Asheville tourism officials hire Winston-Salem ad firm to market mountain metropolis

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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explore_asheville_2014The press release is below from BusinessWire. The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s choice of advertising firm is important because the firm will help shape Asheville’s brand over the next several years, and as we know, tourism is one of Asheville’s biggest economic drivers. (I’m guessing the contract is also potentially worth big bucks.)

Mullen announced today that it has been selected as agency of record for the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, which oversees the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). Mullen’s office in North Carolina will handle media and creative duties for the Asheville tourism business and collaborate with the CVB on strategic management of the brand.

“Our mantra was ‘to amplify the magnetism of Asheville’”

The agency selection was made after a competitive review. Terms of the contract were not disclosed, and creative work is expected to hit the market in early 2014.

Asheville CVB Executive Director, Stephanie Brown, said that Mullen’s strategy and creative vision demonstrated a passion for Asheville.

“Mullen came in with a creative perspective that elevated Asheville as an amazing destination with a unique set of attractions,” Brown said. “Their plan to bring that to life in a big way set them apart as a creative partner.”

Taylor Bryant, president of Mullen North Carolina, said his team homed in on those unique qualities to create the winning strategy.

“Our mantra was ‘to amplify the magnetism of Asheville’,” Bryant said. “I think we did that with an insightful strategy and integrated campaign approach that will create greater traction with travelers.”

About Mullen North Carolina

Mullen is a full-service, “hyperbundled” agency with an “unbound” approach to marketing. It specializes in working with culturally relevant experiential brands and is recognized as the leading marketing-to-women consultancy through its Frank About Women group. Agency clients include Unilever, Hanesbrands, Pep Boys, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, CSX Transportation, Sylvan Learning and Food Lion. Mullen was recently recognized as one of the Ten Great Ad Agencies of 2012 by Forbes. Headquartered in Boston, the agency operates offices in North Carolina, Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. Mullen is an independent brand within the Interpublic Group of Companies (NYSE:IPG). For more on Mullen North Carolina, please visit

About the Asheville CVB

The Asheville CVB, a department of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, is a contract agent for the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA). The Asheville CVB promotes the destination through out-of-market advertising and other marketing and sales initiatives. Last year, Buncombe County attracted 9.1 million visitors, generating $2.3 billion in economic impact and supporting 22,924 jobs in the area. For more information, visit

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. kmcmoobud January 23, 2014

    How do we know that Asheville firms were not in the running for this contract? Maybe they were, and maybe there was a fair selection process through which Mullen rose to the top. How do we know that Mullen isn’t contracting with local people to do portions of the work? Maybe they are (Yay!) and maybe they are not (Boo!). The article, which is really just a press release, does not provide enough information to answer these and other questions. So rather than say the CVB sucks because they went outside, why don’t we ask questions to understand? Here’s what I want to know: What was the RFP and vetting process? Why did Mullen win? What were our local firms missing and how can they get it?

  2. Mike January 23, 2014

    If the city designated it’s target areas (Charleston, NYC, etc.) then the real hard part is done for them. (finding where to market) As far as having the right ‘chops’ to purchase ads in those markets, well I don’t think a bigger firm is any better with that than a local firm, that’s the easy part. And as far as ‘content’ of those ads, I have as much faith as someone local than a bigger firm, at least the local person will view it with pride, instead of another client # on the partner’s chalk board of a big firm.

  3. I’m not super familiar with all of the ins-and-outs of these agencies and ALL of their work for the TDA, but I think there are some good points regarding local agencies and their ability to do this type of work. I’m sure we’ve all seen the Asheville commercials on the major networks and other television channels and the magazine ads in everything from Garden & Gun to airline mags; so I think it may be work that is out of the scope of possibility for local firms. And maybe we are too confident about our community’s artistic ability.

    BUT, for a community that prides itself on the prevalence of the local artist and for being locally-minded, it’s frustrating that at least a portion of this work – and the money attached to it – didn’t stay in town.

  4. marietlm January 22, 2014

    Interesting comments all around. As a creative director at one of the agencies in town, I agree that most agencies here could not have handled the amount of work and media buys a project like this would need. That said, I think there could have been middle ground. They should have given at least a few of the more established agencies the option as to whether or not to bid on the project. Unfortunately to my knowledge, I don’t think any where given that opportunity.

    The middle ground could have been to hire a local firm to advise in strategic development and concept planning. Since we live here, we know what makes this place amazing and why people want to come here. But, maybe more importantly we have a realistic picture of what Asheville is really like so we know how to play to our strengths. It will be interesting to see what comes of the campaign and if they stereotype Asheville. I’m tired of being the city of Biltmore.

    One of the biggest mistakes clients with projects like this make is not consulting/hiring the natives. When HomeTrust Bank rolled out their re-brand a few years back, I didn’t hear good things about it in the general public. There were a handful of firms in town that could have handled the re-brand and done a really fantastic job with it. However, they kept it hush hush since the work was done predominately by a firm in Atlanta that kept everything, well… safe and stale. There was a tagline like “It’s just better here” without any qualifiers, billboards of people superimposed on a blue sky with clouds during a long and hard recession, and bank tellers and loan officers who were never informed on how to talk about the re-brand and why they did it. Sure they may have experience growth, but was that because of the re-brand or their carpet bombing approach to advertising everywhere?

    I’m not trying to ditch HomeTrust as they’re a great local bank and I bank there.
    I’m just trying to qualify my point that when you don’t get local professionals involved who understand the market, you can end up spending a lot of money with very little to show for it. HomeTrust missed the mark because they hired a firm that didn’t understand the Asheville/HomeTrust client base.

    Sure we natives are not tourists, but we were once otherwise we won’t have moved here.

    I hope it works out well.

  5. Murphy January 22, 2014

    Classic (but typical) … the same group that “promotes” AVL as a GD creative mecca:

    opts to go “out of house” for creative.

  6. TuckerdogAVL January 22, 2014

    It’s also about the media buys and leveraging power. As much as I hate to say it, this is too big for any “agency” in Asheville. And a visit to the Mullen website will reveal the headquarters are Boston with Winston-Salem an outpost. Asheville will be a nice puddle jumper plane hop for them to continue to establish themselves in the state. And with clients like Fage, Barnes and Noble, JetBlue, at least McDonalds’ isn’t there. I mean even Google is a client and we know how much Asheville wanted google very recently. LOL

    1. TuckerdogAVL January 22, 2014

      …and Zappos … 🙂

  7. TuckerdogAVL January 22, 2014

    Check out NYSE:IPG (Interpublic Group of Companies) to get a real sense of how big these players are. Mullen is part of the “group.”

  8. Nancy Sinatra January 22, 2014

    Wow, that’s HORRIBLE. With al the creative agencies and graphic design firms right here in Asheville, theyshould be ashamed of themselves, really sad news

    1. Marketing Manager January 22, 2014

      Actually, Nancy, Tuckerdog is right: this isn’t a gig that any agency in Asheville could handle. The CVB isn’t working in local markets, they’re putting serious focus into Atlanta, Charleston, NYC and other larger areas. I’m familiar with every agency in this town, and none of them have the reach and scope to handle that.

      1. ashevillain January 22, 2014

        It’s not a gig that really needs to be.

      2. AVL LVR January 23, 2014

        Asheville agencies will never be able to handle it if you don’t give them a chance. If that money was put back into the local economy, the multiplier effect means with whole city will benefit. There should be a city law, requiring the local gov’t to use only local agencies.

  9. roo January 22, 2014

    Way to keep it local, TDA! If tax-supported organizations weren’t so busy shipping jobs out of town . . .

    1. hauntedheadnc January 22, 2014

      Asheville isn’t quite as creative as it likes to think — you can see that by how faddish and cyclical our business booms are. Also, we look at this place through the jaundiced eyes of locals, who bitch incessantly about tourists, wouldn’t be caught dead cavorting with them, and like to sneer at those who would be so gauche as to go to the Biltmore House. Having someone from the outside, from a place that actually supplies us with tourists and knows why they make the drive up here, might make for a refreshing perspective to promote more tourism.

      1. Nancy Sinatra January 22, 2014

        AVL isn’t as creative as it likes to think,,,??? What?! You are out of touch

        1. hauntedheadnc January 23, 2014

          Hardly. Put on your walking boots and think about it — if Asheville was as creative as it likes to say it is, we’d have figured out a way to provide ourselves with decent performing arts spaces, attract jobs with decent wages, and bring down the cost of housing… but no. We’re too busy chasing after the Next Big Thing (*One* downtown hotel — why not twenty! A *single* brewery — why not fifteen!) We’re also too busy sinking into a mire of NIMBYism that won’t allow anything to progress, lest it bring in people into the neighborhood (I’m looking at you, Chestnut Hill) who aren’t up to snuff, or traffic (that would you, Mr. Wainscott of East West Asheville) or it’s too “urban” for our city (PARC, or more properly “People Against All Growth Always In All Situations” PAAGAIAS).

          Creative? No. If we can’t even solve our own problems, we’re not that creative.

      2. roo January 22, 2014

        TDA’s money is public revenue, and could be spent locally for similar or better aggregate returns. Money sent to Winston-Salem isn’t going to gas up, dine out, or raise children in the Asheville city limits. Given the volume relative to capacity of our current tourism thingie, seems like a local agency could do a decent job of keeping the ball rolling.

        It bears mentioning that the TDA derives its funding from a hotel occupancy tax, and can either drive a tourism growth model that suits its own interests, or promote the values of our community by creating a different kind of destination.

        1. Matt January 25, 2014

          If that’s true, that’s the most relevant thing in this whole thread, roo. Maybe I’m being cynical, but I also think its just common sense: The TDA’s main goal is its own growth. The people who work there want to impress thier bosses, inflate their resumes, just like a lot of us. If what roo says is true, this means getting more people to stay in more hotels is all its really after. It’s tunnel vision, and has no real incentive to cultivate or honor the values and culture of our community, but rather to sell those things in whatever light they need to.

          I know a lot of good can from from the capital generated by increased tourism, but I’m uncomfortable with the way it’s happening. I would be happy to see local agencies involved a little more – that would keep things real.


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