Samantha Mehlinger, vice president of communications for the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, shows off the organizations Poppy Award, won for its innovation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy photo.

When Samantha Mehlinger joined the Long Beach Conventions & Visitors Bureau to head a new communications team, she knew she would have to find a new approach to be successful.

Communications plays a vital role in the CVB’s mission, but branching out required hard work and innovation, especially with the effects of the pandemic looming over the tourism industry. Some of that work was recognized last month, when the bureau won the “Best Content Marketing” at the California Poppy Awards, which recognizes tourism promotion organizations from cities and businesses.

The CVB was selected out of a pool of 248 entries, a record for the awards.

The CVB submitted its “Long Beach Days & Getaways” campaign, which launched in May 2021, for consideration. Mehlinger’s team created original itineraries for visitors that highlighted the uniqueness of Long Beach neighborhoods and businesses.

The itineraries used original photos and video footage alongside “listicles” to highlight the unique cultural scenes throughout the city, while inviting viewers to “imagine themselves making the same trip to Long Beach.”

“I wanted to authentically represent the destinations because I feel that all of those unique lanes are the reason why people come here,” Mehlinger told the Business Journal.

Using its recently updated website, the CVB was able to present these listicles in an aesthetically pleasing way, Mehlinger said. With bold text and typography as well as an interactive interface, the campaign reimagined how a list of Long Beach destinations could be presented to the public—both residents and visitors alike.

To generate content, the bureau hired local freelance writers and Long Beach-based film crew Media 360. The focus on local talent is a unique way for the CVB to make its content more appealing to algorithms used by Google and other search engines, Mehlinger said.

“I think having all local creators crafting this stuff, from local writers to local photographers to local videographers, causes those algorithms to realize what we are producing is real expert and local content,” Mehlinger said.

Finding new and creative ways to spread the message is also something the bureau has been able to do, Mehlinger said. The summer campaign, in particular, focused on broadcasting through the website and Instagram, but many other options emerged that helped the CVB reach a broader audience.

A new relationship with the state’s tourism board—Visit California—materialized as a result of the campaign, with the state agency’s “Travel Stories” serving as a perfect platform to expand the reach of the getaways series. The platform, which has since been rebranded as “Localhood,” hosted snippets of the campaign videos on its website, bringing in a great deal of traffic for Long Beach, according to Mehlinger.

“It was about being innovative with the platforms that we are using,” she said. “And making sure all of those platforms are pointing back to the same content and driving traffic to our site and the businesses and attractions as well.”

These combined efforts produced results greater than even the most lofty of expectations, Mehlinger said. One of the entries, titled “Cycle Stories,” received national attention and brought in over 1 million impressions on Google.

The results also increased the overall traffic on CVB media platforms, which continues to rise, according to Mehlinger. The CVB saw rapid growth on social media, including 3,500 new Instagram followers—a 190% increase and well above the goal of 1,000.

Moving forward, Mehlinger said the bureau isn’t necessarily looking to do anything radical to promote the city. She believes the city and its appeal speaks for itself, and the CVB’s mission is simply to spread the word to as many people as possible.

“I think that if we showcase Long Beach as it is,” Mehlinger said, “we will automatically look unique.”

Christian May-Suzuki

Christian May-Suzuki is a reporter at the Long Beach Business Journal.