Discover DeKalb spent nearly $200,000 advertising this year’s Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival, including paying out $45,000 to “digital influencers” to promote the festival on social media and more than $70,000 on out-of-state billboards.

Despite the major cash spent to market the fest, attendance was estimated to be the same as last year at about 15,000 people, according to a city spokesperson.

Mayor John Ernst, far right, with the Cherry Blossom Festival “digital influencers” and their families at last month’s festival. (Special)

Discover DeKalb, the nonprofit hospitality and tourism agency that serves Brookhaven and other DeKalb cities, paid 10 people to promote the city’s festival on social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.

The city itself spent $40,000 from its hotel/motel tax funds to hire the NUN Group to organize the event held March 25-26 at Blackburn Park.

This was the first time Discover DeKalb hired digital influencers in any of its marketing attempts, said communications manager Michael Lee. Digital influencers tend to have many followers on social media and are used by companies in branding efforts.

“We hired them based on the amount of engagement they have online, such as unique visitors to their sites,” Lee said.

All the digital influencers hired to promote the Cherry Blossom Festival live in metro Atlanta, Lee said, and he called the first-time campaign successful. Lee acknowledged he did not know if Discover DeKalb would hire digital influencers in the future.

“It was a successful campaign, but we can’t guarantee it will be used again,” he said.

At an April 12 work session, Discover DeKalb Executive Director and CEO James Tsismanakis touted the use of digital influencers to City Council members, saying the campaign “set the bar” for marketing and branding awareness.

Representatives from Porter Novelli, a public relations firm hired by Discover DeKalb to work with the digital influencers, said a “Twitter party” on March 22, just days before the fest kicked off, recorded nearly 123 million Twitter impressions. Twitter impressions are the total number of timelines tweets are delivered to, but does not mean they are actually read, according to Union Metrics, a firm that specializes in in-depth social media analytics. The county’s stats showed that there were only 306 clicks from Twitter to links about the festival from March 13 to March 24.

A Twitter party is essentially a live online chat using a designated hashtag – in this instance, “#CherryFest17” — that is meant to bring awareness to other digital influencers and people with like-minded interests. A Porter Novelli representative told City Council that two people were hired to conduct the Twitter party. The hosts used content created by Porter Novelli. The 10 digital influencers posted about the Twitter party to invite others to participate. During the party, 1,018 twitter users participated resulting in slightly more than 6,700 posts.

According to Porter Novelli, 29 percent of those participating in the Twitter party were local to the Atlanta area.
City Manager Christian Sigman praised the digital outreach at the April 12 meeting, before attendance figures were available.

“Billboards come down, print gets thrown out … but the digital footprint stays out there. It’s always there. [That is] the ultimate payback for the branding effort,” Sigman said.

Also for the first time, Discover DeKalb spent more than $70,000 renting billboards in other states in what it called “feeder” cities to metro Atlanta to promote the Cherry Blossom Festival. This included seven billboards in Birmingham, Ala.; four in Charlotte, N.C.; nine in Columbia, S.C.; one in Chattanooga, Tenn.; and six in Nashville, Tenn. Discover DeKalb also rented billboards in Rome, Ga., and Calhoun, Ga.

The billboards received more than 20 million impressions, according to Discover DeKalb. Billboard impressions are measured using criteria such as traffic counts made available from various government transportation departments. Another $50,000 was spent on video ads on 11Alive, an Atlanta television station, that resulted in 1.9 million impressions with a total of 4,179 clicks, according to Discover DeKalb. A total of $32,550 was spent on radio ads.

“Billboards is something we’ve always done. This was something Brookhaven wanted to do … to market and reach outside Atlanta,” said Lee.

“We definitely know this was a successful campaign and new efforts and new media … did pay off,” Lee said. “[Brookhaven] won’t get immediate returns, but more awareness has been raised and the city will reap the benefits for years to come. It’s definitely the long-term effect we’re going for.”

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.

4 replies on “Discover DeKalb spent nearly $200K marketing Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival”

  1. Hmmm … maybe if they advertised that 200 people would be winning $1000.00 it would really increase attendance. Otherwise< I don't see why my tax dollars should be spent so wastefully.

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