vacations.

“It’s a real trend, and it’s especially relevant in New Jersey, because people have known it has a lot to offer,” said Fink, who serves as president and chief communications officer at DavidHenry, a marketing agency in Westfield. “Between Uber, Airbnb and other online resources, it’s easier to find and experience the state’s hidden gems.”

Involved in this is an effort to attract the rising buying power of millennials. Fink said that millennials are more regularly today at the stage of having young kids that they’re looking to do weekend activities with outside the state’s urban corridors.

Kate Stevens, managing director for the Princeton-Mercer Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that’s an obvious demographic for them.

“We’re really well-equipped for those day-trippers who want to do something family-oriented,” Stevens said. “We have beautiful parks, history and art that we want to highlight to draw families into the area.”

Stevens said the lead-up to her organization’s outreach initiative, which is intended to attract corporate attention for business conventions and events as much as it’s bringing in tourists, was a lot of research with other organizations leading travel marketing in the tri-state area. And not all of them share the same characteristics of Central Jersey, either.

“The areas looking into this might have some totally unique aspects, but, underneath it all, they will have the same few things they want to accomplish,” Fink said.

What does differ — greatly — is the marketing options available to these municipalities.

Aside from having more than 1,600 marketing and advertising agencies in the state to choose from, the internet and the proliferation of social media networks has added countless options to how an organization can get a message out.

“It was once the case that you had a finite number of mediums; now, especially with finite marketing dollars, and have to be selective among a huge choice of mediums,” Fink said.

Marketers and the organizations they partner with particularly have to deal with the problem of limited funds when working in New Jersey, as there is no statewide tax dedicated to the promotion of convention facilities or tourist attractions — as some neighboring states have.

“Therefore, we don’t have a lot of funds available for promotion here,” Barnhart said. “We have to be more strategic in creating awareness with what is available.”

Barnhart said that can make things tricky for marketing campaigns.

“But we enjoy the chance to get people excited about coming here,” he said.

Conversation Starter

To reach Jeffrey Barnhart of Creative Marketing Alliance, contact Nicole Pyhel at: npyhel@cmasolutions.com or 609-439-9324.