NORTHAMPTON — A digital marketing platform, called northampton.live is getting a $75,000 boost to draw visitors to the city and promote local music, dining and entertainment businesses.
The money is coming from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MSG), which has granted money to the city since 2017 to mitigate the financial impacts of casino gaming in the region. Since 2015, the MSG has issued nearly $23 million to various communities to offset the impact costs of casino gaming on local tourism industries.
City officials said that the marketing platform — particularly during the pandemic — has proven to be an “invaluable resource” that reaches thousands of viewers near and far through social media campaigns.
“We are really pleased the Gaming Commission saw the value, especially coming out of the pandemic, of ensuring we can rebuild our local economy and these local businesses that were pushed to the brink during COVID-19,” Narkewicz said in an interview Friday. “We will continue to get the word out through digital marketing that Northampton is back and open and to come enjoy the Northampton that people have enjoyed for so many years.”
The online platform was conceived in 2018 by a mayoral advisory committee led by city employees and made up of marketing experts who researched how to offset the potential impacts of the arrival of the MGM Springfield casino, which has the potential to draw entertainment and dining business away from Northampton.
“The site is incredibly valuable and it’s been very well received by businesses, retailers and the arts community,” Narkewicz said. “Now we are trying to pivot back to post-COVID-19 time, and we think people really are judging by all the people coming downtown to enjoy the Strong Avenue, ‘Summer on Strong,’ project. I just walked through there a couple nights ago, and there was a jazz band playing, tables were full, Progression was serving beers, and it was a really happening and vibrant scene.”
The marketing platform is designed and maintained by Rhyme Digital, which is based in Easthampton.
Blair Winans, president of Rhyme Digital, said the underlining premise for northampton.live is about portraying the city authentically.
“We want to give a real on-the-ground perspective of shops and what makes Northampton great and everything it has to offer,” he said.
The digital marketing platform is more than just the website, Blair noted, saying that a combination of social media, email marketing, search engine optimization, and digital advertising are “all wrapped up into marketing outreach.”
A lot of outreach goes towards drawing people from large metropolitan areas such as Boston, Hartford and New York, according to Winans. The site regularly gets around 5,000 to 6,000 regular visitors each month, he said. When the pandemic hit, there was a surge of over 11,000 visitors who were trying to figure out what businesses were open.
The grant funding will allow Rhyme Digital the opportunity to implement new ideas. Winans said the website will build out a section dedicated for places that offer outdoor dining in the city and keeping an up-to-date events page.
An important aspect of nothampton.live has always been telling individual stories of Northampton businesses and their owners. “Whatever we can do to introduce new businesses or reinforce existing ones,” he said.
Luis Fieldman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org