Skift Take

The Times Square ad came as part of a print marketing package, but gives the Montana city a good opportunity to test the waters of an urban market with a newfound interest in getting outdoors.

Big Apple, say hello to Big Sky.

Beginning Tuesday and running through Monday, a five-second spot on ABC’s large “Good Morning America” television screen in Times Square will encourage New Yorkers and Big Apple visitors to come enjoy the sights in Billings as well.

By striking a deal with Horizon Travel, an insert in the Wall Street Journal, Visit Billings, the Billings chamber’s tourism arm, negotiated a twice-an-hour spot to be broadcast free 24 hours per day for the coming week. In exchange, Visit Billings purchased an inside-cover ad to appear in the magazine in April.

“Five seconds is pretty quick, but we’ve leveraged some great imagery, and the chance to get our web address out is big,” said Kelly McCandless, communications manager for the chamber and for Visit Billings, formerly known as the Billings Convention and Visitors Bureau and Tourism Business Improvement District. “People hanging out in Times Square will see it at least a couple of times.”

McCandless declined to disclose the price of the print advertisement.

On average, 350,000 pedestrians enter Times Square every day. An additional 170,000 people work there, according to, Times Square’s official website.

“There’s a fun buzz about Montana right now,” McCandless said. “New York is not a market we typically dive into, but Montana is not as remote as easterners think we are.”

The buzz goes at least as far back as former Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s appearance on “Late Night with David Letterman” in April 2012, when he talked up Montana as a vacation destination.

The scenic, albeit brief spot touts Billings as “Montana’s Trailhead” and concludes with Visit Billings’ website,

McCandless said local tourism officials are set for a big response from the viewers whose wanderlust is piqued by the spot. About 1,000 requests for more information are filled weekly during the current high season, which lasts for about four months. Guidebooks are being reprinted. “We ran out faster than expected” because “we have so many national and even international placements right now,” she said.

In addition, beginning Tuesday the Visit Billings website “will have a new look and feel” in anticipation of the spot’s rollout, she said.

Beyond the “fun buzz” McCandless referenced are some hard dollars when it comes to tourism’s impact on the local economy. According to Visit Billings, the Magic City saw 2 million visitors last year, half of whom spent at least one night, with the other half purchasing anything from a tank of gas to a restaurant meal.

Tourism has a $250 million impact on the local economy annually.

“People locally don’t realize how major it is,” McCandless said.

Getting New Yorkers and Big Apple tourists to consider a future visit to Billings comes on the heels of Visit Billings forays into other large markets, including Chicago. Last year, transit buses along one Chicago route sported scenes of Billings, southeast Montana and Yellowstone Park attractions.

“Then this opportunity presented itself,” McCandless said. “We thought it would be another good way to make a splash.”

Alex Tyson, executive director of Visit Billings, called the brief spot “a simple and effective way for our destination to get in front of millions of people in a fresh, captive market.”

“Paired with our other national advertising,” Tyson said, “Billings will stand out as an essential, urban destination in Montana.”

If they’re quick shutterbugs, people who see the spot in Times Square can win a prize. Snapping a photo of the spot on the “Good Morning America” screen and uploading it to one’s Facebook page could win the person Billings specialty items, according to a Visit Billings news release.

(c)2014 Billings Gazette (Billings, Mont.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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Tags: marketing, montana, nyc, times square

Photo credit: A pictograph of the Cave National Historic Landmark just south of Billings, Montana. Nomadic Lass / Flickr

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