100 Years of Advancing Destinations

How Sonoma County Changed Destination Marketing

Author: Guest Guest Blogger
Posted: August 07, 2015
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The following article is section of DMAI’s e-book The Evolving Role of DMOs in a Shifting Marketplace. To read the entire e-book, click here

A first glimpse into the evolution of modern destination marketing can be traced back 10 years ago to the launch of Sonoma County Tourism. The private non-profit DMO was the first in the state of California to be funded by a business improvement assessment. The board members collect the assessment from the visitors, and according to Kenneth Fischang, president and CEO of Sonoma County Tourism, the board members view themselves more as investors in the DMO.

The bureau originally launched as a partnership with Sonoma County Wine Growers and Sonoma County Vintners, which each share the same logo with their individual names directly below the logo. Basically, the growers grow the grapes, the vintners make the wine, and the DMO brings people to Sonoma to drink the wine.

“So we have a lot of clout with elected officials because they’re not just dealing with tourism,” explains Fischang. “They’re dealing with tourism, agriculture and the wine makers, which of course is a huge industry here.” 

Fischang says the DMO acts as a kind of “landlord” for the vintners and wine growers to help introduce them to new markets. At the same time, the three organizations share a variety of staff, marketing initiatives, and the brand marque, which the DMO licenses out to Sonoma’s business community.

“We created a unique partnership unlike anywhere else in the world,” says Fischang. “It’s been enormously successful and we’ve been able to accomplish some huge things together. We formed an organization called the President’s Council, with elected leaders, key leaders in tourism, the vintners, wine growers and each of the 15 wine regions in Sonoma County that’s had a big impact on the local community.”

The Council meets regularly to formulate strategies that benefit the entire destination. For example, the Council helped push through a law in 2014 for “Conjunctive Labeling,” where every bottle of Sonoma County wine that is made with 75% or more of local grapes must have “Sonoma” as the final wine region featured on the label. Before that, there was a lot of confusion where, for example, people may have thought Russian River Valley was in Oregon, or Sonoma was part of Napa. Within the first year, Fischang says there were well over 100 million impressions of the Sonoma County destination being shipped around the world.

Sonoma County Tourism and its partners also created “Sonoma in the City,” where the DMO travels with wine product and a group of vintners to key tourism source markets. In March 2015, Fischang and 70 different vintners brought their wines and numerous Sonoma area sommeliers to Chicago for a three-day program to host sommelier classes in Chicago restaurants. They also hosted special wine tastings for the local trade, including wine buyers and wine clubs.

Next year, Sonoma County is again bringing its regional vintners to Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco as the official destination and wine sponsor for the big game and eight days of festivities in the Super Bowl Fan Village.

“All of the wine served for events during those days will only be Sonoma wine, so we’re promoting to over one million people in the fan village,” says Fischang. “It’s a very ambitious and exciting project, and as a standalone DMO, there’s no way we could have done this without the vintners and wine growers.”