Putting Springfield First

Marketing Campaign Promotes the City and Its Convention Facilities as Second to None
The Springfield First campaign is designed to specifically spotlight the MassMutual Center and its many amenities.

The Springfield First campaign is designed to specifically spotlight the MassMutual Center and its many amenities.

‘Think Springfield, Massachusetts.’ That’s the gist of a bold, new marketing campaign recently rolled out by a group of tourism-focused agencies called Team Springfield. The multi-faceted campaign, called ‘Springfield First,’ is designed to introduce, or re-introduce, meeting and convention planners to the city and its MassMutual Center, and get across the message that there’s much that’s new and much to like about the City of Homes and the surrounding region.

As the old adage goes, seeing is believing.

Mary Kay Wydra remembers a tour she helped provide just over a year ago to some prospective clients kicking the tires on the MassMutual Center as the possible site for a convention. One of the visitors hailed from the Worcester area and, prior to the visit, had tried to dissuade his colleagues from booking the Springfield venue, saying, in essence, ‘Why would we want to go there?’

“He never really gave his reasons,” said Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (GSCVB). “But during the site inspection, the man said, ‘you know what, I haven’t been to this city in years. What a difference 10 years makes!’”

This, in a nutshell, is the essence of the message that a group of tourism-focused groups, brought together in a collaborative effort known as ‘Team Springfield,’ is working to get across in an ambitious, multi-faceted, $500,000 ad campaign designed to show just how big a difference a decade or so makes.

Targeted toward convention and meeting planners, the campaign, launched last month, will introduce, or reintroduce, this constituency to the MassMutual Center — created through a $71 million expansion and renovation of the old Springfield Civic Center — and, in the process, answer that question about why a group should want to come to Springfield.

There are plenty of reasons, said Wydra, listing everything from affordable rates to a considerable inventory of hotel rooms; from attractions both inside the city and a few miles from it to a facility, in the MassMutual Center, that can handle events of all sizes and types. This broad message will be delivered through a host of media, including ads in trade publications, direct mail, a new Web site (www.springfield-first.com), and other Web-based forms of marketing, such as electronic newsletters.

‘Think Springfield, Massachusetts’ is the tagline to a series of ads developed by Team Springfield, which is comprised of the GSCVB, the Mass. Convention Center Authority (MCCA), and Philadelphia-based Global Spectrum, the private facility management firm that handles day-to-day operations for the MassMutual Center. That line is the Jeopardy-like answer to questions such as: ‘Looking for a Convention Center Beyond Expectations?’ and ‘Looking for a Creative Solution for Your Next Convention?’

The broad goal of the campaign, said Wydra, is to get more people to see Springfield and the MMC, and thus become believers. And she herself believes the timing is ultimately right for such a campaign.

“We’re stronger than ever now,” said Wydra of the MMC. “We have a great marketing team in place. In the past, we never had this aggressive marketing plan. We haven’t been out in front of the meeting planners the way we’re going to be out there now. I’m confident that we’re going to start seeing a building that will be utilized far more than it has been in the past.”

Recently, Wydra sat down with BusinessWest to talk about Springfield First, and to detail just how the MMC is going to be competitive in bringing those convention dollars to the city.

First Things First

As she talked about the new marketing campaign, Wydra said that, while it will place heavy emphasis on the word ‘Springfield,’ it will do likewise with the word ‘first.’

“We want Springfield to be first in the minds of the meeting planners when they are thinking about a venue of this size,” she explained. “But Springfield is also known as the city of firsts, and we thought that name has a lot of legs in terms of future promotions. Basketball, the Duryea automobile, Dr. Seuss, the Granville Brothers airplane, Springfield Rifles, things like that … the campaign was created to get the word out there about what gives this city a rich history.”

The focus of Springfield First is on three types of business for the region: leisure, or people on vacation in the area, group tours, and especially the conventions and meetings at the MMC.

“Conventions and meetings are the best type of business,” said Wydra, “in that they tend to be the most lucrative. You convince one person to bring a meeting here, and they bring with them hundreds if not thousands of people.

“But we can also convert those visitors into leisure travelers,” she continued. “That’s always our goal, so that when people come here for business, we want to expose them to enough of the region outside of their program — their business for being here — where they say ‘wow, Six Flags is there, Yankee Candle is there, and I’m coming back and bringing the kids next time.’”

The three organizations behind ‘Springfield First’ — MCCA, Global Spectrum, and GSCVB — recognize that, in terms of attracting conventions, the infrastructure and everything else needed to make successful meetings happen in Springfield is now in place — and the mission at hand is to get that message out.

“For years we had the Marriott and Sheraton hotels, but this building was offline,” Wydra explained, referring to the minimal professional organization space at the Civic Center, which was shut down during renovations. “But now we have a mix of the first-class meeting space, really nice downtown hotels, and spill-over hotels in surrounding communities that can be offered at a lower price point. Adding to all the attractions is the ease of travel to Springfield.

“We knew that we needed to get this building back in the minds of meeting planners,” she continued. “And we wanted them to understand that it’s been transformed. People who had been here six, seven, or eight years ago knew it as the Civic Center, when it was an arena with a tiny, 9,000-square-foot exhibition room. It’s completely different.”

Indeed, what reopened in September 2005 was a contemporary structure bearing little resemblance to its former self, with nearly 150,000 square feet of new meeting and convention space on two levels.

Global Spectrum is Philadelphia-based, yet has an international presence, and at the MMC it will focus on short-term bookings, while the GSCVB focuses on long-term business, or meetings for well down the road. Wydra called this the “bulls-eye” type of client: one who would be planning an event 15 months or more out.

Conventional Thinking

In discussing why now is the time for the Springfield First campaign, Wydra spoke to the amount of planning, organizing, and marketing put into gear for the MMC. “We were very focused on putting a process in place,” she said, “with the Team Springfield advisory committee and with our sales team, and going through our pipeline of businesses.

“This is a very competitive industry,” she continued. “We have Worcester, Hartford, Albany, and Providence nearby. We knew we needed to have a presence out there, but we knew we needed to be organized and ready also.”

To set the MMC apart from its many competitors, Wydra explained the additional personalized level of treatment from the administration of the MMC, the GSCVB, and the city of Springfield. “We really sell the concept of big-city services and small-town hospitality,” she said.

“We work with the convention planners,” Wydra continued. “When they come to the city, we’ll put the ‘welcome’ signs up downtown, we’ll get them the mayor to come greet the group, we’ll do welcome tables in their hotels, get their name across the marquee at the Sheraton, or even talk to the press about covering their meeting or convention. There’s a staffed ‘ambassador’ booth here in the building. So if you need help registering people for your convention, we’ll help you do that.”

Wydra explained that many of the groups she encounters tend to be volunteer organizations. In addition to their groups’ organizational needs, they probably have full-time jobs. “These people have to make a huge convention happen,” she said. “There are people in the workforce who do that as their full-time job. We’re able to say to that type of client, ‘let us help you with the details; that’s what we’re here for.’ That really goes a long way for them. To my knowledge, a lot of our competition doesn’t offer such programs.”

While targeted customers tend to be regional, with the Northeast as a focus, there are those outside groups for whom the Springfield’s size is an asset. Wydra mentioned an international organization, the Daughters of the Nile, that visited a few years ago. “Prior to Springfield,” she said, “they had gone to Orlando, where they were meeting in a hotel. Here in Springfield, they are in the convention center. For a larger city, they were just a drop in the bucket. Here, they were on the front page of the local newspaper for three days.”

Equally important to the Springfield First campaign is the business community outside of the convention center. “Team Springfield is all about economic impact,” said Wydra, “and so is the MCCA. They know that the bang for the buck is when there’s hotel revenue, when these people are dining out, and maybe they’re going out in the evenings after their events.”

In order to open up the city and region, Team Springfield has tie-ins with locations outside of the MMC to give local flavor, said Wydra. “We tie in some unique meeting venues,” she said. “One of the things we’re able to say to meeting planners is, ‘you’ve got an opening-night reception? Have you thought about having it at center court in the Basketball Hall of Fame? Or maybe up at one of the museums in the Quadrangle? We’re talking with a group right now who always has a golf component to their convention, so we’re working with the Ranch Golf Club in Southwick to make that part of our proposal.”

And while the publicity and the planning for Springfield First is new this year, Wydra makes it clear that organizers aren’t selling a ‘new’ Springfield. “The city has everything a convention group would need, and that’s what we’re selling, Springfield as it is now, with all the amenities and attractions that goes with it.”

With direct-mail initiatives and marketing in industry publications, Wydra said that the red carpet is rolled out, Team Springfield is ready to go online, and there are “robust candidates in our tentative schedule.”

All this proves, as was said once before, “if you build it, they will come.”

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