Local First Arizona Foundation partners with Office of Tourism on new Rural Marketing Co-Op program

The Local First Arizona Foundation last month announced its new Rural Marketing Cooperative program, created in collaboration with the Arizona Office of Tourism.

The program is designed to help drive tourists to rural and tribal parts of the state by following a “robust” media advertising plan that includes online, print, outdoor and Arizona Office of Tourism (AOT) publications.

Every year, AOT releases a list of large, reputable advertisers and offers half-rate pricing to rural and tribal marketing organizations, chambers and tourism associations by using matching funds from the AOT budget.

“This year, under the Arizona Rural Development Council, the AOT is co-oping branding, which is a first,” said Liza Noland, director of rural programs for the Arizona Rural Development Council (AZRDC), the rural-focused arm of the Local First Arizona Foundation (LFAF).

Starting with 2019-2020 program, the AZRDC is offering three different packages for rural groups: branding, which can be either for the community or an individual chamber or tourism organization; development of community profiles, an “all-encompassing snapshot” of a community, which employers often use to attract new workers; and marketing consulting, including help developing a marketing plan.

“That is kind of new, because it’s not just advertising; it’s actually on that branding and development side,” Noland said. “Before, they were co-oping your spend. Now, if you select some of our pieces, they’re actually co-oping the planning, which just helps people utilize it better.”

Before, the challenges were three-fold, she said. The program was under-utilized, it was overly-complex — which contributed to it being under-utilized — and rural organizations and communities did not have the budget to afford effective advertising.

“Now, I think rural communities are starting to really realize their uniqueness,” Noland said. “So many of them, especially across the state, have something so cool… either just unbelievable outdoor recreation, or they’ve become a very artistic community, or they’re a mining community, or they’re a saguaro community — they have all sorts of things.”

People in rural communities have begun to recognize that Arizonans “want to visit rural,” and they want to take the opportunity, Noland said.

“Everybody’s moving to get people to come visit,” she said. “Now, we just need to tell them what to expect.”

As rural communities learn the value of marketing their diverse assets and offerings, consumer demand for rural tourism continues to grow, and the Rural Marketing Co-Op is intended to help rural stakeholders “take the lead role,” she said.

Hiring an ad agency to do a brand package, even for a small community, could cost anywhere from $20,000 to upward of $70,000, Noland said.

The AZRDC is offering the same service for $10,000, but the Rural Marketing Co-Op match from AOT brings the cost down to $5,000.

“We’ve heard from three [communities] already that are excited, and then we’ll see… what else we hear,” Noland said. “It’s been received positively so far.”

The AZRDC’s goal is to keep Arizonans in-state when they travel, bringing much-needed money to Arizona’s rural cities and towns rather than spending it out-of-state. The Rural Marketing Co-Op is intended to get the message out so people know the destinations available to them.

“There are billions of dollars spent every year by Arizonans traveling to Southern California for weekend getaways, and our goal is to divert 10 percent of that money back to rural Arizona,” Noland said. “It would completely change the face of rural Arizona if we did that.”

The AZRDC encourages any rural destination marketing organizations (DMOs), tribes and tourism-marketing groups who are interested to apply by the 5:00 p.m. deadline today, July 10.

Graham Bosch

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