A shop local initiative that won multiple awards in 2020 is slated to launch next week in a bid to promote valley businesses, and ultimately help them promote themselves.
The #HintonFirst Festival will feature a series of Facebook live segments by different businesses in the valley over the course of February.
“The goal is to not only help promote these businesses, but provide them some of the tools to better promote themselves and adapt their operation to the new realities,” said Jim Barr, CEO of Seekers Media, who was contracted by the Town of Hinton to execute the #HintonFirst campaign.
Barr said change to business as usual was coming prior to COVID, but that the pandemic quickened the pace that businesses had to adapt their operations.
He said that Seekers Media wasn’t immune to the forces of change due to COVID. Their different operations - SnowSeekers, FestivalSeekers and ZenSeekers - are centred around promoting events and travel.
“We were also impacted,” said Barr, who said they decided to leverage around 12 years of social media knowledge into campaigns to help small businesses, starting last spring in Vermilion.
Seekers Media have since coordinated similar campaigns in communities across Alberta and British Columbia. The initiative received awards for sustainability and diversification from both the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and the Economic Developers of Alberta.
Scott Kovatch, economic development officer for the Town of Hinton, said that 2020 has forced many businesses across the region to innovate and manage some pretty unique situations.
“The Town has been watching the trends to see how our entrepreneurs, producers and creators are going to be successful through this year and going forward,” Kovatch said.
He said the initiative began to take shape when there was a groundswell of interest from valley businesses in raising the profile of their different goods and services.
From that point a series of meetings began a collective conversation about how to create awareness about the town in general, and specifically valley businesses.
Kovatch said the idea of producing videos and increasing coordinated online promotion led to a grant application to Travel Alberta.
Kovatch had been watching the success of other Seekers Media campaigns and recruited them to support the Hinton initiative, believing it was the right template to fit the community’s strategy in supporting small business.
“Being involved in #HintonFirst will give them some insight and experience to better market themselves moving forward,” Kovatch said.
· Several studies have found there has been a huge spike in Canadians’ collective screen time. A September 2020 Harvard Business Review reports social media, video and content marketing are the forms of communication for business in our “new normal.”
According to Statistic Canada, year-over-year, e-commerce sales have more than doubled, reporting a 110.8 per cent increase since May 2019.
Kovatch said the #HintonFirst Festival capitalizes on these trends by empowering Hinton entrepreneurs, producers and creators with digital media education and promotion allowing them to harness the changing landscape of e-commerce.
Twenty three valley businesses have signed on to the initiative, and according to a release from the Town each one will receive one-on-one coaching support, along with live webinars dedicated to social media strategy and smartphone content production.
Barr said that there is a difference between sharing information and telling a story and that one of his goals is to coach businesses on how to tell their story effectively.
“A lot of people just publicize what their specials are and don’t understand how to use the media available to them to tell stories, and build their brand,” Barr said.
Each business will do a scheduled Facebook live broadcast as part of a coordinated campaign each Wednesday in February.
The online campaign will be promoted through Festival Seekers, Travel Alberta, The Valley Business Association, The Town of Hinton and The Hinton Voice.
“With an increased online presence, this template has shown time and time again increased sales for those participating, while encouraging more people to shop local,” Barr said.
Barr said that beyond increased sales as a result of the campaign, participating businesses have also shown increased confidence moving forward.
“That’s less tangible than the sales increase, but no less important,” he said.
Kovatch says this iteration of #HintonFirst Festival began because the Valley Business Association came together in a common purpose. He added that another iteration could be possible down the road to expand the idea to other local businesses if a group could bring those interested businesses together.
#HintonFirst will kick off Feb. 3 with Facebook live broadcasts from Your Dollar Store With More (12:30 pm), Lekkerwear Apparel (1 pm), King Drug (2 pm), Fortune House (3 pm) and My Slice of Paradise (4 pm).
The #HintonFirst Festival Facebook page can be found at https://www.facebook.com/events/784342342153051.
Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice