How Did AC DO?

The ACA’s Liza Cartmell talks about the first year of the DO AC campaign and changing people’s perception about the resort.

By Jeff Schwachter
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 19, 2012

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A.C. Mayor Lornezo Langford, ‘ARTlantic’ curator Lance Fung, A.C. Councilman at large Frank Gilliam and Liza Cartmell at the opening of ‘Artlantic’ on Nov. 9.

Photo by Craig Billow

In the fall of 2011 it was announced that a former Aramark executive from Pennsylvania had been named the CEO of the new non-profit Atlantic City Alliance. The ACA, funded by Atlantic City’s casinos, was created to bring in more visitors to the city and change the perception of the resort. In 2012, Atlantic City and its environs have experienced the impact Liza Cartmell has had on the city and its perception as it pertains to visitors and locals. To recap her first full year heading up the ACA, Cartmell spoke to AC Weekly.

How has your first year in the trenches in Atlantic City with the Atlantic City Alliance been? And can you give a recap of some of the ACA accomplishments this year?

I would just say it’s been frenetic. I mean it’s just been non-stop. It started with hitting the ground and just getting added on board immediately and recruiting a team to come on, and really kind of creating the team from scratch. [Then we launched] the [DO AC] campaign in April, and got that out and broadly distributed through all the different media forms. Then [we] really starting to ramp up PR initiatives and event initiatives. [Also] getting things in place like the “3D” shows, launching the first one in July and then we just launched the second one Dec. 1. Getting the art program [ARTlantic] in place, the partnership with the CRDA in terms of getting those local enhancements in place that we feel will enhance the visitor experience as well as drive a lot of media attention. Getting the volleyball up and running, doing the fireworks, and then of course, most recently dealing with the aftermath of Sandy and the need to really be aggressive around reframing people’s perceptions about the damage to Atlantic City and making sure the word gets out that we are open for business and now launching the new incentive for the subsidies for trying to attract business conventions. 

What long-term effects do you think Sandy will have on Atlantic City and Jersey shore in general?

Well, I think it obviously had a very different impact depending upon where you were on the New Jersey shore, but I know that even the way the media has portrayed, both nationally and internationally, the New Jersey shore as one lump sum as being just decimated, and the picture of the Seashore Heights roller coaster is sort of the symbol that they’ve now established as the “Jersey shore.” So, combating that to the extent that it is a) not accurate for this destination, and then b) making sure that we don’t continue to suffer diminished visitation because people don’t think we’re open. 

Sure, which amazingly is still a problem. 

It’s a big problem. Well, we’ve done a whole series of new PR. We’ve re-shot the commercial. We’ve re-done radio. We reproduced new print. We hired people to do all sorts of video and photo images so we could put out storylines. We’re going into media that we hadn’t been in, in terms of either geography or style or messaging. It’s just been a full-out push. We’re battling uphill because everybody was watching the Weather Channel report Atlantic City had been destroyed. The Sandy onslaught appeared and then everybody stopped watching TV, either because they lost power or because the storm was gone. So you don’t get that opportunity for that 100-percent attention and so as a result we’re trying to get in front of people who you don’t normally get in front of trying to fix word of mouth, trying to correct people who are making inaccurate statements even well after the fact, such as the Al Roker story. People, out of sympathy, refer to it as “Oh, my gosh, New Jersey, and Atlantic City [has been washed away].” And it’s like, “No, that’s not even a picture of us! That’s Seaside Heights.” We just did focus groups yesterday, and we had a group of middle aged, 35-50, people. We had a woman who had actually been to Atlantic City two weeks ago and sat there and swore to the other six people that the Boardwalk was largely all gone. She was in Revel looking out at the inlet side, and said, “Oh yeah, it’s destroyed, it’s gone.” We were trying not to jump out of our chairs and say “No! You’re totally wrong!” And she had all other six people in the room saying, “What a shame, how terrible.” 

That’s crazy.

Yeah, it was. Later on she admitted, because we rushed and got the picture of the New York Times ad we did and brought it in and we showed it to them all, and she said, “You know, I did go to Bally’s and there was that section in front of it, that was intact.” We said, “No, this picture isn’t even the Bally’s section!”

Do you anticipate increased visitors next summer in relation to Sandy?

I mean, I think it’s a real possibility. Right now we’re grappling with the fallout of the people who would typically travel more distance to get here and we don’t want to lose them. We want to retain that and potentially support the rest of the New Jersey community so that as they rebuild we can make sure that we retain the people in New Jersey. So upside really depends on what happens with retaining our core, and then being able to build out extra on top of it. 

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