Celebrities will never be Edmonton’s cheerleaders

There’s no such thing as bad publicity – isn’t that how the saying goes? That might have been a good maxim in the past, but I’m not so sure that Travel Alberta and EEDC would agree with it in the current social media-laden world. Both agencies have taken a virtual beating over the last week for their decision to spend $20,000 to bring former “Bachelorette” star Ashley Hebert and her fiancé J.P. Rosenbaum to Edmonton. The couple was flown in from New York, stayed at the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, visited the Art Gallery of Alberta, the Old Strathcona Farmers Market, and the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, and ate at Joey’s. They seemed to have a good time, judging by their tweets, and both Travel Alberta and EEDC have been defending the expense. But questioning whether or not the trip was worth it for us is just one of the many questions that Edmontonians have been asking.

Perhaps the first question is: why Ashley and J.P.? The answer is demographics. Despite having eight seasons under its belt, “The Bachelorette” remains an incredibly successful show for ABC. And significantly, it performs very well in the all-important 18-34 demographic. In fact, the show is #1 in its timeslot for that demographic. Reaching potential visitors in the 18-34 age group is an important target for Travel Alberta and EEDC. Those are the folks that have the disposable income and ability to visit, and they’re also the group that might want to move here to work or to start a family.

Another question that comes to mind is, what do we get in return? Travel Alberta and EEDC will tell you that the return on investment comes in the form of media coverage. Incredibly, they think that we’ve earned at least $250,000 in media coverage. I suspect that figure is based predominately on the number of page views a website gets. Well let me tell you, I could put up a website with photos of the trip and spend a couple of hundred dollars and within hours I’d have hundreds of thousands of page views, but they’d all be completely worthless. Take a look at the coverage that EEDC has been highlighting. Here’s the “coverage” that appeared on CBSNews:

cbsnews

How is that photo supposed to make anyone want to visit Edmonton? Or how about this article or this blog post. Would anyone seriously look at that and say, you know, I want to visit Edmonton! I know that you have to stay top-of-mind if you want to be considered, but it feels like we’re deluding ourselves here. I think the most valuable exposure we got from this trip was the tweets from Ashley and J.P. themselves, yet that doesn’t appear to have been factored into that $250,000 number.

Let’s assume that bringing Ashley & J.P. was a good investment because of the target demographic we want to reach and the media coverage that we received as a result. Did the itinerary align with that? The couple stayed at the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald. Aside from the fact that the hotel doesn’t seem to match the couple’s style, it’s probably not the first place a 25-year-old visitor might consider. Why not have them stay at The Matrix or The Metterra hotels? The folks at Hotel Mac are fantastic, and I’m sure they took great care of Ashley and J.P., but it doesn’t seem like the right choice. I certainly can’t complain about the activities – the Fringe, the AGA, and the OSFM are all excellent stops (though I would have preferred to see them at the City Market Downtown). Sending the couple to Joey’s for dinner, however, was shocking to me. Travel Alberta talks a good game about culinary tourism, but this makes me question everything about their efforts on that front. You fly them all the way to Edmonton to eat at a chain? I know that independent restaurants can sometimes be trickier to work with, but if you’re not going to do it right don’t do it at all. You know which restaurant is not on Dine Alberta’s list of those that serve local food? Joey’s.

Could Travel Alberta and EEDC have taken a different approach? If you’ve seen “The Bachelorette” (judge me if you must but I have) you’ll know that the show is really more of an extended travel commercial than an emotional quest for true love. The bachelorette and her potential suitors fly all over the world to attractive, romantic destinations. Beaches, mountains, and busy cobblestone streets are all common sights. If reaching viewers of “The Bachelorette” is important, why not work to have Edmonton and Alberta featured as one of the destinations on the show itself? At least that way we’d be able to showcase our natural beauty and probably one or two interesting activities too. Maybe Travel Alberta and EEDC have tried to make that happen, I’m not sure, but it does seem like the return would have been greater.

I really hope that Travel Alberta and EEDC both review this experiment and learn from it. We need creative and innovative approaches to attracting tourism and investment to Edmonton, but that still has to align with strategic objectives. I would hate to see the individuals responsible for this reprimanded – instead I hope they are recognized for their initiative but educated about the importance of providing context. The uproar over this relatively minor $20,000 expense could have been almost completely avoided. And while it’s great to see Travel Alberta and EEDC working together on something, it seems to me that a few more discussions about shared objectives should have taken place first.

Ultimately, I don’t think we should ever count on celebrities to be Edmonton’s cheerleaders. Sure they might tweet something about how much they loved Edmonton, but at the end of the day that has very little impact, and there’s no guarantee that media coverage will result. The connection between bringing celebrities to Edmonton and the increased tourism and economic activity that may result seems tenuous at best. Instead of focusing on a few celebrities here and there, let’s focus on the 1.2 million people that already have a strong connection to Edmonton. Let’s provide Edmontonians themselves with the confidence, tools, and common language to tell others just how great Edmonton is and why they should come here to live, work, or play.

I’d spend $20,000 on that, wouldn’t you?

  • johnnyedmonton

    I think it was nice to think outside the box. Let’s measure the results (as best we can) and see if it works or it didn’t.

  • I agree with the content of your post, but not with its title. To me, it seems that Travel Alberta and EEDC are on the right track, but are failing to really think like fans think with this strategy. If I were a huge fan of these two celebrities, I’d want to go where they live and see the places they see every day. I’d want to visit restaurants where they visit with their families and walk along streets they walk along. The idea that they might be around any corner is part of the thrill, but even if I never caught a glimpse of them, I’d still feel like I was a little part of their lives. The point being that a real LOCAL celebrity could very easily produce the desired effect, but flying out-of-town celebrities here isn’t going to capture the imaginations of the kinds of people who think fannishly.

    • The required qualifier of “huge fans” would seem to dramatically reduce the potential audience, wouldn’t you agree?

      I don’t even think a local celebrity would have the desired impact. It has been shown time and time again that a relationship with someone (family, friend, colleague) holds far more weight in a person’s decision that any sort of marketing does.

      • It’s not as if they haven’t done that kind of marketing though. They do make efforts to encourage people to tell their networks to come here. This is just something different that cost almost nothing.

  • Travel Alberta spends
    $34m/year on marketing (from a total budget of $58m). EEDC has an annual
    budget of $36m. Spending $10k each on something like this, whether it
    worked or we need to learn more from it, was a great idea. Those
    organizations ‘waste’ much larger amounts on much less worthwhile
    projects.

    At least this has the potential to grow into something
    that does work, but you have to start somewhere.

    Maybe a little $20k
    experiment was the perfect starting place. Having Edmonton featured as a
    destination on The Bachelor would have been many hundreds of thousands,
    so many this was a good first step towards doing more unique marketing
    exercises.

    As you touched on, the social media exposure is certainly worth something. 230,000 twitter followers is nothing to laugh about

    • I agree that this was a good starting place, but there just are too many unknowns. I really do hope it leads to some more unique and creative approaches, but it has to deliver the ROI!

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  • Mack; you’ve nailed it.

    Ultimately, with any expense (big or small), you have to show ROI. Return on Investment is NOT getting a bunch of media exposure. The media exposure is what you’ve “bought” for $20,000. The Return is actual economic development dollars for Edmonton.

  • Other thoughts…

    In the grand scheme of things, the expense of this was negligible.
    It’s then kind of a shame that they probably won’t try anything else
    like this (or even things people agree are good) any time soon because
    of the negative attention it’s gotten. Because of the way large
    organizations work (like the gov), no one will want to be ‘the guy who
    approved that project that the media said was stupid’ which is a shame.

    Also, in my opinion, we shouldn’t be looking for direct return from
    this kind of stuff. We should be looking at it more for the situation
    where people around the world say to themselves “hmm, thinking of going
    skiing in the rockies, where shold we stay…? Edmonton, oh yeah, I’ve
    heard of Edmonton, it’s a legit city” as apose to “Edmonton, never heard
    of it, probably some backwards town in the middle of no where”.

    As a non-Canadian (moved here 8 years ago), I can say I’d never heard
    of Edmonton. It simply wasn’t on my radar in the way Vancouver, Toronto
    or Montreal were. That’s the basic thing we need to fix IMHO. Spending
    $20k towards that, go for it!

    • Vic

      The rockies? really? Do you know how far away that is?

  • Frenelli

    Edmonton has been featured on the Bachelor/Batchelorette franchise. They went to the Ukrainian restaurant owned by the family (local) and to a lounge on Whyte (non-chain, local).

    Off topic, but curious why you have a hate on for OSFM? Both markets are good, why not profile Whyte Ave as well as downtown?

    • Melanie

      I agree with the market comment – I live in OS, and visit the OSFM every Saturday. It doesn’t seem fair to always pit one market against the other. I don’t go to the 104th Street market because the OSFM is literally 1 block away from my house. I also like to support the businesses in my neighbourhood. When I lived downtown, I went to the downtown market. Simple.

    • I have nothing against OSFM! In fact, I frequently shop there, especially in the winter. I just think the downtown market would have provided better photography opportunities!

      • Yeah Mack, get off the OSFM’s back! You’re just jealous it’s year-round in the same location. 😛

        Excellent post, because a photo on a gallery on one CBS website is hardly going flood this city with visitors. More campaigns like the beautiful “remember to beathe” videos and fewer celebrities of the minute.

        It all seems to circle back to Edmonton, and Edmontonians, just feeling good about the city itself. Stop worrying about what everyone else thinks, make the city a place you enjoy, you’re happy with, filled with things you want to see and it becomes a place others will come to. As you said, the word of mouth from locals will naturally flow outward bringing people here.

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  • Vic

    Honestly this was a complete waste. The expense maybe minimal, but it was too early to bring such B rated stars to Edmonton. We have loads of wasted attempts at bringing in celebrities from the Jersey Shore to Kevin Costner, all of which have been ignored. I do agree with some of which you have written, but 20K could have been spent to engage the demographic a little better. It almost feels like they had the intern figure out what they should bring to Edmonton.

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  • So your last two sentences basically describe Edmontonstories.

    • No, there’s a big difference. Edmonton Stories is focused on recruiting. It does not attempt to create a single narrative. Instead it’s a place to store a myriad of stories from Edmontonians with a focus on using them to attract people to come here to work. It doesn’t provide Edmontonians with a comment set of vocabulary or ideas or concepts about Edmonton.

      What I’m talking about is helping to craft that overarching narrative that Edmontonians can relate to, can feel good about, and can use when talking about our city.

      Maybe Edmonton Stories is one of the tools in our toolbox, but it’s not the answer.