Parks & Tourism Keeps Marketing Business In-state

In mid-March, an interesting gathering took place in Fort Smith.

Gov. Mike Beebe hosted the 35th Annual Arkansas Governors Conference on Tourism in the city. The conference covers a lot of ground, but a major component is the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism's discussion of its tourism-marketing plan for the coming year.

The department's executive director, Richard Davies, reported that the state's 2 percent tourism tax brought in 5.3 percent more revenue in fiscal 2008 (which ended June 30) than the previous year. The tax collected about $11.8 million in fiscal 2008.

The department projects that the tourism tax revenue will grow by about only 3 percent in the current fiscal year. Earlier projections had estimated the tax's proceeds would grow by 6 percent in fiscal 2009. The change in projection will cause the department to roll back its budget accordingly, Davies said, but media buys will not be part of the cuts.

Arkansas' tourism budget hasn't been affected as much as many other states', Davies said. And with other states cutting back, there is an opportunity for Arkansas to make some headway, he said, with the goal being to lure more of the 40 million people who live within 400 miles of the state.

"Here we are in these tough economic times, and we're cheap and we're close," he said.

CJRW of Little Rock, which holds the account, determines how the bulk of the tourism advertising budget is spent. CJRW is handling $9.7 million for fiscal 2009. Aristotle Inc. of Little Rock is managing about $825,000 for the department's Internet advertising budget. The department's philosophy is to use traditional advertising to push people to Arkansas.com.

"All the ads push viewers to the Web site because the theory is traditional media will get you in the mood and the Web site will get you to spend money," Davies said.

Only about 15 percent of the ad placement budget goes to Arkansas media companies, Davies said.

"Our primary goal is to bring new money in, but you don't want to forget about 30 percent of your market," Davies said, referring to Arkansans who vacation in the state.

Where It's Going
For fiscal 2009, the department is spending about $965,000 of its tourism budget with in-state media outfits. The state's broadcasters and press associations get the largest chunks for bulk media buys that will be spread across their memberships. The Television Broadcasters Association got $80,000 for the fiscal year, the Arkansas Press Association got about $125,000, and about $380,000 is going to participating radio stations as part of the "See Arkansas First" promotion.

Individual companies getting a large share of the pie are:

• Arkansas Business Publishing Group, which is getting about $40,000 spread across its myriad publications;

• KATV-TV, Channel 7, which is getting $38,000 for individual ads and a partnership called "Welcome to Arkansas";

• The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which is getting about $20,000; and

• KAIT-TV, Channel 8, in Jonesboro, which is taking home about $20,000.

Going Online
An interesting tidbit is the emergence of online media as an advertising option. The department is partnering with KTHV-TV, Channel 11, on an $18,000 project called "Amazed by Arkansas," which runs entirely on TodaysTHV.com.

For the spring-summer campaign, the department is also spending more on two Web sites than it did on the fall-winter campaign. KARK-TV, Channel 4, is getting $10,000 for the spring-summer campaign, up from about $5,000 in fall-winter. Similarly, the Arkansas Times' Web site, www.arktimes.com, will earn $11,000 for spring-summer compared with $6,000 for the fall-winter campaign. The department is spending almost as much with the respective online entities as it is with Arkansas' largest daily newspaper.

CJRW now allots between 12.5 percent and 15 percent of total media budget online, Chairman Shelby Woods said.

"There's no question about it now. We're treating it as just another medium," he said. Woods noted that the agency's vice president and director of online media, Brian Kratkiewicz, believes online advertising is a solid investment in terms of cost per 1,000 ads.