OCEAN CITY – After almost three years, the town’s new marketing tool, OC Experience, is ready to hit the road to spread the word on Ocean City and all it has to offer.
The final product of OC Experience is a travel show booth that will physically exhibit to attendees the value to be found in a vacation in Ocean City through technology and media.
So far the 2013 road trip schedule for OC Experience is the New York Times Travel Show on Jan. 18-20; the Philadelphia Inquirer Travel Show on Jan. 26-27; and the Travel & Adventure Show in Washington D.C on March 8-9.
It was no easy task to get OC Experience up and running, in fact it took three visits to the Mayor and City Council to receive final approval and funding.
“We refined it and brought it to the point where it is the best it can be and now it is ready to finally see the light of day and go to these shows and meet with the people,” Brad Hoffman of Spark Productions LLC said on Monday.
In February of 2011, Hoffman first presented the OC Experience as a tractor trailer sporting Ocean City’s brand going to different travel shows selling the town as a destination. At that time, the Mayor and City Council supported the idea but not the price tag, which was upwards of $270,000.
A year later, Hoffman returned with a more defined version of OC Experience as a 10-foot by 20-foot portable booth that would gather data, such as email addresses, and use social networking sites with the goal being to have attendees book their vacation before they leave the OC Experience.
At that time, Hoffman requested a two-year commitment from the town with an estimated total budget for the project of $180,000, which included construction of the booth, management by Spark Productions, travel expenses, event collateral and prizes/giveaways.
The council was not ready to grant approval at that time and instructed Spark Productions to work with Ocean City’s Tourism Department, Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) and the advertising firm, MGH, to develop a final consensus on the marketing initiative.
Following those meetings, in March Tourism Director Donna Abbott came before the Mayor and City Council recommending the town pursue a small selection of travel shows with OC Experience in 2013, especially after she had attended a travel show in Washington D.C and acknowledged the need for Ocean City’s presence.
The council made the final approval and allocated $85,000 of Ocean City’s marketing budget to OC Experience.
The booth was constructed by a trade show exhibit construction company out of Virginia, MOD Displays. Once the booth was ordered and the design approved, the final product was completed within five days.
There will be three televisions on the scene. One will be playing vintage footage of Ocean City while the other will be playing current footage of what Ocean City has to offer, such as the different special events or the foods, accommodations and recreational activities.
“So you will get the idea of the history in Ocean City as a destination vacation location and here is where we are with our modern amenities,” Hoffman said.
The center television will be Internet based where content about Ocean City can be searched on the spot, such as available accommodations and amenities.
For the “hook” to get travel shows attendees into OC Experience, there will be a chance to win a grand prize of a package vacation in Ocean City and “beach bucks” will be given away.
“You want to have them leaving there with the idea that going to Ocean City is a good bargain and a good value for them, and the way they are going to leave there with that is with coupons for local hotels, restaurants, and retail … give them a coupon while they are in D.C. to give them an incentive to come to Ocean City,” Hoffman said.
The booth will also be creating unlimited number of media impressions, especially through the use of the photo booth where OC Experience attendees can upload their pictures to social media.
“It will give them a little taste of Ocean City in that booth that will give the fever to want to come to the beach,” Hoffman said. “A lot of times that is what marketing is. It is finding out what your customer wants, giving them good information, but also having fun with them.”
Spark Productions will be operating the booth while at travel shows and Hoffman believes there is no better team to spread the word on Ocean City.
Spark Productions came about after Hoffman sold his own travel show company, The Rad Shows, to DMG Media, who he also worked with for a period of time. Now Spark Productions produces and markets a number of local events, including the OC Car Show and Susan G. Komen Race for a Cure.
“I am always a familiar face at events, talking to the public answering their questions about Ocean City,” Hoffman said. “I have been an Ocean City local for over 30 years, this is what I do for a living, and I want to blow them out of the water with the results of this idea so they can see their money has been well spent on this marketing initiative.”
Besides the scheduled travel shows, the city, which owns and has the rights to OC Experience, will have four free opportunities to have Spark Productions set up and operate the booth at events in town throughout the year. It can also be easily assembled and fits into the back of a cargo van so that it can be used by other city staff and volunteers.
“I am the type of person that loves to come up with a great idea, watch it go from concept to reality, and know it is going to achieve its goals for the people that is hiring us to do it,’ Hoffman said. “That’s what this is. It is three years of hard work, effort, energy, money and time that has been invested in making this happen, and I am so excited to go out and do these shows and show the Town of Ocean City, the Mayor and Council, and the tourism community that we are being creative with our marketing, we are not putting all our eggs in one basket.”
Hoffman hopes to grow and evolve the concept into the future past 2013.
“It is an aggressive, progressive, strategic part of their [Ocean City] marketing plan,” he said. “It is aggressive because it is new and exciting, it’s progressive because people are doing travel booths this way, and it is strategic because we weren’t currently doing anything like this.”
Hoffman pointed out that Ocean City’s tourism officials are currently seeking a new marketing motto for this summer, following last summer’s motto “Summer of Thanks.”
As OC Experience is preparing to hit the road, Hoffman suggested the motto in Ocean City this summer should be “The Summer to Experience Ocean City, Maryland”, the concept being each visitor chooses what their experience will in Ocean City, whether that is fishing, parasailing, or hanging out on the beach and Boardwalk.