Saturday, January 24, 2015

Clearing My Head

My Mom died suddenly this week.  I’m heading out west to the funeral with Mugs, my English Bulldog, on a cross-country road trip to clear my head and process.

For today’s post, below is the obituary I wrote for her.  I’ll write more about this remarkable woman and her incredible influence on me in the future.  Right now I’m still too numb.

Dawn W. Vincent

(previously known as Dawn White Bowman)

(January 27, 1929 – January 19, 2015)

Dawn Vincent passed away in the wee hours of 19 January, 2015 with her daughter Myrle at her side in Everett, Washington near where she had been living in Mill Creek.

She was born Dawn LaBeth White to Mark and Deane White in American Fork, Utah near their home in Highland, the oldest of four children, two of whom survive her, Monte White and his wife Joyce and Eleanor Van Liew and her husband Bob.00001_p_aaeuyfyqe0557

During her high school years they moved near Ashton, Idaho where she met and married Reynol M. Bowman, a nearby rancher before he headed off to WWII. On his return, they had three children beginning in 1948, when she was just 19, all of whom survive them: Reyn Bowman, Raemarie Steele and Myrle Guthrie.

The family also lived in Connell, Spokane and Redmond, Washington as well as Idaho Falls, Idaho and Sandy, Utah. Dawn had a 37-year career working her way up from secretary to accountant and medical center manager.

Thirty-three years ago, she was remarried to W. Leon Vincent and became step-mother to Vicky, Dan, Jeff and Richard Vincent.

Dawn was a devout member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) and held the positions of chorister, Relief Society president and pianist. She and Leon served a mission to Cambodian immigrants south of Los Angeles and later served as temple workers in Utah and Washington State where they lived in retirement.

Her varied interests included gardening, reading, playing violin and piano, singing and genealogy.  She was also an incredible cook.

Dawn is also survived by two son-in-laws, Rick Guthrie and Dan Steele, seven grandchildren, Emily Haley, Mark and Megan Guthrie and Ben, Zach, Sam and Adam Steele as well as eight great-grandchildren, Oliver and Charlie Haley, Mattie, Ella and Liam Guthrie and Amelia, Ellie and Harper Steele.

She was a loving and devoted daughter, mother, wife, grandmother and great-grandmother. For countless reasons she will be greatly missed including her resilience, sense of humor, twinkling eyes, love of the lake, drive, determination, independence, grit and boundless optimism.

Graveside services will be held at the cemetery in Spanish Fork, Utah on Friday, January 30, 2015 at 1:00 p.m.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Failing to Account for Changes in Consumer Behavior

Analysis of data gathered as part of the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts shows that Americans attending performing arts performances dropped from 39% in 1982 to 33.4% in 2012.

The percentage attending musicals has fallen from 17.1% to 15.2% between 2002 and 2012, during a decade when communities, especially in the South, went on an explosive spending spree predicated on that art form, while attendance at arts events in the South Atlantic fell lower than it did nationwide.

Even more worrisome, the number of annual visits per attendee by these musical theater-goers fell from 2.3 to 2 during that decade with attendance from various minority groups still a fraction of the overall population they represent.A Decade of Arts Engagement

Nearly 60% of attendance at musicals is now from those with household incomes of $100,000 or more, with 32.4% making $150,000 or more, predominantly older, white Americans.

This is hardly reassuring given the rapid transformation underway in demographics which is often disguised by increases in the overall population.  Nor is the percentage of Americans attending performing arts the only cultural activity in decline.

The percentage attending visual arts festivals or crafts fairs has declined from 33.4% to 22.4% over the decade between 2002 and 2012.

The percentage visiting historic sites or historic neighborhoods and architecture has fallen from 31.6% to 23.9% over that span while the percentage attending amateur or professional sports events fell from 35% to 30%.

Community destination marketing organizations (DMOs) will be able to find useful benchmarks in the analysis.

DMOs have the means to obtain the percentage of Americans who participate in individual activities.  If a DMO has subscribed to receive this data, it can be compared to general interest in an activity from studies such as this one as a means to understand potential.

On trips of 50 miles or more away, less than 10% of Americans will participate in particular activities of interest they enjoy while at home.

A handful of DMOs, such as the one for Durham, NC, where I live, gather marketing intelligence on day-trip visitors who travel less than 50 miles from home.

Studies such as this one provide an idea of the interest level for an activity in that radius, although again, the proportion interested in enjoying that activity while away, regardless of proximity, is a third of what it is at home.

But there are many other consumer behaviors to take into account.

Access to opportunity is one.  It is the long observed behavior that the more access a consumer has to an activity, the less likely or motivated they are to participate.

This means, for example, that the motivation to go to a musical or concert will lessen now that there are theaters offering those events in Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro and Raleigh.

Another is that participation can rapidly change over time as lifestyles change.

We’ve been aware for two decades now that the talent communities seek to attract is much less likely than earlier generations to frequent events in large-scale venues.

Rather than paying a large sum to sit looking forward without interacting for several hours is much less interesting to them than a street scene where they can come and go to a smorgasbord of various establishments such as restaurants, stores and nightclubs.

Even an analysis of motivations behind attendance at performing arts shows finds that more than three-quarters do it to socialize with family or friends.  Of those who didn’t attend, 44% cited lack of time and cost as the reasons.

Only 6.9% cited lack of interest in the program or event as a barrier to attending.

Musicals, in particular, should take note.  From my experience, the songs are far too long and the entire production is often twice the length it needs to be for the same impact.  I’m obviously not their target audience but neither is half the audience and it never hurts to recalibrate.

Communities spend tens of millions on cultural venues but usually have their minds made up by the time they do a feasibility study having already dismissed data available from their DMO, should it be data-driven.

But even if officials didn’t have those wires crossed or were better at fending off special interests focused on propping up property values to instead keep their minds open, few consultants are inclined or able to factor in some of the things noted above.

Almost never do these consultants analyze the effects of access to opportunity or even inventory a community’s comp set to index the number of venues to population.

Also missing, in the words of Indiana professor Joanna Woronkowski, an expert on cultural policy is an analysis of whether these proposed facilities risk “wasting scarce public resources and creating negative externalities” such as unwanted gentrification by destroying the day to day linkages that foster entrepreneurialism.

I’ve never found a feasibility report that looks at the risk new mainstream facilities can do to a community’s sense of place ecosystem or closely examine the mistakes of other communities who did something similar rather than only those they envy.

Of course, travel and leisure activities are not the only areas of activity undergoing fundamental change.

Durham largest and oldest Rotary Club is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year dating back to when the movement was born.  Through valiant effort, it is transforming its membership to be younger, more diverse.

But here and across the world, models such as this were focused not only to provide social interaction and feeding ground for extroverts but to harness critical mass to solve problems and improve communities.

Leaders there are well advised to read The Vanishing Neighborhood by researcher Marc Dunkelman.  In part, it is a review of books and studies dealing with a behavioral transformation among Americans since WWII which appears to be accelerating.

As the author notes, “mainframe” approaches such as this which have become as much about fundraising as about socializing or doing are giving way to generations now more comfortable with ad hoc groups that form around issues or projects and then dissolve.

DMOs have been forced for decades by stakeholders to keep scores of obsolete organizations on life support that at one time made sense but failed to grasp when their missions were accomplished or no longer relevant.

Communities and groups are well advised to be much more judicious when adding to cultural offerings by studying more closely the changes in consumer behaviors and the concept of obsolescence.

It will take them back to a deeper appreciation of what makes a community distinct and organically appealing and the values and traits that make a particular place worthy of love.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Trait Shared By “Big Game Hunters”

Community destination marketing organizations that fall into the trap of “big game hunting” share a cultural trait dating back to before the 1920s when leisure travel emerged as mainstream.

They are generally marketing organizations in name only, having untethered sales from its constraints as an element of marketing along with any focus on distinctiveness, differentiation, sense of place or fit.

“Big game hunters” are individuals or groups of enablers who, lacking awareness or patience with fostering the sense of particular place, seek instead to import it by going shopping for culture and bringing back one of everything.

They also have in common a sales focus in the traditional sense (e.g., I have produced something to sell and need to convince you to buy it even if it requires subsidies) as it was when community destination marketing organizations first evolved in the 1890s and was being taught in colleges by 1904.

Marketing thought and practice (e.g.,what do you need and maybe I have something that will fit that need) including a customer-focused integration of sales was already rapidly evolving.

Some community marketing organizations began to adopt marketing including a different focus to sales in the 1920s and especially during the 1930s, while many never made the shift.

Many still remained glued to old fashioned sales by the time marketing theory and practice really took immediately after WWII.

This is also when marketing became scientific as documented by authors such as Wroe Alderson in his co-authored 1948 book Towards a Theory of Marketing, the year I was born.

It was followed by his 1957 book, Marketing Behavior and Executive Action, still in use as a textbook when I entered college a decade laterBut many community marketing organizations as they are today remained stuck in the 1890s.

Nor did they budge when in 1960, Harvard professor Theodore Levitt published a paper, later expanded into a book by the same name entitled Marketing Myopia, describing the difference between untethered sales and integrated marketing.

My four decade career leading community destination marketing organizations didn’t consciously begin until 1973, the year after I graduated, but reading that paper as a class assignment while helping to jumpstart an office to market the BYU campus for youth conferences, as a part-time job, had made me aware of what marketing meant.

Even as I began my career in earnest helping to create a community marketing organization for Spokane, peer organizations still stuck in the 1890s sales mindset mounted furious opposition to even changing the name of these organizations to add the word visitor after conventions, my first exposure to “big game hunters.”

Though mine had allowed me to escape being trapped, I can easily trace the DNA of the organizations today that remain stuck in the 1890s by tracing those influential in their background.

It is hard to say if I just happened to choose communities eager to avoid that trap or they found me, but I was dogged throughout my career by “big game hunters” in each of the three communities I served, all of whom were eager to pull us back into the past, several coming close to having me fired.

Communities that forgo sense of place and authenticity to “big game hunt” instead for mega-facilities or events that make them the same as other communities and then resort to subsidies to underwrite their appeal appeal, are still practicing sales as it was well more than a hundred years ago.

Marketing a community requires finesse by appealing to visitors who will find a particular place a good fit in return for their time and treasure while pursuing groups and events only when they meet these criteria:

  • Occur during time periods where they won’t distract from homegrown events
  • Won’t displace existing visitors
  • Won’t siphon away underwriting, audience and volunteers from homegrown events
  • Are complimentary with a community’s unique stature

Untethered from marketing, a sales-dominant focus superimposes these criteria with quotas and winning new accounts against a far too narrow metric such as just filling hotel rooms.

Surveys across all kinds of organizations show that only 18% of sales teams are held accountable for minimizing churn and only 30% are accountable for maintaining margins and avoiding discounts and subsidies, the hallmarks of “big game hunters.”

By using myopic metrics, they also fail to be accountable for a return that even replenishes the dollars used as subsidy.  Had they not untethered from marketing they would be seeing returns closer to 6-to-1 in tax revenues to the community overall.

The battle to protect sense of place from the forces of mainstream entertainment and fantasy dates at least to April 7. 1858 when two Democrats (the conservatives of that day) appointed to the Central Park Board tried to pollute, a week after it had been approved, the plan by Fredrick Law Omsted and his partner.

“Big game hunting” by communities hoping to import sense of place rather than foster it indigenously by intensified in the 1940s in the immediate aftermath of WWII.

Most communities in the 1920s and 1930s had broadened to a marketing focus when leisure travel achieved mass appeal but this was coopted when after WWII, developers inured to destruction of historic buildings during that conflict and settling for churn began to gain influence over public expenditures.

Beginning in the mid to late 1940s, many cities stopped viewing facilities such as convention centers, stadiums and performance halls for their inherent potential.

Instead, pushed by “big game hunters,” elected officials began to build them instead, with tax dollars, as a way to shore up private property values, something still very common today.

It should be no surprise that this is also when the owners of sports teams, emerging as a form of mainstream entertainment, began to shop for cities under the spell of “big game hunters.” 

While the owners of the NFL’s Boston Braves may have been the first to do so, changing to Redskins and relocating to Washington D.C. in 1937, they were quickly followed after WWII by the Buffalo Bisons of the NBA, moving first to Moline as the Blackhawks then in 1951 to Saint Louis as the Hawks, then to Atlanta in 1968 for a new arena.

In Major League Baseball, it began in 1953 when the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee before relocating again in 1966 to Atlanta, lured by a community built on “big game hunting.”

When in 1955 the owner of the Dodgers moved to LA, persuading the owner of the cross-town Giants to move to San Francisco, he was lured by LA’s “big game hunters.”

Both marketing and the element of sales have continued to evolve but many community marketing organizations, even if they wanted to move away from sales as it was practiced more than a hundred years ago are trapped by the undue influence of “big game hunters” in their communities.

Those that long ago shifted are never entirely safe when local officials fall under the spell of “big game hunters” who see marketing as a threat to their main stream fixations and relentlessly push behind the scenes to gain control of the community marketing organizations in their communities.

Communities that value the higher performance gained by fostering and preserving the things that make them distinct vs. “big game hunting” must not only make sure their community marketing organization isn’t trapped in the past but relentlessly protect local officials from undue influence by “big game hunters.”

All of this is not to suggest that sales isn’t an important element of marketing for community marketing organizations.  Those that have made the shift as revealed in this study illustrate the difference between high performing sales teams and others, in part, because they practice a much higher level of accountability.

These high performers are also much more focused on the quality of sales, such as avoiding discounts and especially subsidies.

“Big game hunters” hate these constraints, preferring myopic metrics rather than information driven decision-making and the “who’s asking” approach to decision-making.

Some communities still have a choice about whether to cave in to these powerful interests or instead foster an indigenous sense of place ecosystem protected by a community marketing organization with that as its focus.

For far too many, it no longer matters what century their community marketing is in.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Prosperity Linked to Proximity to Protected Lands

News headlines about my native Intermountain West always seem limited to a few angry white extremists with guns or elected officials pandering to campaign contributors eager to exploit its natural resources.

Rarely, by the time news gets back to Durham, North Carolina where I live, does it provide more nuanced coverage of this complicated region including news of studies that run counter to those narratives.

Studies I’ve been reading, including one that analyzes the 284 non-metro counties in the west as a whole where there are substantial amounts of protected federal lands, are fascinating.

One study zeroed in on those with lands protected for conservation and analyzes non-metro, county-level economic performance in these places from the present to, in some cases, back as far as the 1970s.  Others analyze the performance of a all 413 counties in the 11 contiguous western states.

The current wave of anti-regulation rhetoric dates not to the 1960s regulations to protect water, air and the food supply or when the EPA was created as many assume or the anti-government rhetoric used by the Reagan administration but not shared by the American public in the 1980s.

The anti-regulation chant of today has its roots in 1947, when partisan post-WWII Republicans resumed the drumbeat of how regulations are a burden regulations are on business, while dismissing that without them an even greater burden is shouldered by individual Americans.

I was born and spent my early years during this period in a million acre- Idaho county wedged into that nook between Montana and Wyoming.  Only 31% of the land area was in private hands such as our ancestral ranch just west of the Henry’s Fork.

More than 58% of Fremont County is under federal protection on behalf of all Americans including a portion of Yellowstone National Park and the Targhee National Forest.

To put this in perspective, the amount of federal lands in my native Fremont County, Idaho is 3.6 times the land area of Durham County, North Carolina where I live but with only 3% of the population.

Only 67,642 acres of the more than of Fremont County is protected for conservation purposes and relevant to the study of all 284 non-metro counties in the west with such lands.

The studies were done by the independent, non-profit, non-partisan Headwaters Economics based in Bozeman, Montana, up and over the Continental Divide and 150 miles north of our ranch where my parents eloped as my dad headed off to WWII.

The study was conducted to determine if these projected lands were associated with decreased or increased economic performance.  The numbers show that performance is higher for every 10,000 acres of protected federal land a county has.

It turns out that the economic performance in non-metro western counties with protected federal lands is as much as 345% on average compared in some areas compared to 83% for non-metro lands in the west with no protected federal land.

Between my junior and senior years of high school, I read A Wilderness Bill of Rights by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who grew up along the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State.

Appointed when he was just 40 years of age, his time on the highest court spanned from when my dad was in high school until my law school days.

His words transformed my spiritual and restorative feelings about nature into an entitlement for all Americans, as important as freedoms of speech and religion.

It had a profound impact.

Five years after Douglas retired from the high court, as President Ronald Reagan was elected, the news media, made the mistaken assumption that his popularity meant that his anti-government rhetoric must be widely shared, amplifying partisan news releases.

But both the news media and publicists were mistaken.  Polls following the election showed that only 21% of Americans shared that notion, about the same percentage as in 1976, possibly contributing to approval ratings for Reagan that several years later dipped into the 30% range.

It is the same today.  Americans don’t share anti-regulation rhetoric when the consequences become clear even though the term regulation has been sequestered and demonized my entire lifetime .

Campaign strategists then and now were brilliant, seeking not to sway public opinion but to make certain words radioactive such as environmentalist, federal government and taxes, creating a political correctness that distorted the self-perception of Americans.

It still gridlocks us today.

I much prefer to look at analysis of the actual numbers, not because they will change anyone’s mind but because they provide relief.

Oh, and by the way, studies show that non-rural counties in the west that are exploited for natural resources, actually in the long term suffer economically.

Just sayin’.  Too bad facts don’t have lobbyists.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Looking Past Present Hyperbole to Entrepreneurial Roots

Durham, NC “stayers” have always known better but “boomers” who bought into Raleigh, NC’s narratives over the years stand out because they believe Durham wasn’t “cool” to young people until recent developments made it “cool.”

By young people they typically mean those ages 18-39.  Those under the spell of this narrative can be identified because they demean Durham as it was 10 or more years ago.

The same people stand out because they also mischaracterize entrepreneurs and start-ups as being driven by people in this age group.

It turns out that by 1980, Wake County, where Raleigh is dominant, had only a half of a percent more of its population in the age group 18-34 than Durham County where the City of Durham is even more dominant.

By 1990, both experienced a slight decline proportionally.  But during the 1990s when that taunting was taking place, it turns our Durham surpassed Wake/Raleigh in appeal to this age group.

By 2000, well before downtown Durham became “cool,” Durham had already surged ahead by 3 percentage points, a gap it widened to 5 between 2009 and 2013.

In fact for more than twenty years, Durham has had a greater proportion of this age group in its population than any other urban area and the state as a whole.

Durham also excels in the percentage of this population with a Bachelor’s Degree or higher, greatly exceeding Wake/Raleigh over more than three decades.  Durham is now double the proportion statewide in this category.

But Durham’s entrepreneurial nature dates to before settlement and has never been reliant on this age group alone.  In fact, studies in other urban areas such as Silicon Valley and New York City have found that founders of start-ups average 31 years of age with the median age today about age 38.

A third were 40 or older and about a quarter were in their later 30s.

What should be of interest to state officials who have been critical of colleges for the majors their students choose is that 64% of the tech founders in New York City did not major in engineering, mathematics, electrical engineering, computer science or other STEM categories.

In fact, more studied history, philosophy, marketing, business and political science.

A relatively new book I’ve been reading entitled, The Vanishing Neighborhood: The Transformation of American Community, by Marc Dunkelman, a researcher at Brown, is commended for many reasons.

One, is that it provides insight into why and how communities such as Durham have sustained entrepreneurialism in its DNA for nearly 200 years and why other communities, however bad they seek it including those nearby have remained “stovepiped.”

It also gives insight into why the way Durham is going about revitalization of its downtown may be too one dimensional, putting at risk rather than enhancing the community’s sixteen decade old tradition.

Dunkelman cites evidence that “economic dynamism, in essence, emerges less in the cliques…than in the longer list of contacts we each maintain in our virtual rolodexes.”

This goes back to a study in 1973, less than a year after I graduated from college, by Dr. Mark Granovetter, that found that when it comes “to the spread of innovative concepts, the connections we maintain with our closest contacts are not nearly as important as the breadth of our extended networks.

There is an editorial from the Raleigh newspaper in the decades after the Civil War that ridiculed Durham by opining,  “Have you seen what they are doing in Durham? Whites and Negroes are working side by side on the same street, like a wild west town.”

But according to studies, it was this characteristic that had long before and after the editorial has fueled Durham’s entrepreneurial character, an incarnation of which is heralded today as though it is something novel.

Washington Duke, Julian Carr and James Buchanan Duke were early entrepreneurs in Durham but hardly the first.  Yet, what fueled entrepreneurialism here, I can see from the studies reviewed in Dunkelman’s book, including Granovetter’s seminal work, was not the connections among friends and family or cliques among Durham’s elite.

An example that scholars have studied, is that different than other southern cities at the time, blacks and whites in Durham enjoyed extended friendships and relationships and invested in one another’s ideas and startups.

Researchers at the Neighborhood Policy Institute were analyzing and writing about entrepreneurial enclaves such as Durham a quarter of a century ago when I first arrived here.

John Merrick, one of the founders of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, an anchor on “Black Wall Street” here in the late 1800s, was a barber for Washington Duke and Julian Carr who invested in his idea.

In this newest reincarnation, many here rightfully worry that downtown Durham, by becoming a little too cute and more of a creative class resort is purging this socio-economic diversity so critical to Durham’s entrepreneurial DNA.

It is in grave danger of losing the “side by side” heritage that has repeatedly propelled its entrepreneurial bones.

Research in The Vanishing Neighborhood would strongly suggest that fostering entrepreneurs in Durham's future will take a lot more than hubs that let startups and researchers rub shoulders.

There is incredible value from respecting, mining and learning from our community’s past.  Durham “stayers” know this and it is why for decades now, while repeatedly leapfrogged by officials and developers, they have ranked a local history museum as the top cultural priority.

Just as important to Durham’s entrepreneurial future is repopulating it with the black, Hispanic and Asian businesses that give Durham as a whole its character, as well as people from a wide socio-economic range.

It is important to remember that not only has Durham been a magnet for residents age 18 to 34 including a much higher percentage with college degrees, but it also has a higher percentage who live in poverty.