A tale of three cities: Milwaukee, Pittsburgh & Portland

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:32 pm

In an innovative move, Milwaukee has joined forces with Pittsburgh and Portland to create "The Coalition of Cities." The goal of this coalition is to enhance our sales efforts and stretch our marketing dollars by taking advantage of strategic opportunities in which our three cities can work together and reach potential clients.
At first blush, Milwaukee has a good deal in common with Pittsburgh and Portland. All three can be characterized as mid-sized American cities, with similar-sized convention centers and a river running through each. We also generally go after the same size groups. In the case of Pittsburgh, we have both been undergoing a renaissance and have been working hard to change our images from industrial towns to progressive, diverse and cosmopolitan urban centers.
So with these similarities, it may seem like we’re in direct competition with each other when it comes to booking meetings and conventions. At times, we do compete head-to-head. But by working together, we’re able to familiarize meeting planners with three viable cities (located in three distinct geographic locations in the country) that could meet their meeting needs.
It is this geographic distinction that makes this collaboration work as many meeting planners book destinations in different regions each year in order to maximize attendance.
Call it strength in numbers, but by combining forces, including sales staffs, we’re able to provide a convenience to meeting planners and other association executives, and, when appropriate, collaborate on events. This provides all three bureaus with some economies of scale and enables us to stretch our sales and marketing budgets, and these customers have a chance to meet and learn about three destinations at one time.
Talks with representatives from Pittsburgh and Portland about forming this strategic alliance began more than a year ago. The partnership made its formal debut in the summer, when we collectively hosted a client event, themed, "A River Runs Through It," at the American Society of Association Executives annual meeting in Minneapolis. In December, we teamed up again and hosted a holiday-themed event in Washington, D.C., which attracted about 30 meeting planners.
So far, the affiliation has created some positive buzz in the meeting planner community. Some promising leads, referrals and requests for proposals have been generated, and we expect to realize some tangible results from this coalition in 2005.
Looking ahead, we feel this collaboration has great potential. Staff from all three bureaus will be working together to promote this alliance and plan additional events targeted at meeting and convention planners.
A billion reasons to come to Milwaukee
As we work with Pittsburgh and Portland to market our respective destinations with selected initiatives, we’ll still be working independently to market Milwaukee to meeting planners and continue to change perceptions about Milwaukee with the public-at-large.
Fortunately, Milwaukee, unlike most major cities in the country, has a great new tourism story to tell. In the next few years, we’ll be investing about $1 billion in new tourism-related attractions. That’s on top of the $1.5 billion that has been invested since 1998. Much of that new investment will come in such high-profile projects as the Milwaukee Public Market, Pier Wisconsin, the development of the Pabst Brewery site, the Bayshore Town Center, the Harley-Davidson Museum, expansion of the RiverWalk, and hopefully, a new downtown hotel. These have the potential to open up some new tourism floodgates and attract more high-profiles conventions.
We’re going to take this story "on the road" in 2005 with what we’re calling the "Billion Dollar Blitz." We not only want to reinforce our story with association meeting and convention planners, but we want to introduce the "new" Milwaukee to tour operators and trade and consumer media outlets. The Blitz will take us to several strategic cities this year to meet with meeting planners, tour operators and travel and consumer media via deskside visits.
The Billion Dollar Blitz is part sales effort, part public relations campaign. It’s one thing to sell the city’s attributes to meeting planners, it’s quite another challenge to reach convention delegates who live in all reaches of the country and change perceptions that they may have about Milwaukee. That’s what a public relations programd aimed at travel and consumer media will help accomplish. The Blitz will tell targeted audiences the latest chapter in Milwaukee’s evolution into a first-rate tourist and convention destination.
As the St. Paul Pioneer Press recently wrote about us: " Milwaukee has all the big-city attractions but none of the pretension or high prices. You can drive there, park for nothing and walk everywhere, from river to lake. It’s gemŸtlich – pleasant, cozy, easygoing. It is what it is – and for tourists, that’s a pleasure."
The book on Milwaukee is a work-in-progress. While the chapters are still being written, it’s time to hit the road and aggressively tell our story.
Doug Neilson is the president and chief executive officer of the Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau. He writes a monthly column on the local tourism industry exclusively for Small Business Times.
January 21, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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