Mike Sells Pushes Tourism In 2 Corners of State

Mike Sells Pushes Tourism In 2 Corners of State
Mike Sells, CEO of the Sells Agency (Karen E. Segrave)

It was an odd feeling, Mike Sells admits.

Back in October, Sells had to spread the news that Fayetteville was seeking a marketing agency of record for tourism. That was awkward because Fayetteville already had a tourism ad firm: the Sells Agency, led by one Mike Sells.

But putting out press releases is part of PR, so Sells basically helped Experience Fayetteville invite his rivals to scramble for his business.

“It did feel a bit strange,” Sells said.

Last week, Sells was happy to report that his agency had retained the Fayetteville contract for two years, and to answer questions on the tourism work it recently picked up in Texarkana. Down there, A&P Commission Chair Joyce Dennington cited the “great things” the Sells team had done for Fayetteville.

“We’re extremely happy to say we kept the contract with Fayetteville,” said Sells, CEO of the Little Rock agency, which has been promoting Fayetteville tourism since 2001. “We’re also hugely excited about Texarkana.”

Fayetteville’s convention and visitors bureau began a complete rebranding of its marketing a year ago, including its website and logos, so the Sells Agency is up to speed there. Experience Fayetteville’s total annual budget is $4.2 million, with about $620,000 devoted to advertising, according to its bid-solicitation documents. City tourism tax collections from January to October last year were $2.8 million, slightly up from the same period a year before, according to the Arkansas Hospitality Association.

The marketing job in Texarkana, Arkansas, is for one year, Sells said, preferring to let the city reveal financial details. But city officials said they couldn’t reveal figures because Sells’ contract hasn’t been completed.

“The folks in Texarkana invited us to come make a proposal back in January,” Sells said. “They had asked about tourism marketing, and some folks advised them to call us. We put together a proposal and got hired.”

Drew Finkbeiner, the firm’s vice president and director of account services, will be heavily involved, along with Jon Hodges, vice president and executive creative director. Christa Page, an associate account executive and social media specialist, will help devise mobile ads aimed at travelers looking for dining destinations, Sells said.

The main goals are to highlight Texarkana as a dining destination, and to tempt Texas-side locals to cross over and discover innovative meals. “There are a lot of dining brands visible from the freeway on the Texas side, but more restaurants with top Yelp ratings are on the Arkansas side,” Sells said. “They’re authentic, hospitable, and unique. We’ll be emphasizing local chefs and owners, also dishes with sourced ingredients. When you go to a place like Cafe 511, the chef supplies a uniqueness to every dish, and that’s a different kind of experience.”

Sells hopes to hook hungry travelers with tightly geo-targeted messages “using social media and a lot of mobile,” he said. “If you’re driving from Dallas to Memphis at lunchtime, if your traveling companion is looking at the phone and you’re within 20 or 30 miles, you’re going to see our ads start to pop up.”