Thunder Bay Marketing Whiz Whips Up Blizzard of Promotion — for Manitoba
How Consultant Kevin Palmer Lures Fishing and Hunting Enthusiasts to Neighboring Province
Creating a ‘Monster’ of a Campaign
By Nathan J. Silverman | March 16, 2010
Independent marketing consultant Kevin Palmer of Thunder Bay, Ontario, coined the slogan “Manitoba Monsters” to promote the central Canadian province’s trophy fishing and wild game hunting opportunities to well-heeled outdoors enthusiasts.
Now in its second year, Palmer’s successful “monsters” campaign for client Travel Manitoba is creating jitters in Ontario’s hunting and fishing industry while winning the admiration of some competitors there.
“Kevin’s brought a lot of awareness to a province with very little marketing funds,” said Ed Henn, owner of Northwestern Ontario’s Tetu Island Lodge. “He’s doing a phenomenal job with a small budget. We outspend them by a ton of money.”
Henn, a 20-year veteran of Canada’s hunting and fishing industry, said visitors were approaching him at this winter’s consumer outdoors shows in the U.S. and asking if his lodge was in Manitoba.
“It came from this Manitoba marketing campaign,” Henn said. “We’ve seen a real decrease in the bookings at the sports shows because of the program he’s put together to convince people they need to go to Manitoba.”
Another Ontario lodge operator, with 25 years of experience, said, “I’ve never met anybody like Kevin. He’s aggressive in a good way. He’s not a business-as-usual person.
The man does great work.” He added, “The word among Ontario lodges is that they feel Manitoba really has its act together.”
Hunting for insights
Travel Manitoba retained Palmer in 2007 to develop and manage a new marketing strategy to increase the province’s share of the Canadian hunting and fishing market and to attract outdoors enthusiasts who had never hunted or fished in Canada.
The founder of Thunder Bay-based Palmer Creative Group, Palmer is a target-marketing specialist who believes in getting inside the heads of his client’s “best customers” to find words, images, and new products and services that will resonate with their sales prospects.
Palmer is also an accomplished commercial photographer who has handled assignments for General Motors, the province of Ontario, and Canadian Geographic magazine, among other blue-chip clients. And he puts his visual communications savvy to work for his marketing clients.
(Above – With a little help from friends Steve McInness, Al Langlade and Saga’s drummer, Steve – we made this video for the booth at the shows – which stopped ongoing traffic, watching the video and grabbing the marketing collaterals that we put together with the help of the Best Clients’ surveys)
And Here is Exactly How It Was Done!
To lay the groundwork, Palmer conducted in-depth interviews with
- Travel Manitoba’s management to understand their goals
- A cross-section of the province’s fishing and hunting lodges and outfitters to understand their needs
- A sample of the most loyal and enthusiastic customers of some of the province’s premiere fly-in resort lodges and outposts to understand their motivations and expectations. These customers, in Palmer’s opinion, were the most important marketing information sources of all.
The “best customer” interviews provided essential insights into the wants, needs, and thought processes of these valued lodge patrons, which proved useful for creating new promotional literature, advertising, and trade show exhibit materials as well as client-recommended video snippets – posted on You Tube, attracting the interest of the Province, the Lodge – and fishing in general…a move not seen in the industry to that date.
(Above: Story-Tellin’ Before Story-Tellin’ Was Fashionable and Hip! Part of the budget was diverted to allow Steven Wintemute, newly created “fishing ambassador” to Travel Manitoba to travel to the lodges and take these – a series of 10 Manitoba Monster Minute videos)
Palmer also visited a number of lodges first hand to experience the atmosphere and operations of the industry he would be trying to help and to take photos — including dramatic aerial shots — that reflect the compelling images that customers spoke about in interviews.
The customer interview process has an overlooked and beneficial side effect, Palmer notes. When a customer endorses a company, the psychological principal of “consistency” automatically comes into play and works to the company’s benefit. It’s human nature to act in a manner consistent with one’s stated principals – to be true to one’s beliefs. So, a customer who speaks well of a business during these in-depth interviews will tend to remain a loyal customer, barring any major disappointments.
Lodges provided Palmer with the names of some of their best customers for consumer research interviews, which, in turn, helped assure that these individuals would remain loyal customers of those lodges.
(Above: Palmer owned and operated a barter system for a few years – learning the art of reciprocal trade mutually benefitting all parties – this was heavily employed to get operators to opt in for promotional efforts jointly. For instance, the above promotional benefit was received simply by donating a full-inclusive trip – which were sold out within hours.)
Ken Gangler of Gangler’s North Seal River Lodge and Outposts in Manitoba, said Palmer “quickly grasped the idiosyncrasies of our industry and laid a foundation for success that will pay off for years to come.”
Shawn Gurke, owner of Nueltin Fly-In Lodges, said, “What is remarkable is that Kevin didn’t just absorb facts and figures. He took the initiative to immerse himself in the culture of our industry, identify our clients, and gain perspective from them. Initiative is the one thing that brings his talents to the surface.”
Magnifying Manitoba’s marketing dollars
Palmer says a key to Manitoba’s success was creation of cooperative marketing and advertising programs that have excited, motivated, and mobilized a critical mass of the province’s approximately 130 fishing and hunting lodges and 370 outfitters.
(Above – Doing great things in the Communities we promote in – here, KARE ll and our promotional team pose with a cheque to send to send a kid to the Manitoba Lodge of his choice, all expenses paid)
This was no easy task, Palmer says, given that the industry comprises a group of fiercely independent, competitive, mostly family-run businesses that had become disillusioned with provincial marketing campaigns, which they felt had grown stale and brought them no direct benefits.
Rick Bohna, general manager of Big Sand Lake Lodge, said, “Kevin has done in two short years what has never been done before. We now have over 100 companies working together through his unique marketing initiatives. It’s taking the marketing of our product to a new level.”
The benefits for his client Travel Manitoba have been manifold. Palmer estimates that with the financial participation of the province’s lodges in the various marketing programs and the leverage achieved through sponsorship investments, Travel Manitoba is receiving three dollars in promotional value for each dollar the organization spends.
A cornerstone of Palmer’s strategy for Travel Manitoba has been a multifaceted campaign to support the province’s fly-in and drive-in fishing and hunting lodges and outfitters exhibiting at the annual All-Canada Show, a traveling expo staged in January and February in a series of major Midwest U.S. markets and also in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The show focuses exclusively on Canadian hunting and fishing.
In a novel cost-sharing venture, Manitoba lodges paid to participate in locally produced Chicago television advertising campaigns designed to spark interest in Manitoba exhibitors at the Chicago edition of the All-Canada Show. The commercials, shot on the show floor prior to the public opening, featured lodge representatives jointly preparing a classic Manitoba shore lunch and included video clips of each lodge. Lodge owners reported that visitors to their exhibit booths mentioned seeing them on TV.
In 2009, Travel Manitoba stepped out with a new and larger exhibit booth, including an eye-catching, 20-foot inflatable replica of a “Manitoba monster” northern pike, a principal show sponsorship role, and a redesigned Manitoba fishing and hunting guide.
But Palmer’s most radical trade-show innovation was making a concerted effort to connect visitors to the Travel Manitoba booth with the Manitoba lodges on the show floor.
“We had to ask ourselves what value our presence at the show brings to the lodges,” Palmer says. “What’s the point of just smiling and handing out maps and brochures?”
Gutting the competition
Palmer engaged visitors in conversations to ascertain their interests and their likelihood of fishing or hunting in Canada. Relying on his first-hand knowledge of Manitoba lodges, he directed them to the ones that best fit their requirements. In many cases he personally escorted visitors from the Travel Manitoba exhibit to a lodge’s booth and introduced them to the proprietor.
By one count, during a single day of the Chicago All-Canada Show, Palmer funneled 58 groups of prospective customers from the Travel Manitoba booth directly to various Manitoba exhibitors, bypassing out-of-province lodges.
“That’s where he destroyed us,” Henn, the Ontario lodge owner, said. “Kevin walked them over to Manitoba booths. Without a doubt, he brought them business.”
Palmer’s unconventionally pro-active sales tactics ruffled Henn’s feathers, but he acknowledged its effectiveness.
“I watched the Manitoba booth and exhibitors, and they were having a very, very good show,” Henn said. “There were several large groups that I didn’t even get a chance to talk to this year.”
Guerilla marketing to bear hunters
In addition to blanketing the local TV and radio airwaves with innovative and cost effective advertising — purchased at extremely favorable, negotiated rates — Palmer also commissioned a public relations program in each of the All-Canada Show cities. Centrally handled by a Chicago-based PR firm, the PR campaign utilized traditional and online media to reach outdoors enthusiasts through local newspapers and Web-based media by means of news releases, personal contact with local outdoors editors and writers, posting content on special-interest online forums and community news sites, and posting comments on mainstream media Web sites. A 2010 press release highlighting the 50th anniversary of Travel Manitoba’s Master Angler Awards program resulted in a sports section story in the Des Moines Register, one of the Midwest’s largest newspapers.
(Above: The Great Canadian Cook-Off – where rival Manitoba Lodges competed to produce Canada’s Best Shore Lunch. Palmer inadvertantly failed to invite other Provincial participants – making the choice of Best Shore Lunch Lodge in Canada a Manitoba-Only Choice!)
For the Minneapolis-St. Paul show, Palmer deployed digital billboard advertising at 19 locations in the metro area, including billboards promoting the availability of bear hunting. Visitors en route to the show were literally ambushed by outdoor advertising for Manitoba’s outdoors.
For good measure, Palmer also secured billboards at three high-traffic locations in western Ontario proclaiming “There’s better fishing in Manitoba.”
(Above: Palmer also lined them up at each show, having local celebrities attend an autograph signing at the booth – while Palmer and Travel Manitoba Manager Mark Clarke feverishly handed out the Travel guides to participants)
Beyond the All-Canada show initiatives, Palmer has organized and led delegations of Manitoba lodge owners to sales venues that were new to most of them, including an international meeting planners’ convention in Dallas and a consumer expo in Germany that drew 75,000 visitors.
Fishing for physicians
An outgrowth of Palmer’s “best customer” surveys is a new program to expand the market for Manitoba’s outdoors offerings.
After discovering a niche market of fishing physicians, Palmer spearheaded the creation of a “Hook and Learn” continuing medical education program for licensed health care professionals, another collaborative venture with the lodges.
The fully accredited program, launched in 2010, was developed and will be taught by instructors from Qualified Institutions. The programs will be held at participating Manitoba premium lodges. Tuition is free, subsidized by Travel Manitoba and the lodges, which are also helping to underwrite the cost of a pilot advertising campaign in a Canadian medical magazine and the production and distribution of program brochures.
Manitoba’s Lodges Lodge Their Praise
Gangler of Manitoba’s Seal River Lodge said Palmer’s campaign “has raised the bar so high for the other provincial tourism agencies it will take them years to catch up to Manitoba.”
“Kevin Palmer’s branding work for Travel Manitoba is innovative and right on the mark,” said Joel Prunty, long-time media manager for the All-Canada Show, who has observed many provincial marketing efforts over the decades.
Mark Clarke, manager of market development for Travel Manitoba, Palmer’s client, said Palmer’s work “gave us an elevated and sustained presence in the marketplace.”
While Palmer’s “Manitoba Monsters” might be haunting the sleep of the province’s competitors, they’re creating sales possibilities that Manitoba’s lodges and outfitters once could only dream about.
Palmer can be reached at his company, Superior Image Communications, at (807) 473-3648 or email@example.com.
Kevin Palmer is the Lead Creative with the Palmer Creative Group. The Group is focused on providing clients with creative services – including but not limited to the following – client focus groups, surveys of best clients, marketing plan creation, SWOT analysis, target marketing, image and video creation, story telling, public relations, graphic design, SEO, web design and sales and marketing. Now in their 25th year, the firm has a track record of success through mining, geophysics, tourism, pulp and paper and engineering business development.
Nathan J. Silverman is a freelance writer and public relations consultant based in Evanston, Ill.