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Discover Puerto Rico sets foundation to boost market reach

By on July 30, 2018

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the July 26 – Aug. 1 print issue of Caribbean Business.

A fully implemented plan from Puerto Rico’s destination marketing organization (DMO) is expected in January, explained Leah Chandler, chief marketing officer (CMO) of the DMO, which recently announced its official name is “Discover Puerto Rico.”

The organization currently has three outside research projects that are expected to provide data within the week or by early August to help the organization’s marketing and sales team identify Puerto Rico’s target audience, Chandler explained.

“We are holding online focus groups right now, trying to understand how [users] expect to use the DMO website. We are completing brand-perception testing right now, trying to get a sense of both the domestic market in the States and also international markets, about how people perceive Puerto Rico,” the CMO said.

She indicated that the reason the focus right now is not on creating a strategy is because the organization wants to switch from a “kind of shotgun approach,” where everyone is being approached by a broad message, rather than something more tailored to the specific groups. To make that change, the new DMO needed to gather more information than what had been previously collected.

“There’s stuff we’ve worked with in the past, in terms of data, but it is not really primary research. It is research we’ve received secondarily or is general market research; it hasn’t been specific to Puerto Rico,” Chandler stated, mentioning Google Analytics and Facebook Insights as some of the tools that have been used before.

“When you look at different marketing platforms, different marketing programs, it is very easy to say, ‘we can target baby boomers, we can target millennials, we can target Gen Z,’” Chandler added. “All of them are potential targets for Puerto Rico, but where is the lowest hanging fruit? Who are going to be the most valuable visitors to us?”

Looking for this “low hanging fruit,” Chandler explained, is not just about the age group but also staying connected to markets such as New York, Philadelphia and Boston, among others, in which the island has already proven to be successful and there already is “good airlift” before expanding the brand to newer markets.

One of the tools the organization is using is Visa View, which gives them information about visitors who used this credit card. This tool has already produced interesting results because it shows Puerto Rico is receiving a lot of attention from Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago, which were not usually seen as target markets for the island. But Chandler was quick to point out that the next step is to understand why Puerto Rico is receiving attention from these locations.

In her previous DMO for a city in Missouri, Chandler was responsible for a 79 percent increase in their marketing reach. While gathering the data and implementing the new plan may come with different challenges, the CMO is confident she can produce similar results for Puerto Rico.

“I say all the time that there’s a formula. There’s a formula for DMO marketing. It’s research-based. It’s consumer-centric. It’s making sure we are not the focus, that our visitors are the focus. When we are really listening to them, and understanding what their needs are, it’s easy to develop a plan that will work,” she explained.

Personal aspect of taking the job

Prior to coming to the island, Chandler had spent the past 10 years as chief marketing officer for the Branson / Lake Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, which is the DMO for Branson City in Missouri’s Taney County. Chandler explained that a previous offer she had received via the headhunter had not convinced her. However, as soon as she received the phone call for the CMO position with Puerto Rico’s incipient DMO, she felt it was an instant fit.

“My initial reaction, when the recruiter started talking about building a DMO from the ground up and having the opportunity to create my own team, was having the opportunity to build a brand from the ground up, having support from private industry and knowing this has been so long in the making for this island…. It’s honestly still an emotional thing for me to think we can have such an impact here that long after I’m gone, long after Brad [Dean] is gone and the people around the marketing committee table are gone that this is going to be in place,” the CMO recounted.

Aside from her professional growth, Chandler added that she is excited about the possibility that enhancing tourism will help in the island’s recovery.

“I’ve always felt like tourism has had an impact, wherever you go. Tourism, I think it changes lives. I think when children are exposed at a young age to travel and to cultures that are different than theirs, it changes their views, it changes their level of tolerance. I’ve always felt there is transformative power in travel. It creates jobs. It creates an economic engine,” Chandler said.

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