Friday, September 7, 2007

Chamber to amp up PR machine

Post-Katrina point man offers advice

Express Staff Writer

Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Carol Waller says her organization will work with prominent media outlets to promote the area in the wake of the Castle Rock Fire.

"Come on down. We're open for business."

In a multi-pronged approach to help the community and individual business owners bounce back from economic impacts from the Castle Rock Fire, the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau is ramping up its PR campaign and helping individual business owners apply for low-interest loans.

"We're going to work the PR angle as hard as we can," said chamber Executive Director Carol Waller.

The chamber will work with journalists around the country seeking feature news coverage on the area.

"We have a pretty extensive database of media that have been to Sun Valley that we have relationships with," Waller said.

She said the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram recently ran a feature story on the area. Waller is on the board of the Society of American Travel Writers.

She said the chamber is exploring to see if there might be some cooperative marketing funds from the Idaho Department of Commerce.

"We don't have a lot more in our budget but we're trying to work with the state to get some more marketing money, " she said.

Public relations experts say there's lots that marketing groups like local chambers of commerce can do to let people know the welcome sign is out after a disaster hits. John Deveney, who heads New Orleans-based Deveney Communication, represented New Orleans through its convention and visitors bureau during the lead-up to Hurricane Katrina and through the first anniversary of that disaster. His firm now works with the state's lieutenant governor through the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

"Making sure that you maintain your credibility and that you partner with groups, individuals and community groups that have credibility is very important," Deveney said. "You also want to make sure you have consistency."

He called it having "one voice" in an organization's message.

Often third parties, like the media, have more credibility than when information comes directly from other organizations or groups, Deveney said. His company worked with the Travel Industry Association.

"When we used them, it wasn't us saying it," he said. "It was them saying it."

Using the Internet is also very helpful, Deveney said, adding that his company reworked tourism Web sites to make them more effective.

Blogging expert John Cass said it is important for organizations to promote events and the natural resources of a resort area like Sun Valley and Ketchum "even more so than they did before."

The Boston-based Cass runs the blog "PR Communications" and is author of "Strategies and Tools for Corporate Blogging." He said that after disasters like 9/11, communities need to "still state that you're on the map. They (New York) did a really good job of promoting the city and basically saying that we're still there."

Cass recommends an "up-front" approach, acknowledging in Sun Valley and Ketchum's case there was a significant fire but that only a small part of the vast natural resources in the area burned. Bringing together "a community action committee" and thinking of extra events to stage is another good approach, he said.

Deveney's New Orleans company put together a statewide daily clipping and messaging service that is still in use. It updates government leaders, hotels, restaurants and others on tourism issues.

"We make it open so anyone who did want it could get it," Deveney said.

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