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VOL. 37 | NO. 30 | Friday, July 26, 2013

No. 1: Get on more lists

Nashville's rise to the top of national lists is no accident. It takes hard work and good PR

By Hollie Deese

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The No. 1 thing about Nashville is it’s been on a lot of lists lately.

Facebook feeds have been filling up with national lists extoling the virtues of the city’s great food, wonderful shopping and even excellent wireless service.

And while it is not exactly by design that Nashville was ranked No. 4 by Travel + Leisure for having the most charming accents, or by CNN as having one of the seven most entertaining airports in the world, Deana Ivey, senior vice president for marketing at the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau, certainly doesn’t mind.

That’s not to say she and the CVB haven’t worked hard to get attention. It’s just now we are reaping the media rewards.

“It is definitely a concerted effort,” Ivey says of getting on the media radar. “We make sure that we are out there pitching stories, and we’re always trying to stay ahead of what’s out there. We have to stay ahead of what’s next, and the local food scene has given us lots of material to talk about.”

Consider Las Paletas’ appearance last week on Food Republic’s list of the Eight Best Gourmet Popsicles in America, or the city’s inclusion on Zagat’s just-released list of Seven Up-And-Coming Food Cities.

That attention doesn’t hurt when luring big-time food events either, like the Food & Wine-sponsored Music City Eats Festival this September with local chefs teaming with celebs like Giada De Laurentiis, Aaron Sanchez, Michael Symon and Trisha Yearwood.

Local designers and the growing fashion scene also have given more fodder for the media, Ivey says.

“All of those things make a difference,” she says. “It gives us more to talk about, and it gives the writers more to write about, and from different angles. Then it’s all tied back to music in some way which is our brand and what we have been promoting.”

Building a brand

Ten years ago the Nashville CVB had a strategic planning process that brought more than 100 community leaders together from all industries, including health care, arts and music. The goal? Come up with the best way to market the city.

“They represented every area of the city, and part of that strategic planning process, was the branding of Nashville,” Ivey says.

“We had meeting after meeting where we talked about what the character is of Nashville and what makes us different from other destinations. And, how do we promote ourselves so that people do see the difference? We knew that certainly we were the home of country music, but what else was here?

“We never wanted to turn our backs on country music, because that’s what made us. If we are building a house, country music is the front door. Everything else is inside the house.”

Little by little they started doing things to promote “Music City” – marking live music venues with guitar picks, having music emit from street signs – as others joined in the cause as well.

“Everyone in the city started jumping in and doing their own thing, but along the lines of promoting the brand,” Ivey says. “All of those things started making a difference, and then visitors started noticing it and they started coming more. Then the journalists started paying attention and there’s a buzz.”

The PR department of the CVB makes a vigorous effort to organize four press trips a year, as well as host individual journalists throughout the year, in an effort to show off the best of what the city has to offer. Some publications pay their own way, but the CVB also works with hotel partners to organize free stays and restaurants to provide them meals.

“We bring them in and we show them Nashville as much as we possibly can for four or five days,” Ivey says. “It can be a death march because we run them from place to place because we want them to see the broad spectrum of things that are here. This week we have four journalists in town.”

The media buzz got a boost in 2012 when ABC-TV opted to film the prime-time TV show “Nashville” here, spotlighting the city and its music.

Recently, Connie Britton, lead actress on the show, picked up an Emmy nomination, sparking plenty of Internet chatter and media interviews with the actress.

This year’s nomination is her fourth consecutive, from performances in three different shows. She’s often referred to as an “Emmy darling,’’ and both the New York Times and L.A. Times wrote about her the week the nominations came out, noting she was in Nashville when she heard the news.

Spreading the word

Travel + Leisure Executive Digital Editor Rich Beattie says the magazine creates about one list a month, like their recent roundup of American’s Snobbiest Cities (Nashville came in at No. 13).

The lists are incredibly popular, he says, and are all based on the publication’s annual America’s Favorite Cities survey, which runs once a year for a couple of months. T + L is currently collecting data now for 2013.

“We have 55 different categories, and 35 cities that people can vote on,” Beattie says. “I think it really plays to people’s sense of pride for their city, and people have really strong opinions on certain factors in their cities, for better or for worse.”

Last year there were 40,000 responses to the survey. Beattie says his staff tries to be strategic with the responses when creating their lists in the hopes they resonate, and that readers respond to lists like who has the best pizza, or which city is the cleanest. Of course, it is all in fun.

“We don’t pretend that it is scientific, at all,” he says. “We encourage people to vote multiple times, so we really don’t see it as a definitive judgment of the cities. But we do see it as a fun snapshot of people’s perceptions of a particular city.”

Celebrities have also had a hand in raising the city’s profile, attracting all manner of people.

“When Jack White moves here and he talks about how great Nashville is, that’s a whole different audience,” Ivey says. “When Gwyneth Paltrow comes to film a movie and talks about how great Nashville is, and how the restaurants are so good, that makes a difference.”

Tourists vs. locals

A quick glance at the comments section of a recent Hollywood Reporter article showcasing the insider’s guide to the city shows that not all locals have the same attitude about the increasing amount of media attention luring tourists, no matter how tongue- in-cheek, and Beattie says that isn’t rare based on survey results.

“We ask people whether they are a resident or a visitor, and it is really interesting to see the discrepancies in voting between residents and visitors,” he says. “And sometimes it’s not a positive thing.”

Of course, Ivey hopes those comments are more reflective of Nashville charm and not real animosity toward tourists finding their way here.

“Tourists pave the way for a lot of things for the locals, and the money that comes in from the tourists is the best kind of clean dollars that you can get,” she says. “They come in, they spend their money, they go home and we don’t have to have city services to support them.”

Competition from the south

Franklin has been landing lists of its own, like CNN Money’s list of America’s Best Small Cities.

And while the Williamson County CVB helps media outlets with story ideas, journalists and publications need to meet specific strict requirements to get a complimentary room for up to two nights for the writer, and no meals.

Of course, hotels and restaurants are welcome to make their own deals.

And there is nothing to say media visits result in more coverage or visitors - but it hasn’t hurt. Tourism is up, and so is the amount of money they are spending. Mark Shore, executive director for the Williamson County Convention and Visitors Bureau, says tourism in Williamson County generated $332.4 million in 2011, a 12.47 percent increase in expenditures from 2010.

“We’ve seen pretty healthy jumps in the expenditures made by visitors,” Shore says. “The 2012 numbers will come out later this summer.”

Reaping the rewards

Realtor Josh Anderson of The Anderson Group says that while the lists are fun to share on social media, he doesn’t think they have translated to increased sales. But they could subconsciously help a buyer decide on Nashville over another city like Atlanta or Houston.

“I do think when people are narrowing down relocation cities they take those kinds of things into consideration,” he says. “And people are obviously tracking a lot of data because Nashville keeps popping up in all of these different lists.”

The increased media attention might not result in tangible boosts in real estate figures or business growth, but it couldn’t hurt.

According to yet another list by the National Association of Realtors, the Nashville region continues to be among the top U.S. cities for job growth. From May 2012 through May 2013, the region has had a 3.7 percent increase in job creation.

The media attention also results in increased tax collections on hotel rooms. And Ivey says it will be some time before we see the full impact of this year’s media spotlight.

“All indicators show that it has made a difference,” she says. “Businesses is up and tax collections are great. They are strong and have consistently been on an upswing since the flood.”

List or not, Beattie says Nashville is just one of those cities that makes an impression.

“Nashville is a place that is perpetually on people’s radar,” he says. “I haven’t been there in a few years, but I had a blast when I was there.

“Everyone knows Nashville, even if they haven’t been there. It is one of those places that has a lot of great elements to incorporate into stories, even if it is not the story in and of itself. But especially with these roundups, we always look for options in Nashville because there is a lot of great stuff there.”

Nothing new to Ivey, who has been working hard for years to get that very word out.

“They are just now seeing what we’ve always known,” she says.

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