"Pick Us" took on a double meaning Monday when the Ottawa Visitors Center took a top award at the Illinois Governors Conference on Travel & Tourism.
Judges picked the visitor center's 30-second "Pick Us" promotional video featuring native actor Walt Willey for a first-place award for Best Tourism Marketing Campaign.
"It happened, and we're pretty happy about it," said an ebullient Julie Johnson, OVC executive director.
In the video, Willey is shown at a number of Ottawa locations promoting their offerings.
Ottawa Mayor Robert Eschbach was at the Palmer House hotel for the award presentation.
"I'm happy and impressed," he said. "I appreciate what the visitors center does, and I appreciate Walt Willey's contribution. He played a crucial role in the success."
The first-place awards were divided among advertisers with annual budgets on both sides of $700,000, with the other award going to the Hiltons of Chicago.
"That means we were competing with others with budgets of up to $700,000," Johnson said. "So this was a David and Goliath story."
Johnson said the cost of the video was about $10,000. Besides Willey, another professional who worked on the commercial was director Michael Malone of WGN-TV.
Johnson noted the cost was kept low by a great deal of volunteer help and community assistance.
She said besides an extra effort from the OVC staff, all the "theater people" in Ottawa helped as well as students from Marquette Academy, the staff at Monte's Riverside Inn, where a dining segment was shot, and Ottawa Commissioner Wayne Eichelkraut, who arranged boats for a river segment, as well as others.
"It was quite a group for one day," Johnson said.
Also in the running for an award was Starved Rock Country magazine, which is produced by The Times.
"The dedication to building tourism shown by Starved Rock Country is almost unheard of from a newspaper," said Johnson. "I knew one of us would win."