Creating Chemistry Between Albuquerque and ‘Breaking Bad’

December 1, 2014

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It’s been a little more than a year since Walter White and Jesse Pinkman signed off the airwaves, but fans are still infatuated with the Vince Gilligan-produced TV series “Breaking Bad.” The AMC crime drama ran for five seasons and, in 2014, Guinness World Records named it the highest-rated show of all time. It won 16 Primetime Emmys, eight Satellite Awards, two Golden Globes, two Peabodys and a People’s Choice Award.

“Breaking Bad” tells the story of White, played by Bryan Cranston, a struggling high-school chemistry teacher who learns he has terminal lung cancer. He decides to produce and sell crystal meth to secure his family’s financial future before he dies. White teams with his former student, Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul, and the show chronicles their misadventures in Albuquerque, N.M.The show garnered an average of 5.9 million viewers per episode in the final season, which resulted in the city of Albuquerque becoming somewhat of a central character as well. The local tourism office faced a unique challenge: Should it tap into the phenomenon, even though the show focuses on making and distributing illegal drugs?

After much research and deliberation, the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB) decided to embrace this unexpected attention and piggyback off the show to drive tourism awareness and visitation on a national and international level.

The ACVB, Turner Public Relations and Visit ABQ teamed up for the campaign “Albuquerque Tells Potential Visitors to Remember My Name.” It was extremely successful and received PRSA’s 2014 Bronze Anvil Award in the media relations, consumer services and travel and tourism/hospitality categories.

By partnering with several local businesses such as The Candy Lady, who made the original “meth” for the show — which was actually blue rock candy — and the ABQ Trolley Co. for area tours, the campaign targeted entertainment and travel publications, bloggers and influencers. In addition, the ACVB created a self-guided “Breaking Bad” tour on its website with a Google map, a list of filming sites and related spots to visit in the city.

As a result, local businesses saw an increase in revenue, media coverage grew, the ACVB’s website traffic improved and more tourists visited the city of Albuquerque.

“Our team learned a lot about how to leverage pop culture and entertainment media in a tourism campaign,” said Angela Berardino, chief strategy and integration officer at Turner PR.

Here Tactics talks with Berardino, where she shares her insights on the award-winning campaign.

How have local Albuquerque residents responded to your campaign?

The tourism community is filled with personal anecdotes about how film tourism has positively impacted their businesses; it’s been well received. The local paper even ran a “real” obituary for lead character Walter White after the series finale, which speaks volumes about the fun and humorous way that Albuquerque has embraced its role in the series. The community ran with it, creating experiential touchpoints for visitors — from day tours to candy “meth” — online itineraries and maps tailored toward [fans], as well as opening their doors to media. Those tours and offerings are still available, making it a natural part of Albuquerque’s distinct identity.

It also helped that the actors in the show embraced the community thoroughly — buying homes, putting their kids in local schools and donating to local charities.

Why did you decide to embrace the risqué themes of the “Breaking Bad” series?

The Albuquerque CVB deserves all of the credit (along with the tourism community) for taking such a bold, creative direction in embracing the opportunity that this series opened up. It wasn’t even a difficult debate — they saw how the public was reacting to the show and the passion for the characters and the setting. It’s been interesting to compare how Albuquerque embraced a show about drugs at a time when many destinations are grappling with changing marijuana legislation and the impact that may have on tourism. Albuquerque had faith that consumers are smart enough to understand that the town was embracing one of the best TV series ever made, not drug culture.

Do you think the show will have influence on Albuquerque for years to come?

We anticipate that “Breaking Bad” is going to have several more years of mileage for Albuquerque. We’ve noticed that there are still marathons of the show every holiday weekend. And it may start airing on alternative channels. It’s still airing in Europe, and visitors are coming from the U.K. and Germany to explore the city as a result. A spinoff of the original series, “Better Call Saul!” started filming this year and will air in 2015, with Albuquerque playing a similar key role in the series.

What was the most challenging part of working on this campaign?

Once we knew that the series was definitely ending and had specific air dates, we had to be sensitive to timing press visits so that long-lead stories would sync up with the start of the final season — a huge media opportunity — and lead up to the last episode. We knew that visitors would continue to make the pilgrimage, but media wouldn’t run many stories in the months after the series had ended, so we had to front-load the timeline.

What results have you seen regarding tourism trends to the area?

Every indication is that the numbers are up. Albuquerque has had a lot of positive factors helping drive tourism growth — the increase they are seeing can’t be solely attributed to the show, although it [likely] had an impact. For example, JetBlue added a direct flight from New York last year and the tax incentives for film production have brought in major [film] projects [like] “The Lone Ranger,” “Transformers” and “The Avengers.”

Are you a fan of the TV show?

Yes! But — it’s a little embarrassing — I still have the last two seasons on my iPad. I’ve been chipping away at it on planes and trains every week. I got a late start! Even though I know the ending [due to] the media coverage, it’s totally worth watching.

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.

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