Hometown Pride: Communicating Your Locale’s Allure

May 1, 2019

People often feel passionate about where they live and display that pride in numerous ways — from photos they share on social media to bumper stickers on their vehicles bearing three-letter abbreviations for their town or city.

For tourism and economic-development offices looking to attract visitors and businesses, or downtowns seeking “Main Street” designations from the community revitalization nonprofit Main Street America, the best communications originate from the passion of those who live there.

Organizationally, a tourism office may be housed in an economic-development department or be part of a regional tourism authority. Either way, the job of attracting visitors and business benefits from teamwork that helps achieve a greater good for your locale. No matter who leads the campaign, it should communicate that the destination is a desirable place to “Live, Work and Play.” This collaborative effort may also attract campaign-funding interest from nonprofit organizations and government agencies.

Yes, it often makes sense to hire a communications consultant or agency to assist with a tourism or economic development campaign when in-house resources don’t exist. But if someone local can’t be found, then outside help needs to visit your town and experience it, and take communications cues from the brand evangelists who live there.

Brand evangelists are people who go out of their way to sing the praises of whatever it is they represent — in this case a city, town or region. They can also provide insight for what you might otherwise miss and help you do better. Their passion and knowledge about the places where they live can fuel communications campaigns that jump-start local economies or take those already underway to the next level.

Nostalgic realism

We often connect with our hometowns through a lens of nostalgic realism, which is also a good way to approach communications campaigns for tourism or economic development.

Nostalgia can provide the illustrative and emotional nature of a campaign, as long as what we communicate starts with something true. The story should begin with the locale’s benefits. Does it have historical significance or a unique attraction? Is it close to the mountains or a beach? We also need to keep in mind any negatives associated with the location.

A simple SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis should yield these facts. We can then couple results from SWOT analysis with perceptions gleaned from focus groups that bring together people who have lived their entire lives in the area, return residents who have moved back to the area, and tourists. Each group will contribute specific insights that help round out your campaign research.

Once you’ve gathered results from your analysis and focus groups, be ready for the unexpected. People who’ve lived their entire lives in a region often don’t appreciate it as much as those who have lived somewhere else.

If you’re starting a new communications campaign, then you might also want to take the opportunity to create a brand or rebrand an existing one. At this stage, you can leverage information and resources for a common effort.

Consistent messaging

Once you’ve determined your story and created your brand (if you go the brand or rebrand route), it’s time to execute your SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable and time-bound) objectives, along with associated strategies and tactics. Like any communications campaign, those for tourism or economic development involve these elements as well as evaluation, budgeting and a timeline to help you stay on track and achieve optimal results.

Before going public with it, make sure you will communicate the same story and message as all city and county municipal agencies and the organizations with which they work, such as chambers of commerce, colleges (which include community colleges) and universities.

A simple example of this coordination is that the various entities involved should post the same content to their social media accounts such as Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook. They should also repost and retweet content that their partner organizations share on social media. Communicators often overlook LinkedIn, but businesses and professionals seeking new jobs use this career-oriented social media platform daily. For communicators, it’s low-hanging fruit. Human resources officers from your area can also perform well on LinkedIn.

To attract tourists or new businesses, testimonials from residents and officials are powerful, especially video testimonials. Such endorsements can be posted on organization websites, shared via social media and included in marketing materials.

To earn coverage of your area’s story in traditional media, pitch it to local and regional print, TV, radio and niche outlets. Niche media can vary from outlets that cover your locale’s special attributes — its historical significance, mountain-bike trails, aquarium, etc. — to magazines and websites for economic development and tourism.

Remember to also pitch international niche media or traditional media that might be interested in your hometown. For instance, your region may have been settled predominantly by people from a particular country, or it may have a sister-city relationship abroad.

The key to successful communications is to remain authentic, passionate and creative. Any idea can be a good idea. Just vet it with your collaborative partners, hone the angle to reach target audiences and make sure it communicates a great story that will attract new businesses and tourists.

Matt Charles, APR

Matt Charles, APR, is a consultant (Matt Charles Public Relations), adjunct professor and Fulbright Specialist who has worked as deputy spokesperson for the University of Virginia, director of media relations for the UVA Darden School of Business and communications director for Danville (Va.) Regional Foundation. Contact him at mattcharlespr@gmail.com.


Anne says:

Great advice for any organization looking to represent and share their local areas attributes.

May 3, 2019

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