Atlantic City Alliance: 2014’s Measurement Maven of the Year

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Our 2014 Measurement Maven of the Year was an easy choice. Atlantic City Alliance (ACA), the destination marketing organization for Atlantic City, New Jersey, was set up three years ago as a proactive response to inevitable changes in Atlantic City’s future. Atlantic City business leaders knew that the time was coming when the glut of casinos on the east coast would eat into their traditional gambling revenue. But, they reasoned, they still had plenty to offer, including a gorgeous beach, a legacy of love from people who grew up playing on and under the boardwalk, and great restaurants and shopping — all within an easy drive from New York, Philly, and Baltimore.

I met ACA back in 2012, when they decided that if they were going to create a ground-breaking program to let people know that Atlantic City was more than just gambling, they’d need a way to measure it. They wanted to design a best-in-class measurement program that adhered to the Barcelona Principles and current industry standards.

We spent a year setting up a standards-compliant measurement system to inform their decisions. It tracked key media for presence and integrity of their key messages. They created a media quality index, based on their research on what messages left readers more likely to visit AC. This index was so accurate that it was found to correlate more closely with traffic to their destination website than did some paid advertising. They also used quarterly survey research to determine the impact the ACA was having on awareness and preference for Atlantic City. Measurement doesn’t get much better than that.

But that’s not why they’re my Mavens of the Year.

The ACA was really put to the test this past summer, when Atlantic City suffered multiple PR and image crises. Some were unplanned, like the football player who just happened to chose an Atlantic City elevator in which to beat up his girlfriend. Others were expected, like the casino closings that ACA anticipated.

As the waves of bad news hit Atlantic City’s beaches, the ACA team was prepared. Measurement was stepped up and the data was used to allocate resources and make decisions on the fly. Rather than bury their heads in the sand (sorry), they turned to social media, tracking engagement for various promotional events the ACA team orchestrated, including free fireworks and concerts on the beach by Lady Antebellum and Blake Shelton. They used their data to craft tightly focused messages, images, and spokespersons to drive coverage to counter the negatives. They focused their efforts, again using their measurement data, on the outlets where it would matter most.

According to Jeff Guaracino, Executive Director of ACA, “We couldn’t make the bad news go away, but we used data to develop a war chest of positive stories to combat the bad news. Our analysis showed that our proactive PR efforts significantly mitigated the damage. More importantly, the metrics demonstrated the success of our integration — of events, advertising, social media, and media buying — combined with the measurement and a collaborative culture where everyone wanted to learn more. And way back in 2012, we also read the book Measure What Matters, which helped us combat the “old school” reliance on impressions and ad value, which was a legacy measurement tool that had to be overcome.”

The lesson for the industry is that when all hell breaks loose, don’t duck. Use data to support your gut instincts and to figure out what to do. Then keep measuring to see if it works. If not, try something different. Measurement enabled ACA to muster resources, make better decisions, and turn on a dime. As a result ACE helped AC recover much faster that it would have otherwise.

To sum up, the Atlantic City Alliance embraced industry standards, set up a best-in-class measurement program, and then took the whole thing to the next level by putting their data to work to help them make better decisions. Measurement, the way it should be.

Congrats to Atlantic City Alliance, our 2014 Measurement Maven of the Year. ∞

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