Small budget, little time to promote Stilly tourism

EVERETT — Arlington, Oso and Darrington are open for business.

Community and business leaders are desperate to get that message out in the wake of the Oso Mudslide, which killed at least 41 people and cut off Highway 530.

A temporary bypass road is open, but they worry that only a whisper of summer tourists will come to the towns along the North Fork Stillaguamish River. Many local businesses depend on tourist dollars to carry them through winter.

“We’re concerned about having two winters,” Arlington Mayor Barb Tolbert said.

The state Department of Commerce is bankrolling an advertising campaign to get tourists out to Arlington, Oso and Darrington.

With summer quickly approaching, the campaign will have little time to reach its target audience. And at $150,000, it will be working with a small budget.

“We’ll have to be nimble and stay up late,” said Wendy Becker of the Snohomish County Office of Economic Development. She is overseeing the campaign.

The message, the medium — nothing has been decided yet, she said.

The county just awarded the contract Wednesday — to BrandQuery, a Mount Vernon-based company. Five firms bid for the work.

Representatives from BrandQuery and county officials are scheduled to sit down Thursday evening with community and business leaders in Darrington.

The town’s summer events start soon with Darrington Day on May 31. The summer lineup includes the Darrington Bluegrass Festival, the Darrington Timberbowl Rodeo and the Summer Meltdown music festival. Arlington really gets going in July with a Fourth of July parade, followed a few days later by the Fly-In, an airshow.

Gov. Jay Inslee OK’d funding the campaign with money from a state economic-development reserve.

The campaign is to be rolled out no later than June 12, according to Economic Alliance Snohomish County. The alliance is the group that is actually writing checks for the work, while the county is managing it.

“That timeline scares me,” said Matt Mikulsky, owner and creative director for Chatter Creative, after hearing an outline of the campaign.

The Edmonds-based advertising agency’s local clients include the Future of Flight Aviation Center &Boeing Tour at Paine Field in Mukilteo.

The June 12 deadline does not leave much time for planning a campaign on a limited budget, he said.

The planning process can get quickly bogged down if several decision-makers have to sign off on the work, rather than one or two, Mikulsky said. “Things can move pretty quick in this day and age. But they move as quickly as your client.”

And that can be costly.

“A lot of a budget can get swallowed up by pitching and meetings. Design, that’s not usually as big a part,” he said.

Becker said she expects to share the campaign outline with state Commerce Department officials.

It is not clear, though, how involved state officials will be in the planning process.

People have been very responsive to issues related to the slide, she said.

Already, volunteers are working with the U.S. Forest Service to get trails ready for the summer. Last month, Congress saved the 1930s-era Green Mountain Lookout near Darrington, which had been mired in litigation involving environmentalists and the federal government.

“We worked on Green Mountain for several years,” Becker said. In Congress, “it took, what, seven days to save it.”

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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