Boots walkin' or stayin'? Tourism chief to decide fate of controversial campaign

Gabe Semenza

Feb. 1, 2012 at 5:04 p.m.
Updated Feb. 1, 2012 at 8:02 p.m.

For now, LaRue Roth won't say whether she will continue the "Bring Your Boots" ad campaign or cease the marketing effort altogether.

Her plans, however, will be known in coming weeks, she said. Roth will soon present to the city manager and Victoria City Council her research findings and adjusted plans for drawing tourists to the city.

Roth, the Victoria Convention and Visitors Bureau director since October, said she is almost done analyzing months of data collected.

"No decision has been made on the 'Bring Your Boots' campaign ." said Roth, who moved to Victoria from North Dakota. "My short time here has been a period of discovery and of planting seeds, lots and lots of seeds."

Roth took over the bureau about four months ago, replacing Bridgette Bise, who was recently hired by the city of Goliad to promote that community.

Since Roth's arrival, she has tracked the number of people who stop at the city's visitor information center and visit the bureau's website, as well as inquiries linked to ads. She just finished an online Victoria awareness research project and two focus groups.

"I've visited extensively with community leaders, as well as our local travel industry partners representing travel attractions, arts and heritage groups and accommodations owners," Roth said. "All of this information has factored into the marketing plan."

The part of the marketing plan that seems to draw the most reaction - good and bad - is the "Bring Your Boots" campaign. The campaign aims to link the iconic image of boots to Victoria via print, billboard and radio ads. The marketing plan also featured brochures, tour packages, local travel guides, a website and even a country jingle.

Even Roth acknowledges the campaign, executed first by her predecessor, appears controversial.

"I stand amazed at its ability to polarize opinion," Roth said. "I can only conclude that the people who live in Victoria care very much about their community but have very diverse opinions about how to present it to the world."

Jeff Williams, a Victoria businessman and former city council candidate, opposes the campaign because he said it's off the mark.

"I didn't think anybody really liked it from day 1, but no one seemed to listen to what the local people thought about it," Williams said. "They just totally ignored what Victoria really has to offer and tried to make the city into something it's not. They should focus on the strong points the city already has - historical aspects, for example - rather than try to turn Victoria into the boot capital of Texas, which we've never been."

Williams' points have been mirrored by others who spoke out since the campaign launched two years ago. Some of the contentiousness also seems to center on whether the city boasts enough attractions to turn a weekend tourist into a repeat visitor.

"'Bring Your Boots,' and then what?" a July letter to the editor asks.

Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong is one of the campaign's supporters. He points to the inaugural BootFest, which was in October and drew thousands of visitors, as one indication the marketing works.

"I'm certainly not in favor of discontinuing it. We've invested in it and I'm very, very excited," Armstrong said. "When you look at BootFest, it exceeded our expectations. When there's some scientific analysis, I think it'll be favorable. I really don't understand all the controversy around it."

For those who disapprove of the boot as the city's unofficial logo, Armstrong points to history.

"Those conquistadors who came up here wore boots. The French wore boots. Our cowboys wear boots," Armstrong said. "Even some bankers wear boots. The idea is to have fun and to put Victoria on the map. Our advertising program did introduce us to many areas of the Southwest."

As for the future of the city's marketing plans, Roth will unveil her ideas by Feb. 15, she said. No matter what she decides about the "Bring Your Boots" campaign, the BootFest will continue, she said.

Roth acknowledged that branding experts note community buy-in is an important factor in the success of any city marketing campaign.

"It's unrealistic, however, to think that every person is going to agree on a campaign or a slogan," she said. "It's more important to garner broad consensus that we do indeed want Victoria to grow and thrive, that we do indeed welcome an increasing number of visitors and new residents and that we are indeed willing to work together to make those things happen."



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