Cicada-Free Zone
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Holmes Report
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Cicada-Free Zone

In April 2004, most of the mid-Atlantic was bracing for the periodic Cicada invasion - an infestation of insects that occurs every 17 years and is undisputedly one of the most disgusting bug phenomena in the United States.

Paul Holmes

In April 2004, most of the mid-Atlantic was bracing for the periodic Cicada invasion - an infestation of insects that occurs every 17 years and is undisputedly one of the most disgusting bug phenomena in the United States. Residents were prepared for the high-pitched buzzing that would be heard indoors with the windows shut, the splattering of poor-flying bugs into cars, people and homes, and the eventual covering of the ground with decaying carcasses.

MGH Public Relations, the Ocean City Tourism Office and the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association seized the opportunity to market Ocean City in a fun way. Comprehensive research revealed that Maryland’s Eastern Shore would be Cicada-free due to the beach resort’s environmental conditions, and the findings were confirmed with numerous entomologists.

In addition to researching literature, MGH contacted a University of Maryland entomologist, Mike Raupp, to confirm our research. It was also crucial that we launch the campaign just as the emergence of the cicadas and our thorough research led us to an appropriate time. Shortly thereafter, the Ocean City Cicada-Free Zone campaign was born.

The main objective of the campaign was to increase awareness of Ocean City prior to its busiest season of the year, and increase tourism numbers in and June from the year prior. The overall goals included: generate media coverage of the campaign, increase visitor attendance, increase calls into the call center and increase hits on the Ocean City website.

In order to reach those objectives and goals, MGH set out on a two-prong campaign that consisted of advertising and PR efforts. Materials were designed to promote the beach resort as a Cicada-Free Zone through several print ads, radio commercials and an array of press releases – all designed to inform the public that Ocean City would be a quiet, safe refuge for those looking to escape the bug invasion. In addition, Ocean City Mayor Jim Mathias officially proclaimed the beach resort a Cicada-Free Zone with a proclamation that was read to the Ocean City Council.

MGH created print ads and radio spots, which humorously depicted Ocean City as a place of refuge for those looking to get away from Cicadas. Ocean City Mayor Jim Mathias lent his voice to the radio spots, urging residents to flee and take shelter in the town’s hotels and motels. The radio and print campaigns targeted residents of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and West Virginia, which are Ocean City’s prime target markets, as well as areas that would be affected by Cicadas.

The advertising campaign was created as a media hook for the PR campaign. MGH Public Relations took the humorous ads and developed press materials that successfully publicized the campaign. MGH scheduled a media tour for Mayor Mathias, which consisted of live and taped television interviews, along with live radio interviews in the Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Harrisburg markets. PR materials included: press releases detailing the idea behind the campaign; an official copy of the proclamation from the Town of Ocean City declaring itself a Cicada-Free Zone; a Radio spots and ads were sent to television and radio producers, along with print reporters.

News releases were distributed to all news media and the story was covered on 40 TV stations and 11 radio stations. Twelve national print media picked the story up as well. The campaign was also seen on eight Internet sites including www.insidebaltimore.com, www.maryland.com and on www.business.com.

As noted, the campaign was an overall success, having achieved each goal and objective set forth. MGH generated more than 4 million media impressions for the campaign and Ocean City. Visitor attendance increased 24 percent higher in June 2004, achieving the major goal of increasing tourism numbers during the summer kick-off. Interest in Ocean City increased 6 percent through phone calls and 11 percent through Ocean City’s official website.

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