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MHA students launch ‘Plus One’ campaign to increase agritourism in West Virginia

Written by advertising students Grace Campbell, Dominique DeVivo and Angelica DiGiovanni   A group of students stand in front of Martin Hall
Martin Hall Agency Plus One Tourism Team is photographed in front of Martin Hall

During the fall 2022 semester, WVU Extension partnered with Martin Hall Agency, the WVU Reed College of Media’s student-run public relations and advertising agency class, to develop a campaign focused on increasing awareness of farm-to-table restaurants, farm stays, breweries, cideries and you-pick farms that provide family-friendly adventures and hands-on experiences unique to Appalachian culture.

“We know a lot of people travel to the Mountain State for the beautiful landscapes, adventure experiences and outdoor fun,” said Cheyenne Oakes, senior public relations student who served as the team’s account executive. “However, what we found in our research is that increasing awareness of farm-based businesses that share the history and traditions of Appalachia could encourage leisure travelers to stay a bit longer.”

Over the course of the first few weeks of the semester, the group conducted research and met with owners and operators from around the state to get a deeper understanding of agritourism and how it impacted West Virginia. The overarching goal was to increase travel to agritourism destinations in eastern West Virginia and create lasting connections between WVU Extension and businesses in these regions.

The team’s strategy included search engine optimization (SEO), paid media and digital and print guides that mapped agritourism spots in relation to adventure and history destinations that were already an attraction for out-of-state tourists.

They also established relationships with dozens of businesses across the Eastern Panhandle and Greenbrier Valley regions to share information about partnering with WVU Extension and to create a web of business partnerships. Partner businesses were provided with window decals and brochures to signify their participation. These materials featured a QR code linked to the WVU Extension agritourism landing page so visitors can learn about other businesses in the area.

Capstone students Payton Litton, Paige McElroy and Emily Yoder are pictured with the owner of the WV Glamping Domes, Timothy Luce.

The team also developed Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tools for these businesses –keywords, backlinks and ghostwritten blogs  – with easy-to-follow instructions on how to use these tools to improve their search rankings.

“When someone is looking for a new adventure, we knew they would do a Google search,” said Emma Magruder, the team’s marketing and partnerships director. “The problem was that these business owners didn’t necessarily know how to optimize their digital footprint. So, we made it easier for them.”

To further expand the digital footprint, the team also developed and executed influencer marketing and media relations campaigns targeting travel and lifestyle-based micro influencers, bloggers and writers. After targeting diverse publications and people, itineraries for travel to pre-established clusters were crafted. In the spring, partner businesses will be welcoming these individuals to their regions for a special experience.

The MHA team is already receiving positive feedback from partner businesses, many of whom were unaware of the opportunities in their own backyard. Moving forward, these campaign efforts will be expanded to include additional ways to connect businesses, increase digital outreach and continue to tell stories of the deeply rooted Appalachian traditions found on farms in the Mountain State.