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New tourism director has big plans
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Jenny McDonald lived the Atlanta life for years, but when her own children were born, she moved back home to Newton County to raise them like she was raised.

She’s already had to sell herself on moving back to Newton County — and she’s loved the return — so she has some life experience to draw on when she tries to recruit permanent and temporary visitors as the new tourism director of the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce.

With 27 years of experience in corporate marketing, including nearly 18 as a senior-level executive with large firm BKV Advertising in Atlanta, McDonald struck chamber President Hunter Hall as the perfect fit to market Newton County to the world.

Hall has repeatedly focused on the county’s growing tourism industry as a way to bring in dollars and promote business development, without straining resources, because visitors don’t stay to use schools, public safety and other services. With hugely popular TV show "The Vampire Diaries’’ filming in town, a history of other filming projects, charming historic homes, recreational rivers and lots of scenic farms, Hall and others believe the county can capitalize on Newton County’s assets.

One of her first goals is to identify all of the tourism assets in Newton County, spend time studying them with their owners, and get all of those people to a central point, where they can talk about issues and craft a message together.

She hopes the Leadership Collaborative, a joint venture by local governments and agencies to meet and discuss common goals, will be an asset in getting these overarching discussions started.

"Everybody has their little piece of the pie and their agenda, which all folds into the county as a whole. To attract industry, new residents or tourists, at the end of the day, the brand needs to be one speaking voice for everybody," McDonald said. "Brand is not a logo or tagline. Your brand is your story. Somebody needs to develop our story."

She hopes to get the community leaders together soon with a large white board to gather all those ideas and start the work of crafting Newton County’s story.

However, it’s not just those traditional tourism assets McDonald hopes to help. She believes any business can become a destination business, and she envisions working with small businesses on their own marketing strategies — including establishing a brand that reaches Newton and beyond — or tying into the county’s tourism strategy.

She’s working with the chamber’s new membership director, Debbie Harper, to find ways to add value to membership, and she believes her marketing expertise and the resources she has access to can be a big help.

McDonald graduated from West Georgia College in December 1985, and then worked for a number of firms, in print publishing, health care and a wide variety of marketing efforts. She rose through the ranks at BKV to become senior vice president and director of creative services. She saw the company grow from a fairly small company to 125 employees, while seeing firsthand the effects of major marketing shifts caused by the Internet and social media.

She also helped to open a business for her niece Salon Tru in Social Circle, which has been very successful and has more than 900 clients.

When BKV took a big hit and offered a severance package, McDonald took it and started her own company. She had mixed success, and when the Covington-Newton County tourism job came open, she jumped at the opportunity.

"I’m very passionate about this town and this county as a whole. I hope people see that passion and can become passionate as well," McDonald said. "I’m very excited about this opportunity."