Monday, August 31, 2009

The Humiliation Of Being Treated Differently

I recognized the couple immediately. Attractive African American lady and dapper gentleman sitting next to me at Rick’s Diner.

They sat next to me a couple of weeks earlier when, while departing, my attention was diverted by another diner asking if she could read the newspaper I left on my table. With my motorcycle gear I almost knocked a chair over turning around to answer her. So I ended up walking right out of the restaurant without paying, only to remember late that Sunday night.

I returned at 7 am the next morning when Ricks opened and paid the tab. Not an uncommon occurrence the person behind the register commented…but rare that people come back.

When I saw the couple again I kidded them that they should have reminded me to pay.

The lady laughed and said that had happened to her with some friends one time at another restaurant. She called the restaurant immediately when she got back to her office and was told not to worry at all and to come back when she could.

She did immediately, only to find out that in the meantime, they had reported her to the police by her tag number and sure enough, she received a visit a short time later from a uniformed cop.

Was the humiliation a coincidence or was it because she was Black? It would have been very easy to report me with a motorcycle and all. Different restaurants, different approaches. Or are some people treated differently than others because of the color of their skin and other characteristics?

I certainly don’t know the intent of the people involved but I could feel in the moment she told me the story, even with a laugh, the humiliation this lady felt and also how differently we each had been treated. And her playful reminder as she left to remember to pay my bill has played over and over in my mind.

People who happen to be African American are treated differently in very subtle and not so subtle ways just because of the color of their skin. Anyone like me who mixes and socializes with people of many ethnic groups might still not pick up on it and many others are in denial. Racism may be too harsh a term but the impact on the individual is just the same.

Those of us with different colored skin will never know exactly how racism, no matter how subtle, must feel. But even today, it clearly scars individuals and undermines society.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Thank you for flying AmeriSouthBlueDeltWest

Drives Durham resident’s nuts to sit as I did in Atlanta late last month for an early morning return to RDU on Delta and hear a gate agent repeatedly make an announcement that went like this:

“I apologize that our flight to Raleigh has been delayed. We won’t depart for
Raleigh now until such and such. We’ll board for Raleigh at such and such. Thank you Raleigh bound passengers for your patience.”

It would ordinarily be endearing to customers but the vast majority of people in the waiting rooms weren’t destined for Raleigh. We know that from research. Nor of course is the airport located in Raleigh. It is in Morrisville midway between Durham and Raleigh. And Raleigh only co-owns 1/4th of the airport, sharing equal ownership with the City of Durham, Durham County and Wake County.

Sitting there in the gate area wearing a “Durham-Where Great Things Happen” logoed shirt, I looked up to see eyes from all over the waiting room on me belonging to people I didn’t know. I thought about commenting to the agent but it was early, and I just didn’t want to get the dismissive or “I don’t get it” reaction or worse, the rude and defensive reaction often typical.

And I was already deep in thought about how to correct RDU bound online boarding passes issued by Delta that list features in the so-called “Raleigh Area,” many of which are really in Durham which for those of you who don’t know is in a different county, a different metro area and for all the differences, a different planet.

I can already "see" some eyeballs I hear rolling…well, "Just get over it!" Durham is extremely community spirited so instead of trying to hush us, how about our neighbors speaking up to clarify once in a while? I don’t mean just support Durham speaking up, I mean speaking up on our behalf. I mean “do unto others…”

Thank goodness another gate agent took over and used accurate terminology as did the pilot. And the person posting the flight at the gate really had it all down. They even put Raleigh/Durham signifying “and” rather than just the first part of the airport name.

Residents have asked DCVB for a convenient “business card” they can hand to gate agents or pilots or flight attendants when these inaccurate references occur. We’re going to do that.

One thing I know for certain, if the shoe was on the other foot and Durham mangled any airline’s name or brand or worse, attributed it to another carrier…we’d probably hear from their lawyers vs. get a polite card providing the accurate reference.

The sad part is Delta is one of the better airlines about respecting brands. It's time for airlines to realize they serve more than airports and not all airports are located in a centric area with a dominant city.

And the old excuse “there isn’t enough room on the route map” doesn’t hold any longer. The web would permit any airline to put in all of the cities they serve just by asking each airline or airport for the cities and towns in their catchment areas.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why’s Everybody Always Picking On Me?

Remember the kid who was always picked on in school? No reason. Maybe he was a little different is all. And once someone gets picked on, it seems easier for others to stigmatize that person, while inexplicably, others became favorites and could do no wrong.

Well, while typical bullies aren’t involved, a similar inequality or discrimination occurs in the treatment of various elements of the cultural infrastructure. A particular facility gets cast in an unfavorable light. Sometimes it is due to a timely sound-bite, sometimes the news media doesn’t have time to connect all of the dots, sometimes local government isn’t as careful to discuss overall revenue generated or associated at the same time it does specific expenses, or it gets a bit complicated to follow. And once a facility is stigmatized, well it usually doesn’t matter what the facts are in the court of public opinion.

The “kid” or cultural facility that gets picked on with cultural facilities often seems to be the Durham Convention Center. It is a little different like that kid in school. It may not be as glamorous. Maybe it isn’t shielded by powerful or influential Godparents. And often reports don’t give the whole picture.

DCVB doesn’t play favorites. The Bureau’s job is to generate visitation or visitor circulation and spending as a part of making each of these facilities sustainable. Each is valuable for equally compelling reasons and each relies on visitors for 60%-70% of its audience.

So in an attempt to provide perspective for news reporters and officials and the teams reporting on each facility, DCVB began three or four years ago to track cost/benefit for a select handful of cultural facility examples including:
  • Attendance
  • Economic Value Added
  • Local Government Operating Cost
  • Local Government Capital Cost
  • Local Tax Revenue Generated
  • The Gap (cost to tax revenue generated)

It is apparent from the results that the facilities may have different audience types and cost structures but in the end they compare favorably. Now the challenge is for people to access this information in a timely manner as issues arise, to challenge stigmas and treat with equal respect our community’s cultural infrastructure.

An even bigger discussion is why some people go beyond improving and measuring performance and somehow believe cultural infrastructure can and should even be self-supporting when that formula is not applied to other parts of the community infrastructure, e.g,. streets, water systems, sewers, government buildings, etc.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

4.6 million +

That’s the number tallied from a strategic partnership DCVB maintains with nearly 50 Durham museums, performing arts and sports venues, historic sites, nature venues, festivals and civic facilities. For years, these facilities diligently logged attendance on a monthly basis for DCVB to use the aggregate tally for several purposes.

First, DCVB uses the numbers as a performance measure regarding getting visitors to circulate throughout the community. Getting visitors here is part of the job but of equal importance is getting visitors to circulate and to optimize spending and tax revenue generation after they arrive.

Regardless of the main purpose for a trip, visitors make up 60%-70% of the attendance and sustainability of these facilities and events.

Second, DCVB provides the tally quarterly to the City and County to inform one of their joint Results-Based Accountability measures.

Third, if they choose, the participating venues can use their attendance numbers and the aggregate number to compute and measure marketing share.

Fourth, when contrasted to other benchmarks maintained by DCVB, local officials and enthusiasts can use the numbers to calibrate future facility and event planning to be sure things are being added that complement.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Big Mac Index

A week or so ago, a USB report charted an alternative to The Economist Magazine’s Burgernomics by indexing the number of minutes on average spread over 12 professions that a person needs to work to buy a McDonald’s Big Mac (just less than 40 minutes is the global average.)

This is the type of alternative communication tool destination marketing organizations need to adapt to help convey and make relevant to public officials the tax-generation role of community marketing.

Source: The Economists Magazine's Video on Burgernomics, Fast Company Newsletter, USB

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Town Gown Relations

I’ve always wondered where the stigma comes from that Duke and Durham relations are “strained.” It just isn’t supported by any facts I can find. Never has been in my 20+ years here, nor in what I’ve read historically. It is quite the opposite.

But I can think of 5 conditions that may perpetuate the misperceptions picked up in news media or the Princeton Review:

  • Outspokenness and Activism: Part of Durham’s overarching community brand is activism, and activists are outspoken and a bit “rough and tumble.” So when Duke, as one of the largest employers in the state, blinks an eye, there is bound to be debate. That’s just Durham. Members of the Duke community are part of this activism. But that doesn’t equate to strained relations. On the contrary, it means there is trust enough to be open and direct.

  • UNC Alums: Duke’s archrival is a public university, many times larger in student body located in Chapel Hill, a close neighbor of Durham’s. Surveys show, about 20% of Durham residents are UNC fans and 5.4% of Durham’s adult population are graduates of UNC. The racket made when some carry these athletic rivalries and “put-downs” into other conversations can create the illusion that Durham isn’t true (dark) blue.

  • Non-Residents Working in Durham: Three out of every five jobs in Durham are held by non-residents. Only about a third of these non-residents are negative about Durham, but one in ten are virulently negative. To those unfamiliar, these comments appear to reflect a rift between Durham and Duke.

  • Contrasts: Durham is at or near the top as a place where Duke graduates settle. Durham is very socio-economically diverse. Not all Durham residents are poor and not all Duke students are rich. But to some, including the news media in particular, exaggerating the contrasts is irresistible. Add to that a good deal of envy from other parts of the state because Duke and Research Triangle Park are based in Durham, and there’s a little tension, not infrequently misattributed as tension between Duke and Durham.

There just aren’t many facts that support that there is strain between Duke and Durham nor are these the only reasons for the illusion there is.

But in my opinion, I see no other community where officials and neighborhoods and a major world-class university work so closely together. I see no other where the students are more likely to be involved in community service. I see no other where the university makes such huge investments to support community initiatives.

I’ve looked for this so-called town-gown strain and it just doesn’t amount to much. But we all know stigmas die hard.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Importance of Getting Off To A Great Start

I think of him whenever I see or hear about young children without daily interaction with adults during formative years, especially young boys with no male influence and how that can impact society. I think of how extraordinarily blessed I was.

He was only in his 50’s then and to me, he resembled General, then-President Eisenhower.

He wore khaki, head to toe and a Stetson and he always smelled like coffee. He had homesteaded, raised cattle, loved and trained horses but from my birth through grade school, my Grandfather was my constant companion. I mean every hour of every waking day, except Sunday.

Watching him train horses, I could tell he was a gentle man but I learned as an adult that my paternal Grandfather, Mel Bowman had homesteaded his 160 acres, just after the turn of the last century and then assembled a ranch of more than a thousand Idaho acres of both cattle and horse ranch and related farmland needed to generate feed for these animals along Sand and Snow Creeks (pronounced Cricks.)

Somebody else owns that land now but it is still tucked up in that corner of Idaho, framed on the North and East by the mountains of the Continental Divide, Yellowstone Park and the Grand Tetons and straddling the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River as it carves a weave through the mile-high plateau that is actually the crater and flow of a huge super-volcano.

I don’t remember Mel talking much about himself but thanks to Grandma Adah, each of them gave the gift of four to five page, insightful personal histories, covering from their youth up until my Dad returned from Europe.

They are compelling stories of unpretentious people who were incredibly hard workers under rugged conditions. Mel ran into health problems and while still in High School, my Dad took up the slack when the doctors asked Grandpa to back off the rigors of day-to-day ranching.

But that made him my perfect companion too. He still worked but at a pace perfect for a pre-schooler. We stacked hay, dug post holes, mended fence, groomed animals and even went into town for a beer now and then (Doctors orders,) of course, actually I was across the street in the Five and Dime, probably buying such priceless artifacts as a plastic Davey Crockett wallet.

When my Dad went off to training at Camp Roberts and then Europe and WWII, my Grandparents had to let the ranch and farmland go idle with the exception of a smaller herd of cattle they fed with contracted feed and Grandpa’s prize team of draft horses including those who became my buddies, Duke, Bally, Dude and Dolly, etc., and some saddle horses of course including Gypsy my Dad’s pure black, Quarter Horse-Morgan which eventually once I was conceived and born and 5 years old, would become my first horse.

When the War ended and Dad returned (he and Mom, wedded just before he left) he took over the cattle ranch and associated farm land and my Grandparents moved one of the other homestead homes on land they had acquired to St. Anthony, a few miles away and the “big city” in Fremont County, about 2000 people then out of a county of 10,000 people in a land area 6 times the size of Durham. (The ranch and farmland is actually closer to Ashton, the second largest town at just less than 1,000.)

But Grandpa couldn’t stay away from the ranch and came up in his Jeep every day. Kind of got under my Mother’s feet, I’m sure, but was my constant companion day in and day out from birth and even after I started school Oh I did a fare amount of exploring on my own but I know now he was probably always a stone’s throw away without me knowing it.

He died as I was turning 16 but not before he and Grandma hand painted that old red Jeep and gave it to me. I mean hand painted with brush strokes and all. It was kind of a passing into adult-hood for me…he was gone a few months later but the memories that old Jeep had weren’t covered up with paint. Like the bar of Naptha soap still under the driver’s seat to cover the smell of a gas leak, or the manual windshield wiper for the passenger or the small bench seat he had created for me so I could sit next to him when he drove and which came in handy on dates.

He’s been gone now going on 45 years, but he’s never been far away from my thoughts. He was kind and patient and had the time to teach me a love of the land, of conservation, of horses, of opera arias and acceptance of people with different backgrounds (we often visited around campfires with Basque sheepherders who came through the ranch and with Shoshone Native Americans.)

He also taught me how to ride a horse, how to roundup, how to handle a rifle, how to ride a bike and how to drive tractors and old pickups around the ranch and the fulfillment of hard work. And never to take my health for granted, just as Grandma Adah taught me a love of books and history and eagerness for school and lifetime learning.

Mel could barely write his name and I don’t recall if or how much he could read but he was so proud of Grandma Adah for having made it through the 8th grade and my Dad for graduating from High School but he helped open and prepare me for the world as much as Adah taught me to learn about the world.

Both my Grandparents and Parents were disciples of “don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys” long before Willie and Waylon put it to song.

And when I hear the heartbreak of young kids with little or no interaction with adults during those formative years… I realize how blessed I was with day to day interaction in formative years with great parents and people like Grandpa Mel and Grandma Adah.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Maybe Technology Can Increase Conventions & Meetings

Domestic person-trips for Business/Convention/Seminar/Meeting Travel has fallen another 23% this decade. Conventions and meetings represent nearly 6 of every 10 business travel person-trips. Communities along with the facilities over-reliant on this segment of travel seem to fall into two groups, the largest of which is denial or those making fundamental changes in business models.

Some component of face to face business trips and conventions and meetings will continue to exist but in different proportions and it will be a paradigm shift. Just think of what email has done to traditional mail. (I love the term snail-mail but I can also see how it can be taken as a pejorative.)

According to a news report by David Wilkening at least two major lodging chains, Marriott and Starwood are moving to capitalize on one of the technologies replacing business/convention travel.

They are betting that while long haul business trips and larger conventions and meetings will decline, they may initially be replaced by smaller gatherings closer to home but still requiring a trip and overnight that are then linked with similar gatherings in other locations across state or in other parts of the nation or world.

Marriott has inked a deal with AT&T to install the Cisco Telepresence system in 25 hotels in places like San Francisco, New York, Shanghai, etc., operational in late October.

Starwood is doing the same with Tata Communications out of Singapore. Users will commute or travel to a nearby hotel, instead of across countries and continents and use a room with big hi-def screens around a table that gives the illusion of people from different locations being in the same room.

The limit currently will be 20 people but a full fifth of business meetings fall in this size range so you can see how it could expand in the future to convention-size groups. Surveys show over 3 in 10 corporate travel planners think that technologies like these may actually increase attendance for some meetings, but the travel distances will be shorter and the size of each group smaller.

For airlines the hauls will be shorter. For hotels with meeting facilities, it will mean much more technology and many smaller meeting rooms vs. large meeting room. For convention centers? Well we’ve already heard; we’ve seen the end of the mega-centers of 500,000 + but regardless of size they will need more and smaller rooms.

Cisco already has technology that can holograph people to a conference and another company has devised ways for holograms you can touch and feel. Right now it is the feel of wind or rain drops but shaking hands isn’t far behind.

As Mr. Dylan sings, “I feel a change coming on – and the fourth part of the day is already gone!”

Kudos to Marriott and Starwood.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Maybe News Commentators and Politicians Need A Rating System or Comic Book Bubbles?

Some “bumper sticker” slogans people are shouting to draw the media’s attention at the healthcare Q & A sessions are a hoot. Hopefully the decisions will be guided by facts, not bumper stickers, lies, distortions, and fear-mongering. But this crap has thwarted needed reform ever since the ‘60’s so I won’t be surprised that it works.

Not exactly what I believe the Founders envisioned from the virtue of freedom of speech.

When I saw this clip of a figure some call a conservative commentator, but who behaves more like an entertainer…at first I expected one of those John Stewart “looks”…signaling he had said something absurd.

But realizing he was dead serious, I then gave the commentator the benefit of the doubt…We all can utter some pretty stupid things…but my cynical side went right to motive…this guy wants “ratings” so he is deliberately pandering to people predisposed to think that way by saying anything that will yank their chain.

But the impact this can obviously have on people predisposed to racism cannot be dismissed regardless of the motive.

Maybe we make commentators and politicians subject to a rating system for utterances, like we do for movies, music and other things where the line blurs between fact and fiction, e.g. GS for Grandstanding or BS for the obvious or NR for Needs Ratings or WSA for Will Say Anything for Attention?

Or one of those little disclosures they do at the beginning of fictional TV shows that people might take literally or a bubble over their head with fact or fiction or already discredited?

The real answer though is we (individuals, news media, etc.) need to stop dumbing everything down as my friend Bill Geist laments in this blog about some groups now showing the words on a big screen to the Pledge of Allegiance at some events…or the videos now showing examples of the bills and coins required to make change at grocery check out.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

NYT’s Metrics Sets a Standard

We’ve joked for years that any innovation or information we evolve at DCVB gives us just a 20 minute head start. It is probably 20 seconds now and an even more crucial advantage.

But one place where I’m glad folks are catching on is information or research driven decision making. Especially in Durham, more and more organizations are using benchmarks, performance indicators and other tools to guide decisions. And while Durham is still in some pretty rare company, more and more destination marketing organizations are taking this approach.

But often the usefulness of information is reliant on how it can be displayed or morphed. Especially, if when and how it is displayed can simultaneously mine a variety of databases and morph the results.

The people who are geniuses at this in my opinion do the METRICS column in The New York Times. It is almost worth the price of the paper alone but especially so you can access it on the website.

A great example is this interactive chart on how people spend their day. In the paper it was just two views. But in the interactive version you can in click see it by age, ethnicity, employed or unemployed, etc. You can also click on a strata and see just that one element across all of the criteria.

Very cool! But also extremely useful.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Historic Durham Athletic Park
Public Grand Reopening
Saturday, August 15, 2009 - 12pm to 5 pm

Nearly 22 years ago, a little-known actor by the name of Kevin Costner spent a couple of weeks in Durham, NC. Much of his time was spent on the field of the Historic Durham Athletic Park. Now, after a year-long, $5 million renovation, the Historic DAP, ranked by ESPN as the #35 All Time Sports Venue, is ready to reopen and reclaim its former splendor.

Built in 1926 as El Toro Stadium, the park will be operated by Minor League Baseball, which will use the stadium as a training center for business and facility operations, including hosting an academy of sports turf management. The park will also serve as home field for the NCCU Eagles Baseball Team, the Bull Durham Blues Festival, and the World Beer Festival.

Visitors and residents are invited to step up to the plate on Saturday, August 15th and enjoy a day of food, festivities, and fun, complete with a celebrity softball game, kids games, food and drink, and other activities.

Parking will be available at businesses and lots around the park, but will be limited. For information on parking, click here for DCVB’s Downtown Durham Dining, Nightlife & Parking Map. Click here for DCVB’s Downtown Durham Walking Tour.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Why Does DCVB Produce the Crime Comparative?

Each year when DCVB produces the crime comparative, I get asked, “Why is the visitors bureau involved?” Others, not so subtly insinuate that DCVB has an agenda because the bureau is Durham's marketing agency.

That’s okay, many people come from a very dated stereotype of marketing as manipulative and use the term almost in the pejorative. They haven’t been exposed to best practice marketing and the ways marketing decisions are made.

First, why DCVB creates the chart is easy to answer:
  • DCVB first suggested as part of the Crime Cabinet as a means to put crime in perspective.

  • Because DCVB is proficient in benchmarking and performing indicators, Durham Police Department reached out to partner on the comparative. The bureau also knows how to present information.

  • DCVB is facilitator for the 19 organization Durham Public Information Council, which is in the best the position to utilize the information.

  • DCVB also directly needed the information for orientations for non-residents working in Durham, human resource executives, real estate professionals and newcomers who predominately experience a community first as a leisure visitor or conventioneer, meeting and events planners and of course visitors in general.
So how are marketing decisions made and why are community marketing organizations a trusted source:
  • Marketing is best when its information and customer-driven, not product driven.

  • Marketing is a way to help people make decisions, not do missionary work.

  • Marketing is all about perspective and balance, not promoting/withholding.

  • Marketing is about communications, two-way.
So you see, DCVB is a natural choice to pull the information together? Actually, DCVB started the project expecting other messengers to pick it up but it has always fallen back to us. And we’re pleased to do it and glad so many people understand its value.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Study Reveals Major Challenges for Marketing by 2020

Understandably, community marketing is fixated on the short-term right now. This too shall pass but even bigger challenges loom 10 years from now.

A study by The Nielsen Company foretells that average annual spending by households will bump up between now and 2020 but then will begin a steep decline, meaning competition will be intensified by a dramatically shrinking pie.

As Baby Boomers age, birth rates remain low and household size decreases overall, the economically disadvantages segments of society will grow resulting in a dramatic drop in per capita spending.

Obviously there could be fewer travelers and much more competition for those who do. Communities will really discover the hard way how important visitors have been.

Destination Marketing Organizations will need dramatic changes in focus, tactics and products. It has taken between 30 and 40 years to come to grips with the changes in business travel including meetings and we certainly won’t have that kind of time.

We’ll also see some changes that impact sense of place. I can see the churn of building reuse spreading quickly beyond fast food and convenience stories to bank branch buildings, etc. It may mean that so-called suburbs will begin to churn the way Downtown’s did a few decades ago, which will create some dynamics in terms of land use that will put pressure on sense of place…or an opportunity to restore it. Judging by how we deal with abandoned housing, we need to noodle this one and quickly.

But at the base of it, as we’re now appearing to do with healthcare, it means we need to intensify efforts to eliminate poverty.