Visit Indy weaves Speedway into marketing campaign

Visit Indy CEO Leonard Hoops thinks there’s a lot to be gained by tying the identity of central Indiana to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the events that take place there.

Hoops, who took over at the city tourism marketing arm in 2011, thinks the city’s past tourism branding efforts have too erratically used the Speedway in its promotional efforts to lure outside visitors to Indianapolis.

“When I first moved here, I noticed there was a love/don’t love relationship between [Visit Indy] and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” said Hoops, who came here from San Francisco. “They would intermittently use the [Speedway] and then it’s like they’d totally ignore it was here.”

That cycle of all or nothing is coming to an end, as Visit Indy tries to take advantage of the IMS’ identity more consistently.

Hoops and his staff decided last year not to use the Speedway and its crown-jewel event as the foundation for its new branding initiative, opting instead for a more general Indy moniker with no overarching tag line. But Speedway and Indy 500 imagery and inferences are clearly peppered throughout the campaign.

Hoops has already met several times with IMS officials, including Mark Miles, who took over as CEO of the Speedway’s parent, Hulman & Co., in December. Hoops and Miles most recently met this month to discuss cooperative efforts.

This year, the Speedway and Visit Indy have collaborated on several co-branded television, radio, print and Internet ads, Hoops said. Miles thinks there might be other ways the organizations can collaborate.

Miles foresees plenty of ways to draw people to the area, and Hoops is moving promotion efforts away from fears of seeing the city pigeonholed into the impression of offering little more than a race.

Visit Indy under Hoops’ guidance is using the racing message to highlight all the excitement at the track while also emphasizing that there is more to Indianapolis than racing cars. For instance, the cover of one of Visit Indy’s visitor guides reads “Indy, 500 experiences to love.” Another print ad including a picture of Indianapolis’ downtown skyline and canal reads, “500 miles from your expectations, but only 65 steps from your hotel.”

A recent marketing message to potential convention attendees reads, “Race to Success,” accompanied by a photo of an open-wheel racecar. That ad mentions the track as one of many attractions the city has.

Visit Indy is also promoting the venue as a 12-month destination. During the 2012 Super Bowl, the facility hosted a number of events, including the media party. It also was a major destination for a gathering of international travel writers last September.

“We help [meeting and convention planners] emphasize in their own marketing materials things like track tours, the two-seater ride experience around the track, as well as informing them of the event-hosting capabilities the track has,” Hoops said.

In addition, Hoops said, a concerted effort will be made to use an IMS luxury suite during May to entertain meeting and convention planners. Hoops said Speedway officials give Visit Indy clients “VIP treatment” at every racing event they attend.

“That way, we have a captive audience with people in that suite for three or four hours,” Hoops said. “Besides, the races there and the Indianapolis 500 in particular are the type of events that leave an indelible impression. That’s what we want to do.”

Miles, the former president of Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, agrees with Visit Indy’s strategy. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and all the events there play an important role of what people think of this entire region,” he said.

Miles estimates that 200,000 people from outside Indiana come to the Speedway every year, adding that the facility “can’t be ignored as a drawing card.” He added that it brings in more people annually than did the 2012 Super Bowl, which drew 116,000 non-Hoosiers.

“But even people who have never been here, people from around the world, if you say ‘Indianapolis,’ the first thing they think of is the Indianapolis 500,” Miles said.

The key part to using the Speedway, Indy 500 and other track events to market the city is to use the positive attributes from racing to brand the larger city, said Jim Walton, CEO of Brand Acceleration, a local firm that specializes in branding for organizations interested in economic development.

Promoters will need to be careful not to make the message too narrow, Walton said. For instance, the high-tech nature of racing should convey a message about the high-tech work force and companies located here.

“The biggest thing, from a convention and tourism standpoint, is to convey the message that, if this city hosts the Indianapolis 500, one of the biggest sporting events anywhere, we can host your event,” Walton said. “They have to use this event to show people no one hosts big, first-class events like Indianapolis. If they can do that, this campaign could result in a big score.”•

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