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Parks & Tourism Debuts Wedding Publication

3 min read

When the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism launched its new Arkansas Motorcycling Guide in March, it joined forces with taxpayer-funded convention and visitors bureaus and a nonprofit chamber of commerce that had previously produced similar publications.

The department’s advertising agency, Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods of Little Rock, even hired the only for-profit competitor, David Bell of Cruise the Ozarks, to produce the editorial content of the 82-page guide.

But the arrival in the market of Parks & Tourism’s second new publication, My Arkansas Wedding, came as a surprise to the for-profit publishers of magazines — including Arkansas Business’ sister publication, Arkansas Bride — already competing for the wedding advertising dollars.

The State Parks, Recreation & Travel Commission tossed its bouquet into the wedding publication business last September when it approved a comprehensive advertising and publication proposal prepared by CJRW. (CJRW’s CEO, Darin Gray, was a member of the commission at that time, but he was not hired by the Little Rock ad agency until February.)

“I was shocked to learn about this,” Mitch Bettis, president of Arkansas Business Publishing Group, said. “It’s always a concern when the government starts competing with private businesses, and there are several companies that specialize in this arena that I’m sure would have considered bidding on this project.”

Kelly Fraiser, publisher of Weddings in Arkansas, said she too was surprised to learn of Parks & Tourism’s publication but didn’t want to comment otherwise. Gwendolyn Hayes, publisher of Central Arkansas Wedding Ideas of Bryant, did not respond to calls for comment. An account representative for The Knot, a national publisher of wedding guides, said her company considered the Arkansas wedding market too small to be profitable.

Marla Crider, deputy director of Parks & Tourism, said the department had asked CJRW to help fill a void that cities from Hot Springs to Blytheville had asked the department to address: a marketing piece that promotes Arkansas as a wedding destination to brides in surrounding states. The existing bridal magazines in the state generally promote much more than venues and include articles on wedding rings, dresses, catering, photography, florists and the like.

“We absolutely are not trying to compete with private business,” Crider said. “We thought we were filling a need expressed.”

Parks & Tourism Director Richard Davies agreed: “Ours was supposed to be about, ‘Come to Hot Springs and get married at Garvan Gardens’ — or Eureka Springs or Petit Jean.”

But while the editorial content in My Arkansas Wedding will be limited to wedding destinations and venues around the state, the paid advertising clearly won’t be. According to the rate card distributed to potential advertisers, Parks & Tourism — through four CRJW representatives — plans to sell “advertorial” space for “expert advice” on picking a diamond, choosing a wedding dress and hiring photographers and caterers.

CJRW’s proposal as approved by the commission calls for Parks & Tourism to pay $40,225 to produce the 50,000 copies of the wedding guide, including almost $28,000 for printing.

Crider said she didn’t know how much of a commission CJRW would also make for selling advertising, and it was not included in the budget proposal that the State Parks, Recreation & Travel Commission approved. Agencies placing ads in the publication will also collect commissions, as is typical. CJRW is working to secure advertising through the first week of October.

Existing for-profit bridal magazines in Arkansas make little effort to circulate outside the state, so Parks & Tourism’s plan for distribution of the publication includes bridal shows both inside and outside Arkansas. Copies also will be mailed to anyone who makes a request to Parks & Tourism. But My Arkansas Wedding will also duplicate the typical distribution plans of the for-profit competitors: bridal boutiques statewide, hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.

Otherwise, the distribution is planned inside the state at the same sort of venues as other bridal publications.


Weddings in Arkansas, a special publication of At Home in Arkansas, was brought back under local ownership when Fraiser bought the magazine from Network Communications Group of Norcross, Georgia, on Aug. 8.

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