Learning To Sell Oklahoma


In many ways, Oklahoma’s story is a new story to tell. People who’ve never visited the state before report being pleasantly surprised, not realizing the quality of a museum’s collection or the striking beauty of the terrain. Locals, too, profess a growing pride in Oklahoma’s determination and growth.

So when Jordan Associates sets out to tell that story as the new advertising agency for the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, it’s finding many reasons to market the state. The effort also is a challenge because of the mountain of ways people consume information in the 21st century.

“I think while we’re diverse in many things, the overarching thing we have to offer is our authenticity,” said Rhonda Hooper, president and CEO of Jordan Associates. “Authenticity in Oklahoma is not only with what you see, but it’s within our people. That’s one of our major assets.

“Our friendliness, our natural hospitality, natural inquisitiveness — things we might take for granted, other people see as major value,” she said. “If we an get people to come to our state, we’ll sell them on our state.”

But to sell them means cutting through the clutter of information that bombards people in everyday life. On any given day, people are sorting through millions of pieces of information and determining, however unconsciously, whether it’s worth their time.

“There’s a lot competing for people’s attention,” Hooper said. “People have their mental radars up so you have to figure out what gets through that barrier. It depends on the application, the medium, but it has to come back to, what is the consumer dilemma and how do you solve that dilemma for that consumer?

“It’s about psychology and sociology and getting the consumers to think beyond the intellect and to think with their hearts. What do they see in themselves, and how does what you have to promote fit within their imagery of themselves?”

Hardy Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, said that for the fall travel season, the department used its existing creative pieces to lure travelers. But Jordan helped it gain a prime-time media buy, something tourism hasn’t done the last few years. It also added a radio piece to target drive-time attention, he said.

But the spring and early summer travel season is tourism’s big target, and where it spends two-thirds of its marketing dollars, Watkins said. With Jordan, the department is finalizing its strategy to capture visitors’ time and money.

To continue appealing to the digital age, it also is discussing a mobile application, he said, along with what is now more traditional social media like Facebook and Twitter. Price transparency is increasingly important to travelers, Watkins said, so the department is determining how best to provide that information online.

Because Oklahoma is so diverse in its landscape and cultural offerings, the challenge is to show visitors the extent of that diversity, Watkins said. Strong visuals help explain that Oklahoma has both rugged forests and lakes in one corner and buttes and mesas in another, urban attractions like Bricktown and the BOK Center, museums and an authentic cowboy and Indian experience.

But therein lies the challenge.

“It is a challenge for us because travelers, once they’re introduced to advertising, they have an expectation,” Watkins said. “They’re going to be attracted to some aspect of what they see in the advertising. That’s why it’s important to have a voice out there and put everything we have in a cohesive message. Consumers want to get the value for what they’re deciding to do.

“The most important thing for us once a person makes that decision to have a getaway in our state is that they have a quality experience and it meets their expectations,” he said.

Unlike other states with a Walt Disney World or a Colonial Williamsburg that spend marketing dollars as they draw people, the onus is on Oklahoma’s tourism department to tell its story. But Watkins also sees Oklahoma residents as built-in travel agents.

Most American travelers go out of state to visit family or friends. When Oklahomans are proud of their tourism assets and can share that story, that’s a powerful marketing tool, he said.

Today’s marketing tactics don’t fit what might have worked five years ago because of society’s growing use of technology and the fast pace it creates, Hooper said. But that is a marketing tool in itself — using tourism to attract people who need a break from the rat race.

“With such over-communication, people are selective about what they let in,” Hooper said. “There’s probably more selection reduction right now — people want less and less interfering with their day. What technology has allowed in convenience has added stress to people. Those are some of the key trends we tap into — we hit those buying buttons because we can deliver on that.

“When you can deliver on those social needs of consumers, you’ll get through their radar and they’ll pay attention. We have some of the most gorgeous state parks, many of which are getting remodeled, and our tourism product is being enhanced every day. People are taking notice.”

Jordan Associates’ contract with the Tourism and Recreation Department started in July. The contract spans one year, with four annual options to renew. The tourism department’s annual marketing budget is about $5 million.

Previously, Ackerman McQueen was the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department’s advertising agency for 23 years.