Virginia City digs deep into tourism campaign |

Virginia City digs deep into tourism campaign

Duane Johnson |
Pascal Baboulin, a Virginia City hatmaker, discusses his venture as part of the "Below the Surface" marketing campaign.

When the Virginia City Tourism Commission, spearheaded by its director of tourism, Deny Dotson, pondered a new marketing campaign, they turned to their public relations partner, RAD Strategies, Inc., for fresh ideas.

RAD, headed by Dotson’s wife, Ronele, suggested they do something different than the average, run-of-the-mill campaign, even though they were working with a relatively small budget. The firm had done extensive research on other cities around the country and found some of those destinations had used videography in unique and cost-effective ways to market its tourism.

“We wanted to do video for awhile,” Ronele Dotson said. “With our budget we looked at video as a bold initiative to market Virginia City. We looked at what bigger destinations were doing. Detroit, for example did some spots during the Super Bowl a few years ago that were very emotional.”

After presenting their finding to the tourism board and many strategic sessions, they created a campaign titled, “Below The Surface,” a series of short videos that highlight some of the obscure, yet intriguing stories of residents and businesses in Virginia City and surrounding areas.

“We would’ve pulled the trigger on it a little sooner but when you have a market like Virginia City, it takes a little time and some money to do it,” Deny Dotson said. “You see a lot of destinations that show, say, families having a good time, kids riding and mom and dad are happy, but things are changing. People now want a more personable experience. The thing about Virginia City is you can step back in time; it’s almost like an amusement park.”

To get the project off the ground, they applied for funding through TravelNevada’s Rural Grant program, which assists smaller communities around the state with tourism marketing efforts.

After securing a grant, the Dotsons set out looking for potential individuals and businesses that were interested in sharing their stories. Rather than showcase some of the town’s well-known attractions, they dug a little deeper to find those hidden gems.

“A lot of the stuff on C Street, the Bucket of Blood Saloon, The Bonanza, everybody knows about,” Deny Dotson said. “We first reached out to the folks who invested a lot in the town and had multi-generational families.”

Added Ronele Dotson: “We looked at every place in Virginia City that could be a story.”

In the meantime, they also interviewed about a half-dozen videography companies before tabbing Tyler Bourns and his Reno-based company, Bourns Productions to handle the project.

Bourns has a portfolio of work from music videos to commercials mostly regionally in northern California and Nevada. The project presented a unique experience for him. While he relished the opportunity, he wanted to make sure he presented material without the series coming across as too much of a sales pitch to consumers.

“Tourism videos require a much different approach, but business tourism is something I’ve always been fascinated with,” Bourns said.

The Dotsons allowed Bourns and his crew plenty of freedom on filming the mostly unscripted material.

“We developed questions to ask them specifically about their story, and cultivated the relationship from there,” Ronele Dotson said.

One video, for example, profiles Pascal Baboulin, a local hatmaker who immigrated to the United States after growing up in the French Alps along the border between France and Switzerland.

Not that the process was easy. Bourns and his staff often had to shoot around subjects’ varied schedules in weather conditions that at times were less than favorable. Shoots usually lasted around one hour at a time.

One video featuring the Virginia City Brewery and Taphouse, had to be shot in the early hours before dawn because that’s when the brewing activity took place.

Another piece on Tom Gray, manager and owner of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad Co., had to be shot on separate occasions during the year because the railway was closed during winter months.

Once material was shot, the Dotsons and Bourns worked tirelessly to edit the film into segments ranging from 30 seconds to three minutes.

“Ronele, Deny and I would get together a few times, and say ‘Let’s try this, or let’s do this,’” Bourns said. We had one big session a few months ago and finally got it to where we wanted it.”

They feel the end result of all the hard work was well worth it.

“Tyler really knocked it out of the park,” Deny Dotson said. “He did a great job.”

In all, 10 videos are ready to be released to public, while two more are still in the production phase. The first video was released in May and one will be released each month, thereafter. The series, which also includes a 30-second trailer, is available on various social media outlets, including Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram and Twitter.

RAD also hosts a launch party for each video at the Gold Hill Hotel, situated in the ghost town south of Virginia City.

“We’re getting ready to launch “Roots’ about the Fourth Ward School and how it ties in with Ron Gallagher, a longtime resident who’s grandfather was a janitor at the school,” Deny Dotson said.

The segments already released are receiving positive feedback on the various mediums. For its subjects, such as Baboulin, they have been a huge boost to business. On Facebook, some videos have received as many as 90,000 views.

“Pascal’s been very busy. He’s ready to call a time out,” Deny Dotson joked.

RAD also created a website to showcase all the videos at: The videos will also be shown on a loop at the Virginia City Visitors Center, just off of C Street.

The commission is in the process of applying for another grant to fund marketing for the series. They are still discussing options for some television advertising down the road in time for next summer’s tourism push.


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