by Aaron Layman
Taking a vacation is good business for Inprint, a creative firm based in downtown Vinton. Building off the success of winning a joint Virgo Award from the Virginia Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus with the Botetourt County Office of Tourism this past spring, Inprint has continued its move into strategic brand building with a large focus on tourism.
Inprint’s David Mikula and David Harris first met while the latter was employed by Leisure Publishing in the early 1990s. Mikula was working with him doing color pre-press specialty work for Leisure on behalf of Moody Graphics. They decided to pool their expertise together and start Inprint, named after their objective to “provide the creative services for any kind of project that would end up in print.” The duo quickly established themselves in the Roanoke region, designing brochures and logos for clients such as the Roanoke Express hockey franchise, for which they won their first ADDY in 1994. In 2002, they moved their operations out of an industrial park to a cozy former home in downtown Vinton.
In 2008, Inprint shifted their focus and decided to specialize in a few particular areas: tourism, hospitality and foodservice. The firm has made a deep commitment to the first area in particular, becoming part of the Southeast Tourism Society and putting Mikula through their three-year continuing education program. He’s also written scholarly articles on the unique challenge of brand building. While Mikula says that they “treasure the relationships” they have with clients outside of tourism and foodservice, he attributes the redirection to past successes in these fields and a better affinity with their philosophy. “These are industries in which wild creativity helps move the needle and we’re a wildly creative firm.”
Along with this specialization came a different approach in the form of, as Harris puts it, “getting involved a little more upstream in strategy.” Mikula has taken point as the firm’s brand strategist and research expert. He uses surveys, online research and on-site visits to get a comprehensive view of a client’s strengths and weaknesses. One method specific in the field of tourism is examining conversion studies, which is for a destination (for example, Botetourt County). He follows up with those who have requested travel information from a tourism board to ask them if they visited and gathers feedback.
Mikula stresses the importance of research in strategic brand development for their campaigns: “the combination of good research and good creative work is what becomes needed to stand out from the bombardment of ads nowadays.” Inprint guides clients through the development of media plans that feature e-newsletters and social media, showing them “the most effective ways to get their message out there.”
Botetourt County has been the domain of some of their largest tourism initiative successes. In addition to creating the county’s logo, brochure and website, they brought the overall look of the campaign to niche travel markets such as wine routes in their campaign for the Botetourt Wine Trail. Their Upper James River Water Trail campaign, which won them the Virgo Award in Eco-Tourism in addition to the ADDYs locally, highlights the kayaking, canoeing and tubing opportunities on the 45 miles of the James River in Botetourt County.
Botetourt is also part of their Crossroads to Settlement ad campaign which taps into heritage and cultural tourism as visitors retrace the steps of settlers across five southwestern Virginia communities. Heritage tourism is a growing niche that presents its own unique marketing challenges in the form of more affluent and educated travelers that have higher expectations.
One of their Botetourt initiatives that brought them to national attention was a simple online ad for Blue Collar Joe’s that was placed on the Food Network’s website when the donut shop was featured on the Food Network Challenge. According to Mikula, the ad received triple the click-through rate of typical ads on the site. USA Today and Southern Living are among the national publications that have featured Inprint’s campaigns.
Their other regional tourism efforts include a campaign for the Allegheny Highlands that began this past summer with the launch of their tourism website and work done for both Abingdon and Franklin County. Efforts to brand Allegheny Highland tourism netted Inprint a Gold Davey Award recently from the International Academy of Visual Arts. More than 4000 entries competed for the awards in several categories.
They’re currently in the process of working with Page County, home to Luray Caverns. When asked if they’ve noticed any tourism trends in recent years, the duo says they’ve seen states marketing more within their own boundaries than before, due to a slowed-down economy necessitating smaller budgets for travelers.
Whether it’s tourism or in other markets, Harris says the brand researching and strategizing they’ve been building on in recent years has become more important to the people they work with: “clients are wanting to make sure that they know where their money can do the most good.” (see inprintinc.com for more details on the firm)