Talking Tourism: A fresh look for | by Kjersti Vick

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: August 2017

Talking Tourism: A fresh look for | by Kjersti Vick

If you have not been to recently, I suggest you take a few minutes to do so. Throughout the summer the Visit Cook County team, led by marketing partners Giant Voices of Duluth, reimagined our website.

The process of redesigning a website is both exhilarating and arduous. How do you make something both informative AND visually compelling? Our process of discovery began by virtually traveling the globe evaluating the websites of similar DMO and travel organizations. Not only did it add a few destinations to our own travel bucket lists but this research provided us with a firsthand look at content from the perspective of a visitor. What features do other organizations offer, how much information is too much, and how to describe our unique value proposition in a place as geographically diverse as Cook County? After 12 countries, 8 states and several regional destination websites our objective became clear. We had the information people are looking for, what we needed was a better way to find it. On the refreshed website, you will still find much of the same great content such as Northern Lights viewing tips, a complete calendar of events, comprehensive lodging directory, and the coveted Grand Marais Harbor Cam but you will also be able to easily discover new adventures and Hot Deals thanks to more intuitive navigation. One of the most exciting new features is the Trip Planner which allows users to add events, local businesses and interests to a customizable trip itinerary that can easily be printed or emailed to travel companions.

Along with the enhanced usability is an increased opportunity for local businesses to extend their reach on our website. A revamped Hot Deals feature that appears on the bottom of most content pages is one of the exciting new marketing opportunities available. Visit Cook County is funded primarily through the collection of lodging tax paid by the visitor to the lodging entity; the remainder is collected through grants as well as sponsorships. Any establishment that collects and submits lodging tax is eligible to receive a complimentary listing. Retail, dining, and other businesses may be listed on our website and annual Visitor Guide by becoming a stakeholder member. Any businesses who wish to know more about new marketing opportunities with Visit Cook County should contact Maggie Barnard at

The new officially launched on August 9. In this short timeframe, we are already seeing an increase in traffic and user engagement. The number of 2017 Visitor Guide downloads have increased by 15% and signups for our monthly e-newsletter by 40% and we are just getting started!

Our reach goes well beyond our website with a robust marketing and public relations outreach plan, we reach thousands of potential visitors daily. Using a multidimensional marketing approach that includes strategic billboard placement, targeted emailers, and social media to name a few, we are retargeting our audience with multiple touchpoints keeping the Visit Cook County brand top-of-mind. Driving visitors to our website is a major component of enhancing the tourism experience. Through the website, we will ensure that those visitors have accurate information, fun ideas, and exposure to all seasons and locations in Schroeder, Tofte, Lutsen, Grand Marais, the Gunflint Trail, and Grand Portage. In the past few years, we’ve seen significant growth in lodging tax in addition to the general sense of increased traffic we all see on our daily commutes. It is clear, what we are doing is working and that is exciting.

Cook County News Herald by Kjersti Vick, marketing manager at Visit Cook County MN Kjersti Vick

Talking Tourism: Drawing visitors in, one registration at a time | by Katie Krantz

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: August 2017

Talking Tourism: Drawing visitors in, one registration at a time | by Katie Krantz

At Visit Cook County, we continually strategize on new ways to draw visitors to our area during slower times. We’ve generated ideas like waterfalls, storm season, hygge and most recently, we’ve marketed Cook County as a training ground. Many of these marketing campaigns are bolstered by an event component. Event marketing can be an effective way to advertise visiting our area during a certain time period. For example, Storm Festival occurs during the 2nd weekend in November. However, we make sure to let visitors know that if they can’t visit during the event weekend, they can likely enjoy storms anytime throughout the month of November. Even if they don’t come this year, they now realize that November is a great time to experience the power of a Lake Superior storm.

Events are multi-purpose when it comes to advertising and public relations. A great example (which you are probably familiar with) is the Lutsen 99er. The Lutsen 99er, an ultra-marathon mountain bike race, grew from 80 participants in 2011 to 1800 in 2017 and is a proven economic booster. According to a study done by the University of Minnesota, the average bicycle event visitor spends $121.20 per day, and 93.4% dine out while they are here. The Lutsen 99er weekend is profitable and helps our local businesses remain prosperous in that early part of summer.

But that’s not all the Lutsen 99er does for our area. That one weekend in June showcases Cook County biking trails as a year-round attraction. It exposes Lutsen Mountains as not just a winter ski resort, but a summer destination as well as a summer destination while at the same time enticing visitors to come back for a winter experience as well.  It flaunts our big, beautiful lake and our national forest. You can bet that the Visit Cook County team is at the Lutsen 99er every year making sure the participants know all this area has to offer in the winter, spring, summer and fall.

Visit Cook County also worked with the event coordinator for the 99er to bring a new event to Cook County, the Norpine Fat Bike Classic. This event brought 200 fat tire bikers and their families to the area in January. Coming full circle, Visit Cook County worked with the Forest Service, DNR and the Norpine Trail Association supporting opening the trail to fat tire biking all winter long.

Cook County is unique in its ability to collect a 1% lodging tax which helps promote and fund events. We’ve also spoken to many event planners that are surprised to learn that the team at Visit Cook County is here to help their event succeed. While it might seems like events are a one-time opportunity to bring visitors to the area, we must remember the awareness that is built can have a year-round economic impact. Any time we can get a new visitor to fall in love with our area, the ROI is significant. Events are a marketing tool, and Visit Cook County is capitalizing on that.

Cook County News Herald by Katie Krantz, event resource manager at Visit Cook County MN Katie Krantz

Talking Tourism: Increased media coverage of Cook County events and its hidden gems is not accidental | By Lynn Ingrid Nelson, LINPR 

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: July 2017

Talking Tourism: Increased media coverage of Cook County events and its hidden gems is not accidental | By Lynn Ingrid Nelson, LINPR 

Since you don’t live in the Twin Cities, you may not realize that the buzz about Grand Marais down here has grown by 10-fold during the past few years. I do, however, hope you’ve noticed a corresponding increase in tourist traffic.

In early 2014, my PR firm was hired by Visit Cook County (VCC) to expand the county’s media relations outreach. We work regularly with VCC’s staff and their marketing agency in Duluth to alert news media in the Twin Cities, Duluth and Thunder Bay (and throughout Cook County) about tourism opportunities in Grand Marais and the surrounding communities.

So far, we’ve had the great pleasure of working on stories that range from music written about the Gunflint Mail Run, to the renovation of the Beaver House, to the wonders of waterfall season, to new gondolas at Lutsen Mountains (Yes, we work with Jim Vick, too.).

In addition to pitching news stories about tourist attractions in Cook County, each month we work with VCC to promote the fun events it sponsors in the area, including the Lutsen 99er, the North Shore Water Festival, Unplugged, and Radio Waves, to name a few of the 20 or more Cook County events that we share with the media throughout the state and Thunder Bay each year.

What makes a good media story?

You may wonder how we decide what stories to share. While PR is as much of an art as it is a science, here are some of our considerations:

  • A good media story must pass a busy editor’s “so what?” test. The editor’s primary customer is the reader, so she has a good eye for what readers care about, and she looks at every story from that perspective.
  • It may include a historical perspective like the work we did on the Ham Lake fire anniversary, which was covered extensively by MPR and the Star Tribune.
  • A good story is not trying to sell If sharing info has an overt sales objective, it’s a better idea to “buy an ad”.
  • A good story tends to be about something new, prominent (everyone knows about the subject – like the Lutsen Resort sale story) or unusual (like the time the baby moose was rescued from Hungry Jack Lake). Thanks to VCC’s fast response and a little help from us, more than 200 media outlets picked up that story, sharing it with over 300 million people.


Why engage in media contests like ‘Coolest Small Town in America’?

I’m sure you’ve been asked to vote for Grand Marais, so that it can win a top spot in a magazine or newspaper contest. While being solicited for these votes does get tiring, millions of people have now heard about Grand Marais and its surrounding area because you and thousands of others have voted  for Grand Marais in USA Today’s Best Midwestern Small Town, Outside Magazine’s The 16 Best Places to Live in the U.S. 2016, and Budget Travel’s 2015 Coolest Small Town in America contests.

News stories add up to big awareness

So far this year, with the help of the VCC staff and Giant Voices, we’ve placed approximately 250 news stories and 200 media calendar notices about events and happenings in Cook County. Some stories about Cook County just seem to happen on their own, but we’re confident that sending news releases several times every month keeps Cook County top of mind with reporters and editors.

If you have a great story idea, and/or a compelling photo or video, don’t hesitate to share it with the VCC team. We love spreading the word about things to do and the hidden gems throughout Cook County.

Lynn Ingrid Nelson is the president of LIN Public Relations Inc. See for more information. Lynn welcomes your comments and possible story ideas. You can contact her at

Cook County News Herald by Lynn Ingrid Nelson, LINPR Lynn Ingrid Nelson is the president of LIN Public Relations Inc. See for more information. Lynn welcomes your comments and possible story ideas. You can contact her at

Talking Tourism: Creating a Giant Brand | by Pascha Apter – CEO of Giant Voices, Inc.

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: July 2017

Talking Tourism: Creating a Giant Brand | by Pascha Apter

These are exciting times in Cook County! Summer has arrived, tourism is booming and Visit Cook County recently refreshed their company brand. The updated logo and tagline were designed to better identify where Cook County is located in Minnesota as well as capture the feeling locals and tourists say they experience by living and playing in this marvelous part of the world.

To begin the rebranding process, Visit Cook County sent out an electronic survey to residents and tourists asking them to share what it is that makes Cook County unique in their hearts and minds. The research showed there are millions of different reasons why people visit Cook County in the first place but once they do, they are hooked! The research also proved that explaining where Cook County is located in Minnesota is not an easy task. Statements such as: “Along the North Shore of Lake Superior,” or, “In the northeastern corner of the state of Minnesota,” and “Inside Minnesota’s Arrowhead,” while accurate, were difficult to incorporate into a statement that needed to be directional, inspirational and short.

The decision was made to update the Visit Cook County logo with a green and blue color palette representing Cook County’s strong ties to nature, Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters.  An energetic orange was added to the color palette to clearly identify where Cook County is located in Minnesota.  Also, the tagline “Naturally Unforgettable” was chosen to solidify Cook County’s position as a place that naturally leaves an impression on people and keeps them coming back all their lives.

How to determine when to rebrand

With the launch of the Visit Cook County rebrand, now is a good time to take a look at your company’s brand and determine if there is a way you could be making a more powerful and meaningful statement to your prospects.

There are five key elements that make up a brand. Every company has these elements whether they were intentionally chosen or not. The key to success is to ensure you have carefully considered each one of these elements and designed them to leave prospects with the right impression.

Visual components of a brand

  • Company name – it goes without saying a company name is an important part of a brand. After all, it is what people will most commonly refer to you by.
  • Logo – a logo is an art element used to help better differentiate one company from another. A logo is often used to enhance a company name, or better identify what a company offers. A strong logo will also incorporate brand colors and typography that accurately represent the personality of the organization.
  • Tagline – a tagline or positioning statement is commonly used along with a logo to better identify what makes a company unique. Strong taglines are unique, clever and short in length.

Emotional components of a brand

  • Brand values – brand values radiate from the core of your business and should drive the visual elements of your brand. Defining 3 – 5 key values your company stands for is the key to long-term business success.
  • Brand personality – just like people, companies have personalities as well. Take time to design the personality you want your company to have in order to better relate to your prospects.

The most important key to branding success is to ensure every person who works for your organization understands your brand values, expresses your brand personality and clearly understands what it is that separates your company from your peers and competition. By taking time to clearly define these brand elements, your company may become “Naturally Unforgettable” in the hearts and minds of your prospects as well.


Cook County News Herald by Pascha Apter, CEO Giant Voices, Inc.

Talking Tourism: Make Your Voice Smile | by Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: June 2017

Talking Tourism: Make Your Voice Smile | by Linda Jurek

Our visitors travel to Cook County for many reasons.  For several decades, we have been a premier vacation destination and a number of those once a year visitors seek to make northeastern Minnesota their home.  Whether our visitors travel here to disconnect or to immerse themselves in art, culinary delights, a BWCAW paddle, or an athletic event, the customer experience ranks high.

Clearly, what we are doing is working. As spring turns to summer, we transition into very high traffic season including people, bikes, and vehicles. We all feel it whether you work in hospitality or the hospital ER or are just trying to cross the highway. There simply are more people here. A recent branding survey conducted by Visit Cook County positions the kindness of people as a top three reason to return to our area.  That makes me feel good and it should you as well.

As long ago as I can remember, we’ve welcomed our visitors.  Dan Helmerson, Info Center employee extraordinaire, shares weekly historic photos and fascinating facts on his personal Facebook album “Cook County Nostalgia Too” and it is very clear, we have been a community of welcoming our guests for over 70 years.

I know the days and nights get long but imagine never seeing new faces or hiring a diverse employee pool with our international workers. When it comes to a customer’s experience, all of us can get the big things right but it is the little things that differentiate one favorite employee from another or one business choice over the next. The book Hospitality From the Heart explains a key additive.  Yup, you guessed it.  Heart.  The book explained that if we engage with heart the results will show improved employee engagement, better morale, extraordinary service, customer loyalty and of course, increased profits.  Attentiveness and recognition cost absolutely nothing.  Add a little personalization and boom, your visitor will return and more importantly pass along a positive recommendation regarding the wonderful experience in Cook County.

I close with a quote from Maya Angelou – “What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”


Cook County News Herald by Linda Jurek Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism: Making Headlines via Marketing | By Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: May 2017

Talking Tourism: Making Headlines via Marketing | By Linda Jurek

Let’s set the record straight!  As I discussed in last month’s article, our local economy is supported by over 80% tourism.  For all the reasons we choose to live here, our visitors choose to visit.  Winning awards places us on the state and national radar and bringing people here to visit is the primary goal of our organization.  I’d like to touch on some of the awards we’ve recently won and how there is significant benefit to Cook County.

Visitors hear about our community from a number of sources. I often ask people those questions and the conversations are rewarding. Their answers vary, from coming here as a child to seeing one of our billboards in downtown Minneapolis, but it’s always fun to learn why people are visiting.  Based on these casual conversations, we feel strongly that one of the reasons new visitors often choose to visit is from word of mouth from a friend, social media or article in their favorite publication. Looking at the significant increase in lodging tax the last few years, we believe the media exposure we earned by winning the Budget Travel “America’s Coolest Small Town” award in 2015 plays a significant role in the increase.

Since bringing visitors here and maximizing our tourism traffic is a key goal for Visit Cook County, we do not shy away from the nominations we receive. The publicity from Budget Travel’s “America’s Coolest Small Town” award of 2015 and the most recent award of Best Small Midwestern Town by USA Today have proven their benefits already by creating a media synergy that has lead to more accolades. Within one week of winning small Midwestern town, we are mentioned here:

In addition, we have been ranked as a top destination for hiking, paddling, eating, rock skipping, moose viewing, etc. You get the picture. We also have been recognized by Explore MN with five awards during the past two years.  These awards have been newsworthy resulting in regional and national media attention.  These public relation gems have integrated seamlessly into our robust marketing efforts.

“Working with Visit Cook County is truly enjoyable. We have the good fortune of marketing one of the most beautiful tourism destinations in the world, and we have gotten some tremendous results during the past three years,” said Pascha Apter, CEO of Giant Voices in Duluth.

In addition to an economic boom, community pride blossoms following award wins. While I’m not going to try and convert those of you that dislike these contests, I will challenge you to think a little outside of the box. We’ve had people complain on social media as well as tell us directly that we need to stop this publicity  “No more people.”  It’s important to understand that the services we enjoy 12 months a year are supported by visitor dollars and the increased economic boost assures financial health during the slower seasons. I stand prepared to wait in a longer line, search an extra minute for a parking place and wait and wave at the pedestrians crossing the highway waving their orange crossing flags. Grateful appreciation is where I am at.  Join me?

We recently conducted a tagline and branding survey.  We asked people what they loved about Northeastern Minnesota and how would they describe our location.  Guess what?  In the top three loves – it is the people!  The friendliness and welcoming personalities of local Cook County residents makes visitors feel at home here. Now that makes me sing with pride.  Thanks local businesses, thanks community, and thanks to you!

Now buckle up!  Summer is upon us.

For more goodness, check out these recent articles:

Cook County News Herald by Linda Jurek Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism: What does Visit Cook County do? | By Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: April 2017

Talking Tourism: What does Visit Cook County do? | By Linda Jurek

Have you ever found yourself wondering what does Visit Cook County do?  Where do they get their financial support for all this marketing?  Or maybe you’ve wondered, who is this who is responsible for attracting all of these visitors to our town causing such an economic boom. Welcome to Talking Tourism, a new monthly article aimed at providing insight into our organization and the impact of tourism in Cook County written for the Cook County News Herald.

As the executive director for Visit Cook County, I am pleased to be tasked with our first segment.  You can expect to hear from other members of the Visit Cook County team as well as marketing partners and board members.  We hope to provide a clearer picture of our organization, its structure, and our goals.

Because industry jargon, acronyms plague our business. We are trying to demystify who is VCC (formerly known as CCVB or CCEVB). Here is a short list of what we are, what we are not and how closely we are related to some our sister organizations.

  • We ARE a destination marketing organization. Our mission is to build brand recognition of the region and increase lodging tax dollars.
  • We are NOT a chamber of commerce. We DO support local tourism business but are not a policy driven organization.
  • We are NOT a part of county government. We are an independent 501(c) 6 not-for-profit organization that is governed by a board of directors that derives from the local lodging associations.
  • We are NOT the Economic Development Authority (EDA). The EDA is tasked with helping to diversify the economy by assisting in businesses development and workforce sustainability issues.

Nearly everything is impacted by tourism and when the leaves drop from the trees and many want to lock the gate at the county line, we must realize that our economy is 85% tourism based.  That has not changed is significantly for many years.  The allure of our area remains imbedded in the hearts of many.

Like I previously stated, Visit Cook County is a destination marketing organization (DMO).  Originally, founded as the Cook County Events and Visitors Bureau (CCEVB) we transitioned to Cook County Visitors Bureau (CCVB), neither of those titles accurately described who we were until we became VISIT Cook County – the regional DMO.  Not every DMO is a convention and visitor bureau (CVB) as is the case with Cook County.  Because we do not have large meeting facilities, we do not focus our marketing efforts on bringing large conventions to our corner of the state.

How are we supported?  Lodging properties in the Cook County lodging tax district (from Schroeder to Grand Portage) are required by Minnesota State statute to collect lodging tax for any short-term nightly rental. This includes hotels and resorts but also independent VRBO’s, canoe outfitters and B&B’s.  We are required to have the lodging tax collections be processed by the auditor’s office and the amount of tax collected by each property is confidential.  The lodging properties select their payment schedule (monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, etc.) We also offer marketing opportunities via our website, visitor guide, and information center that any local business is welcome to participate in. What do we do the dollars collected?  We market to potential visitors!!

We continue to hone our skills and while we do partner with a marketing agency and media relations firm, we know how important it is for our community to embrace what we do.  More importantly, we need to love our visitors.  They are the bread and butter for many.

Cook County News Herald by Linda Jurek