Challenge: Huntington Beach, long a local’s secret with an authentic surf culture, landed its second resort in 2003, doubling its number of guestroom. Over the next three years, officials expected at least three news resorts and 300,000 sq. ft. of retail, restaurant and office space.
Its promotion as a distinct and attractive destination was critical to ensure adequate demand. But the Huntington Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau (HBCVB) was flying blind. In 14 years, it had never conducted formal market research to analyze its visitors or tailor its marketing approach. It had no public relations or media program.
Action: Anton Communications teamed with the city’s tourism bureau to embark on an ambitious campaign develop a marketing and public relations program to promote its brand, quickly boost consumer awareness of Huntington Beach and draw more overnight visitors. Ten separate research initiatives between mid-2004 and mid-2005 drew on traveler surveys, visitor intercept studies, online focus groups, an industry review report, workshops with city and business leaders, and tracking and benchmark surveys to create the Surf City USA™ brand. We promoted these efforts and the destination itself with a comprehensive media outreach campaign including 52 press releases a year, dozens of individual and group media FAM trips, arranging interviews and talk show debates. As part of our strategy, we revived and embraced a long-time rivalry with Santa Cruz, CA over who is the real Surf City USA to give an edge to the news, which resulted in international attention and media coverage.
Results: Lengthy stories with colorful photographs of surfers, sunny beaches, the bustling pier and other positive images of Huntington Beach ran in local media outlets as well as major national newspapers and on leading television and radio networks in the United States and Great Britain. The Surf City USA campaign alone generated a record number of website hits, a flood of unsolicited licensing offers, a total of 334 print articles over several months with an advertising equivalency value that easily exceeds $1 million and a 17 percent surge in hotel business over the previous year.