City officials expressed confidence about marketing initiatives executed thus far in 2019 by the Janesville Area Visitors and Convention Bureau (JAVCB). Executive Director Christine Rebout, in an update given during a city council meeting Oct. 1, reviewed first-year marketing steps and associated data used to determine program success.

The city joined the Milton Area Marketing Tourism Consortium, along with the Milton Area Chamber of Commerce (MACC) and the JAVCB, in February.

Formed through a one-year contract, beginning on Feb. 5, The Milton Area Marketing and Tourism Consortium initially included three Milton-based entities: the city, MACC, and the Milton school district, with each pledging $5,000 to the consortium’s 2019 budget, giving the organization $15,000 for its first year. The contract called for the JAVCB to use the money to execute a Milton-specific tourism marketing strategy.

On Feb. 18, citing “questions and uncertainty from community members,” the school district opted to “postpone” its participation in the consortium. The action reduced the 2019 budget to $10,000.

In March, the council named City of Milton Administrative Services Director Inga Cushman, Milton city council member Lynda Clark, and Executive Director of the Milton House Kari Klebba as its representatives to the consortium. A first meeting was held in April.

MACC representatives serving on the consortium include Tony Astin, Jim Lyke and Becky Hillmann.

“I do believe that we are getting a greater bang for our buck than we anticipated,” said City Administrator Al Hulick.

He noted that many within city staff were experts within their fields, but none were experts in tourism.

Citing JAVCB staff as “the experts,” he said: “We are putting our dollars into a situation and a group of people’s hands that are incredibly capable and have the resources, have the background, have the knowledge, and have the network to ensure that success. It’s not to say that we weren’t successful before, but we didn’t ever measure it. We didn’t know how successful we were.”

Hulick asked: “Is it prudent to increase our investment?”

Hulick said he was aware that MACC was considering increasing its investment, suggesting, with discussions about the upcoming year’s budget slated to begin Oct. 15, the city might consider increasing its investment as well.

“This effort that we’ve undertaken has been a success and we hope to see it grow. It’s very likely to be money well spent,” Hulick said.

Mayor Anissa Welch said she was “very impressed” with marketing strategies employed by the JAVCB.

“I feel like we are getting so much more for our investment when we have combined our funds, and from our perspective … this is very successful and it’s doing really well,” she said, asking of Rebout: “Do you think it is doing well for the first year in your experience?”

Rebout said joining funds and services through the consortium brought value by removing boundaries. Prior to the formation of the consortium, she said, the city had “a certain amount of money” and worked within its boundaries. Likewise, the chamber had funds and “worked with chamber members.

“There was always some negotiating of those boundaries and what they were. I don’t have to worry about any of those borders, and that makes sense from a total standpoint … to bring all of that together.

“We wanted metrics so we could all agree on what success is, because everybody has a different perception of what success is.”

Rebout said she found success watching as items posted to social media and commenters weighed in. She said a post about Maddie Strong Studios, Milton, had been particularly successful in garnering positive feedback.

“That’s really been fun to watch. And all the metrics are good; what I have enjoyed is just watching a bunch of people get reengaged with Milton and see what you have to offer,” she said.

While she described the online metrics as a success, she said: “We also worry about people weighing in with negative comments. We haven’t seen that … People have just been really positive.”

The initial plan

A “Milton Marketing Plan 2019,” as submitted with the contract in February, was based on a budget of $15,000, and dividing expenditures into three campaigns, spring/summer, fall/winter, and I-90 targeting. It itemized the following expenditures:

Spring/summer ($5,100):

• Two radio events at a cost of $2,000 designed to promote “top summer events.”

• Social media advertising at a cost of $1,600, designed to boost Facebook and Instagram posts.

• $400 for Google Adwords, a “pay-per-click” program designed to use keywords to reach desired online audiences.

• $500 to digitally advertise two events, including photo, text and link, through the Travel Wisconsin online newsletter.

• $600 to purchased advertising for two events through Travel Wisconsin’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Fall/winter ($2,300):

• $1,500 for paid advertising and boosts on social media.

• $400 to purchase Google Adwords.

• $400 for influencer partnerships, defined as dollars spent for paid travel writers and bloggers.

Targeted campaign: I-90 ($2,100)

• $500 for brochure placement in an overnight rack at the Beloit Travel Center.

• $600 to design and print a small format tri-fold Milton Visitor Guide.

• $1,000 for “geofencing/retargeting,” defined as digital ads delivered to phones and tablets within a specific geographical area followed by “bounced traffic” which retargets consumers with brands after they leave a website.

The plan further outlined expenses for a visitors and residents survey, to “better understand the market,” $500, and staff time, estimated at $5,000.

Steps to date

Rebout said the consortium sought to create “successful commerce and happy and engaged residents.”

She hoped activities created to attract visitors would also be enjoyable for residents, she said.

A consortium goal was to draw new commerce to Milton and “offer a strong tourism draw for northern Rock County and create successful tourism business and satisfied visitors.”

She noted that often visitors to an area don’t know where the municipal borders are, but rather are attracted to the broader area to participate in the various experiences found within the region.

“Marketing and campaign goals were really to create awareness of Milton attractions and events, (and) to establish a social media hub,” Rebout said.

Social media was chosen as a tool because it was both affordable and easily tracked, she said.

She said consumers in and around Rock County “are pretty much aware that Milton is here.” Her team looked for ways to reach further into northern Illinois.

“We wanted to drive and deliver relevant traffic,” she said. She defined relevant as those travelers into the area who were likely to come to Milton attractions and events, spend money, and consider relocating or bringing a business into the area.

Women were identified as the travel planners for the family, making them a primary target market, Rebout said. Milton was a “great family destination,” she added. Also, young couples are attracted into the area by places like Northleaf Winery, she said.

According to Rebout, while Milton was not a primary destination for a two-week vacation, it offered appeal as a stop-over destination for travelers coming from areas outside of the region, such as Rockford, and passing through on their way to the Wisconsin Dells.

“So we are looking at that northern Illinois or Chicago area, and southern Wisconsin, and Dubuque, Iowa, has been a really nice market for us,” she said.

Marketing tactics included the creation of daily social media posts, social media advertising and boosts, and the purchase of Google Adwords, a process that allows for the purchase of key search words. Citing the example: “history,” Rebout said: “We can purchase the opportunity to come up first in those listings.

“We are also part of the Travel Wisconsin E-Mail series that the Wisconsin Department of Tourism does. It’s a very popular email list,” she said.

Rebout cited the production of a high-volume printed brochure, which, she said, was not meant to replace the tourism piece Milton already has, but target those whom she defined as “serious about travel.”

The piece was designed for placement in travel centers, like the I-90 travel center in Beloit, she said.

JACVB staff also update and enhance the tourism page of the Visit Milton website, and have been working to create a master calendar of events in Milton, Rebout said, noting that keeping up with rapidly and ever-changing event schedules and restaurants brings challenges.

According to Rebout, JACVB staff looked for ways to most efficiently use the $10,000 budget dispersed over two campaigns: spring/summer and fall/winter.

Some $2,000 was spent as part of the spring/summer campaign on paid advertising in the online Travel Wisconsin newsletter featuring Civil War Living History. Google Adwords and targeted social media advertising were used to further promote the event, Rebout said.

During the fall/winter campaign, a similar process was employed with about $1,500 spent on paid placement advertising in the Travel Wisconsin newsletter, featuring Milton’s Arts and Crafts show and the Chicken BBQ. Social media advertising and Google Adwords were also employed.

Some $1,500 in advertising was committed as part of the I-39/90 campaign, Rebout said.

Overnight brochure rack space was purchased at the Beloit Travel Center, Rebout said, noting: “At 2 a.m., when a family comes in and Mom’s using the restroom and Dad’s just standing there looking for something to do, there’s that opportunity to grab that brochure and take it with them.

“That’s been incredibly successful for us. We go through brochures at a rapid rate. There is a lot of traffic that comes through there anytime of year … those are people who are traveling that corridor constantly into Wisconsin.”

Looking at “Visit Milton” social media metrics, Rebout said, results to date show 1,223 Facebook followers and 66 Twitter followers.

Facebook user profile information reveals that 78% of visitors are female and 22% are male. Forty-seven percent are from within Rock County and 53% are from outside of Rock County, with 42% of those visitors from Rockford and northern Illinois.

“So that’s a nice target market for us. It’s an easy daytrip for them,” Rebout said.

Looking at stats from Google Adwords, to date, there have been 131,700 impressions made, which, Rebout defined as the number of times something appears on a screen, and 1,002 link clicks, meaning someone clicked through to get more information.

Stats for the Travel Wisconsin online newsletter showed that 239,450 were emailed, 51,896 were opened, and 1,341 clicks on Milton events were counted.

Under a heading of “Additional 2019 Marketing,” Rebout said some funds were being used to boost Merry Milton Weekend on Facebook.

Rebout said several campaigns will begin over the holidays, including: “Historic Adventures,” “Outdoor Fun” and “Sip, Shop and Dine,” using a series of Rock and Walworth county and Rockford area billboards.

After JAVCB staff totaled their billable hours, calculated by using a time clock app, some additional funding was identified, Rebout said.

Rebout encouraged council members to share their marketing ideas for 2020 and provide her staff with feedback.

Comments from council

“I think that this program is running very well and I totally appreciate all of the extra work that you have been able to do since we joined together,” said Clark.

Citing his ties to the Fox Cities region, council member Larry Laehn said he believed more travelers from that area were exploring Milton. He suggested future marketing campaigns might focus on the Highway 26 corridor.

Mayor Anissa Welch asked about plans to market the Ice Age Trail.

Rebout said an intern working in her office had spent some time on the trail and it was a subject on social media and a blog made by the intern. She anticipated more focus on the asset next year. She suggested additional signage focusing on the trail could help highlight the asset.

To expand upon ideas that could be pursued next year, Rebout said her team had expressed interest in holding brainstorming sessions in February. She said the time could be used for strategic planning, and talking about what she defined as brand, essence, and image, “and doing that inventory of what we call product development,” she said, focusing on creating events and activities that matched with targeted markets.

According to Rebout, the question to answer is: “What do you have, and what’s reasonable to have?”

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