Brand USA has completed its first year as the official marketing organisation for the US. Robin Searle spoke to chief executive Chris Thompson for this week's Travel Weekly US-themed edition
For an organisation that took many years of patient industry lobbying to come into existence, Brand USA isn’t hanging about.
Charged with raising $50 million from the private sector in its first year to unlock $100 million of public funding from the US government, the year-two target is a like-for-like match of $100 million apiece.
The organisation’s chief executive, Chris Thompson, admits this is ambitious. But he is confident that the goodwill of companies in the US and overseas will see the country’s first central marketing body achieve its goal and go from strength to strength.
“It is pretty scary for a two-year-old company to be expected to grow by 100%, but the guys who are responsible for delivering that funding are the most optimistic,” he said.
In fact, Brand USA overdelivered on its side of the bargain last year, contributing $60 million, so the jump – though daunting – isn’t as large as it might have been.
Speaking at the IPW trade show in Las Vegas, Thompson added: “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We are currently at between a quarter and a third of our target, but the majority of our funds last year were confirmed in the last two months of the fiscal year (to September 30).”
Thompson was appointed as Brand USA chief executive in September last year after a 12-year spell with Visit Florida, which he describes as a “co-op marketing machine”.
“Some marketing organisations are branding organisations and some focus on co-op marketing; Brand USA sits somewhere in between,” he explained.
Of Visit Florida, where he rose from senior vice-president of partner development to president and chief executive, he said:
“We had unqualified perfect audits and delivered continued growth in visitation, so we have real experience of making this work.”
For Thompson, the key to success is not only engaging travel firms with the Brand USA mission, but attracting “non-endemic brands” such as Google, Coca-Cola and Visa with a massive worldwide reach.
He also feels that global events such as the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games will offer an excellent platform to deliver the message.
“London 2012 would have been a great opportunity for us, but it came too soon. I can see Rio being a really exciting time,” he said.
With the UK one of the first markets to receive Brand USA funding and a dedicated office, Thompson is encouraged by research that shows “intent to travel” by Britons to the US up 14 percentage points following the first tranche of consumer and trade-facing marketing activity.
And he feels the “leap of faith” from British Airways to become a founding partner of the organisation will encourage more UK and Irish firms to get on board.
“My understanding is that British Airways is happy with how we are working together, and that has to have others [UK companies] looking at it very seriously,” he said.
With President Obama setting a target of 100 million overseas visitors a year by 2021 – up from 66.6 million in 2012 – some might expect Thompson to be at the very least cautious in his optimism.
But as befits the man responsible for marketing the country that embodies self-belief, he regards the target as eminently achievable.
“We have the compelling power of the United States behind us. Who else can say that?”