Vice President of Marketing & Communications at Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board
What is your professional background?
I obtained a Marketing degree from Saint Joseph's University and an MBA in Management from Boston College. My professional experience includes 15 years of marketing and communications roles at companies in the fashion, footwear, apparel, technology, and non-profit industries. I've been very fortunate to have worked in management roles at a few global companies including Converse (Nike Inc.), Timberland, Under Armour, and eBay prior to joining the local non-profit tourism board here in Valley Forge as Vice President of Marketing & Communications. One night a week you can find me in the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia where I am an adjunct marketing professor.
In layman's terms, how does Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board attract new tourists?
We have a sales force that travels to conferences, trade shows, and conventions around the country to meet with meeting planners, sports tournament directors, and other key segment leaders to make them aware of our 74 hotels, awesome attractions, and even unique team building experiences that make large groups want to plan their next event here in Montgomery County, PA. Every day our marketing and communications team tells the story of what's happening throughout Montgomery County with social media, a virtual tour microsite, an award winning valleyforge.org website, radio, print, billboards, and TV advertising.
How does the Board differentiate its marketing to entice visitors to return?
Our job is to make people aware of the amazing assets that we have throughout Valley Forge and Montgomery County, PA. We have so much to offer in Philly's backyard including 90+ miles of trails, an amazing national historic park, over 600 restaurants, 54 golf courses, a fantastic family zoo, and the best shopping in the United States. We also have unique things to do like horseback riding, hot air balloon rides, and even indoor skydiving. There's so much more awesome stuff to discover at valleyforge.org.
What should businesses know about the Board?
We're a non-profit organization. Our funding comes from the hotel tax in Montgomery County, PA. We're also membership based with over 450 member businesses and attractions who partner with us on an annual basis to help them build more awareness with visitors and new customers.
How can the Board and local businesses help one another?
There's a long list of benefits that businesses and attractions receive with their membership. Some of those perks include access to our CRM database to get leads on large groups planning to visit the area, member-only networking events, business listings on our website and in our visitors guides and dining guides. In summary, we're here to help our member businesses and attractions reach more visitors and customers.
What are some of the "unspoken rules" of this industry?
In the tourism industry we help out our "competitors." When we hear about a unique request that we can't accommodate, we place a phone call to our counterparts in Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, the Poconos, and Philadelphia. This is a good thing. From my experience working in the footwear, apparel, and technology sectors it's more uncommon to see that type of collaboration between similar organizations operating in the same industry.
What opportunities are now becoming available for businesses to take advantage of?
As a career marketer, I've seen first hand the impact that technology has had on the business world in several industries. The opportunity today and in the years ahead is to embrace and test new emerging technologies that are easy to view and experience on your phone. Customers are evolving more rapidly, and every day they're spending more and more time on their smart phones. If you can create websites that look great when you view them on a phone or make videos that people want to watch on social media, your company will be modernized overnight and you can begin to break out of the Stone Age. For us, last fall we began experimenting with virtual reality by offering virtual tours of our hotels, restaurants, and attractions on our Montco360.net website, and we recently began to leverage the "augmented reality" technology with our PokeMontco.com website. This new high tech frontier of Virtual and Augmented Reality has marketing leaders really excited!
What do you foresee in the near future?
Millennials and the generation growing up behind them want unique and memorable experiences more than they want to attain "things." They're also very comfortable with being in a relationship with their phone. They're used to sharing their life on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. That is their world. Because smaller businesses tend to be more unique and personal than giant chain businesses, I think we'll see the small business community thrive as they get more comfortable with new technologies. As an example, we'll continue to see upstarts like Five Guys, Shake Shack, and Elevation Burger continue to eat away McDonald's market share.
What about the long term?
Social Media will continue to be the best place for businesses to speak to customers. Social Media levels the business playing field because as an entrepreneur you can establish a community of followers a lot faster and at a fraction of the customer acquisition cost compared to 10 years ago. You no longer need an expensive fancy TV or radio advertising campaign to gain customers. Because more and more people are spending time on social media compared to watching ads on TV, the business battlefield has shifted. 15 years ago you and I couldn't introduce a new company on social media and immediately begin to establish a following and talk to new customers at no cost with great photography and videos created with your own phone like we can do in 2016.
What advice would you give to someone looking to become involved with tourism in Valley Forge?
Please visit our website at ValleyForge.org, and take a look at our membership section. Also, to get the pulse on what's happening in our organization and in our communities every day, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Snapchat.
Find Edward Harris on LinkedIn.