Let’s face it: Some of the best, most exciting marketing for Pittsburgh comes from our sports teams. When the black and gold are on the gridiron, the diamond or the ice, and the television sparkles with beauty shots of our city, the Burgh beckons to a national audience . . . “Come see us sometime.”
As marketing goes, it’s hard to beat.
But there are other teams hard at work, day in, day out, pitching Pittsburgh across the nation and the world to bring in visitors, conferences, businesses and investors. These teams get none of the sizzle and spotlight of the sports teams, but they share the attention to strategy and working toward a common goal—boosting the bottom line in Pittsburgh.
NEXTpittsburgh spoke to five organizations instrumental in marketing our region. Each group targets different audiences, using different strategies, but there is overlap and vital collaboration in helping each other succeed. Along with the sharing of research and connections, continuity in messaging, even traveling together to network at conferences, each group credits city and county leadership in making their initiatives possible.
Allegheny County Airport Authority
When it came time to plan for the World Routes 2015 conference, the biggest and most prestigious global routes event, Christina Cassotis opted for something different. Less than a year in her job as CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, she was already making a name for herself as a force on the scene.
So it wasn’t surprising that instead of going for the small booth space, like most other airport authorities, Cassotis invited both the Allegheny Conference and VisitPittsburgh to join her group in Durban, S. Africa. Then she rented a larger standout space, filling it with impressive graphics, photos and multi-media to convey a more vivid sense of Pittsburgh.
As a result, the community and business participation in the Pittsburgh contingent was among the most comprehensive of airports at the conference. The airlines told them so.
“These folks traveled with us and their organizations paid for their travels, which I just thought was an amazing testament to the importance that these organizations place on air service,” says Cassotis who notes, “We (the airports) don’t drive air service. The community does.”
When it comes to selling Pittsburgh, Cassotis sites two distinct audiences.
“First are the airlines, including our incumbent airlines and the new airlines that we would love to see start service here.
“The second audience I discovered I needed to sell Pittsburgh to is . . . Pittsburgh. I found early on that Pittsburghers have what I would consider to be a limited view of the potential for growth, making people believe that we can do this, we can increase service, we can increase opportunity and the airport can be a meaningful contributor to the economy here in Western Pennsylvania.”
Cassotis, who arrived from Boston and lives downtown, has quickly developed a respected reputation as a smart, tell-it-like-it-is proponent not just for the airport, but also for the region.
“I have engaged community partners like the Pittsburgh Technology Council, VisitPittsburgh and Allegheny Conference, in particular, because at the end of the day what I talk to the airlines about is not the airport,” she says. “Airlines don’t serve airports. They serve markets. So what I need to know is what’s happening in this market that I can tell the airlines about and how is it specific to what they look for when they are looking at certain routes.”
She scoured the community for knowledge about the kind of companies that are here and the type of back and forth leisure, university traffic and corporate traffic that ensues. “Working with university partners, community partners, NGOs, business groups, the tourism industry, government, all of that has been essential for me in order to sell the market to the airlines.”
Collaboration is vital. “We are working on a couple of key market initiatives,” she says. “We can move the needle more collectively than we can individually, because the more buzz that is out there about Pittsburgh, the easier everybody’s job is.”
Tourism in the Pittsburgh region is a $4 billion industry and upwards of 20,000 people every day in Allegheny County are not from here, points out Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPittsburgh. “They are keeping restaurants afloat, they are paying taxes for us. Tourism is an incredible generator of wealth.”
Luckily, Pittsburgh has had no shortage of positive press in recent years to attract more of it: Travel & Leisure magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, Zagat naming Pittsburgh as the number one food scene. Then there was the one that Davis and VP of marketing Tinsy Labrie said “knocked them over”—National Geographic Traveler naming Pittsburgh one of the best cities in the world to visit in 2012.
As gifts go, this one was on a silver platter, wrapped in gold ribbon with a sprig of green, as in money. It was a marketer’s dream.
Davis and Labrie have each been with VisitPittsburgh for 16 years, so the changes in perceptions of the region they have witnessed in that time have been remarkable. And as the steel era draws further away, they sense another shift.
“Young people, millennials, are big travelers,” Labrie says, “and they don’t even know what the steel city was because that is not part of what they know Pittsburgh to be. They have never known it that way.”
For VisitPittsburgh, the goal is “heads in beds,” attracting visitors who will fill hotel rooms. “Our stated intent is to get people to come here and stay overnight and spend money,” Davis says. “But, really, our job is much broader than that. We are the de facto international public relations firm for Pittsburgh.”
VisitPittsburgh addresses two audiences: one is conventions and meetings, in which case they’re marketing to the meeting planner to convince them to bring a group to Pittsburgh at a scheduled time. Those furries, for example, or the prestigous Americans for the Arts group a few years ago (a huge coup for the city).
It’s a big, highly competitive job, and VisitPittsburgh has a sales force dedicated to it, backed up with reams of research.
“The other audience is the leisure traveler, ones who travel for family activities, the sports travelers who want to see our stadiums, the outdoor enthusiasts, and the arts and culture lovers,” Labrie says. Each group requires a different target market, with different advertising and media coverage.
VisitPittsburgh works closely with several collaborators, both in and out of the area. For leisure travelers, they share information with Convention and Visitors Bureaus in Cleveland, Columbus, Buffalo, DC, and Baltimore. They exchange info about the best travel bloggers. Then, working with local partners like the PDP, the Allegheny Conference and the Allegheny Airport Authority, they invite mainstream writers and bloggers to experience Pittsburgh (as their guest) firsthand. And they track the articles, the websites and their unique monthly visitors.
With conventions, our neighbor cities are our fierce competitors.
While we lack an enormous conference hotel, there’s plenty to sell about Pittsburgh, from dining and sports to the arts and riverfronts to the eclectic neighborhoods—and all that great national press helps. Location is vital, too. “We use Pittsburgh’s location as a very strong selling point,” Davis says. “We are physically located close to a large portion of the population of North America. So when we talk to national associations about bringing their meetings to Pittsburgh, they want it to be easy for people to get to, and that increases the number of people who attend.”
Two people who fully understand the value of tourism, Labrie says, are Bill Peduto and Rich Fitzgerald. “None of this happens without government leadership,” Labrie offers. “They understand how important tourism is from a dollars and cents perspective, from an image standpoint, and from a quality of life standpoint.”
Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership
“We are selling Downtown Pittsburgh to folks who are interested in either living, working or playing in Downtown Pittsburgh, and we do that through a whole host of ways,” says Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP).
“And we are also selling Downtown to a business owner or someone looking at downtown as an investment opportunity or place to grow and expand their business.”
One group—two very different audiences.
For the downtown visitor, the PDP focuses on creating and selling experiences. Think: Night Market, Cultural Trust Gallery Crawl, the holiday market. “The PDP’s goal is to promote what people can find Downtown that they can’t find anywhere else. What do we have in Downtown Pittsburgh that is interesting and something that you are only going to find here, like the urban landscape and environment?” Waldrup says.
“That’s why we’ve partnered with folks to bring things like the Urban Supper, because we want people to share an Instagram photo or go home and talk about what an incredible experience they had dining under the stars with one of the best chefs in the city.”
For marketing, the PDP’s website guides audiences to either “Business” or “Lifestyle,” and provides event listings and Downtown info, with downloadable guides like “Downtown Made Easy,” “Shop & Dine Guide” and the “Made Easy Map.”
While the organization also offers a weekly e-newsletter highlighting upcoming events, social media is key. “We really rely on word of mouth and folks accessing their social media. They’re killing it on Twitter where they have over 50,000 followers. “That’s a huge way in which we promote things, like Picklesburgh,” says Waldrup referring to the new festival last year celebrating all things pickle.
Businesses know the PDP best for the data they provide. “Over the last five years we have created a fairly extensive database of information about the economy of Downtown Pittsburgh,” says Waldrup, which goes into the annual State of Downtown Pittsburgh report.
That allows for interesting conversation with folks interested in learning about the Pittsburgh market. “In the last 5 to 6 years we’ve seen just an unprecedented amount of interest from real estate developers from outside of the region which is very exciting,” he notes.
Cooperation from Pittsburgh and Allegheny County officials certainly helps. “Collectively as a staff, we probably meet with city and county staff a half a dozen to a dozen times a week,” says Waldrup.
“Every month we have a strategic partners meeting with a lot of the organizations that sell Pittsburgh, be it the Allegheny Conference, VisitPittsburgh, the Cultural Trust, Point Park University, River Life, our organization,” Waldrup says.
“We have representatives from the county and city government often at those meetings as well, and we talk about initiatives that are underway and really make sure that we are not leaving opportunities to collaborate on the table, that we are engaging folks early on in discussions. The collaboration means we’re better organizations and more effective as a result.”