Weekend visitors, meeting planners, even potential residents – they’re all being targeted as Destination Cleveland gears up to sell the city during the NFL Draft this month.
The region’s tourism bureau recently launched a multi-phase marketing approach for the event, spending about $250,000 in an effort to ensure the city makes the most out of its time in the spotlight.
The amount is comparable to what the bureau spent to promote Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game in 2019, according to an agency spokeswoman.
The most unusual part of the campaign is a first-of-its-kind pitch to potential future residents, dubbed “Cleveland Wants to Draft You.”
The pilot project is a collaboration among Destination Cleveland, Team NEO and Engage! Cleveland, designed to entice people watching the draft to learn more about living and working in Cleveland.
The digital campaign will target people in at least eight markets, including Columbus, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York City, Nashville, Washington, D.C., Denver and Seattle.
The effort is part of a nascent movement among various Northeast Ohio civic organizations to come up with ways to grow the city’s population.
“This is our opportunity to also say to those viewers who are watching – Cleveland is a great place to call home,” said Colette Jones, chief marketing officer for Destination Cleveland.
While the long-term goal is to attract more workers to the region, the short-term objective is to find out how different audiences react to different content about Cleveland. Messages might focus on career opportunities in the region, its low cost of living, cultural amenities, sporting events and outdoor attractions.
“With a pilot campaign, it’s about trying to learn so we can figure out how to scale up a future effort,” said Steve Fritsch, vice president of marketing and engagement for Team NEO. “We hope to be able to understand what messages resonate with what people.”
Separately, Destination Cleveland is planning to air a commercial about the city that will run during and after the draft on the NFL Network and ESPN, designed to reinforce the positive messaging that the region is expected to receive during the event, which runs April 29-May 1 in downtown Cleveland.
The more traditional part of the campaign – designed to entice short-term visitors to town for the event – has already started, a partnership between Destination Cleveland and the NFL. The campaign is using ads on radio, streaming audio and video, social media and other digital platforms, targeting potential visitors in and out of Ohio. Target markets include the football-focused cities of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Detroit, Buffalo, Baltimore, Chicago, New York City and Jacksonville, Florida, home to the Jaguars, which have the top pick in this year’s draft.
As part of the campaign, Destination Cleveland partnered with the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton to produce videos featuring several former stars recalling their draft selections, advice they have for future players and what it was like to play in Cleveland (including this gem from Hanford Dixon, a native of southern Alabama, who recalled watching a Browns playoff game before he was drafted by Cleveland in 1981: “It was so cold in Cleveland that day, and people were in the stands, the fans they had their shirts off, and I remember saying to myself, ‘There’s no way I could play in that city.’”)
A final aspect of the campaign targets meeting planners, who have been invited to town to experience the draft as part of an effort to jump start the city’s dormant group travel business. The planners all have the ability to bring future groups to town, as the meetings and conventions industry gears up again, post-pandemic.
In addition to touring the convention center and other meeting venues, the planners will be feted at a reception at the Rock Hall, attend the NFL Draft Experience fan festival and more. The goal is to showcase the city’s visitor experience in addition to its meeting capabilities. “We want to get them here to show them what Cleveland does best,” said Jones.
Underscoring and complicating all of the promotional components is the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and accompanying health-related restrictions.
Numerous draft activities haven’t been announced yet, including entertainment headliners for three nights of concerts. Attendance restrictions and reservation requirements are still being discussed, as well.
And then there’s this million-dollar question: How many people will show up for the event?
Jones said both the NFL and Destination Cleveland have experience planning events with a significant amount of uncertainty.
The Super Bowl in Tampa in February proved that the NFL could safely and successfully plan and host a major event during a pandemic with thousands of attendees, she said.
Cleveland’s experience hosting the Republican National Convention in 2016 may prove to be valuable, as well, Jones said. That event had huge elements of uncertainty, in terms of visitor numbers, the potential for protests, violence and other factors.
“The RNC forced us to think proactively about how to prepare for these kind of events,” said Jones. “We are doing everything we can to prepare.”