Tuesday, September 30, 2008


On occasion I get asked how I found my career, specifically, how I found something in which I could work my entire life so far. The truth is, I backed into it.

As an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University, I got a part-time job inventorying the physical plant or all of the buildings on campus. I hated it for reasons I don’t recall.

Lesson learned: It taught me the importance of conducting an inventory and I’ve incorporated that basic step throughout my career in destination or community marketing. It also taught me how an engineer’s mind works.

I don’t remember how but in a few weeks, I landed in the Office of Tours and Conferences. In those days, the two summer school sessions weren’t enough to keep people employed in departments responsible for “housing” and “foodservice” so our office promoted and facilitated scores of week-long “youth” conferences. Big perk – supervising the President’s box at football games.

Lessons learned: Event coordination and facilitation, business travel, inter-agency politics, branding and development of marketing tools and my first real life experiences at management.

When I graduated, I made my way to law school but I was married and had a baby daughter so I needed a full time job so I could go to school at night. I landed in a chamber of commerce department that had been dormant for years and unbeknownst to me at the time had its own board of directors. As I came on board during its resurrection, it was separating to become an independent organization as all but 3% of DMO’s are today.

Lessons learned: Community marketing, my first big missteps in management, rough house and very personal politics…and that unless I could be on the Supreme Court, I didn’t much like the study or practice of law and personally, the personal loss inherent in some career decisions.

Big lesson: That this work, community marketing, is important, exciting, challenging and that I was good at it.

So when I say I need to detox before I decide what to do next, I mean two things. One, obviously after nearly 40 years, destination marketing is a passion and somewhat addictive and I need to clear my head and two, I might just back into what I do in the next phase of my life.

Monday, September 29, 2008


With half of all adults having worked in restaurants during their lives and 1 in 3 having their first job in one, you would think we’d have a better sense of the of the following projections in the 2008 Restaurant Industry Forecast:
  • Culinary arts are already a key part of why Durham is distinct.

  • Restaurant jobs are growing at three times overall the rate of all jobs nationwide.

  • Restaurants will add 2 million new jobs by 2018.

  • Demand for chefs and head cooks will increase by 16% over 10 years.

  • Restaurants account for 1 in 5 jobs added to the economy annual.

  • Foodservice managers will increase 11% in the next 10 years.
So it is great that a portion of the proposed prepared food tax on the referendum will go to hospitality workforce training if it passes in November. Things like the award winning Durham Careers In Hospitality program in Durham Public Schools and NCCU’s newly accredited Hospitality Degree Program are already up and prepared to expand. Restaurants will need to be competitive for labor because the labor pool coming of age will shrink by 7%.

Friday, September 26, 2008


I love this site and the Southwest Airlines philosophy about no hidden fees. Now if they could do one with Leonard Cohen’s version of Hallelujah:-)

I’m not in their shoes to judge but I fear airlines have forgotten what led to the demise of the railroads. It wasn’t just that freeways became commonplace. It was because they forgot they were in the “experience” business, not just the “transportation” business.

Southwest gets it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Religions often claim to be the one true church or faith. Any one of them might be right for all I know but they can’t all be right and the notion is genius. It has the effect of locking people into an “all or nothing” perspective.

Reminds me of what my Dad would often say if I disagreed with him politically… “why don’t you move to Russia then” or “you just as well jump off a bridge.”

While I have a deep personal faith, for 30 years now, I haven’t overtly practiced formal or structured religion like the one in which I was raised. But deep down, major parts of that belief system is still a part of me.

I was also Republican when I grew up because my Mother and Father were…until I learned that in my past there had been Republicans who leaned toward FDR and Democrats who admired Dwight D. Eisenhower (not only as President but a great Grandfather figure growing up) and that I could pick and choose parts of both or be an Independent.

Political action committees, political parties, nationalism, regionalism, “being true to your school“, etc. can also have the effect of being the “one true church.” Meaning, they seem like tribal affiliations that help a lot of people make quick, all or nothing decisions…like straight ticket voting.

Very efficient when you think about it. But they seem to breed ideologues, who put being consistent above thinking.

And that’s where it breaks down for me…when people start to think “all or nothing.” Either you buy into every precept of the group or you don’t and then you’re unfaithful. So that if one precept is challenged, it has the effect of challenging an entire belief system.

This leads people or forces them to choose between a right to hunt or banning assault weapons or handguns in certain jurisdictions where they are a big problem and hunting isn’t the issue at all.

It forces people to choose between right to life and quality of life. Or to believe a 1 cent tax on prepared meals is regressive so if you are for it, you must not care about social and economic justice.

These belief systems worry me when they become controlling…when you’re either on my team or you’re not…when they chill debate and critical thinking vs. serve as a context to ask questions.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


DCVB doesn’t have an annual meeting per se. Instead, we produce the Durham Annual Tribute Luncheon.

The next one, April 29th, will be unique because it will be held on the stage of the new Durham Performing Arts Center. Each year the ATL honors individuals or groups that significantly contribute to shaping Durham’s unique brand and sense of place.

Durham is a caring community and one aspect of the brand has been shaped by innovative groups or organizations that have used earned income to forward social purposes. They are non-profits often categorized as social enterprise or social capitalists. The honorees on April 29, listed below, are emblematic of many others and have earned national reputations both for social enterprise and for Durham:

Eno River Association
Self Help
Latino Community Credit Union
Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership
SFJ Ventures

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Watching the ceremonies and game commentary surrounding the last game in Yankee Stadium revealed just how important sense of place is.

Personally, I felt a twinge of loss and melancholy. Yankee Stadium and the Yankees represented a serious connection between my Father and me. Through all that made us different as I grew up, we could always talk about the Yankees and the “House that Ruth Built.”

Until yesterday I didn’t realize Yankee Stadium was built the year after my Father was born (he passed away in 2001, just a few weeks after 9/11.) It felt like a part of him died all over again.

I’m sure the replica across the street in the Bronx will be a sight to see. And it will earn its owners more millions from fancy skyboxes, etc.

But to the majority of fans, current and former players and managers and sports broadcasters, it will never replace what will disappear when the real Yankee Stadium is torn down girder by girder.

Not everything old is valuable. But unfortunately the profit motive rarely makes a distinction until it is too late or unless significant historic tax credits can be leveraged.

Monday, September 22, 2008


I stopped by the Waffle House down near Fayetteville Road and NC 54 on Sunday. I was in that area on an errand. I sat at the counter.

It is a joy to watch a team committed to customer service. Every person working that morning shift was energized, welcoming, engaging and spirited.

They were talking politely to one another as they called orders. Pouring coffee for people who were waiting for a table, joking and laughing and enjoying their work without skipping a beat. Everyone there at one time or another made eye contact and without being intrusive, radiated a joy for people and their work.

Food was good too. You can build big buildings, grand plazas and cathedrals but in the end impressions created by bricks and mortar don’t last. Genuine customer service does.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


A friend interrupted me recently to say that “her daughter works in New York and Durham has such a horrible image, she may never move back here to live.”

Anecdotal horror stories like that drive a person like me nuts, especially when they don’t understand why that is a horrible way to inform marketing strategies. It led us years ago to ask, exactly how many associates have a negative image of Durham or is it just a virulent few? How did they come by those impressions? How representative are they of the population as a whole?

I’m told that when DCVB initiated periodic national surveys in 1995 to benchmark Durham’s image, it was the first to do so. I don’t know about that. Seems a very obvious approach to me. Why jump around based on what may be a very few opinions when you can easily just ask a generalizable part of the entire nation.

According to the most recent survey done last week by Opinion Research Corporation, Durham has an increasingly strong image nationwide:

  • Nationwide, by a margin of 9 to 1, adults have a positive image of Durham overall. Just 3% are negative, which is only one point higher than communities in North Carolina with the best image overall and half that of most others.

  • Nearly half of those who are aware of Durham are positive about Durham, including 15% who are very positive.

  • Since polling and marketing began, awareness of Durham has been increased by 25%, negatives reduced by 2/3rds and the positive to negative ratio has tripled.

  • At a ratio of 16 to 1, Durham’s image nationwide is highest as a place with many cultural, educational and entertainment features, up nearly 8 fold since 1995.

  • At 14 to 1, Durham’s image as a place with new business and growth potential is second highest, up almost 5 times.

There is still plenty of work to do, though. Awareness still needs to be created for about 4 out of 10 while insulating them from confusing things like 1) misattribution of Durham assets to other communities like Raleigh, 2) inferences that Durham is a suburb of Raleigh caused by misuse or misunderstanding of the airport name and 3) the undercurrent of negativity fueled by 10-12% of adults living in nearby communities.

Oh, and most of all, Durham faces the same persistent stereotypes of the South (think of the movie Deliverance) that are faced by nearly all communities in this diverse and varied part of the country.

Friday, September 12, 2008


A comment from a friend often crosses my mind. His mother had visited him from Indiana in a great neighborhood where he lived for a time in Portland, OR. It was one of those places you see at the bottom corner of a historic building with a long bar on one side and rows of tables down the window sides.

After a wonderful brunch, as he signed the check, his mom leaned back and said “this is good but it isn’t Bob Evans.” I enjoy a breakfast at Bob Evans here in Durham regularly but her comment always reminds me that there are people who travel great distances not to do something unique but to do something they do at home or maybe anywhere for that matter.

The vast majority of travelers however are looking for something unique. Not as Richard Florida writes, “world-class” but something indigenous and almost temporal to the destination community they are visiting. It may be a performing artist they could see anywhere but it is in a uniquely Durham surrounding.

Kind of like the Durham Bulls. Not the only baseball team or MiLB baseball team, not “Bob Evans” but uniquely Durham.

As we get ready to open the spectacular, new Durham Performing Arts Center and join several hundred cities where shows tour after succeeding in the "Big Apple"…we can’t forget how crucial it is to work even harder to sustain other Durham theaters unique to Durham’s “quality of place,” like The Carolina, St. Joseph’s, Man Bites Dog, Baldwin, Common Ground, Page, PSI to name just a handful.

For several years, after DPAC's opening we must remember how much harder it will be for each of them to draw sponsorhips, media attention, audience, volunteers and other resources.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


In pursuit of the 11% of overnight travelers attending conventions and meetings, cities have added 40 million square feet of new convention center space; more than 22 million in the last 10 years alone, with another 8 million in the pipeline by the end of the decade.

What many affectionately call a “space race” to keep up with other cities, the massive increase in supply, has created intense competition for a segment growing 2.5% growth annually but falling as a proportion of overall travel. To many, the race is responsible for perpetuating low occupancies and expensive concessions to draw groups.

Groups that measure convention center expansions believe the two decade building explosion may be coming to an end; particularly signaling the end of the mega-centers of 500,000 square feet plus.

Project currently in the pipeline average less than 170,000 square feet. Trade Show Weekly speculates that the trend is moving from major convention centers to hotels with convention space, or to smaller more specialized, centers with emphasis on technology, especially in second and third tier cities like all but one in North Carolina.

Durham already exceeds its fair share of conventions and meetings (15% vs. 11%) following a trend termed “going with a small lineup”, to use a basketball metaphor. And just as in basketball, the small lineup can work because 1) the average convention registration is just less than 1,500 with overall attendance just over 2,000, 2) 23% meet in the Southeast on any given year and 3) 24% use convention centers.

So while communities with mega-facilities battle it out over a smaller slice of the pie, communities like Durham meet or exceed fair share with a small lineup by hosting an average of 5,000 conventions and meetings a year or 400 a month.

It really depends on the community’s goals and aspirations. Durham seeks 1) a balance of leisure and business and 2) to meet or exceed fair market share in each segment; meaning to draw a proportion of travelers in each segment equal to the national average for that type of travel.

But Durham is also making improvements to its boutique convention center with more planned, combined with 8--soon to be 10--major convention hotels. Soon Durham will offer three clusters. Two around core meeting facilities with 500 to 1,000 guest rooms respectively in a 2 to 4 block walking distance. To planners, logistics is more important than raw capacity.

It doesn’t hurt to have great assets to leverage. RTP, Duke, NCCU, and a very strong activist community are assets to Durham in drawing conventions. I’d trade that for any mega convention center in any other city. In my experience, it is service and the inherent cultural identity of a city that wins the day.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


I’ve been involved in what is called “destination marketing” nearly my entire adult life with the exception of six college years (two of which were involved in marketing a “campus community.”)

Destination marketing is by definition, “visitor centered marketing of a community for economic and cultural development while balancing the interests of visitors, businesses, other organizations and local government.”

It is the “balancing part” that is both the most challenging and often least appreciated. Of course “tourism” is “used” by many as a rationale but that doesn’t mean they really care or even understand tourism or what it means to market a community as a whole.

And then there are the businesses, organizations and facilities that are both woven into a community’s overall story and then have the opportunity to harvest the yield. I rarely run into a theater, museum, ballpark, historic site, arts group, downtown booster, convention facility, restaurant, shopping center, government official or regional or state interest that feels DCVB fully appreciates them or that we do enough for them or that they get enough of our attention.

It is natural for them to believe they play or should be given a more prominent role…it is also natural for those of us truly involved in weaving and telling the overall community story to worry that the story might be undermined by fragmentation or event cannibalization.

Balancing interests, indeed.