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Marketing veteran steps into Ohio tourism role

Beyond farm fresh: Veteran marketer takes over as tourism director to help shape Ohio's image

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In this Dec. 19, 2013 photo provided by the Ohio Development Services Agency, Mary Cusick, left, director of TourismOhio, and Dan Sullivan, president of HNS Sports Group, listen to fellow members of the Tourism Ohio Advisory Board at their first meeting in Columbus, Ohio. Cusick stepped into her role in early December. She and the board are tasked with developing ways to market the state and boost the number of visitors to Ohio. (AP Photo/Ohio Development Services Agency)

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COLUMBUS — A former marketing executive for Bob Evans Farms who has been selected to be Ohio’s tourism director is looking beyond farm fresh for what makes Ohio cool.

Mary Cusick, 58, worked for the Ohio-based restaurant chain owner for more than 30 years.

Now as head of TourismOhio, she is charged with working alongside an advisory board of tourism and travel industry leaders to develop a marketing strategy for the state and help boost the number of visitors here.

“I want to be able to give Ohioans every reason in the world to stay here, visit Ohio and really experience Ohio,” Ms. Cusick said during a recent interview.

A 2012 law created the TourismOhio office and established a new funding model for its budget. Its marketing dollars are based on sales-tax revenue growth experienced by travel and tourism businesses.

The office is in its first year of the new funding model and has $10 million.

Ms. Cusick stepped into her role in early December. She plans to work on a spending plan for the marketing money with the advisory panel, which met for the first time several weeks ago. Ms. Cusick said one of her main priorities in the new year is building a brand for the state.

“I’m not sure what people think when they think of Ohio,” said Ms. Cusick, who was chief marketing officer for Bob Evans Farms Inc. until January, 2011.

The state’s tourism agency has had success with its promotional campaign — “Too Much Fun For Just One Day” — but Ohio lacks a slogan or tagline, she said.

“We have to look around the world and understand what makes us unique and distinctive,” Ms. Cusick said. “The best way to build a brand is to be authentic.”

Ohio saw 188 million visitors in 2012, an increase of 5 percent from 2011, according to the latest figures from the state.

Most visitors lived within 300 miles of their destination.

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