Pictures are worth a thousand words, but all Susan Thomas needs are photos worth five.
"The phrase 'A Bluffton State of Mind' is very authentic, and something that a lot of other communities can't claim," Thomas said. "But we need to give outsiders a better understanding of what it means."
As vice president of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce's Convention and Visitor's Bureau, Thomas is promoting Bluffton as a tourist destination. That involves an ongoing photo shoot throughout Old Town to find the right images to be featured for a year on four billboards along Interstate 95.
So far, photographers have been to the Bluffton Farmers Market and Bluffton Oyster Co., Thomas said, and shoots are scheduled to capture kayaks on the May River and "hammock-related relaxation."
Thomas said research indicates visitors are attracted to Bluffton's "cultural, historic and Southern small-town charm," and she wants the billboards to convey those attributes.
The campaign costs $46,000 and is funded by a one-time local accommodations-tax allocation, which is in addition to the $65,000 in state accommodations-tax money the chamber receives as the town's marketing agent.
Three of the displays will be visible from southbound lanes, with the first to be about 55 miles away near Walterboro. The fourth will be visible from northbound lanes north of the Georgia border before Exit 8, where U.S. 278 meets I-95.
Thomas cited ongoing negotiations with photographers and recent bad weather for delaying the start of the billboard campaign from this month to July.
The chamber is working with Georgia-based Adams Outdoor Advertising and Hilton Head-based Marlin Outdoor Advertising on the billboards.
The displays also will include the name of a revamped Bluffton tourism website run by the chamber that Thomas says will emphasize social media and interactivity.
Former Bluffton Mayor Emmett McCracken, who owns an antique store near Old Town, said that as a chamber member, he offered input on the billboards' designs.
"We are optimistic that (the billboards) will have a positive impact on the area," McCracken said. "I think it was all well thought out."