Division B-2 Brochure
Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau Circus Heritage Guide

Research/Situation Analysis:  Sarasota County, on Florida’s central west coast, is a luxury vacation destination with a metropolitan city and a string of eight islands.  It is rich with history, personality and polished with diverse offerings.  Among the impeccable dining, shopping, lodging, entertainment and arts available in Sarasota, the community has a circus heritage that has evolved over more than a half-century.  It was highly recognized that the presence of the many circus monikers, memorabilia and performances throughout the community were incredible assets of the destination and differentiated it from its neighboring vacation communities such as West Palm Beach, St. Petersburg and Naples.  Like Sarasota, each of them boasted award-winning beaches and hotels, vibrant arts and culture and fabulous shopping and dinning.   Unique opportunities and characteristics are important to destinations because according to tourism research, destinations with distinctive qualities, characteristics, and things to do win over the discerning traveler.  The journey to discovering Sarasota County’s roots through historical resource guides promotes a deeper appreciation and understanding of the community’s culture. That deeper appreciation is believed to motivate longer over-night stays and increased spending among travelers. 

Target audience: Domestic travelers, families, key regional markets.  All chosen for their buying power, how a historical resource guide would appeal to them and because these consumer bases tended toward traveling during the shoulder seasons.  The Travel Industry Association -- an authoritative and recognized source of travel research -- reported in 2006, “American travelers generated an all-time high of 2 billion domestic person-trips...” with gains expected in coming years.  TIA also published that the average domestic adult traveler was 46 years of age -- a typical age range for the person making decisions about family travel.

Objectives: (1) Increase publicity of the destination’s circus roots with stories motivated by the Guide, (2) Create a demand among new and repeat visitors to Sarasota for enriching cultural experiences measured by demand for the Guide and by traffic to web micro-site, www.sarasotacircushistory.com. 

Implementation:  The Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau (SCVB), along with the expertise of local historians and archivists, developed a public relations tool called the Circus Heritage Guide that spotlighted Sarasota’s best examples of its circus history and presented it in a form that the public could learn from and enjoy. The Circus Heritage Guide was designed as a self-guided tour inspired by a common city walking tour or urban trail.  A portion of the SCVB’s marketing budget was dedicated to the project.  The SCVB hired two freelance circus promoters and former Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus advertisers to complete the written content of the project.  An initial 5,000 print-run was completed and public relations efforts in the form of a press release, micro website, signage in the Visitors Center and inclusion of the Guide in visitor inquiry packets were implemented.  The full-color Guide is available for free through the SCVB Visitors Center and online at www.sarasotacircushistory.com.  Top-tier national and key regional online outlets were targeted and hard copies were distributed to key online media.  A feature article appeared in the October 2008 edition of the SCVB’s visitor-targeted e-newsletter distributed to 65,000. This helped drive traffic to the micro-website dedicated to the Guide.  The debut of the new Guide was covered by local media making more than 200,000 impressions in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Bradenton Herald, Pelican Press, Longboat Observer, Biz941 and Venice Gondolier Sun.  These stories ran during peak season when more tourists were in the area to be influenced by the stories.  National press was achieved by working with the Associated Press.  The story by AP Tampa bureau reporter, Mitch Stacy first ran in July 2009 on USATODAY.com, and was then syndicated to over 30 national and key regional online outlets such as MSNBC.com, AJC.com (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) and BaltimoreSun.com.  The circus heritage feature also included details on the Ringling Estate and several images. The AP created a video for its YouTube channel highlighting Sarasota’s connection to Ringling.  Timing of this national coverage was significant because July tends to be slower with lower hotel occupancy rates and  fewer tourists in the area.  The national coverage reminded the country about Sarasota as a unique vacation experience during a time when they are likely making their vacation plans. The Circus Heritage Guide was a popular piece.  The initial run of 5,000 ran out within four months and 10,000 more had to be printed.  More than 15,000 Guides have been distributed October 2008 to January 2010, with many more downloaded from the micro website.  Based on web analytics 15.36% of web visitors viewed the tour page of the micro-website. 

(1) The resulting stories have generated over 200 million media impressions to date, both locally and nationally.  The timing of the stories ensured that the information reached target audiences at strategic points in the year when travelers are most receptive to the message, (2) The Circus Heritage Guide was in high demand and the initial print run of 5,000 was depleted within 6 months of its launch and an additional 10,000 had to printed to meet demand. Web traffic to www.sarasotacircushistory.com was 81,210 visits, Dec. 15, 2008 to Dec. 31, 2009, with 87.77% of new visits based on web analytics.

Budget: The original allocated budget for the project was $15,000.  An additional $2,303.95 was needed to print 10,000 more Guides to meet demand.  The grand total for the entire project was $17,303.95. The budget breakdown is as follows: Writing: $8,390.00 (combines costs for Heritage Guide copy as well as freelance writing of the press release), Design: $5,000.00, Printing:  $3,834.05 (first run: $1,530.10 and second run: $2,303.95).   Staff time was not included in the project budget.  The project was part of regular job description duties of one salaried employee (the PR Director) and all agency time dedicated to the project outside of line item expenses (outlined above) was part of contract retainer fees.