E-mail Ally Mills Dorrough, APR, TMP
Rebranding can be daunting but ultimately rewarding if the time is right. Since 2005, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach along the Alabama Gulf Coast have hosted and serviced sporting events upon the creation of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission, which was fully implemented in 2007. The organization has evolved over the years to include a robust sponsorship program and expand its staff to facilitate approximately 130 athletic events annually from youth tournaments to national collegiate championships, contributing greatly to Alabama’s 32-mile beach destination becoming a year-round economy.
In March 2021 came the next phase of the sports marketing organization’s identity to bring major leisure events into its fold with a new name and expanded efforts: Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events.
Any strategic plan should always start with research – and lots of it – and begin with the end in mind. Our initial research included a competitive analysis – both with our traditional leisure competitive set as well as other destinations promoting events – to determine how or if other sports commissions and sports marketing organizations were promoting leisure events. We found many other sports markets were using their athletic event framework to support major leisure events, such as Visit Panama City Beach and St. Pete Clearwater Sports & Events.
Using our existing framework, we developed a model version of requirements to be considered for leisure events soliciting post-event grants, including but not limited to: a multi-day requirement to generate overnight stays; a minimum of 100 room nights; supporting our family-friendly destination values; and only promoting housing located in the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach – our lodging tax district.
The initial idea to add events was approved by the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism Board of Directors, and more specific research began, including working with an outside marketing agency to develop name and logo ideas that would resonate with locals, existing customers and potential guests. After many months of generating ideas and going back to the drawing board, we collectively decided to keep our coastal city names at the forefront and rebrand our organization to Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events.
For this rebrand, much of the research and planning happened in tandem. While collaborating with our internal marketing team, an outside agency (for a third-party perspective) and our board to ideate a name and look and feel, we were working off a simple but important central goal – to enhance Gulf Shores and Orange Beach’s year-round economy and quality of life for residents by providing grants and promotions for major family-friendly leisure events.
First, we determined our target audiences were (1) existing local multi-day family-friendly events rights holders and (2) new multi-day family-friendly events rights holders.
Second, we developed measurable objectives: (1) to increase awareness and attendance of existing multi-day events by 10 percent year one over year two of the new framework and (2) to add one to two new multi-day events in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
Third, strategies and tactics we deployed were developing event marketing support levels dependent on awarded grant levels; reaching out to existing event holders and explaining how we can help build their attendance and reach through our framework and researching; contacting potential events that would work well in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach; and developing a content plan – each with activities to accomplish and support the strategies and tactics.
Of course, launching during a pandemic was not ideal, but with a changing travel economy, we felt the time was right in 2021 to try something new to supplement sports tourism and help build out the destination’s shoulder seasons outside our peak summer season.
In the implementation phase, we soft-launched the brand on our website in mid-February to ease into the mass announcement as well as alerted our sponsors via email. On March 1, we deployed the new brand across all social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest); via press release to local, regional and national media; and by email to planners and engaged sports participants. Additionally, we continued to roll out rebranded print and digital collateral, email signature campaigns and new ad campaigns as well as to pitch local and event industry publications to build up third-party endorsements.
We are still in the evaluation phase, but we have seen much success in our first year of the rebrand. In 2021, we provided grants for four existing leisure events and two new leisure events that met specific criteria for room nights, economic impact and media opportunities. The rebrand roll-out resulted in 2.43 million impressions and 21,639 engagements across channels on social media. According to Google Analytics, our website traffic increased by 58.48 percent in 2020 compared to 2021, much of which is the result of the refresh associated with the rebrand and increased promotional efforts to boot.
As event travel begins to normalize more moving into 2022 and 2023, we expect more events to come under the GSOB Sports & Events promotion umbrella, and we should know by the end of 2022 the year over year success of event promotion.
In 2022, our marketing team is developing and placing event-focused print and digital advertising, and we have conceptualized more strategic social efforts to expand our reach, particularly on LinkedIn.
In the works is a sports and events planner destination tour video highlighting our coastal communities, facilities and event potential that can be used in a variety of ways from our owned media – website, social channels and e-newsletters – to digital campaigns, tradeshows and one-on-ones with planners. Our team is also looking at event-specific tradeshows to attend, marketing resources to produce for planners and new events to pursue that fit our family-friendly market.
WRAPPING IT UP
Any rebrand – or unveiling a strategic plan of any kind – takes research, time and humility. The time was “right” for us but not perfect; no time is the perfect time. But having a strategic plan, beginning with research and with the end in mind are key. In the end, we desire to strengthen our communities through bringing sustainable, family-friendly sports and events tourism to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach to improve the quality of life for our residents…and that is what we will continue to do.
We continue to offer major event grants; information on these opportunities and more is available at GSOBsports.com.