Andy couldn't be there in person to accept the Gold 'Henry,' so ...
Andy couldn’t be there in person to accept the Gold ‘Henry,’ so …

It’s great to be a bride and not a bridesmaid.

Our marquee client, the Monroe County (Florida Keys & Key West) Tourist Development Council picked up the top Flagler tourism marketing award — dubbed “The Henry” for “Creativity in Public Relations” at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism that ended Friday.

It was for an initiative dubbed “It’s Too Cold in Ithaca (New York) … Go to the Florida Keys Instead.”

In early February 2015, I received a call from Bruce Stoff, at the time the director of the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention & Visitors Bureau in New York state. Stoff said their weather was ridiculously cold and it looked like it was going to be a very long winter. He believed no one would visit his region given the frigid temperatures.

He had conceived an idea to communicate that Ithaca was just going to “give up” and recommend that travelers visit Key West instead. Bruce asked if the CVB could display the Key West homepage on the Ithaca website.

I thought he was nuts. It was the most preposterous undertaking I had ever heard of. You simply don’t promote other destinations on your own website. But I also understood that crazy ideas sometimes result in maximum media play and social media penetration.

I presented and strongly recommended the idea to tourism council director Harold Wheeler. At first, I believe he thought I had consumed too many margaritas, but I said we just had to move ahead with it.

He approved and I gave Bruce the go-ahead, but asked for a focus to be placed on the Florida Keys.

The Ithaca home page transition quietly took place late one Sunday night.

The 'hacked' Visit Ithaca website
The ‘hacked’ Visit Ithaca website

I alerted a few significant media resources to create initial awareness of the effort to stimulate press and social media coverage, and we latched on for the ride, which produced unbelievable results.

We estimated that the story reached more than 55 million broadcast viewers in the United States alone. The print and broadcast potential impression rate was more than 1.6 billion. Social media engagement for the Keys rose 267 percent for the week of the wackiness.

The Flagler Awards are organized by Visit Florida, the state’s public/private–sector tourism promotion agency. The awards are named to honor the “vision, perseverance, imagination and commitment” of the late Florida pioneer Henry Flagler.

And I should add that our good friends at Tinsley Advertising were responsible for the TDC receiving a Flagler in the Direct Marketing category and finalist awards in Radio Advertising, Television Advertising, Mobile Marketing and Print Advertising categories.

We’ve provided PR support to the TDC for nearly 36 years. And during the past 15 or so, we’ve garnered several Flagler awards, however, they’ve always been silver or bronze, never the gold “Henry” — until now.

Like I said, it’s great to finally be a bride.

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