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County Republicans split with state party on censure

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

An $85,000 online marketing effort will begin this month to try to boost end-of-season tourism and draw early-season golfers.

The campaign will focus on the Google and Yahoo search engines, and particularly people in the Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia who are planning vacations.

“We want to be where people are searching for vacation information,” said Lauren Curler, account manager for Rawle Murdy Associates, the firm that handles marketing for the Georgetown County Tourism Management Commission. “To seize the researcher.”

Rawle Murdy took over the commission’s account July 1, and will develop a 14-month marketing plan to start in October. But the commission told the agency last month it wanted a campaign to build on the momentum of last year’s marketing plan.

The county saw requests for visitor information rise from 2,807 in February when its campaign began to more than 14,000 last month.

The new campaign will aim to get potential visitors to the county’s tourism Web site, and eventually to the county itself by signing up for vacation planners and electronic newsletters, or by booking accommodations.

A second part of the campaign will send e-mail messages to 150,000 recipients in August and September through Intellistrand. The company runs myrtlebeach.com, the Web site that accounts for the largest number of enquiries about Georgetown County.

The search-engine campaign is “based on quality, not quantity,” said John Kautz, account director for Rawle Murdy.

The agency will measure the number of people who take specific actions, such as filling out requests for brochures, rather than just those who view the site.

“It’s adding one extra metric that can really make a big difference,” Curler said.

The agency will monitor the results and can change the key words to try to boost results.

A third of the effort will be directed toward golfers, including those in northern Florida who might be drawn to this area by cooler weather.

“On the golf side, we completely missed that last year,” said Sally Hogan, tourism coordinator for the Chamber of Commerce, which provides staff for the tourism commission.

Last year’s marketing effort was delayed because the newly-formed commission had to hire an agency to develop a campaign.

Some ads continued to run through the summer that were placed before the county Visitors Bureau was dissolved.

The early start to the Rawle Murdy effort will actually help the agency develop an overall marketing plan, Kautz said. The agency will be able to test ideas and gather data.

“It’s something we would do anyway,” he said.

The quick turnaround was made easier by the work the agency did to win the account, which has a marketing budget of $647,000.

Rawle Murdy will also work with the commission to develop a brand identity for the county.

Although the commission was cool to the idea of “Serenity Coast,” which the agency used in its pitch, members said Georgetown County is meaningless to most visitors.

The agency will survey the commission, past visitors and accommodations providers for themes to help develop a brand.

It’s the commission’s job to help get accommodations providers excited about the process, Curler said.

Although the commission set the brand development as a year-end goal, Curler said a brand identity could be used in ads next spring.

“Just because we think it’s a lengthy process doesn’t mean it should be a leisurely process,” she said.

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