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Tourism: No more interruptions to Hammock Coast ads

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The fictional advertising character who wanted to keep the Hammock Coast to himself has worn out his welcome.

Members of the Georgetown County Tourism Management Commission gave the “Interrupting Guy” his walking papers last week in order to put more emphasis on Georgetown County’s family beach atmosphere.

The character was the brainchild of ad agency Rawle Murdy Associates and was introduced during the rollout of the Hammock Coast marketing campaign in 2010 to promote the region’s laid-back lifestyle, undiscovered charm and outdoor activities. The idea was based on research that showed people who vacation here are protective of the area and don’t necessarily want everyone else to know about it.

The campaign included the Interrupting Guy in print, online banner ads and social media. Dressed in a flopping hat and a flower-print shirt, he stepped in and out of traditional Georgetown County vacation spots with signs that read “Please don’t come to the Hammock Coast.”

In a proposed brochure presented to the tourism commission last week, the Interrupting Guy was holding a sign that said “Looks like the secret is out.” His job is apparently done.

Some commission members, it seems, never liked the character or the reverse psychology of the campaign. Commission chairman Bob Seganti suggested forming a committee to brainstorm for ideas to guide the next creative marketing team.

The tourism commission adjusted its budget to reflect a $278,178 overpayment from accommodations taxes collected by the state Department of Revenue. That money will be withheld from the county’s next quarterly payment. Even with the adjustment, Georgetown County will show an 8 percent increase in tax collections for the year, according to Lauren Cobb, the county tourism marketing director. Numbers for March, she said, are up 22 percent over last year.

She expects to carry over about $85,000 into the next fiscal year once all bills are paid this month. It will combine with $255,000 awarded by the county for marketing that was rolled into the next fiscal year already.

Cobb said the county has received large numbers of referrals from ads in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution and Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine. Facebook, she said, remains the top site for potential vacationers with 10,000 views per month. She said pages promoting events get the most views and encouraged more postings through the Hammock Coast site.

The U.S. Sporting Clays tournament at Back Woods Quail Club provided vacation rental agencies with a “good week,” she said.

She continues to be surprised by the strength of pictures she posts on the Hammock Coast’s site. Rustic photos tend to go viral. She recently saw on Twitter that someone needed a vacation, and she tweeted back to consider the Hammock Coast.

Susan Bryant and Delores Blount, representatives from the Pawleys Island Festival of Music and Art, approached the Tourism Management Commission about a joint marketing campaign. Bryant’s proposal was to use $16,000 for marketing the festival as a weekend destination. The festival begins Oct. 4 with a wine gala and features Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. Oct. 5 and Elise Testone Oct. 6. The second weekend features Emile Pandolfi Oct. 9, Vivace Oct. 10, Mac Arnold Oct. 11, the Movin’ Out Band Oct. 12 and a gospel brunch buffet Oct. 13. Performances will be held at The Reserve Golf Club.

The Waccamaw Golf Trail, a consortium of area courses, won approval for $45,000 in marketing funds from the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

John Rusher, the trail director, said more golfers playing courses on the trail are choosing to fly Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue through Charleston rather than Myrtle Beach. “We need to help them find those routes,” he said.

The tourism commission and the golf trail have shared the cost of spring and fall promotions for the last couple of years.

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