June 11, 2021 / Thought Leadership

CP Recap: Williamsburg Tourism Council and CP Take to the ANA Stage

Steve Connelly, President and Copywriter & JoAnne Borselli, Group Brand Director

Did you miss our presentation at ANA’s Brand Management Committee meeting? Not to worry. Here are the Cliffs Notes version.

The team at Connelly Partners spoke at the ANA Brand Management Committee meeting to bring attendees through the Williamsburg Tourism Council case study and the importance of investing in your brand and maintaining ad spend during a downturn.

 Being Quiet Gets You Nowhere

Most travel brands and destinations were staying dark, watching and waiting to determine when to come back. WTC had the courage to keep investing because they knew that the best time to spend is when others are not. 

From an advertising perspective, we counsel clients to think hard before pulling out of the market. Why? According to Nielsen: “on average, it takes three to five years to recover equity lost because of halted advertising, and long-term revenue can take a 2% hit for every quarter a brand stops advertising.”  

The recovery period on the other side kills a lot of brands. Colorado tourism learned that the hard way back in the 90’s.

Value Anthropology as Much as Data 

Together with the client, we conducted a mix of quantitative, qualitative and observational human behavior research to better understand the perspective and concerns of our audience. But beyond the “traditional” research, we believe in digging deeper and observing people in their day to day lives. Watching them as much as asking them.  

We learned things that are obvious to us now, but weren’t back then. Life was feeling hectic is a way that was uncomfortable; people were anxious to fly; road trips took on a nostalgic feel and began to increase in frequency and distance; people missed being with family and friends; and were embracing outdoor activities like never before.

This Isn’t About You

The research helped us to better connect with our audience. Because the reality is, it’s about finding a way to fit into our customers lives, not the other way around. We heard what they were concerned about and what they felt comfortable doing. Since much of what the region offers was outdoors and easy to drive to, WTC would be a great choice for the first post pandemic vacation destination. We wanted to be first in line when the world started to open. 

While other destinations were focusing their messaging on soft-sells about being there when consumers were ready to getaway, Williamsburg Tourism Council to take a took a more direct approach about being there now for how consumers wanted to get away. The Life. At Your Pace. campaign was born.

It featured TV, Digital, Search and more. We also met our audience where they were as time on social media had increased. We knew they had safety concerns. Beyond inspiration, they needed validation when they were starting to make travel decisions. So we leaned in hard on Influencer Marketing as a big part of the awareness strategy and were third party ambassadors who could tell a genuine story and to show by example what the experience was really like, the safety protocols in place and to answer any questions from their own follower base. 

Things Will Go Wrong  

We knew from the start that we weren’t going to win on overnight stays. Occupancy was still in the tank, restaurants were sometimes empty. We had to drive awareness and manage stakeholder expectations. We had to be in this for the long-haul. This wasn’t just about 2020, it was about how we were going to recover over the long-term. 

Since June 2020 when the campaign launched, the work kept going. The launch itself was really only the beginning. On top of this campaign, we had to be constantly listening to the market and to our local businesses to anticipate and quickly respond to changes. It was all about trying new things–and knowing some would stick and others might not.

We created a local print and digital campaign that ran over the winter to encourage the local market to support restaurants and retail stores. We hosted a webinar for local businesses to educate and guide them on social and influencer marketing opportunities. We created a campaign “subset” to support families managing their kid’s education at home.

Data Is An Action, Not A Number

All of the work we did was rooted in data–from the research that led to the concept and to the media strategy. We had a measurement plan in place from the beginning and we are reviewing performance multiple times each month. 

But what is imperative is not just capturing the data (there’s always more than any marketer knows what to do with), and rather, using the data to ask “so what?”

What action will we take with this information? Is it going to drive a shift in targeting? Do we need to shift dollars from one market to another? Is it time to rotate out creative?

Data that’s not tied to action is useless. 


Needless to say, it pays to invest during a downturn.

Williamsburg Tourism Council’s web traffic is up 78% from same time in 2019 (considered peak period for travel in recent years). 80% of that traffic is from first-time visitors to the site – opening up new opportunities.

With an ongoing advertising investment since June 2020, we’ve driven an 16% increase in awareness, 18% increase in positive perception and 157% increase in “likelihood to visit in the next 12 months”