Great Rivers & Routes Activates Always-On, Multichannel Strategy to Drive Travelers Year-Round

Cory Jobe shares his always-on marketing experience with Sojern.

September 14, 2023

Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau is the destination marketing organization (DMO) working to improve the quality of life and economic vitality of southwest Illinois. Celebrating three of the nation’s great rivers—the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois—the region offers a rich history and small-town charm to travelers all year round.

Our team sat down with Cory Jobe, President & CEO of Great Rivers & Routes, a Sojern partner since his time as Illinois State Tourism director back in 2014. Cory helped pioneer digital marketing within Illinois and gave us an in-depth look at how his team partnered with Sojern to launch an always-on, multichannel strategy to drive travelers to the region year-round.

What’s been your approach to activating digital marketing for Great Rivers & Routes? 

From a holistic media approach, we’re always on. We spend about 90 to 95% of our budget on digital marketing, and most of that's with Sojern. We do very little print media. We also utilize the Illinois Tourism co-op campaign with Sojern and our other partners. 

We get quite a bit of pressure because if our partners don't see their advertising, they feel like we're not advertising. We’ve worked to educate our partners that they shouldn't be seeing their own advertising. We're not trying to advertise in our backyard. We're advertising in St. Louis, Chicago, and Indianapolis, because that's where our travelers are coming from to visit us. This year, we did a massive out-of-home campaign in the city of Chicago and the Chicago suburbs, and we're going to continue that through the fall and into this fiscal year.

What compelled you to run always-on campaigns?

We were typically a May to November business when it came to leisure travel. A lot of businesses were complaining of down numbers during the winter and they didn’t want to spend all their advertising money in the summer and fall when we really don't need the help. 

We know that in the winter season, we have a huge migration of eagles to this region. So we created a winter eagle season campaign that's 100% digital. We've taken those markets that we advertise to in the summer and fall and identified opportunities for winter. We typically run our eagle campaign in late December through the end of February. So the only time we're not “on”, per se, is March and early April.

In one of our communities, they do another eagle campaign in the winter, so we're just doubling down. We got them a marketing partnership grant, and I met with them and they asked, "What are we going to do for the fall? We need to lift the fall." I said, "You don't need any advertising in the fall. Your businesses are typically open and slammed from Thursday through Sunday. If your businesses won't open Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, how can I drive incremental lift? So put all that money in winter and focus where it’s needed.”

We're going out and making data-driven decisions in the digital space, and we're trying to build a destination too. We're focused a lot on product development right now. It's a long, uphill battle because we're a smaller destination. The resources may not be here at times, but we're really trying to build the product along with marketing the destination.

Why did you decide to partner with Sojern?

When I was the Illinois State Tourism Director from 2014 to 2018, I remember walking into my first meeting and I asked about our key performance indicators (KPIs), and the team had no idea what a KPI was. So digital was still fairly new in the tourism landscape. Back then, Illinois was primarily doing the traditional out-of-home print and broadcast TV, and I guided them to start looking into more digital. 

We ended up running some test campaigns between Sojern and a few other platforms. Sojern always performed very well for the state. The results just speak for themselves. 

We need to be on top of travel intent, in front of the people looking at travel, looking to book travel and those in that inspirational phase of travel. Sojern has always done right for us. So I've continued that relationship over here with Great Rivers & Routes. 

The numbers speak for themselves. The governor just announced record-breaking numbers for the state. We had a 26% lift in visitor growth year over year. We had a 7% increase in hotel/motel tax revenues. We had a 25-35% increase in visitors from Chicago, Indianapolis, and St. Louis. 

That doesn't happen because we're just standing here. It happens because we're telling people through effective advertising who we are and what we're doing. 

What is your favorite thing about partnering with Sojern?

We can really be in all the digital spaces, right from Connected TV to native to digital display, programmatic, those sorts of things. We manage the buy. We don't have a media buyer. It's easy to traffic everything to the team. It's just the ease of working with you and figuring out solutions to our problems and continuing to grow our business. That's the key. We've got to continue to find ways to reach new people, new travelers who want to be in our destination. 

Partnering with Sojern gave us the ability to talk through problems, and find solutions–especially because we've had some really good numbers over the last couple of years, even through difficult times.

Learn More About Always-On Marketing 

Great Rivers & Routes wanted to maximize reach with their target audience across digital channels. Prior to the partnership with Sojern, they were not investing heavily in digital marketing. They needed a partner with access to quality traveler data to help them promote the region as a whole to attract new visitors and activate promotional campaigns for their unique offerings, such as eagle-watching and Nascar events.

Read more about our partnership with Great Rivers & Routes or deep dive into always-on marketing with our latest eBook, The Destination Marketer’s Guide to Always-On Marketing

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