Choose ChicagoWhile every marketing leader views their mission as critical and their role as vital to the success of their enterprise, I think we’d all admit there are challenges … and then there are CHALLENGES. Bringing 55 million visitors to the city of Chicago by 2020 is definitely an all-caps commitment. This is what Lori Healey, CEO of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, and Melissa Cherry, Choose Chicago’s SVP of marketing, are tasked with every day.

As you can imagine, a challenge like this requires big tactics (but typical for marketers … not with a big budget!). Their story was fascinating for the Business Marketing Association audience in attendance at the March 10 luncheon, offering a fresh look at marketing the brand and product of a city.

Michael Krauss, president of Market Strategy Group LLC and BMA Chicago board member, moderated the discussion. Lori began by sharing several facts that born-and-raised Chicagoans just don’t pay attention to and should…

For example, McCormick Place is the largest contiguous convention center in the world. So big, in fact, that it has its own energy center and sells heat and water to the surrounding community. New construction plans underway will make the complex on the south side of the city even bigger with new hotels, meeting spaces and community enhancements like restaurants and a new L stop. We run the largest auto show in the country.

2.4 million people visited McCormick in 2015, and this generates a ripple effect in our local economy that is extremely beneficial to all of us in the city. By the way, fellow city folk, bookmark this site and you’ll always be in the know on Chicago.

An array of marketing tactics has been used to attract visitors to the city, in large part through events. A strategic analysis of the annual calendar highlighted the best times to insert new events to ensure a continual stream of visitors to the city—for example, Restaurant Week and the NFL Draft. These events build the brand of the city, attract visitors and their dollars, and also generate brand exposure for the city.

While Las Vegas bought a Super Bowl ad spot to generate interest in their city, Lori and Melissa focused on bringing the NFL Draft to Chicago. It generates over $100 million in ad exposure (not to mention tourist revenue)—a much higher impact than the media spent on a brief Super Bowl ad.

Michael pressed Lori and Melissa to speak of the failed bid for the Olympics and what we got for all that hard work—they responded that, while they’re still very disappointed, much was gained in terms of civic / business partnerships. It was an enormous opportunity to define and articulate a clear value proposition for Chicago and its residents to the world, and the bid process provided a very big stage. Win or lose, the city still gained positive momentum with international visitors and event attendance.

Interestingly, the first consumer campaign to leisure visitors did not occur until 2012. This is when Melissa and her team began to broaden the use of digital marketing tactics. Budget pressures kept the team focused on the “drive market,” so the advertising has been mostly regional.

Research is an important piece of the decision-making process for the Choose Chicago marketing team, and it has led them this year to innovate media placement to optimize exposure and budget. This year’s campaign leverages precision targeting, addressable TV, social, digital display ads, search and great TV advertising. While the tactics may vary, Melissa’s goal is the same as any other marketer—integrated communications.

So what’s next? Lori and Melissa are still working on that big 2020 visitor goal with more events, digital marketing, sponsorships and partnerships. Like any marketers, they must deal with misaligned leadership, changing market conditions and never-ending budget constraints. But from big constraints come big innovation.

Lori and Melissa: We can’t wait to see what’s next in the marketing story for the city of big shoulders! I for one will do a better job of promoting the city when I am out there in the world—thanks for the tools to do that!