By: Delaney MacKenzie (@d_hunter112)
What do you do when you USA Today names your city the best viewing spot for the total eclipse? This is the question Tracie Broom and Merrit McNeely asked themselves in 2015.
I’m sure you remember where you were when the moon blanketed the sun in August 2017. As for me, I was on the Allendale campus training for Transitions. However, in Columbia, South Carolina, 400,000 people experienced totality, when the sun is completely covered, for nearly three whole minutes.
When Columbia was announced as the longest viewing spot, Broom and McNeely from Flock and Rally knew they had an obligation to monetize this natural phenomenon. They started preparing in 2015 by meeting with city officials to form a committee and acquired funds.
The “Total Eclipse Weekend” campaign was designed to draw in people for a longer stay. The brand visuals were Inspired by vintage-style postcards. These women did not want to be selfish with the brand, so they shared their assets with local businesses. T-shirts were made, light pole banners were hung, social media posts were created, billboards and a campaign website were made. One thing they made sure to do was not invent the wheel twice and use their resources; Their local tourism company, Experience Columbia SC already had a great website with information on places to stay and eat, so instead of featuring that on the event website, they simply linked the other site.
What was going to serve as a souvenir for the tourists soon became one of the biggest challenges of the campaign. The public had safety concerns after word got out that the glasses were not safe. It became their community obligation to educate the public on which glasses were safe and ensure every single person had access to them.
To make that possible, they had businesses sponsor the glasses and placed their logos on the frames to cut down on costs and then handed them out for free. They worked with a reputable brand to ensure they would be safe. Infographics were also created and shared with the media to inform the public on how to view the eclipse safely.
The Day of the Eclipse
The eclipse rallied the local community together. Institutions had planned events more than a year before the eclipse. It had become a community effort to promote their city and make a greater economic impact. The South Carolina State Museum planned four days of events and activities, the minor league baseball team coined the term “total eclipse of the park,” the National Park planned to view events, the University planned education events… All these great groups came together, but they needed to make sure their communication was tight and selling the idea of how big this eclipse would be.
On August 21, 2017, hundreds of events occurred in conjunction with the eclipse. From small backyard barbeques to massive parties with food trucks and live music, thousands gathered waiting for totality.
At approximately 2:41 PM it happened. Columbia, South Carolina experienced totality. The sky got darker, the temperature dropped, strange sounds occurred, and viewers experienced an eerie feeling.
What made this campaign so successful was communication and timing. “You need to stat planning in advance,” said Broom. Committees were created early on to start planning for every situation: traffic, state emergency, eclipse viewing safety, and infrastructure. Because they had been planning for so long they were prepared.
McNeely shared her biggest piece of advice with us: be generous with what you have. It’s better to collaborate for economic impact than the competition. Working together and sharing knowledge and assets led to achieving greater benefits.
In the end, the great American eclipse was the largest tourism event South Carolina had ever seen. 1.6 million visitors traveled to Columbia which had a $48 million economic impact just in the Richland County area alone. The campaign generated 60 million press covers, 552k social shares, and 1,894 press clips. Now, get your glasses ready and mark your calendar for the next eclipse on April 8, 2024.
Delaney MacKenzie is a senior year at Grand Valley State University majoring in advertising and public relations. She is the current President of Grand Valley’s PRSSA chapter. Delaney works as a Marketing Associate for RED66 Marketing, LLC and a Social Media & Marketing Coordinator for TEAM Schostak Family Restaurants. When she’s not glued to her laptop, you can find Delaney hammocking outside, searching for the best tacos in Grand Rapids, or doodling in her bullet journal.