In January I wrote a post about the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association Annual Conference where they discussed at length the ICVA's new partnership with Young and Laramore as well as the initiative to rebrand our fair city. This topic interests me deeply- and on several different levels.

First, rebranding a city is an effort on a grand scale that will involve all of the principals that I so enjoy writing about: Establishing a new story for the city, finding the outlets where that story can be told, creating partnerships and working with media. Secondly, this effort effects the businesses of Indianapolis directly. Currently, the convention and tourism buisness injects billions in to our local economy every year. But perhaps most importantly- I love this city. I think it has a wonderful story to tell. And I know from regular visits to St. Louis, Chicago, Columbus, Louisville, and my hometown, Cincinnati, that the story needs desperately to be told. We are living in a world-class city and it deserves to be recognized as such. The concept presented- highlighting Indianapolis' "competitive spirit"- resonated with me immediately. I think that swagger and pride in what our city has to offer was just what was needed.

In an effort to "pull back the curtain" and share some of the philosophy and mechanics of what a major effort like this entails, I went directly to the source. I'm joined today by Warren Wilkinson, Sr. VP of Marketing and Communications for the ICVA.

Previously, Mr. Wilkinson served as the Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communication for locally based Republic Airways Holdings. He came to the ICVA with 27 years of experience in corporate marketing and communications. In addition to his current role, Mr. Wilkinson serves on the board of the Indiana Repertory Theatre and the Purdue University Aviation and Technology Advisory Board.

NUmedia: I believe that this story (of the ICVA's renewed efforts) is one that every business owner in our community should be following closely. Tell us briefly the mission of the ICVA.

Wilkinson: The mission of the ICVA is to advance Indianapolis tourism and economic growth. Tourism is big business in Indianapolis. This industry supports over 66,000 jobs and generates over $3.56 billion in economic impact to the local economy. The tourism industry is a growth industry in central Indiana. $3.56 billion in economic impact is significant and generates significant tax revenue ($894 Million) for the city and state. The ICVA's ad campaign during the summer of 2008 generated over $185 million in spending in the local economy during the months of June, July and August. The jobs this industry creates are at all levels. The hotel development occurring in downtown Indianapolis will create hundreds of jobs. The visitors that will come to conventions and meetings in the expanded Indiana Convention Center will dine in our over 250 downtown restaurants and visit our numerous attractions across the city.

NUmedia: Warren, rebranding a city is a massive effort- one that requires a lot of time and a lot of resources. What were the reasons that the ICVA decided now was the time to reframe our city's story? And who were the stakeholders that were a part of that process?

Wilkinson: The reason for the rebranding effort is that our research shows that the current image of Indianapolis to our potential guests is "vanilla". Please note that our brand position is a conclusion we want people to draw. Our brand needs to be true and believable and grown from facts. Our brand position based on the competitive spirit found in our community is part of our DNA. It's what makes Indianapolis unique. As a community we are always trying to make our city better and more competitive. This is evidenced by the continual improvements you see in our city. For example, the airport, Lucas Oil Stadium, the expansion of the IMA, the new exhibits at the Indianapolis Zoo. The JW Marriott complex, The Indiana Convention Center Expansion, The IRT lobby expansion etc etc.

NUmedia: As a transplant to Indianapolis, I think I can understand "vanilla". It took me some time to realize just how much Indy has to offer. In fact, I caught a quote on the Urbanophile from CEO Don Welsh, shortly after he accepted the position: "Our product is better than our brand." This is clearly an effort to correct that. But were there any specific hurdles or perceived deficiencies that had to be directly addressed? And does the ICVA see our development efforts as our greatest strength for positioning ourselves against other regional cities like Chicago or Cincinnati?

Wilkinson: Indianapolis suffers from misperception. Don Welsh is exactly right. Our product is better than our brand. Our research from shows that Indianapolis does not have much of an impression at all. Hence the vanilla description. There is nothing wrong with vanilla but we need to leave a more memorable impression on our prospective guests. Once we get visitors to Indianapolis they repeatedly tell us they are surprised at the depth of the offerings and how pleased they were with the Indianapolis experience.

The significant development that has and is occurring is evidence to how Indianapolis is raising the game. We are constantly trying to make our city more competitive and better for our visitors and our residents. Additionally we have a wide variety of excellent arts and cultural offerings, we need to communicate this in a more positive and confident manner. While Indianapolis has a long and proud tradition of being a great sports town with a geat track record of hosting large competitions, we have a vibrant arts and cultural community who contribute to further "dimensionalizing" our great city.

NUmedia: You went through a relatively fast, but extremely competitive process to find your partner, Young & Laramore. In evaluating potential partners, what were the ICVA's priorities? What made this potential partnership unique?

Wilkinson: You are correct the process that we undertook to select an agency for the ICVA was very competitive and thorough. In the end, the advisory board that we formed to help in the selection of the agency to lead in the rebranding process determined that Young & Laramore best captured the direction we needed to take. During the process we looked at a lot of very talented local agencies but Y&L brings extensive experience in developing national brands. Their ideas on how to communicate the promise of Indianapolis were spot on.

NUmedia: Both government and public involvement dictate that the tourism industry remain readily quantifiable. What can you tell us about the expectations for this effort? What are the overall goals as well as specific metrics that you'll be reviewing?

Wilkinson: The ICVA is a metric driven organization. We will look at our ability to attract larger and more valuable convention business to our city as well an increase in the number of leisure travelers to our city. The effects of this branding initiative will be felt over the course of several years. As an organization and a community we need to speak more confidently on the merits of our city as a convention and leisure destination.

The ICVA individual departments each have metrics that are used to measure success. For the sales department the measurement is room nights. They are focused on filling the hotels and convention center with convention and group business which in turn fills restaurants and attractions. In 2008 the sales team booked over 684,000 room nights. For the Public Relations team they are focused on placing positive stories about Indianapolis and all of its offerings in regional and national print and online publications, TV and radio outlets as well industry trade publications. We measure tone and content, message delivery, as well as advertising value. Of course we also measure website traffic.

The ICVA also serves as a support team to the many city wide conventions that come to Indianapolis. This effort includes performing the housing or reservations for the city wide conventions that come to Indianapolis as well as fulfilling the website bookings and responding to 800# reservation calls.

The ICVA is the lead destination marketing organization for Indianapolis and partners with the many other organizations that support the city.

NUmedia: The ICVA is an organization that must appeal to two very different audiences- One effort is to bring in convention business through trade groups and the like. But a second effort is made to attract individuals for events and leisure travel. How do you balance those efforts? Do you seek synchronicity between them?

Wilkinson: As we further develop the new brand strategy we will be developing new creative elements to support our marketing efforts. Our strategies to attract convention business and leisure travelers will be similar and be supported by common pillars but we will deploy different tactics to attract these types of customers. For our convention business we deploy very targeted communications to our target customers as well as an increase in face to face communications. The ICVA will continue to participate in important trade show activities when appropriate as well as a myriad of other sales related activities. For the leisure visitor we will continue with our successful marketing initiatives to attract more tourists to Indianapolis as well as increase the length of stay for our leisure visitors. Our marketing initiatives will continue to include targeted advertising in our core markets within a day's drive our city.

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