5 takeaways from Charlotte Bireley’s presentation, “Marketing During a Global Pandemic”

1. Do your research.

When COVID-19 caused more than 8,800 tourism industry job losses on Florida’s Treasure Coast – Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties – data revealed people were willing to drive three hours to smaller communities, beaches and outdoor places.

2. Be ready to pivot.

“We were all in survival mode,” Bireley said. She shifted the marketing message, developed a “nearcation” campaign and targeted people who were still willing to travel. Her team also verified that all destinations were safe and helped manage a webpage that listed open locales.

3. Take a chance on an edgy approach.

When enticing travels to visit, the tagline tapped into human nature’s rebellious side. Showing images of people riding horses on a pristine beach, potential visitors were told, “Don’t come here,” “Nothing to see” and “Don’t book a deal here.” Did visitors listen? The campaign resulted in $50,000 in hotel bookings, exceeding expectations.

4. Partner.

Bireley leveraged existing and new partnerships. She already had strong relationships with her counterparts in Indian River and Martin counties. “We’re one region and share similar assets” she said. The team also leveraged small business programs at a local college and identified the need for a local chapter of the lodging and restaurant association to help businesses, especially mom-and-pops.

5. Have reserves.

“It was smart to remain fiscally conservative (before the pandemic) and keep money in reserves,” Bireley said. Having money saved – originally in case of hurricanes – was “critical to keeping things going.”