By Alan Keays/ VTDigger
A marketing initiative aimed at boosting Rutland County’s declining population as well as helping the region land more tourists aims to show people the “Real Rutland.”
The “Real Rutland” campaign was unveiled Thursday night at the annual meeting of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce held in the downtown Paramount Theatre.
The video ads feature local people involved in recreational and cultural activities, from mountain biking to rock climbing to watching a live performance. It ends with an image displaying four letters, “RUVT.”
“There’s a come-as-you-are mentality here,” said Luke Stafford, the head of Brattleboro-based Mondo Mediaworks, the company hired to come up with the campaign.
“We realized all we had to do is to hold a mirror up to the mentality of the people here,” Stafford said. “They keep it real here.”
Everybody appearing the video ads, Stafford said, is from Rutland County, either a resident or a member of the workforce.
“There are no actors,” he said, “We didn’t want to put a spin on anything, that’s the being real aspect.”
“Real Rutland,” according to Stafford, is the campaign’s title, and he referred to “RUVT” as its “visual identity.”
“RU, is of course the first two letters in Rutland,” he said, “and then there is the play on, ‘Are you Vermont?’”
The regional marketing initiative has a steering committee made up of people from across the county and a variety of backgrounds. The panel reviewed a handful of other campaign themes before settling on the one unveiled Thursday night.
Mary Cohen, the chamber’s executive director, described the marketing campaign as “cool, hip and fun.”
“This is about changing the narrative,” Cohen said.
Lyle Jepson, executive director of the Rutland Economic Development Corp., agreed.
“For too long we have focused on the negative, for too long we have beaten ourselves up,” Jepson said. “We have some things that we need to start to market, the wonderful things, and that’s what this is all about.”
The ads started appearing online and on television as part of a “soft launch” of the campaign in the days leading up to Thursday’s formal unveiling.
REDC and the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce teamed up for the regional marketing effort and raised more than $200,000 from businesses and organizations around the county.
Rutland City put up the biggest chunk of money, contributing $100,000. Surrounding towns have also chipped in.
In addition to attracting new residents to the region, the marketing effort is also seeking to promote tourism in the area with the hope of enticing visitors to consider living, working or starting a business in the area.
The ads end with the website url, realrutland.com, and a call to action, asking visitors to post questions about the region. Replies will come from local experts.
The website homepage features an aerial shot of the county, with two prompts, asking viewers to “Ask” and “Tell.” Mondo Mediaworks was hired earlier this year to oversee the first of what is expected to be a multi-year initiative. The campaign includes an effort to promote the region as the Killington Valley to tourists, highlighting outdoor recreational opportunities.
The digital marketing firm started with research, including a series of meetings with local people around the county. That was followed by strategy development, campaign creation and launch.
“From our first meeting with the (Rutland) Board of Aldermen, we had this sense that honesty and straight-shooting were not just appreciated, but almost revered here,” said Stafford of Mondo Mediaworks. “People here are not afraid to face things head on, like the opioid challenge.”
So far, about a dozen ads have been produced and they vary in length, including 15-second ones for Facebook and online marketing, and 30-second spots to air on television.
There are ads targeted to the local area, the statewide region and out-of-state markets, like Boston, New York City and Hartford, Connecticut.
“As you look at our ads, you’re going to see, that yes, we are targeting a specific population, the same population everyone is after, and that’s the millennials,” said Jepson, who is also the dean of entrepreneurial studies at Castleton University. “We hope that what they see will resonate with them and they will want to come here.”
Jepson said the county has outdoor recreational activities that young people are looking for, from skiing at Killington, to bike and hiking trails at Rutland’s Pine Hill Park.
“We’ve got so much that we can package together,” he said, rattling off a list of other outdoor activities taking place in other towns across the county.
And, he added, research has shown that another demographic is looking for some of the same kind of things as Millennials.
“We believe that this will also target the Baby Boomers,” Jepson said, “and they also have a little more disposable income so we’d also like to have them come here.”
Asked if the region has the kind of jobs Millennials are looking for, Jepson pointed to his organization’s website which lists many ads from employers in the region seeking to fill positions paying a “livable wage,” all more than $44,000 a year.
“One of the big reasons we’re doing this is because our employers are coming to us, REDC and the chamber, and they are saying, ‘I don’t have people to hire,’” Jepson said. “We need more people here.”