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Creative cooperative woos meeting planners

John Seelmeyer
jseelmeyer@nnbw.biz

At some point, Debra Darby Dudley explains, you track down an outfit that can supply the scratch-and-sniff essence of a newly mown lawn on a summer morning.

That way, event-planners pick up their copies of trade magazines such as Successful Meetings, wonder what the heck smells so nice and search out a scratch-and-sniff postcard promoting Aces Ballpark as one of the great venues in Reno.

And it works.

Flying well under the radar for the better part of two decades, a nonprofit group of meeting-space marketers in the Reno-Tahoe region has been using creative tools to get the attention of professionals who plan conventions, business meetings and other events.

A few days ago, for instance, the Reno-Tahoe Meeting Cooperative gave checks for $1,000 each to the Reno chapters of SPCA, the American Red Cross and The Susan G. Komen Foundation.

The twist? The cooperative made the contributions on behalf of meeting planners who submitted a request for a proposal to host a meeting in Reno.

Planners who sent an RFP for a meeting that would bring at least 200 room-nights to Reno-Sparks or 100 to Lake Tahoe automatically qualified for the charity of their choice to receive a donation.

Planners who scheduled a visit qualified for an even larger donation, and the largest contributions were raised by planners who followed through and booked a meeting in Reno or Tahoe.

More than 450 inquiries were generated from the program.

“Come see our great destination value,” read ads for the campaign. “And save the world while you’re at it.”

Dudley, the executive director of Reno-Tahoe Meeting Cooperative, says the charitable contributions marked an effort to put a fresh face on a longstanding campaign dubbed “Come See, Fly Free.”

In that initiative, the cooperative paid the travel costs of qualified meeting planners who came to the region and visited at least three properties.

Once the cooperative succeeded in getting meeting planners to visit, the rest was relatively easy. Dudley says about 80 percent of the planners who came for a visit ended up scheduling a meeting in the region.

“The reality of Reno and the perception of Reno were so far apart that just getting them here made all the difference,” says Dudley.

Along the way, the cooperative’s advertising used novelties such as the scratch-and-sniff cards, including pine scents to represent Lake Tahoe, to keep its message in front of trade magazine readers.

But the Reno-Tahoe Meetings cooperative was successful that at least 10 other destinations launched similar programs within the last year or so.

To differentiate itself, the Reno group added the charitable donation to its program. A survey conducted by Northstar Media planners found that planners reacted favorably to the idea of an unselfish incentive to visit Lake Tahoe and Reno.

“Many destinations offer planners incentives like free airfare or a spa day,” says Dudley. “We really wanted our incentive to touch hearts.”

And it gave new legs to the “Come See, Fly Free” program.

Dudley says, “We were able to elongate the campaign rather than abandon something that had been working.”

The campaign has been particularly successful in drawing leads from offbeat organizations that none of the cooperative’s members knew about on their own — wealth-management seminars, for instance.

The Reno-Tahoe Meetings cooperative is funded by a group of hotels that includes Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, Peppermill Resort Casino Spa, Grand Sierra Resort, JA Nugget, Silver Legacy Resort Casino, Eldorado Hotel Casino and Hyatt Lake Tahoe, as well as two tourism groups, The North Lake Tahoe Marketing co-op and the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority.