A Tale of Two Buildings: With its new facility — and a marketing campaign to support it — this Pacific Northwest powerhouse leans into the future of meetings
As the birthplace of such global brands as Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft and Starbucks, Seattle is a city of bright minds and big ideas imbued with a strong culture of entrepreneurship, collaboration, innovation and inclusivity. “These strengths have positioned Seattle as a choice destination for meetings professionals from around the globe,” says Kelly Saling, senior vice president and chief sales officer for Visit Seattle.
Other calling cards include versatile, scalable spaces suitable for a wide variety of meetings, superior airlift, cultural vibrancy and surrounding natural beauty.
Keeping up with demand has been a challenge, however. Between 2012 and 2015, Saling notes, the city had to turn away 300 potential events at the convention center’s original Arch Building because the dates these groups required were not available. “This particularly affected our ability to secure corporate meetings,” she says.
From a messaging standpoint, we sought to communicate that we were about to open a transformative building that leans into the future of meetings with regard to space utilization, optimization, and human connection in a post-Covid world.Kelly Saling, senior vice president and chief sales officer for Visit Seattle
The solution was to double capacity with the construction of the new $2 billion Summit Building. The new facility opened this past January, just a block and a half away from the Arch Building, providing more than 570,000 square feet of additional space. At the same time, Visit Seattle rebranded the rest of the four-block Seattle Convention Center (SCC) campus.
But having the space alone was not enough, especially given the momentum the city had lost during the pandemic in terms of both business and overall marketing. Visit Seattle, as Saling puts it, had to “generate awareness and buzz for the expansion and remind customers, post-pandemic, of our hosting prowess and capabilities as a leading destination for business meetings and events.”
To reestablish Seattle as a premier location in the minds of meeting planners and event organizers, Visit Seattle embarked on an aggressive yearlong public relations and marketing campaign leading up to the opening of the Summit and the campus’s rebranding.
These initiatives included making a series of proactive pitches that highlighted the experiences and developments in downtown Seattle, and inviting media to get a firsthand look at the expansion. “From a messaging standpoint,” says Saling, “we sought to communicate that we were about to open a transformative building that leans into the future of meetings with regard to space utilization, optimization and human connection in a post-Covid world.”
At the same time, they identified industry award opportunities related to specific features of the Summit Building, made a series of targeted ad buys in leading industry publications, and created and distributed imaginative collateral materials.
Media-related efforts throughout 2022 included hosting group and individual press visits in the city. In November 2022, Visit Seattle’s public relations manager, Kauilani Robinson, met with meetings industry journalists in New York City to talk about the expansion and other developments. The team also proactively pitched leading industry trade publications on stories about the new building and the convention district.
There were many storylines to pursue. As the first vertical convention center in North America with event spaces on six levels, for example, the Summit has taken a major step away from the traditional industry model. Also notable, the building showcases a range of sustainability features, allowing it to target LEED Platinum certification. To highlight and reinforce these distinguishing features, Visit Seattle submitted The Summit for consideration in category-specific award contests.
An upcoming ad buy for trade publications features a scratch-and-sniff scent that highlights the SCC’s sustainability efforts alongside photos of the Seattle area’s lush forests and waterways.
From a bigger-picture perspective, the Summit is part of a community benefits package intended to enhance the lives of residents, with $40 million earmarked for affordable housing; $20 million in improvements to pedestrian, bicycle, and transit infrastructure, and $10 million in public park improvements. Separately, the SCC awarded $150 million in work scopes to women- and minority-owned businesses during Summit’s construction, nearly doubling the initial voluntary goal of $80 million.
To help build excitement for the opening, Visit Seattle placed a digital opening countdown clock on its website and featured the clock in media buys and e-blasts. Physical countdown clocks were displayed on tables on show floors. “We also placed childhood storybook-style pop-ups in leading trade publications, along with ad buys, which also went into industry organizations such as MPI and ASAE,” Saling says.
Among clever touches, air fresheners were placed around the facility during the opening event, with copy that read “That New Convention Center Smell.” An upcoming ad buy for trade publications features a scratch-and-sniff scent that highlights the SCC’s sustainability efforts alongside photos of the Seattle area’s lush forests and waterways.
This tie-in to nature and conservation was also evident in branded drink coasters made from wormwood that had been salvaged from decommissioned log booms and used to plank the Summit’s 58,000-square-foot column-free ballroom. The coasters were packaged with information about the wood’s origin story and given to meeting planners at their Seattle events.
The public relations campaign generated more than 13,140,044 impressions and 31 media placements, with total audience reach of 425,480,591 even before the Summit opened..
The ad buys, with industry organizations Meeting Professionals International (MPI), Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), and American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and publications Meetings Today, BizBash, USAE, and Smart Meetings, were no less impressive.
With the opening of Summit in January 2023, Visit Seattle expanded budgeting for their meetings’ paid media plan, increasing impressions by more than 20 percent, or 2.3 million projected impressions in 2023 versus 1.9 million estimated impressions in 2022.
The campaign also drove significant traffic to related landing pages and website content.
Pages containing information specifically about the convention center attracted particular interest, with unique views up 290.8 percent and entrances rising by 395.7 percent. Diving deeper still, the single page providing an overview of the Summit Building drove an enormous 1,093.3 percent increase in unique pageviews and a 2,206.8 percent lift in entrances.
The awards strategy also paid off when the SCC received The Architecture Community’s 2022 World Design Award. According to the award committee, this highly coveted honor “celebrates outstanding ideas that redefine architectural design through the implementation of novel technologies, materials, programs, aesthetics and spatial organizations along with studies on globalization, flexibility, adaptability and the digital revolution.”
For Saling, the prestige attached to the award is “a testament to how significant Seattle is to the meetings and conventions industry as the home of one of the best event facilities on the planet.”
In reflecting on the success Visit Seattle has achieved through its marketing efforts, Saling notes that “awareness was the goal. We wanted to inform meetings professionals that we had doubled our space and assure them that if we couldn’t accommodate them in the past, we now have the capacity for them to give us another shot. Clear in our messaging was the beauty of working with two buildings. This greater flexibility allows us to secure larger corporate groups while welcoming both smaller and larger associations, while we host concurrent groups at different scales.”