Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Second Choice – Still Sense of Place

Growing up, my ambitions were tied to sense of place, first as a cowboy on our ancestral ranch in the Yellowstone nook of Idaho, then in grade school as either a uniformed Forest Ranger or a Fish and Wildlife Officer.

Both were easy to spot in Ashton, the small, nearby town where I started school and provided an inspiration to attend college (as though my parents ever gave me a choice (smile.)

I have always loved wildlife, so running up Ashton-Flag Ranch Road and veering off into the remote Idaho corner of Yellowstone Park was always a spectacular option.

In the early 1900s, my paternal grandfather, Mel Bowman, then 22 years old, helped pioneer the 40-mile route that slices between Yellowstone and the north end of the Tetons.

During the dead of winter between 1910 and 1911, while my grandparent’s ranch lay buried in snow drifts, my grandfather and his brother ran wagon loads of cement along the dirt and gravel road using teams of four draught horses each.

Each trip took four days over and two days back in below freezing weather.  In return they received $80 each not including provisions, horse feed or overnight stays in tepees along the way.

The objective was construction of a concrete dam in order to raise Jackson Lake by thirty feet for the purposes of supplying irrigation water, and eventually along with six other dams along both sides of the Tetons, a source of hydroelectric power.

A view down the Tetons from a ridgeline at the beginning of the road is one of my favorite views of the 40-mile Teton Range.  But this was only one option for viewing wildlife during my early years.

Two other favorite trips including going a mile or two across the Henry’s Fork to the hatchery to see native Cutthroat trout fingerlings and riding horseback into the Sand Creek Elk Refuge that ran down the west side of the ranch including Moose in the wetlands down near Chester.

Less than fifty miles due west of the ranch, the 10,000-acre historic Camas National Wildlife Refuge (shown in this image) is one of nearly 600 nationwide.

Filled each spring and fall with tens of thousands of migratory waterfowl including Trumpeter Swans, the Camas NWR is now at risk.

Center-pivot irrigation technology (the circular farm land you see from an airplane) not only pushed farming out that way in the 1960s and 1970s but it soon began to deplete ground water that kept the refuge’s wetlands wet.

So ironically, the refuge has had to also pump water from the aquifer in order to sustain places for the big birds to stop for rest flying south and returning north.

Probably gone are the days when we could see more than 50,000 ducks and geese in flight all at the same time.  Now the Refuge must be selective about what habitat it can keep viable.

Thinking I might want to be a lawyer, I didn’t turn back to my love of sense of place until part way through law school in Spokane, Washington.

In the 1970s, when I was helping to start the community-destination marketing organization there, we included the huge Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge which was 25 miles southwest in our inventory of nearby things to see and do.

Spectacular flights of huge Trumpeter Swans is what I remember there.  The largest of North American native waterfowl, Trumpeters (for the sound they make) stand about four feet tall but stretched out in flight they measure 6 feet from bill to feet and another 6 to 8 feet in wingspan.

They had become almost extinct before I turned six years old in the 1950s.

When I was recruited to Anchorage to complete another start up, I lived on a steep bluff along the southern edge of the city between Kincaid Park and Discovery Bay overlooking Turnagain Arm, with a spectacular view down Cook Inlet.

The glass wall and front door of my ground floor condo was less than a dozen steps from the bluff’s mid-point along the 33,000-acre Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge that runs along the south side of the municipality from the airport to Potter Marsh, a wildlife area created in 1917 when construction of the Alaska Railroad isolated a wetland.

Our organization lobbied successfully for the bird refuge at Potter Marsh to be interpreted for visitors along a 1,500 foot boardwalk, now one of Alaska’s most popular wildlife viewing areas.

Potter Marsh isn’t just for the birds, including an occasional Trumpeter.  When I lived there in the 1980s, more than 1,100 Moose in Anchorage used the mountain to sea greenways as their highways.

In the spring, the Marsh is where they calved just a few miles from where I lived and worked.

Just around a corner, while still in the municipality of Anchorage you can see Dall sheep (which look similar to mountain goats) climbing a rocky slope just above the roadway, and a bit further, a lookout to see Beluga whales.

There are ten wildlife refuges in North Carolina including Roanoke River which was created the year I moved here, but most are a good ride east from Durham where I finished my career after building yet another community start up with natural place based assets included.

A friend and I may visit one refuge in particular the next time we take the Harley Crossbones to visit friends in Charlotte.  As we cut down across the “heart” of North Carolina and under Uwharrie National Forest this time, the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge is on our way just outside Wadesboro.

We forget how much tourism overall relies on infrastructure, including green infrastructure such as the National Wildlife Refuges.  They weren’t created for the sake of tourism, but like much of the nation’s green infrastructure, that is a huge economic byproduct.

Even in cities, natural assets are among the most productive of place-based assets essential to both quality of life and quality of place.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Value of Coming In Third

I didn’t remember that my adopted home of Durham, North Carolina is only one of 150 communities it serves, when SONOCO awarded it a Bronze-tier Sustainability Star Award this month.

Durham is no stranger to accolades, especially in the sheer breadth of areas recognized, but in my former career as a community marketer, I would usually breeze past one like this to immediately dig down into the rating scheme and how the community could improve.

Beyond validation, accolades serve as a vanity metric for some but the true value of any ranking, if scientifically done, is as an extremely useful diagnostic to shed light on areas for improvement.

More later in this blog on why accolades are a double-edged sword when it comes to community marketing.

In this case though, it was apparent that Durham was one of the few—if not the only—community awarded at any of the three tiers and that in addition, Energy Digital has named Durham a “Top 10 Recycling Community in the US.”

Durham was the only city in the Southeast to make the list, falling right after Madison, Wisconsin, which hopefully it will soon emulate at recycling plastic film such as shopping bags.

Making its appearance in the top ten even more remarkable, North Carolina as a whole ranks 41st at recycling.

Durham recycles 1,000 tons of material a month (2 million lbs. – 8 lbs. per capita) so it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking this must be the norm everywhere until you read about some other pretty cool cities that really struggle with recycling.

It is also important for Durham to remember that SONOCO Recycling alone now collects 292,000 tons of material a month or 3.5 million tons a year.  If they aren’t already doing so, SONOCO could help us establish a per capita benchmark for which to strive.

Beyond their diagnostic value, community accolades are a signal of quality.  But care must be taken when using them to leverage awareness through community marketing for visitors including the more than 8-in-10 who secretly shop a community as a visitor first.

The accolades provide reasons to believe in Durham’s deep-rooted values and personality traits but a study published last year shows The Paradox of Publicity.

Community marketing is about helping people make decisions that are best for them, and Durham is not for everyone, no community is, but especially one such as this with a strong sense of place and identity.

The study shows there may be more enduring value in not being first in a ranking or accolade, which according to the researchers, if not used carefully, can lead to adoption by audiences who would not have been attracted otherwise.

This can lead to a backlash and disgruntled individuals.  This is why community marketing arms must do their best to provide a full range of content that will help potential visitors, newcomers and relocating executives find the right fit, even if it isn’t your community.

In other words, don’t be quick to discount missing out on first place.

An example is another recent ranking of metro areas by a series of indices that rate sprawl.  When I first looked at the work of researchers at the University of Utah, I questioned if they had been careful to look at variables such as whether the region is polycentric.

Fortunately, they also provided the measure by county, which in a polycentric area, more accurately reflects how people live and perceive where they live.

At this level, the indices reflected accurately what I know to be the differences between Durham and other counties in North Carolina (pages 33-34.)

Sometimes, using rankings or accolades requires digging more deeply into the metrics before publicizing them as a means to help prospective residents, as well as officials, make decisions.

I was shocked recently to hear two people, one in my former profession, question the value of undergoing an in-depth organizational diagnostic for accreditation or reaccreditation.

Communities have very different personalities unless they have surrendered theirs to emulate others.

But I can’t imagine a community that would tolerate having representatives that aren’t accredited or eager to seek any diagnostic that would ensure they are proficient.

Don’t give me the bunk that you are too busy, or in my mind, you better be busy looking for a new line of work.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Looking Disaster In The Face

You can call me a Tar Heel now except for when it comes to basketball (I’m a Duke fan.)  Three thousand miles away, I also have ties to the area around Oso, downstream from the location of the tragic mudslide on March 22nd where recovery efforts continue.

I have several connections.  My great-aunt and her family had a dairy farm a few miles west and one of my sisters and brothers-in-law live about 40 miles south in that county in a town called Mill Creek.

After living in Durham for the past twenty-five years, I’m earning my stripes as an adopted Tar Heel, a pejorative nickname historically given to North Carolinians but now proudly embraced.

In the area of the Pacific Northwest mudslide, anyone from the southern Appalachian Mountains refers to themselves as Tar Heels even if they are from Kentucky, West Virginia or Tennessee.

But those around Darrington and Oso really did migrate there from North Carolina, dating back to the late 1930s and early 1940s, moonshine and all.

Most came from around Sylva, NC, located along a range of mountains in the Blue Ridge Province of the Southern Appalachians.  They were loggers who worked for companies that during the 1800s had clear cut much of the Blue Ridge without any provisions for sustainability.

They greatly objected first to the creation of the Nantahala National Forest in 1920 and again when philanthropists and residents of both North Carolina and Tennessee pushed for creation of the Great Smoky National Park dedicated in 1940.

Many may have been evicted, but all mourned a lost livelihood and of course blamed government rather than unsustainable logging practices.

They picked up and relocated to the remote area of the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest, a far corner of the United States where logging companies were again clear cutting huge swaths of old growth forests along the Puget Sound.

In fact, many of the first volunteers who began digging for survivors after the mudslide were loggers.

Before the recent mudslide the area was best known for a bluegrass music festival, but back when I was recruited to Durham, it was even better known as the epicenter for a bitter controversy surrounding preservation of the endangered Northern Spotted Owl.

It was one of those topics my Dad and I agreed to skirt whenever I visited him in his home in Kirkland, Washington, which overlooked Lake Washington, another ten miles south of the mudslide from my sister’s home.

This species of owl was being pushed to the brink of extinction by loss of old growth habitat so an agreement was brokered by President Clinton to set aside 7 million acres in strands from the Canadian border south.

But the owls had been permanently embedded as a scapegoat even though systemic issues within the logging industry had set in motion dramatic job losses 40 years earlier.

The bumper-sticker slogan, “owls vs.jobs,” is ready made for partisan politics.  More tragic than the owls or jobs though is that the mudslide was caused by clear cutting.  Tree roots enable the soils of that area to hold or absorb the significant rainfall in that region.

Much of it they transport back into the atmosphere.  Clear cutting occurred just above the mudslide area about ten years ago.  The mudslide was not “an act of God.”

In a New York Times op-ed, Timothy Egan, a pulitzer-prize winning reporter and author of several books involving humans and natural disasters, reminds us that a few years ago a federal survey documented that over a thirty-year period, 50% of the Deer Creek watershed above Oso had been logged.

Run off from this particular clear cut area can be traced down to the 600’ ridge that became supersaturated and having melted gave way that Saturday to a 60 mph wall of mud and debris that buried the homes for a mile or more below.

It isn’t clear why in this day and age selective cutting wasn’t used or why replanting didn’t occur immediately or why it appears to have exceeded legal limits.  These days everyone should know better, and no one knows better than loggers.

It will be interesting if, like the “coal ash” spills in North Carolina recently, there is a lot of finger pointing or as is likely here, a finding of corruption between special interests and regulators.

One thing is for sure, there will be a lot of finger pointing before the ultimate cause is found and safeguards put in place.

My bet is that the underlying cause will not be too little or too much regulation but special interest politics, a form of legal corruption, that undermines enforcement.

As Egan opines, “It is human nature, if not the American way, to look potential disaster in the face and prefer to see a bright and shining lie.”

Friday, April 11, 2014

Nervous Systems I Recognize

In large part, my passion for digging back into family history is to learn more about the origin of nervous systems and core values I recognize in my parents and their parents and now in my descendants.

This passion in retirement isn’t much different than a core aspect of my now concluded career of distilling the personality of communities as a means to leverage visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

Isolating the distinctive core values of any community requires digging much further down than just the first commercial development, back to the near temporal emergence of a community’s distinctive nervous system.

Similarly, newly minted college graduates next month are well advised by Lara Galinsky, the author of Work on Purpose, in a recent post on Harvard Business Review.

She notes that personal stories during job interviews should begin much earlier than just your first job, back to the influences that make a person who they are.

Two of my great-great grandfathers were born a few years and a few miles apart near the terminus of the 400+ mile Delaware River Valley, (depicted below in an oil painting by a contemporary, George Inness.)  They each descended from four to five generations who had settled there near the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Both descended from separatists seeking freedom of religion, one from a mix of Welsh, Irish and English Quakers, the other from Swiss and German roots including Amish and other pietists.  They were born and raised in an atmosphere of ethnic pluralism.

Both converted as Mormons, a newly-founded restorationist Christian religion.  Both migrated to the western slopes of the Rockies long before the Civil War.

Both founded settlements, one along the northern Rockies from near what became the Idaho border and the other along the central and southern Rockies clear to Arizona and across the Great Basin in the eastern shadows of the Sierra Nevadas.

One possibly crossed paths with the author who became known as Mark Twain, who briefly partnered near there in a mining venture at the same time as another of my maternal great-great grandfathers, Thomas Messersmith, a boyhood friend from Missouri.

Both of my Delaware Valley ancestors were asked to practice plural marriage.

Both were entrepreneurs.  Both ran cattle and sheep. I descend from the second wife of one and the first wife of the other, who didn’t go along with the idea and lived apart.

These great-great grandfathers also died a few years apart at the close of their century, half a century before two of their great-grandchildren, my parents, would meet and fall in love during WWII.

Hyrum Webster Bowman was notoriously vague about his origins, giving his birthplace at various times as New Jersey, Delaware or Pennsylvania, but the culture of people living near the Delaware River often identified more with the valley than various provinces, colonies and states.

When he established Pennsylvania by land grant, William Penn also leased counties in Delaware and in the province known as West Jersey stretching across the Delaware River along what now forms the border between the two states.

A friend and I drove much of the length of the river valley a couple of years ago, picking it up where it flows from the Catskills at the eastern border between New York and Pennsylvania.

We drove down through the Delaware Gap, where the river has sliced through a steep ridge in the Appalachian Mountains near where the borders of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey meet.

From there we dropped down through the incredible, 71,000-acre national recreation area of that name that stretches about 35 miles  along both sides of the east-west border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Near Valley Forge, where a great-great-great grandfather from North Carolina served in the Revolutionary War, we left the river to skirt Philadelphia through the Amish countryside and then down to Wilmington, Delaware where we continued until veering away after New Castle where the river becomes a bay.

My great-great grandfather Bowman was born in New Castle, Delaware, his mother’s birthplace, but his parents lived up river in Pennsylvania.  He may have spent formative years indentured across the river in New Jersey, thus his ambiguity.

Charles Alfred Harper, the Quaker descendant, was a college-educated carriage maker.  Not only did the Society of Friends keep meticulous records but my great-great grandfather left several journals, personal letters, as well as documents such as passport applications and published news interviews.

I probably know more about him than any other ancestor who had passed before my time.

He stood at 5’8,” which would be the average for 100 years.  He described himself by his 30s as a little bald with dark hair, dark grey eyes, a “Roman” nose, full mouth, ruddy complexion and an oval face.

He had a beard but no mustache, and his favorite dance was the Virginia Reel (orthodox Quakers permitted dancing.)  His favorite song was “Paddy’s Leather Breeches,” an Irish jig also played here on bagpipes and in an updated version here as Celtic metal rock.

His departure from his Quaker roots began when he married his first wife, who though also descended from Quaker royalty, was apparently no longer active.

Quakers had an elaborate process with up to 17 steps required to be married, the most important of which was parental consent.

So the young couple had apparently eloped.  My great-great grandfather earned reinstatement, but this was a turbulent time for Quakers.

Overall, the faith was undergoing its second schism in a decade as many others were during the Second Great Awakening.  Quakers divided into liberal and evangelical wings, although the Harpers were most likely moderates, known as conservatives.

It was the cacophony of the Second Great Awakening that led Joseph Smith to the peacefulness of a grove of trees in the Finger Lakes region of New York and a vision that led to formation of the Church of Christ, a name for the Mormon Church that morphed several times.

He gave several lectures to Quakers, including my great-great grandfather Harper in the West Nantmeal Seminary, a meeting house was erected by Edward Hunter, a wealthy Chester County Quaker, on the condition that all faiths be heard there.  By that time, Smith had settled on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints as the name of his new church.

But as it has today, the nickname Mormon had already began to stick.  My great-great grandfather, as did Edward Hunter, were converted to Mormons in what became known as Mormon Hollow.  Visions would not seem unusual to them because they were common among Quakers.

Quakers tended to see the Society of Friends as much family as their own kin so when the two elopers converted to Mormons it appears they were disowned, but not at first.

Before the final trek over the Rockies, my great-great grandfather made the 1,400 mile, 13-day trip back from where Mormons had settled along a bend in the Mississippi River to visit his mother.

The trip involved traveling by steamship down the Mississippi, then by packet boat up the Ohio River where at Beaver, Pennsylvania he caught a wagon ride to Pittsburg, then took a series of cross-state canals to Harrisburg and finally a horse-drawn train down to Upper Providence.

The return trip west took a day longer.

There is no record, but it may have been the last time he and his mother communicated.  I can sense his pain in a letter my great-grandfather wrote in 1848 to his brother-in-law William Wollerton, the year after his vanguard wagon train dropped down into Salt Lake.

Having completed the 2,200 mile round trip to collect his family in Winter Quarters, Nebraska, my great-great grandfather had taken time to send the beautifully handwritten, single space, two-sided, legal page missive to fill Wollerton in on news about his sister and nieces and the harrowing trip west.

He ends by revealing his pain about not hearing from his family:

“It is more than a year since I have received any communication from my folks although I have written repeatedly by requesting an answer.

If you should gain any information of them I shall feel thankful if you will take the trouble to forward the same to me for I don’t think I will write again till they take the troubler to answer some of my many letters.

Seven years later, my great-grandfather stepped off the ship Chimborazo in Philadelphia where several hundred Mormons he was escorting from England boarded rail cars for Pittsburgh, then the steamboat Equinox via the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri rivers to catch a wagon train he would lead west from Atchison, Kansas.

There is no reason to believe he was able to connect with his parents or with Wollerton again who was on his way to becoming an associate judge and then president for many years of the First National Bank of West Chester.

Preceding my great-great grandfather by two weeks on a sister ship full of immigrants he was escorting from England was my soon to be great-great grandmother Harriet Taylor who arrived a week earlier on the ship Juventa.

Their only child become one of my maternal great-grandmothers.

I look more like Hyrum Webster Bowman and carry his name.

But the lesson taken from my great-great grandfather Harper is the importance of leaving behind not just photos, mementos and documents but also clues to our nervous system such as those expressive of grit and determination, joy and sorrow.

Parts we may recognize.

Note:  I borrowed the phrase "a nervous system I recognize” from remarks by NBC New Digital correspondent Tony Dokoupil made on Fresh Air.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

No Time for Lag at the Speed of Culture

There are two things that few, if any, business schools teach college students about advertising in courses on marketing.  One is that it has a down side, what I call whenever I guest lecture, a “turnoff ratio.”

Roadside billboards are the obvious example of this with an 8-to-1 turnoff ratio which grows to 9-to-1 if passerbys spot nearby trees have been cut. Surprisingly, surveys show that ads running during the Super Bowl have a 5-to-1 turn off ratio.

Turnoff ratio is easy to compute from public opinion surveys when you dig down through the obfuscation the advertising industrial complex creates by slicing turnoff results into very thin slices.

The other thing that is sometimes ignored, although more and more business schools are teaching, is that traditional advertising is dead, if not on life support, partly due to negligible return on investment, partly due to massive over exposure and partly because, well, it is just so slow.

In a chapter he penned for the intriguing new book entitled, The Disruption Revolution, Terry Young notes that change is so rapid now, it requires that marketers move at the “speed of culture.”

He divides culture into fast and slow culture, one “bursting in the here- and-now” and the other, those trends that are expected to have impact in 36-48 months.  Marketing must be “fast, lean, and about making decisions in real time.”

Young compares marketing today as more like a CNN newsroom.  He confirms what the community marketing agency in Durham, North Carolina anticipated in 1997.  While still a start up, it formed the Durham New Service (DNS.)

The move was an extension of the organization’s pioneering success years earlier with what we now call content marketing, before most other community marketing organizations had even established marketing divisions.

Five years later, ad veteran Al Reis and his daughter Laura penned The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR, the tipping point of which researchers have now pegged as 1984. But now even PR has been supplanted by marketing as publishing.

Young’s background in everything from start ups to McKinsey & Company to volunteering in Kazakhstan in support of micro credit initiatives to founding trend-spotter “sparks & honey” give him a unique perspective on marketing at the “speed of culture.”

Marketing today, according to Young, requires the urgency and pace of a CNN newsroom.  In fact, marketing is now a form of publishing, something Durham’s marketing organization anticipated five years ago when it gave its Durham News Service its own real time dashboard.

Initiatives such as that rely on whether marketers can learn to have zero tolerance for lag time.  Lag time—even more than disruption—has spelled the doom of traditional advertising.  For those unwilling to shift gears, it will do the same for PR as well.

Lag time is the marker that signals the obsolescence of so many marketers today, including a great many institutions that teach marketing.  Even gleaning marketing intelligence is moving closer to real time.

But marketing, like a newsroom, also relies on the ability to be accurate, authentic and able to create value, context and depth in real time.  Especially for anyone in community destination marketing, it is becoming more intense and demanding than ever, which is why so many have fallen into irrelevance.

Those who can keep pace are already recognizing a wave of change that Young believes is transforming PR as we know it.  Just as successful marketing is now publishing, media companies, including the newspaper in Durham, have begun to evolve a model that in part will amplify that content.

Marketing now is about creating relevant, genuine and valuable content in real time.  There is little or no room anymore for those stuck in first or second gear or those so attention deficit that they fail to fully leverage content.

Some marketing organizations such as Durham’s have what it takes going forward in their DNA, and still, they will only be as effective as the people they hire who must continue to be relentless about continuous and never-ending change and improvement.

Key today is a team intolerant of lag time.  As author and disruption analyst Brian Solis wrote a few months ago, marketers today are “at the forefront of a new era and marketing communications and its future is in your hands.”

The future of marketing has little to do with marketing.”