Thursday, April 30, 2009

Taking Credit

Sitting in a meeting the other day, I heard an individual state that he had been here nearly 10 years, had served on some committees, and that Durham had finally really “turned around.” He said it as a way of dismissing some decisions made 20 years ago as antiquated.

It made me cringe because frankly, everything we see being done today is due to the framework established decades ago. In fact, what we’re doing today--while more visible--may be cosmetic compared to all the great things done through the decades that made Durham what it is by laying the groundwork for transformation. He isn’t the first person I’ve heard paint himself as the cavalry riding to the rescue of Durham. He obviously doesn’t exemplify one of Durham’s deep brand values…unpretentiousness.

It also reminded me that we’re all human and we sure can sound stupid at times.

With my retirement (I call it repurposing) a little over 8 months away, people have being saying some very kind and generous things to me and it would be easy to take it as credit. But while I believe this organization has worked long and hard to fulfill its role as a change agent, especially the part about driving demand to make improvements sustainable…I really can’t personally or even organizationally take credit for anything. I did my job. I did it with passion. I didn’t back down. I didn’t give up.

But credit? That’s a word that would fall on far too many other shoulders…

Anything I’ve done has been part of a team effort with deep respect for Durham’s inherent and historical nature. A community doesn’t rise and fall with the actions of an individual or a group. It is the synergy of many, many individuals and groups, all fulfilling their role over many, many years.

I say and believe that, not because I don’t have an ego. Believe me I’m reminded often that I do. I make the statement, because guys making statements like this remind me, that we all need to be a little more humble and just a little less assuming.

As you know I dabble in genealogy. I’ve been surprised to find several lines of my heritage on both sides that go back to kings and nobles of Wales, England, France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Turkey…even an emperor or two in both the Western and Eastern Roman Empires.

Shows you how much the gene pool thinned out by the time it got to me. :)

And I smile because my parents loved each other deeply but they were also as different as night and day. And if they knew they are more related than they think, whew! Well I guess that’s why there is some mutation, at least in male genes.

But it has also taught me incredible respect for the unpretentious people my parents, grandparents, great and great, great grandparents were. They left those countries, many to flee religious persecution, only to find some of the same on this continent. They fought in wars, not as knights as their ancestors did but as regular folks. They built cities. They went west, colonized and homesteaded farms and ranches and built businesses.

But to them, they were just doing their job and not for a second did they think that sitting on a few committees or solving a problem or two had turned the world around.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Instead of an Annual Meeting

For as long as civic luncheons have been held, they have primarily served as fundraisers and a means for organizations to bring attention to themselves.

But DCVB decided to forego the typical annual luncheon and instead elected to self-fund and produce Durham’s Annual Tribute Luncheon each year. Our partner is The Special Event Company so we also try to illustrate how alternative venues can work for meetings and events.

Rather than bringing attention to DCVB, we seek to bring attention through the Annual Tribute Luncheon to individuals and groups who help shape and preserve Durham’s brand values. After all, in telling the Durham story, it is those distinctive brand values that are most important to what DCVB does as Durham’s official marketing agency.
The event this year is April 29th right on the Mildred and Dillard Teer Stage of the new Durham Performing Arts Center. And as always, it is a sellout. It is also one of the most diverse events of its type every year.

Last year, the Annual Tribute Luncheon was on the floor of Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the Duke Blue Devils play, a building and team that also showcases the Durham brand.

In addition to The Special Event Company, the Annual Tribute Luncheon is made possible by loyal sponsors like Duke Medicine, US Foodservice, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, ABC 11 News, Summit Hospitality Group, LTD, American Airlines, PMB Graphics Inc. and The Talking Phone Book.

And DCVB is sure to connect in other ways with internal stakeholders about Bureau activities and results. Surveys of both residents and of civic, business, university and neighborhood leaders show the Bureau has a very high awareness and understanding level and approval rating.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Some People Don’t Know Where Their Bread Is Buttered

DCVB sends out a weekly eCalendar of events to thousands of civic, business, university and neighborhood leaders.

I received a terse note from an individual unsubscribing because he “takes his family to Raleigh for events.” We wish Raleigh the best and trust that people who live or work in Durham have reason to visit that fine city from time to time.

But I wonder if this particular person has a clue his salary comes from taxable spending and investment in Durham, not Raleigh. And exclusively spending his money in Raleigh, certainly doesn’t help fund his employer or his salary.

In fact I’ll surmise he is misses several points:
  • The calendar is a simple public service. How will a little awareness hurt him?

  • It isn’t always about “him.” His stakeholders obviously live in Durham and he’s in a position to use information gleaned from the calendar to answer questions or make suggestions.

  • Durham hosts a wide range of events that can only be found in Durham so he may want to broaden his horizons or at the very least not stunt his family’s opportunities.

  • If he has a little “tude” about Durham, he should get a job down in Raleigh. Better for him. Better for Durham. Better for traffic.

  • If he wants to remain working in Durham, he needs to come to grips with one simple economic reality.
Leisure spending is a significant source of local tax revenue here. He owes it to the community that employs him to help spend some of that payroll back with the events and facilities and organizations that help fuel the taxes from which he feeds his family.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

45,000 TV Spots Per Person

That’s the annual average number of 30 second-equivalent ads the average adult is exposed to after 5.5 hours a day on average of TV viewing time. (This time Nielson funded researchers to follow viewers around to be sure rather than relying on self-reporting.)

And that doesn’t count exposure to ads during 100 or so minutes of daily listening to the radio or nearly an hour of reading newspapers or two hours a day on the internet, or an hour of email, all of which can include ads. It also doesn’t include nearly a half hour a day of reading magazines, or what you see in retail stores and malls, on the sides of buses and trucks, or in movie theaters prior to watching feature films.

People unfamiliar with marketing are easy to spot. They inevitably push for TV ad campaigns without having a clue about the dilemmas inherent for deploying this one component of marketing increasingly termed “paid media” (advertising) versus “earned media” (PR.). People are increasingly bombarded and overladened with marketing messages. And targeting smaller market segments can be even more complex.

Marketing is all about measurable results. TV as a medium is complex even for huge advertisers who can buy thousands of spots, pounded repeated over long stretches of time. Because even then, if the ad really works too well, it often overshadows the product, like my current favorite to the left.

Finding the right blend of marketing is difficult, especially when budgets are small and targets are narrow, but dispersed. Each element has to be carefully calibrated to specific objectives, to targeted audiences and very measurable results. There are times when advertising has its place in that blend.

If you hear someone oversimplify a problem with “let's just run some AAAYYYAAADDES! Chances are they 1) don’t have a clue about how marketing works and 2) don’t have to be accountable for the results.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Whisker Goals

Sure, I procrastinate, but in my job I also get the opportunity to help other people overcome procrastination. I enjoyed a column recently called “Time to Aim Lower - Why Tough Circumstances Call For Smaller Goals.” By Dan and Chip Heath.

This quote from the authors of Made To Stick has definitely stuck in my mind:

“We’re all used to hearing about stretch goals, and when you feel empowered, stretch goals are useful ambition teasers. But when you’re overwhelmed, stretch goals are a recipe for paralysis.

Michael Phelps needed a stretch goal. Julie (overweight patient in the book One Small Step Can Change Your Life) needed a whisker goal, a target that was a hairsbreadth away from the status quo. We need more modest steps because they help us get past the “start-up costs” – the apprehension and fear - that deter us from doing the tasks we hate.”

Thursday, April 23, 2009

In Branding as in Basketball – You have to Play both Offense and Defense

There are always one or two folks who think marketing and branding a community should be Pollyanna - like one of those all too frequent college basketball teams that apparently believe you can just outscore the opponent with offense and ignore defense. While offense is more fun and gets more space on highlight reels, day in and day out, it is defense that wins basketball games.

Similarly, being successful as a community’s marketing agency and a steward for a community’s brand requires an approach similar to the kind of basketball Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils play. You need both brand offense and defense. But the one that is indispensable, particularly if your shots aren’t dropping is an intense, relentless defense.

The reason this is also true in branding is that no amount of positive promotion alone can outrun something that is attacking, eroding or marginalizing a community’s brand. That’s because negative information is more than twice as powerful as positive information. Failing to defend the brand is like taking one step forward and two steps back…eventually you have to resolve what’s holding you back.

But even at DCVB, where we take a polite but no-nonesense approach to dealing with issues that erode or marginalize the Durham brand, the vast majority of our communication is positive information.

Defense, the often difficult but indispensable part of marketing, falls to DCVB staff and a grass-roots group called Durham Image Watch. They tackle the tough assignments and stand up for Durham, which isn’t always fun and games and take a lot of ingenuity.

To support both these true Image Watchers and for thousands of others less inclined, we distribute bi-weekly emails like the one shown with this blog. They reinforce the core values of Durham’s overarching brand.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Future When Everyone Will Know Everything

Friend and fellow blogger, Bill Geist recently introduced me recently to another blog I’ve found entertaining and useful. Bill does that a lot. He puts more people together with more information than anyone I know.

Bill shared with me the blog by Jason Baer, a social media consultant whose recent blog on a future when everyone will know everything (thanks to Google and Wikipedia, etc.) was fascinating. Here is a great quote:

"It strikes me as both exhilarating and terrifying that my children...will live in an age when everything is knowable. No conjecture. No mysteries...Doesn’t the balance of power shift from those that know stuff through study or experience, to those that don’t need to know, but know where to look?"
Jason Baer

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Cowboy’s Guide to Crisis Management

Mike Herman was living in Durham when DCVB was founded 20 years ago. Before he moved away, he was part of a team that helped us realize that marketing isn’t just promoting the positive. There are times when marketing has to also defend and manage a community’s brand.

Here is a funny article on crisis management that Mike just published in the April issue of Tactics Magazine, a publication of PRSA.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Deceptive Advertising about Geographic Location

Senator Julia Boseman has filed a bill in the North Carolina General Assembly to prohibit businesses from deceptive representation of geographical location in directories, print advertising or on the Internet.

Currently it is written for perishable products but she is being encouraged by DCVB and others to go ahead and make it applicable to any business.

No brainer, right?

Well I could hear the knees jerk in many businesses who take laisser faire and buyer beware to its extreme. They actually believe they can benefit from tricking customers about their location. And unfortunately that can work…but not for long. It is a very short sighted and customer hostile strategy no matter how many thin rationalizations are offered. Ugh!

There is a hotel near Hillsborough in Orange County that advertises itself as a Durham hotel. There is a hotel in the City of Durham that advertises itself as being in Chapel Hill and until recently there was a hotel in the city of Durham that advertised its location as Raleigh Research Triangle Park (RTP is based in Durham, four miles from Downtown and encompassed on three sides by the City of Durham).

There is a hotel in Cary that advertises its location as Raleigh Durham Research Triangle. The hotel is a good 5 miles from the airport and 10 miles from Research Triangle Park so using Raleigh-Durham is a stretch, but RTP is even more so since it’s based in Durham and even further away. Imagine the surprised guests getting on the I-40 west bound parking lot thinking they are going to an airport hotel or one in Durham at RTP. That’s quite a nightmare to face during rush hours.

Sometimes this is done out of ignorance or being geographically challenged and sometime folks are just plain greedy. Other times it is done by people who don’t understand that the post office can now give you address designations that have nothing to do with physical locations…also an action extremely unfriendly to consumers in the day and age of GPS and location based content.

RTP, NC is a Durham postal substation. It is a special county district for research, like a fire or water district but it isn’t a town or city and it doesn’t qualify as a dateline. The Board of County Commissioners have authorized businesses actually in the Park to advertise they are in the Park. Those within two miles can advertise their location as in Durham “at” RTP. Those further than two miles can only advertise the number of miles they are from the Park.

There are several reasons to support Senator Boseman’s bill. It is fair to consumers. It is fair to businesses that have paid higher prices for an actual location. It is fair to communities whose brand always depends on reinforcement at every touch point including assets based there.

As a friend of mine who runs a business in Durham near RTP often states….”At the very least, businesses have an obligation to not confuse customers.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

When Stakeholders Get Greedy

There are now 85 destination marketing organizations accredited to the new International standards for community marketing including DCVB, which was among the first two dozen in North America and the first here in North Carolina.

But I know at least one DMO that isn’t going to be accredited any time soon and it is very sad. It’s a destination that was one of the first to organize for marketing the destination as a whole. It also has a very enviable blend of place based, cultural, built, and historical assets.

But instead of preparing itself for accreditation, this destination marketing organization is being slowly but agonizingly cannibalized from within by an unholy alliance of greedy and obviously very uninventive stakeholders bent on feeding on its flesh.

No matter that this destination has been hit harder than most by the downturn, the jackals are too busy ripping it apart to care. It will bleed out before the community as a whole and officials who should be protecting it figure out what they’ve lost.

The formula isn’t new and thankfully it almost never works. One stakeholder, feeling entitled to special treatment, gets greedy and engineers a coup. It’s usually about money. Someone needs money…big money…for a pet project. Someone else suggests the way to pay for it is to get the destination marketing organization to foot the bill.

Another stakeholder who should have put its foot down because it stood to lose out to the imbalance created, panicked and instead of defending what was best for the community, jumped in to grab its share. Yet still another stakeholder that should have been sticking up for the business community is complicit because its aging funding model is rendering them impotent to do much more for the community than to promote itself.

None of it would be happening if Nero wasn’t fiddling while Rome burned.

What’s truly remarkable is how seldom this formula succeeds. And even when it does, once the jackals are sated or the community awakens to see how fast and far its status as a destination has eroded, how far behind other destinations it has fallen in reaping a fiscal yield from visitors…people who care about the destination will rise up, run the jackals out of town and begin the arduous task of rebuilding a true destination marketing effort, free of special interests:

- One that pursues market segments based on potential for that community overall, not any one stakeholder group

- One that brands the community based on its true personality and character, not what one stakeholder group or another demands it should be, out of arrogance.

- One protected from power plays like this.

- One that generates the community's full potential for the business climate and the tax base.

- One interested in striving for best practices rather than self interests.

Any community is only a heart beat from this type of disaster if it ever drops its guard or permits egomaniacs to form unholy cabals of self interest. It can happen anywhere -but not for long. You see destination marketing is based on sound organic principals of community interest…not self interest…there is nothing that can replace it…just ask communities that had to resurrect a DMO.

10 signs to spot these rogue stakeholders:

  • Big ego and arrogance

  • Personal and Political agendas

  • Full of themselves, never listen, because they are always talking

  • Zero sum gain...its always about "them" not "us"

  • Expert at everything

  • Self-righteous and self serving

  • Conniving and duplicitous

  • Uninventive and greedy

  • Make decisions based on who’s asking

  • Corner people and groups rather than collaborate

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

UHC Is Imperative and Well Overdue

I went to college with many people from Europe, some of whom wound up living and working in Canada. My Mom worked for years managing offices for doctors and dentists. So for 40 years or more, I’ve heard the pros and cons of universal healthcare.

I remember how vehement folks like my Mom and people for whom she worked were about a national healthcare system. And my Mom wasn’t real ideological or political. They even sounded a little bit superior. And my Dad considered it communist (I believe he never really got communism and socialism straight. He just hated both of them because he hated what happened to Germany after his WWII days).

But over the years as my parents grew older, their position softened. And my friends in Canada can’t really tell the difference between the care they receive there with a national healthcare system and what they received in the USA. And I think everyone can see now that universal healthcare isn’t either/or or yes/no and it certainly doesn’t have to be socialist. We can innovate a new standard.

Based on this chart on MSNBC and a power point I received recently, it is imperative that we evolve to a much different and much more efficient and effective form of providing healthcare in this country.

Now is the time. When the Declaration of Independence ticked off the inalienable rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” it is clear to me at least that life includes “healthcare.”

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Many Miss the Genius of the Web

Even during the downturn, with resources at a premium, it is interesting to witness how many organizations fail to leverage the genius of the World Wide Web.

On the web, you get further, faster and more efficiently, by linking to the official source for information rather than trying to duplicate or replicate content…or if not a link, then arrange for a bot or RSS. This is far less time consuming and it means your website users always have up to date information.

But many organizations in Durham, for instance, appear to be trying instead to “reinvent the wheel.” You can tell because even though it isn’t their mission, they try to maintain their own list of museums, theaters, restaurants, hotels etc.

Or maybe they don’t know how the community is organized and who does what, and that it is available for the asking…or maybe the people working on the site are left in the dark and work in a vacuum.

Doesn’t seem like anyone would waste this much time, effort and money on purpose…unless they just don’t see strategically how to make the Internet work for them.

The genius of the web is that when you want content, you find the official source for that content and link to it. That way you’re always up to date.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Filming a Movie Is a Lesson in Teamwork

Typically, as in Durham, the destination marketing organization (DMO) is the film office, sports authority, etc. So, as with the current filming of Main Street, we get a close up view, while we’re facilitating logistics, of just how a film comes together.

Everyone I’ve met thinks they strive to foster teamwork, and no organization is more dependent on it than a DMO like DCVB. But I have to say, more than sports teams, which often epitomize teamwork, more than a restaurant kitchen which is probably at the same level…in fact more than almost any other endeavor I can think of, producing a feature film epitomizes teamwork.

Part of the marvel is because there are so many “cooks” in the kitchen at the same time…many levels of producers and assistant producers - from financiers to bean counters to the actual line production folks to agents, actors, directors, screen play writers, and of course studios and distribution channels not to mention scores of positions I’m not mentioning.

A film coming together seems very slow and gradual at first but when everything is signed, and when teams are assembled and they hit the ground running, it is one of the most intense displays of choreographed teamwork you’ll ever see.

What makes it more unique is that while the individuals often know one another, they haven’t necessarily worked together…if the particular teams have worked together, often they’ve not worked with the other teams or worked with them in this configuration. And they don’t get practice time.

The lines of authority are also very different, like they are for instance in a university. It can appear a bit chaotic.

They have an incredibly tight timeframe. And a very tight budget. Everyone has to know, understand and accept their role…

It is a great lesson to watch it all happen during production of a film and an inspiration that those of us working within our own organizations or in concert with other organizations should be able to do much better at teaming, avoiding replication, leveraging everywhere possible…

Friday, April 03, 2009

I Love Books But I’m Impressed by Kindle2

I’ve always loved books. I love to read them. I’ve always lined them up on bookshelves after I read them. I can spend hours in a bookstore with no particular purpose but looking at the books. I’ll be very disappointed if small, local, intimate bookstores don’t survive the paradigm shifts happening in publishing.

But I can also see convergence at some point between online and local outlets. It is obvious now with the way Amazon is fronting for hundreds of small stores that actually do the fulfillment. Still doesn’t replace the ambiance or experience at the local bookstore. So there will still be a place and hopefully that sorts out before we lose that entire category of local business,

I’ve also been trying out the Kindle2, a device Amazon offers that enables a reader to rapidly purchase and download an entire book to a reader about the size of a paperback but only as thick as a pencil.


And it works. I can see in the future that a local book store, could offer the option of buying the physical book or beaming a book to your reader.

The downside: it isn’t as tactile; it doesn’t have the old book smell as it ages; it isn’t as easy to share.

The upside: it is environmentally friendly; it can hold a zillion books; it is easier to read while you’re eating; it is easier to read laying down or on your side…you don’t have to roll over every time you turn the page.

And…it is very easy to read unobtrusively in boring meetings.

Now we just have to find ways to make all this viable for the locally-owned economy.

But I can see it coming.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Updated Downtown Walking Tour Published

The popular, self-guided Downtown Durham Walking Tour has been updated and republished. DCVB produces and distributes an average of 40,000 copies each year via bi-weekly deliveries to 150+ locations in Durham.

The print version is off the press Friday. Linked above and behind the cover image is an online version. DCVB created this piece nearly 20 years ago now but it has steadily progressed. This year it includes a list of restaurants and night spots.

The tour is actually a series of tours with a primary spine and then various options. But Downtown is compact and it doesn’t take as long as you think. This little piece has been under-credited for its role in drawing attention and traffic to Downtown over the years, long before the current revitalization had reached critical mass.

I appreciate all of the time and effort it takes to update this piece. If resources were available, we could easily use twice this many.