Friday, October 30, 2009

Emerging from the Shadows – Credit for the Durham Metro

One of the things that has contributed greatly to improving Durham’s visibility and at the same time re-balanced the region, is the decision by the Census nine years ago to apply nationwide criteria to Durham that led to the official metro designation of the four-county metro area centered on this community.

The remainder of what had been a geographically massive, statistically unwieldy, and somewhat contrived designation with no dominant city at the center was established as a three-county metro centered on Raleigh-Cary further to the south and east.

DCVB provided some information to inform the decision and has certainly leveraged the heck out of the metro designation, but otherwise had little to do with creating the designation.

That credit goes to Greg Payne, then with the City of Durham Office of Economic Development and now in commercial real estate. But it wasn’t something special for Durham. The Census just finally applied the same criteria here as elsewhere.

Greg had fielded a call from John Hodges-Copple, the Regional Planning Director with the 7-county Triangle J Council of Governments. He noted that given the new Census criteria, and without Durham stepping up to establish its credentials, the entire super region, even though polycentric (no dominant “center”) would be folded under Raleigh’s identity.

As a planner, John knew that folding everything under “Raleigh” would distort the region and make it even harder to get really good, relevant and comparative data. I believe he grasped immediately that two communities in the Triangle qualified as metro areas and this would be good for the super-region. He probably also realized that collapsing it all under Raleigh, which truly wasn’t centric or dominant to the Triangle would be problematic, misleading and inequitable.

John also understood that the relatively few needs for combined data would still be accessible under a consolidated metro of metros so the Triangle would have the best of both worlds if both of its major cities qualified as a metro.

Greg gathered and submitted data from DCVB and from the Chamber and voilá!…Durham more than qualified to be a metro area on its own. The result has proven much more organic, a boon to much more valid, “apples to apples” benchmarking and at the same time gave Durham its due…without taking anything legitimate away from Raleigh.

It isn’t clear opponents grasped how one-sided the alternative was but at least one powerful Raleighite claims to have fought Durham’s designation tooth and nail and may have even recruited someone then at Duke to go along.

I can’t believe that either party realized the alternative was a win/lose with advantage only to Raleigh and making it all but impossible for Durham to get its due recognition or that to stay with the old, politically contrived designation was equally problematic.

Ironically, though I’m under no illusion the success of the Durham metro has changed anyone’s perspective who opposed the designation, but ironically, many who claim to have opposed it have financially or otherwise benefited from the new Durham metro designation.

And contrary to those who claimed the region would be torn apart should Durham get its due, the vast super-region we term the Research Triangle and named for three research universities, Duke in Durham, UNC in Chapel Hill and NC State in Raleigh, is as healthy and collaborative as ever. Durham and Raleigh have extremely different cultural identities and yet, without being attached at the hip, have still found innumerable ways to collaborate when mutually beneficial.

It helped that Raleigh didn’t lose anything from the new designations, other than the ability by some to obfuscate that Durham-based assets like Research Triangle Park and Duke are somehow based there. Raleigh’s into “big”, and standing on its own as a metro it can pursue being big with gusto while Durham and Chapel Hill to the west can pursue other values.

And news media fears of losing the ability to charge more for advertising reach were a smokescreen. The vastly distended 22-county, three state designated media area termed Raleigh-Durham (Fayetteville) remains intact, much to the disadvantage of advertisers and consumers. Hopefully in the future, this too will be made more realistic.

Having a super-region with two very different, and often comparably ranked, metro areas has actually added a little panache. But the real boon is that analysts now have much better, clearer, and infinitely more accurate statistical information from which to make decisions. Visitors, newcomers and relocating businesses get better statistical information with which to make decisions.

The separate metros also give analysts and officials much better information from which to identify strengths and to focus on areas for improvement.

The more organic approach has been a win/win/win all the way around.

Without a good regional planner like John who gave Greg a heads up, and without Greg, who stepped up to gather and forward factual information for consideration by the Census, the obfuscations and injustices of the past would have been perpetuated if not amplified… and Durham’s identity along with the rest of the Triangle would have been buried under Raleigh’s.

If we had had region-wide planners like John, a Raleigh developer wouldn’t have been able to, following WWII, go behind Durham’s back and hood-wink the War Department into flip-flopping the identity of the jointly-owned airport from Durham-Raleigh to Raleigh-Durham, making it the only designation not in alpha order and giving Raleigh a huge advantage in identity.

So, here’s to John and to Greg! Now let’s hope the Census Bureau continues to use good, solid criteria for establishing metros that actually mean something and avoids getting politicized for any reason.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

CSI Comes Second Not First!

Two simple but galvanizing strategies underpin both DCVB’s success as Durham’s destination marketing agency over the past 20 years and its ability to leapfrog much more established competitors.

  • One, information-based decision making and performance measurement.

  • The other, systemic adaptation and deployment of technology.

Both were rare as strategies 20 years ago, here or elsewhere in North Carolina, or in destination marketing circles world-wide. They are still far from prevalent today, although they get more lip service now. But frankly it is to DCVB's and Durham’s benefit that they aren’t widely used.

We needed something that would give Durham a strategic advantage. “Me too” marketing would have just meant taking a place in line and we needed to leapfrog destinations far better funded and years ahead of us in pounding position into the marketplace.

The credit goes to Alaska and my exposure there during most of a decade at the tiller of the destination marketing organization in Anchorage. All I did was deploy those overarching strategies to anchor the jump-start DMO in Durham.

Alaska was then in only its 20th year of statehood (it’s celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.) From territorial days, Alaska has been an early adopter of nearly every new technology and definitely on the frontier in more than one sense. It was also critical in Alaska, where travelers had to be drawn over longer distances at greater cost, to utilize research and database decision making versus so-called conventional wisdom, which isn’t really wisdom at all but an excuse to avoid critical thinking.

Applying technology should be a no-brainer these days but I’m constantly amazed at how few organizations do…or if they do, it isn’t systemic or strategic. Not empowering people with technology today is like arguing not everyone should have access to a pencil.

It wasn’t easy back then. Twenty years ago in many places, fax technology was still novel, let alone implementing a local area network and internal email. The technology though made every staff member far more productive, faster and smarter. Internal email helped embed collaboration faster and deeper, as well as better enable project management which is half of any job.

Along came the internet and we were ready to fly…while others still had a single computer in the corner available only to a few people or perhaps lacked the skill and inclination to shift gears. And now mobile technology puts one in every hand but most still just use it for email.

In Alaska, necessity taught me how to base decisions on research rather than purely on “CSI”… (common sense and instinct (or intuition.) I use a fair amount of CSI, as we all do, I just try to have mine informed by data.

Of course, people who are threatened by information and data claim they rely on common sense and instinct. But that immediately raises the question of who is the arbiter of “common sense” or which “instinct” is accurate? Often people who object to data, prefer to rely on politics or force of wills.

I guess if you don’t have fiduciary responsibility or if it’s your money at stake, it probably doesn’t matter. But in community marketing, where nearly every stakeholder has a unique take on common sense and so called “instinct”, relying on these alone without informing them with data is extremely risky.

There are three core reasons that greatly favor information-based decision making and just as important information-based performance measures.

  • First, it leads to much better, quicker and more targeted decisions.

  • Second, destination marketing is about the customer and community not me or any other one individual.

  • Third, it leads to steady, long term strategic thinking vs. the constant knee jerk, 180’s that come with basing decisions on force of will, anecdotal opinion and politics.

So now you know. DCVB’s success isn’t anchored in anything genius or even that visionary. I just happened to fall into the right background in the years prior to finding myself in the right place at the right time. Durham, North Carolina.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On-Demand Streaming Next Tech Trend To Impact Convention Planning

The latest technological adaptation starting to impact attendance at conventions and meetings is the option for on-demand streaming of functions and sessions.

An option to traveling to these events in person will be to subscribe to live streaming. The option serves both the planners and attendees but leaves destination communities short of spending.

Planners will use the revenue from on-demand to help cover overhead and expand reach. Attendees will use it for convenience and cost.

The trend may result in many more people being able to access the content of a convention, although they will miss out on valuable face time with colleges.

Visitation nationwide related to conventions and meetings prior to the economic decline, represented 9.5% of visitor person trips, 11% of commercial lodging room nights but 30% of visitor spending to communities.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Biker Update

Okay, I’ve had the Harley for nearly 6 months…taking out the month of recuperation for previously scheduled rotator cuff repair, I’ve ridden 5 months.

I’m less than 50 miles shy of 1,000 miles already. Mostly countryside or back and forth a couple of miles to work and an errand or two.

I feel more and more comfortable. More things are second nature now. Heavy bikes like the Cross Bones are good at a standstill as exercise for regaining balance in your legs.

I have “laid it down” as they say, a time or two. Not while in motion, just getting used to walking it backward in the driveway before starting off and losing my footing. Once a 700 lb bike starts to tip, you just lay it down as gently as possible and then tip it back up which is like bench pressing, believe me. Harley’s use cubic inches for engine size. This one is 96 cubic inches or just shy of 1600 cc’s.

No incidents with autos. So far, drivers have been very vigilant to see me but I’m also much more vigilant about traffic around me than I ever remember being in the Jeep. Being inside a helmet really helps focus and I often wear what’s called an “air jacket,” which works much like an air bag if you’re thrown off the bike.

I’ve learned to watch, particularly for people on cell phones with no hands free. I guess they think they are invisible but I also haven’t seen any of them pulled over for a ticket.

Out on winding roads, I’m practicing the cornering they taught in the class but it is becoming second nature…

I had a small trailer custom made right here in Durham by Bob Pickard, a Durham native who has Bull Durham Trailers just across street to the south from the Durham Farmer’s Market. Great product, all stainless steel with a heavy power coated frame and very cool LED lights.

I trailered the bike a couple of hundred miles with me and took the Bullies along. Worked perfectly once I got used to driving it up on the trailer with enough throttle, then slowing as it went into the wheel chock.

Enough of this but folks have been asking.

It is funny how many folks I come across now who bike including David Harris and Mike Shifflett to name only two.

In North Carolina, according to surveys by UNC, 10% of people who are licensed or registered motorcyclists are under 30 but they are four times more likely to have or be involved in an accident, an age group where sport bikes are dominant.

Contrary to perceptions, most folks my age in the state are registered Honda owners. Harley’s are most commonly in their 40’s and 50’s, although nearly 40% of registered motorcycles in North Carolina are Harley-Davidsons.

Most folks in my age group have big touring bikes vs. cruisers like mine. Overall in North Carolina, 56% of bikers ride less than 5,000 miles a year but the median is 3,000. Younger folks ride less, older folks more.

In North Carolina, the median months of the year for riding is 10…a little more than 80% average 6 months. Younger riders ride less.

About 70% ride several times a week and about 10% ride daily.

The vast majority of folks 40 and above ride on two lane, out of town roads, those country roads I write about.

Ironically, folks in my age group are only 40% likely to wear a full face helmet like mine but they are far more likely to wear a helmet period even where it isn’t required by law.

About 45% of bikers have crashed while moving and 45% of those required medical attention. Only 11% had crashed in the previous 12 months. The percentage in the last 12 months varied by nearly 40% in their 30’s to 6% in their 50’s or 60’s.

Only about 40% of any age group has taken a course of some time and only 25% overall thought it was important. Wow, I can't imagine taking the hobby up without a course.

Friday, October 16, 2009

USA #1 Brand Again

Maybe the rest of the world knows why President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize. I wasn’t in the room when the vote took place but I’m proud of the President and my country.

And indicative there has been a change in how the USA is perceived comes with the annual index of nation brands. The USA is back at #1 as the most admired brand in the world after languishing at #7. Diplomacy doesn't get much credit unless it is failing. But it isn’t hard to see the State Department under Secretary of State Clinton is making apparent progress in rebuilding relations with traditional allies as well as Russia, Iran, Turkey, Armenia and maybe even North Korea.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Convergence Isn’t The Future. It’s Already Happened!

A blog acquaintance I enjoy is Christopher Elliott. Here is his review of Google Wave, a new tool DCVB has been anticipating for months. It will create a huge shift in productivity at a time when we’re 30% short-handed.

It will also be a big change in the way we think about work processes where several people collaborate simultaneously on a work product. It goes well beyond a couple of other tools we’ve been using in the interim but which never really delivered fully on the promise.

As a bonus, Chris gave some interesting analysis of the way consumers are viewing traditional, non-traditional and PR news content.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 Gets It!

Kudos to for accuracy. After a week that I saw two other media outlets play fast and loose with the term “cities,” in rankings in actuality based on DMA’s or metros, then listing Durham by the airport name (there simply is no such place as Raleigh-Durham).’s list is very refreshing. Not just because Durham NC is ranked 15th best mid-sized metro in which to launch a business.

But CNN actually referred to them as metros. They didn’t arbitrarily change it to cities. They didn’t substitute designated media areas and then term them cities. They didn’t substitute the airport name. They simply labeled it just as it was measured…MSA’s or metropolitan statistical areas.

They even went as far in an entry about Raleigh, a city to the south and east, to note that residents there benefit from a strong higher education system, including Duke University in Durham and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Imagine that, giving attribution to another city when talking about its assets. ranks high for accuracy.

Tourism 2023

This report is from the UK and deals with their outbound tourism. But it is loaded with things to think about when trending what will happen to visitor centric economic and cultural development for communities.

It is a little dated in that it still refers to tourism as an industry. Long ago, tourism was recognized as a sector of the economy, involving six or so different industries. But for the most part the report just uses the term travel and tourism.

The report doesn’t predict the future but puts forth a series of scenarios, each involving two key variables:
  • Whether the economy, politics, technology and energy costs combine to encourage or restrict travel and

  • Whether the appeal of travel destinations (in this case overseas but applicable to domestic) and consumers’ sensitivity to the environmental impacts of travel makes tourism more or less viable.

Going beyond most reports of this type, Tourism 2023 culminates with how individual organizations like destination marketing organizations like DCVB at the community level can use and adapt these scenarios.

Very thought provoking.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Why Are Individuals Not Held Responsible?

I read an interesting article in the LA Times about a study that reveals that banning fast food stores in areas of high obesity, isn’t the solution. In fact these areas already have fewer stores per capita.

It made me wonder why when I’m in meetings about crime or public health or education or poverty, I constantly hear agencies, non-profits and government fingered as responsible...but there is one pivotal group that is an invisible “white elephant” in the room...individuals and families.

We hear what law enforcement and the judicial system should do, what public schools should do, what social services and drug treatment should do, but not how individuals and families can be accountable.

I’m not some far out nut. I’m a progressive so I know and understand that government is designed to provide many things that aren’t practical to do as individuals, families or private businesses.

But is it just me or when children and young adults are truants or get in trouble with the law, does it seem that people quickly finger the judicial system? When some groups score lower on end of grade and end of course tests, teachers and administrators are quickly fingered. When kids and young adults grow obese or drug and alcohol dependent, quick service establishments, bottlers or convenience stores are fingered.

The fact is all of the institutions must obviously be part of the solution…and they can and appear to be trying to do a better job.

What’s missing in the discussion is personal and family or parental responsibility. That’s really where the buck stops. That is part of the foundation of any free society.

Why aren’t individuals and parents being held at least as accountable as agencies and non-profits? Instead of finger pointing or playing the victim…let’s ask, if not insist, that the individuals and families also be responsible for the solution.

All the money, all of the agencies, all of the safety nets in the world can only make a difference if individuals and families play their part.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Accolades Can Be Misleading

As one who markets Durham as a destination, I know that DCVB is careful to vet accolades before we relay them. Even then, one or two get by us from time to time.

A few accolades are deceiving, like the recent so-called ranking of smartest cities by an online publication in New York.

Purportedly it was a ranking of cities. However, it was easy to spot something was up because the site listed this area by the name of the airport, Raleigh-Durham. There simply is no such city or metro area.

Because the author noted that they only ranked metropolitan areas of 1 million or more people, it was initially assumed they had used the massive Combined Metropolitan Statistical Areas (CMSAs) in which case Cary should have been added to the name for this area.

But it still didn’t make sense for a publication to confuse metro areas and CMSA’s, let alone cities.

The publication was surprised that instead of a “take the ranking and run” attitude, we were probing deeper about the methodology and nomenclature.

As it turns out, the ranking isn’t about cities, or metro areas, or CMSA’s. The author substituted the term “city” for a ranking of Nielsen DMAs or media designated marketing areas. So the ranking was actually for the 22 county Raleigh-Durham (Fayetteville) DMA, which includes parts of three states and nearly 20% of North Carolina. They even admitted that they purposely called DMAs cities and didn’t seem to care about accuracy.

There were other issues beyond the fact that DMA’s aren’t really relevant for this type of analysis (it just means they all share the same television stations.) The site also measured intellectual environment by sales of non-fiction books in that DMA, which leaves out all the people who frequent public or university libraries. Hmmm…maybe not the best way to measure a region’s collective intelligence.

Comparing DMA’s truly centered around a metro area might make sense but it isn’t fair to mix in polycentric DMA’s like this one which have no dominant center and encompass many different cities and metro areas.

Durham gets its share of accolades…and yes, it’s nice to know that someone thinks this DMA is the smartest in the country, but please, if there is a next time, do all your readers a favor and don’t confuse things by referring to DMAs as “cities.”

It would be like us doing a ranking of all the news media outlets and calling it a ranking of magazines, as if they were the all same and it didn’t matter that some were TV or radio stations, newspapers and even online publications. I bet accuracy would matter then.

Accurate terminology matters just as much to cities, metro areas and to us, too.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Durham Image Reaches Milestone

It is no surprise to most Durham residents that collectively they have always had a very high image of Durham. Scientific public opinion polling by NanoPhrades shows Durham’s self-image is 86% positive, or very positive, compared to 10.3% negative, or very negative. Similarly, surveys have shown Durham has a highly positive image nationwide.

Durham’s dilemma is that 3 of every 5 jobs in Durham are held by non-residents. This includes the majority of jobs at the airport and in the news media. Surveys over the years have shown that at times, as much as 40%-65% of the residents in nearby counties had a negative image of Durham.

Durham has turned its image around with nearby communities, thanks to more balanced and even handed news coverage, insisting that accurate locations be attributed to Durham based assets, a relentless grass-roots core of Image Watchers (residents empowered to confront water-cooler fables), defending the brand at every touch point, persistent distribution of balanced information via the Durham News Service, and the 19-organization Durham Public Information & Communications Council as well as buzz created by public and private mega-projects dating back to DBAP in the mid ‘90s.

It is too early to declare victory by any means. Vigilance about image is an ongoing process, and there are bound to be ups and downs. However, Durham has reached a critical milestone where the proportion of residents negative about Durham has been narrowed down to 10% in Orange County, 16.3% in Wake County, and 10.3% among residents in the rest of the state. This doesn’t mean that everyone else is positive but many of the former “soft” negatives have been shifted to “neither positive nor negative” or to “positive”.

Durham is now neck and neck for claiming the most positive image in the state when compared to Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem. Durham also has a very positive or positive image now with 77% of adults in Orange County, over 68% in Wake County, and 72% in the rest of the state.

The 10-15% of people who are proactively negative and virulent can’t be discounted, especially now that they’ve been largely isolated. Their considerable influence is still revealed by the high percentage of people in Orange and Wake counties, as well as the rest of the state, who respond that based on what people say they would expect a negative or uncertain experience in Durham. More than a third of the residents in Orange County, nearly two-thirds of the residents in Wake County, and a quarter of the residents in the rest of the state give this response.

So while the negativists are small in number, they still undermine Durham’s image with large populations. The job of defending a community’s image is never finished, especially for the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, Durham’s official marketing agency.

Nor can Durham let up on efforts to improve the personal experience people have in Durham. Even with public and private mega projects like The Streets At Southpoint, American Tobacco, West Village, Greenfire’s city center plans, and the Durham Performing Arts Center, more than 40% of Orange County, more than 60% of Wake County, and half of the rest of the state feel negative or uncertain about their personal experiences in Durham.

There is evidence that far less expensive initiatives such as a coherent community-wide way-finding system and overall appearance may be needed to improve personal experiences by people in nearby communities and throughout the state.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Durham Residents Support Existing Billboard Ordinance

A scientific public opinion poll was conducted by NanoPhrades to inform any future position the DCVB Tourism Development Authority might take should a proposal be made to modify the existing Durham ordinance prohibiting additional billboards in Durham or upgrading existing billboards.

Support for the existing ordinance was nearly 9 to 1 overall, with the ratio of strongly agree to strongly disagree at 8.4 to 1. In all, 72% of residents supported the existing ordinance, 20% were undecided and 8% did not support the current ordinance.

Support for the existing ordinance was consistent across gender with males and females, 72.4% and 71.4%, in favor respectively. Newcomers (2 years or less) supported the ordinance by a ratio of 4.5 to 1 while those here 3-5 years were 9 to 1 in favor, and those here 6 to 10 years in favor by 20 to 1. Residents of 11-20 years supported the ordinance by 14 to 1 and those living in Durham more than 21 years showed support by a margin of 8 to 1.

Caucasians supported the existing ordinance by 10 to 1, African Americans by 11 to 1, Asians by 4 to 1, and Hispanics by 5.5 to 1.

Residents supported the existing ordinance regardless of their level of pride in or image of Durham. Even those undecided about either supported the existing ordinance.

The poll was taken in August subsequent to several months of discussion in the community and neighborhood groups, as well as reports in the news of a possible proposal to change the ordinance to permit moving some billboards and upgrading them to digital.