Integrated Marketing Communications:
C&O Canal Trust
BRANDING THE C&O CANAL TRUST AND PROMOTING ITS ACCOMPLISHMENTS (2014-present)
As the Director of Marketing and Communications for the C&O Canal Trust for seven years, I have been focused on branding the C&O Canal Trust, raising the community's awareness of the Trust's activities and programs, and establishing us as THE way to help the C&O Canal through gifts of time and money. A relatively new organization at fourteen years old, the Trust is the nonprofit partner of the C&O Canal National Historical Park, one of the top ten most visited National Parks in the nation with approximately 5 million visitors each year. My integrated communications and marketing plans for the Trust are multi-pronged, addressing multiple audiences as described below.
Our main constituents are our donors, who are the lifeline of our operation. We fundraise to meet an $800,000 budget, with funds going to support Park priorities, as well as several programs we operate, including the Canal Quarters lockhouse program and our volunteer programs. I work closely with our Director of Development and President on print and email collateral aimed at educating our donors on our work and inspiring them to continue their support. Our consistent message to this constituent group is that the C&O Canal Trust is the primary way to help the Park. We use the phrase "Love the Park? Help the Trust?" in many of our materials, and recently started a "My Canal" campaign to allow Park lovers to share why the C&O Canal is so special to them. This campaign allowed us to raise $37,000 during our first-ever Canal Giving Days over a week in 2018.
I also work closely with our Director of Programs and Partnerships to support volunteer recruitment efforts for our Canal Community Day events, which bring hundreds of volunteers into the Park to help preserve, beautify, and maintain its 184.5 miles. We then fold these volunteers into our ladder of communication in hopes of developing them into donors as well. I also publicize the work being done by the programs department and have achieved a variety of press coverage on their work. A sampling of media coverage is included below.
I have also set a goal to make the C&O Canal Trust's website the one-stop shop for information on visiting the C&O Canal. Because the National Park Service's staff is so small due to cuts in federal appropriations, this is a role we can fill in meeting the needs of Park visitors. To this end, I created a Plan Your Visit website section and companion C&O Canal Explorer mobile app, which contain over 800 points of interest along the C&O Canal's 184.5 miles. They also point visitors to the ten Canal Towns, four counties, and three Heritage Areas our Park passes through, thereby driving tourism off the towpath and into the surrounding communities, which enriches the experience for the Park's visitors and stimulates economic development. During the Park's 50th anniversary in 2021, I am working with the Maryland Office of Tourism and Development and the four local tourism offices (Montgomery, Frederick, Washington, and Allegany) to create a national "C&O Canal Experience" marketing campaign. In collaboration with the Canal Towns Partnership, we have launched a C&O Canal Libations Trail, and have other trail itineraries in development. The anniversary has yielded a flurry of media attention in both regional and national publications.
I have increased website traffic 492% over seven years through a variety of strategies, but have relied heavily on content marketing through our website. We feature a variety of content on the blog: the canal's history, natural and cultural resources, recreational opportunities, trip-planning tips, and more. We use social media and search engine optimization to then drive traffic back to our website. I recently added a Donation Widget to the blog template to monetize our blog traffic more directly. I monitor Google Analytics to determine what content is performing well and use that to guide my content calendar. I also work closely with the state and county tourism offices to keep them informed of upcoming events and activities that they can publicize for our mutual benefit.
I have increased email sign-ups and Facebook likes through a variety of programs aimed at attracting new prospects, including a monthly photo contest that has grown our photo catalog and significantly increased our Facebook engagement. For the past five years, I've selected 13 of the contest's photos and published them in an Annual Calendar that sells on our website and in gift shops for $12.95, adding a new revenue stream to our budget. I also developed magnets and stickers that can be seen on bumpers and bikes along the Canal. In 2021, I partnered with Maryland-based Route One Apparel to develop and launch a C&O Canal Apparel Collection, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the C&O Canal Trust.
I handle the planning, budgeting, implementation, and evaluation of all of the Trust's marketing communications efforts, including the writing and graphic design. I manage our web vendor and oversee all web development, serve on the Senior Leadership Team which recently completed our 2019-2023 Strategic Plan, and have led the planning and production of our Park After Dark fundraising gala for three years. I report to the Trust's President and manage the Communications Committee of the Board of Directors.