Chamber enlists help to market area for health care meetings

The Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce's Visitor & Convention Bureau has hired Bluestone Strategies, a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm co-founded by Bluffton resident Chris Long, to help market the area as a destination for health care meetings.

The VCB is about halfway through a six-month contract with Bluestone that will pay the firm $10,000 in accommodations tax funds, chamber spokeswoman Charlie Clark said.

The deal calls for Bluestone to help the VCB pitch the area to groups such as medical continuing-education organizations, university and teaching hospitals, and national trade associations, said Long, who lives in Bluffton but commutes to Washington three or four days a week.

The deal was outlined in the VCB's annual marketing plan.

The VCB is developing electronic marketing materials to highlight the benefits of hosting a conference, convention or sales event in the Lowcountry, Long said.

Long's job will be to take that case to senior executives in health care groups.

"It's a very easy argument to make, but we just have to make it with the right people in an organization," Long said.

VCB officials hope the firm's connections in the health care industry will help the area realize its untapped potential to host more of the industry's meetings, Clark said.

Bluestone is a bipartisan "strategic government relations" firm with an office two blocks from Capitol Hill. Long and business partner Behrends Foster started the firm late last year.

Foster is Republican who spent the past decade with America's Health Insurance Plans, a lobbying group that represents health insurers.

Long is a Democrat who was previously director of congressional and public affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, vice president of public policy for the Hilton Head-Bluffton chamber and executive vice president of public affairs for Bluffton health care firm CareCore National.

Tourism-marketing organizations often hire outside contractors to encourage groups in target fields to hold meetings in their destinations, Clark said.

Such deals are part of "the bread and butter" for VCBs, Clark said.

The Hilton Head-Bluffton VCB, for example, previously worked with a different firm led by a former president of the American Society of Association Executives to solicit association meetings.

The Bluestone deal also could boost the region's economic development prospects if executives like the area during their visits, Clark and Long said.

"Once you attract that level of executive to the area, then absolutely we should be selling the area for business location and business investment," Long said.