Silver Anniversary Strikes Gold
So how do you expand the interest, relevance, popularity and media coverage of a 25-year-old event among ticket buyers, tourists, sponsors and media?
The American Century Championship, the country's most popular celebrity golf tournament was celebrating its landmark 25th anniversary. The 54-hole competition featuring 80 sports and entertainment celebrities is the longest running network television (NBC Sports) celebrity golf tournament and South Lake Tahoe's seminal summer special event. In addition to promoting all aspects of the tournament, Weidinger Public Relations of Stateline, Nev., and partners Vizion Group of Philadelphia, Pa., were charged with expanding relevance and popularity, while reinforcing brand for the event and the destination through public relations and publicity efforts.
When early news that perennial favorites Michael Jordan and Tony Romo would be unable to participate, a new twist expanded the tournament's fan base not only among the public but among the players as well. Annika Sorenstam, arguably the greatest woman golfer in history, was coming out of a six-year retirement to compete. Also, in appreciation to the U.S. military, a player invitation was extended to the winner of the George W. Bush Presidential Center's Wounded Warrior Golf Open, Chad Pfeifer, an Iraqi war veteran who lost his left leg in combat.
The campaign launched with a Forbes.com advance piece in February promoting the silver anniversary and the destination. Four pre-event conference calls delivered a stream of exposure while reinforcing the tournament dates among all major markets. Following the research to appeal to the public's desire for "contemporary, fresh" stars, subjects included Annika, Pfeifer, Charles Barkley, Aaron Rodgers, John Elway, Greg Maddux (being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame the following month), Geno Auriemma (Connecticut coach of the national women's basketball champions). To maximize media interest and exposure, each call was strategically timed with current sporting events for newsworthy storylines: NFL Draft, MLB All-Star Game, NHL Playoffs.
The annual media day at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course included two-time champion Jack Wagner, one of four celebrities to have played every year, and attracted 35 regional and national golf and travel media and a national audience with a conference call including Barkley and Jeremy Roenick. The WPR leveraged effort resulted in dozens of articles mentioning the tournament plus three radio remotes from Edgewood and other locations.
Annika efforts took on a life (and mini-campaign) of their own. WPR arranged for an embargoed national AP story the minute after she announced her participation during a Golf Channel program. The next day, when she was being honored at Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament in Ohio, we arranged with the PR director there for her involvement at Tahoe to be included in his introduction; as well as a Tahoe question from a reporter covering the press conference. When Harrah's Sports Book installed her as the tournament favorite, we pitched the idea to AP as an "only in Nevada" story, which also ran nationally. The Sporting News' popular site, The Linemakers, ran a prominent homepage placement. The week prior to the tournament, we serviced photos of her during a practice round at Edgewood that were picked up regionally. Tuesday of tournament week, we serviced video interviews which ran on ESPN and the Golf Channel.
To reinforce the 25th anniversary, a "Top 25 Moments" video collection from highlights over the years was developed and a consumer promotion arranged with Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. More than 850 entries were received with constant exposure over a two week period in our No. 1 market.
Weidinger PR social media mavens ramped it up during the tournament growing each platform: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram grew by at least 40 percent. Leading up to the event, ticket giveaways, and trivia and caption contests captured followers. News announcements as players signed on and cross promotion with partners also built the audience. During the event the social media team posted multiple times a day providing fans with the most up-to-date information. The team also interacted with fans and players by "liking" and "re-tweeting."
Weidinger staff also capitalized on history making social media moments. When a fan asked Green Bay Packers linebacker AJ Hawk to tackle him it became a moment captured in time. The tackle was caught on video by TahoeCelebrityGolf.com and went viral and was watched more than 100,000 times on NBC Sports and produced over 410,000 video on demand starts on GolfChannel.com. It was the top-clicked offering on the website from July 17-20. It was even picked up and run by a news station in Japan.
During Tournament Week the challenge presented by local AP staff coverage cuts had us leverage our relationships with the New York office for an advance piece as well as daily coverage while also working with AP members at the Tahoe Tribune and Reno Gazette Journal to submit people features and photos to supplement the daily "game" stories. The Sports Network also provided national distribution of pre-event features and daily tournament coverage.
Daily newspaper on-site coverage came from Scott Ostler, SF Chronicle columnist, who penned three columns, two on the front page of the Sports section; another about Annika by golf columnist Ron Kroichick ran the week prior. The Reno Gazette-Journal provided daily coverage with sidebars as did the Tahoe Tribune. Ailene Voisin, Sacramento Bee, also had a "dateline: Stateline" column. Chad Pfeifer became a celebrity that week as he led the tournament after the first day and played in the final group on Sunday, before finishing fifth. He conducted dozens of interviews and his spirit and personality led to a $25,000 donation from American Century to a charity of his choice, Troops First Foundation.
Even with inclement weather and a three-hour delay during the final round, 2014 was the third highest year of attendance in tournament history. Social media exploded generating more than 192,000,000 impressions and 250,000 social interactions, and once again the tournament garnered significant exposure on the national and regional media landscapes. Multiple exposures were achieved in USA Today, Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle, ESPN, CNN, non-NBC affiliate TV stations and other traditional and online outlets through the five-month campaign with over 1,800 "game" story reports throughout the country reaching 120 million potential readers. The combined print and television coverage was valued at $12 million+. And telling, too, is that WPR and Vizion Group were retained to handle the event in 2015, the 24th consecutive year.
A Hurricane of Coverage
Operation Sierra Storm attendees capture the sunset at Tahoe South
Opening night reception at Harveys 19 Kitchen Bar
Operation Sierra Storm, an annual meteorology conference held at Lake Tahoe for 12 years, was relocating to Mammoth Mountain. The conference provides television meteorologists from major markets across the country on-going educational credits along with the opportunity to conduct live weather broadcasts via satellite back to their home markets – thereby providing the sponsor destination with major exposure as a leading winter resort area.
Since this was the first time OSS would be held at Mammoth, it required a major, newsworthy angle to attract influential television meteorologists and to ensure sponsor satisfaction and value.
In addition to securing leading scientific experts to present meteorological issues, we pursued a keynote speaker who would attract national attention for the conference and the sponsor. WPR surveyed TV mets throughout the country resulting with the most relevant national topics the recent hurricanes, Katrina and Rita. We approached the most visible, and probably controversial figure in the country, Michael D. Brown, the former FEMA Director who resigned under pressure in the Katrina aftermath. While many figured we were being unrealistic in attracting Mr. Brown, we approached him with the idea that he could explain what really happened during Katrina. It would be his first public address and press conference since he left FEMA. He accepted.
WPR emailed a "save the date" memo to meteorologists in desirable markets with news of Brown's participation and a link to the web site. Intense follow-up via phone and email ensued with commitments from 21 meteorologists.
The results were unbelievable! During his presentation, Mr. Brown admitted to making mistakes during the Katrina crises and it was national news. The resulting story from the Associated Press reporter who annually attends OSS appeared the next day in over 400 newspapers. We had eight television cameras recording his keynote presentation including three networks and C-Span. We provided a live feed and serviced a satellite alert the day prior. It appeared on NBC Nightly News, The Today Show the next morning, CNN, MSNBC while ABC network provided a feed on News One for all their affiliates nationwide. In addition, Mr. Brown conducted 12 one-on-one interviews with conference attendees.
Meteorologists, including representatives from The Weather Channel, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Chicago, also conducted 105 live shots from Mammoth Mountain and the Village at Mammoth. The advertising equivalency was well over $600,000, plus the credibility OSS built by having a controversial yet newsworthy figure as keynote earned the conference high marks among sponsors, attendees and the media.
“Round, Round, Round, I Get Around”
When's the last time the grand opening of a roundabout attracted national media attention?
The completion and grand opening of the Incline Gateway roundabout, the first in the Lake Tahoe Basin, marked a milestone in multi-agency transportation collaboration. The benefits: safety, environmental/erosion control, traffic flow ease and aesthetics presented the roundabout as a centerpiece for the Tahoe Transportation District's lake-wide vision of connectivity among multiple major projects. Completing a desirable project ahead of time, under budget and with public support would also reinforce the organization's position as the area's transportation expert and a trusted leader to spearhead upcoming projects. With that in mind, a fitting public ceremony was required to memorably acknowledge the opening and inform the public.
Weidinger Public Relations called on Beach Boys legend and Incline Village resident Mike Love, whose coauthored Gold Record and No. 1 hit, "I Get Around" was the theme music for the project, to provide a keynote speech to open the ceremonies. As a longtime resident and environmental proponent, Love's star power helped shine a spotlight on the event.
An invitation was distributed to Incline Village residents, partners and businesses to celebrate the dedication. The strategy was to inform and educate the public and media about Tahoe's newest roadway improvement and the benefits: enhanced safety, increased lake clarity by reducing erosion and emissions, improved traffic flow; also to build reputation and public and private sector confidence in the Tahoe Transportation District as the area's transportation expert to help garner acceptance and approval for future projects.
A local outreach effort among the arts community resulted in having area artisans design bronze sculptures of indigenous animals for placement in the roundabout.
Governmental partners all expressed their overwhelmed satisfaction with the results and organization of the event as positive. The Associated Press picked up the pre-event story resulting in more than 100 articles across the county. The dedication ceremony itself had all Reno, Nev. TV network affiliates in attendance, which produced stories for evening newscasts.
The media attention and coverage generated a total potential reach of 45.6 million visitors/viewers and an advertising equivalency of $810,000 (what the same space generated as editorial coverage would have cost if paid as advertising).
The roundabout was accepted and embraced locally as a project done well and properly. Since the dedication more statues have been added to the roundabout. The safety record has been exemplarily and it's recognized with pride by local residents as an attractive gateway that promotes the area in a distinctive manner.
"I Get Around" was the theme song played at the opening creating enthusiasm among the more than 200 people in attendance. By utilizing the flash, glamour and influence of an internationally renowned celebrity who just so happens to be an area resident and environmental activist, all the important benefits of a roundabout for the public and visitors circulated throughout the country. Partners all expressed their pleasure with the results and overall organization of the event as positive. For sequential projects transportation officials acknowledge that TTD's expertise and effectiveness by awarding two separate grants for other projects within the region totaling $53 million dollars.