Selling Portland to the World:

An Interview with Megan Conway of Travel Portland

Local businesses and PR people learn how they too can jump on the Portland bandwagon

Travel Portland operates as the tourism and marketing agency for the City of Portland. And as the organization’s Senior Vice President of Communications and Regional Strategy, it’s Megan Conway’s job to sell our fair city to the wider world. Amy Rosenberg recently sat down with Megan to learn more about what it’s like running PR for an entire city and how local small businesses can tap into Portland’s growing reputation as a travel destination to increase their visibility with tourists.

A Growing Reputation

Newcomers may find it hard to believe, but there was a time before all the food carts and luxury condos when Portland was something of a tourism backwater. In those days — some ten years ago now — Megan would bring a map to her New York media meetings to show editors and publishers exactly where Portland was located. But oh how things have changed.

Today, Megan finds that most media members she talks with — both domestically and internationally — have either visited the city themselves or read about it as a destination. And that makes her job much easier. “Because Portland just continues to evolve and be a better and different version of itself as it goes,” Megan says, “we keep having these amazing things that we can hang our hats on that we can pitch and have conversations about.” Whether it’s a chef, or a maker, or another uniquely Portland brand, it’s Megan’s job to find, what she calls, their Portland story and share it with the wider world. So how does she do that? It really comes down to old-fashioned PR.


Looking Outward

Another byproduct of Portland’s recent emergence as a travel destination is more and better PR. In the old days, Travel Portland was the only game in town. Now, restaurants and hotels often work with their own PR agencies, which gives Megan lots of opportunities to collaborate.

Megan says Travel Portland works with other PR pros to amplify their messaging in a more organic than scripted way. Several times a year, Travel Portland communicates with PR firms about outbound events they’re planning, with an eye for collaborative opportunities. In some instances, a firm may be looking to break into a specific market that Travel Portland already has a foot in, so they’ll help facilitate those connections when possible. For Megan, it’s all about creating what she calls an aligned front, as they promote everything the city has to offer.

Another big part of the Travel Portland mission is selling the city to media and publishers in New York City. Every January, Travel Portland reps attend the International Media Marketplace event, which Megan likens to “one-on-one speed-dating appointments with media.” During the trip, Travel Portland also schedules 3-4 days of desk-side appointments with publishers and editors. These used to be strictly educational trips, but now take on a what’s-new-in-Portland approach.

Travel Portland also frequently collaborates with partners who are having their own events in the city and then mix-and-mingle with media members in attendance. In one unique event, Travel Portland executed a Portland takeover of a four-story house and designed every room to be about a different Portland maker including brands like Steven Smith Tea and Orox Leather. Powell’s Books also included a bookshelf dedicated to Portland authors that attendees could take home. For Megan, these events are designed to give editors a feel for Portland’s unique style and attitude, so they’ll then send a writer out to cover Portland for their readers.

Megan tends to focus on travel and lifestyle publications during these media tours, but they’re beginning to talk with more business-focused brands like Fast Company and Inc. to look at big business stories coming out of Portland and focus on growth brands.

It all comes down to packaging Portland’s most compelling features into consumable stories that will excite media members. A process all PR pros instantly recognize.


Forging Local Business Relationships

But selling the city to the outside world requires Travel Portland to have an extensive knowledge of what’s happening here on the street level. So the organization is motivated to stay connected with the local businesses that make this city so vibrant. In addition to promoting Portland, Megan sees Travel Portland’s role as an educator in the small business space as they work toward helping local companies scale and drive visitor traffic through upcoming classes on marketing and PR.

The organization also conducts outreach efforts, like its Travel Portland 101 event, which helps local businesses gain a better understanding of how the business operates and where they might best fit in. Travel Oregon partnership representatives also hold bi-weekly neighborhood tours so the staff can get out and see what’s new in the city.

Megan’s door is always open for businesses looking to connect with Travel Portland, but she also recommends they become well-connected within their neighborhood association. Simply offering to host a monthly neighborhood meeting in their space is a great way for information to trickle out and up to the folks at Travel Portland.


Opportunities for PR Professionals

Because collaboration is so important to Travel Portland, the organization is very receptive to meeting with new agencies or freelance PR representatives. Megan said they also appreciate being copied on press releases because they provide an easy way to catalog and access all the important new developments in the city.

Amy and Megan cover many more topics during their conversation, including how Travel Oregon vettes requests from bloggers and influencers, editorial opportunities within Travel Portland publications, and tips for college grads looking to break into the hospitality industry. So click through to hear the rest of the interview.

About the guest: Megan Conway

After starting her career in consumer products PR in the midwest, Megan Conway moved to Portland. For the last eight years, she’s worked as Travel Portland’s Senior Vice President of Communications and Regional Strategy.

Connect and follow Megan on social media:

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Featured image by Cat Mapper (Max Ogden) on Unsplash

Josh Friesen
I'm a writer and content marketer at Veracity, telling client stories one post at a time.