Monday, January 31, 2011

“A Change Is Gonna Come”– A Durham Inspiration!

The words to this song have always resonated with me and I’ve learned recently that the writing of this song was inspired in part in my adopted home town, Durham, North Carolina.

Sam Cooke played a concert here in May of 1963.  After his performance, he stopped to talk to some Civil Rights activists and sit-in demonstrators here.  After talking to them, he returned to his bus and penned the first draft of this song and then tucked it into his notebook.

Mr. Cooke recorded it in the final weeks of that year but it wasn’t prevalently released until after his death in 1964.  It became an anthem for the Civil Right Movement of the 1960s.

Sam Cooke, for many of my generation, was our introduction to Soul music and a much more diverse world than where we grew up.

Courtesy of YouTube, below are videos of Sam Cooke’s version, followed by a contemporary version by Seal:

Friday, January 28, 2011

To Reclaim Its Image, Durham also had to Reclaim Its Story!

It is more widely known now that Durham’s image turnaround required standing up to Raleigh’s over-reaching to reclaim geographical assets such as southeast Durham including Research Triangle Park.

What isn’t as well known or understood is the work Durham’s official marketing organization had to do to reclaim history.  It is a pivotal part of telling a community’s story and two of the scores of examples for Durham are its place in the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement.durham_skyline_l

I was pleased to see a documentary the other night on the History Channel put Appomattox in perspective as the place where only General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate troops.

Unheard of twenty years ago, the documentary went on to explain that the war didn’t end there.  Lee’s army was relatively small.  The tragic conflict didn’t effectively end until weeks later when General Joseph E. Johnston made the largest surrender of the war to Union General William T. Sherman at the Bennett farm near Durham Station.

Bringing this kind of somehow buried or overlooked historical fact to light is an example of what DCVB had to do, with the support of historians, reclaim Durham’s place in history, a key element of a community’s brand.  It is also an example of what can be lost when a community’s brand is left undefended.

Something similar happened with Civil Rights.

Conventional history, twenty years ago, had erased Durham’s role in the Civil Rights Movement as the Associated Press attributed the much-publicized Greensboro lunch counter sit-in as the nation’s first.

The students there had been actually been trained in Durham and their work, while brave and significant, was just the first such publicized act.

That one and many earlier sit-ins had been fostered by two Durham men using Boy Scout and ROTC tactics to train students from several states in the basements of Durham churches on how to safely and effectively conduct sit-in demonstrations.

Leveraging scholarship and publications by Dr. Aldon D. Morris in The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change and the Pulizer Prize-winning Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63 by Taylor Branch as well as direct sources like Reverend Douglas Moore, DCVB was able to reclaim Durham’s pivotal role not only as a training center for sit-in activists but also as the place where during a visit with Moore, Dr. King was persuaded to embrace “direct action.”

Informational assets like this surface during the seminal research a destination marketing organization must do to inventory a community’s place-based assets.  Then that history has to be woven into other marketing activities like earned media, aka publicity.

Reclaiming the past is a vital step in telling a community’s story as a means to invigorate residents, draw visitors, meetings and other events as well as appeal to relocating businesses and newcomers.

DCVB didn’t do it alone.  It just rallied evidence, experts and residents and led a sustained and relentless charge through earned media and other marketing tactics.

It is all just part of community-destination marketing or should be.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Durham Metro Ranks 314th In “Indie” Share

Sustain A Bull has its work cut out.

Typically ranked at or near the top in nearly all rankings of metros or cities, the four-county metro area centered around Durham, North Carolina ranks a dismal 314th out of 363 metro areas in the nation when it comes to the proportion of retail activity captured by independent businesses.Capture

Mislabeled a “city” ranking, the “Indie” analysis actually studies official metropolitan statistical areas.  Raleigh-Cary, the closest metro geographically to the Durham NC MSA ranks 269h.   Asheville NC at 53rd is the highest ranking metro in the state.

Valuable to the communities in the Durham metro area, the “Indie Index” identifies 36 metro areas that far surpass others in the proportion of independent retail sales.  The report also breaks metro areas out into cohorts.

One of the benefits of scientific rankings and Durham’s status as a separate and distinct metro area is the ability to examine areas for improvement and best practice counterparts.

For other resources on the importance of independent retail, visit the New Rules Project.

For reasons to shop and ways to support local Durham independent retail, click on Sustain A Bull - Shop Independent Durham.

Respectfully Disagree or Two-Faced?

For two reasons, I’m glad I elected to watch the State of the Union speech on my smartphone last night rather than television. With split-screen infographics, It was far more informative and permitted me to simultaneously watch something else on television.

If you missed it on computer, smartphone or iPad, it is worth viewing, even after the fact.Capture

What struck me though was the question of whether “politics” teaches our children to ethically and respectfully disagree or to be two-faced.

Is the grown-up version teaching kids to rise above the cruelty and unfairness of playground/hallway politics or enabling it.

Kids hear everything their parents say. As early at 5 years old, they don’t miss anything, however softly spoken or even on the phone, and they remember every word.

So why do we think kids can somehow distinguish the difference between Senator McConnell’s smirk-laden derisives prior to the speech mocking the importance of government investment in infrastructure and quality of life, and then understand his glad-handing along right behind the President’s back as he entered the chambers to give the speech?

Kids get heavy doses of cruel politics long before high school now and parents everywhere work hard to ensure kids aren’t contaminated. Don’t think for a minute that kids didn’t see the equally childish and disrespectful Twittering by many Congress members during the speech.

Republicans, especially ultra-conservative Tea Partiers, elbow everyone else off of the principles underlying “family values” but as I watched Representative Michele Bachmann give her unauthorized response to the President (both the version where she looks into the camera and the one where she appears to be talking to someone off camera the entire time) she didn’t seem that concerned about family values.

Her eyes were straight-forward, kind of, but her words and gestures were filled with half-truths and misinformation and open disrespect.

Maybe we should have politics x-rated for children or cover their eyes and ears when politicians speak. Or, maybe newscasters should warn parents that content may be offensive or filled with “lies.” Maybe all political commentary should begin only when the “family hour” is over.

Don’t think for a minute that kids are not paying attention or that they don’t pick up on it.

Just ask my 5-year-old grandson. Better yet, just ask his Mom.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Some Recent Signals From Texas Are All Smoke

I haven’t heard much from Texas Governor Rick Perry since his Fed Up! book tour touting states as incubators for great ideas and that his state hadn’t been hit by the recession and now come some oversized reports of Super Bowl impact.

Perry makes a good point, but the Federal Healthcare Reform Act he hates so much was patterned after one pioneered in Massachusetts by another Republican Governor.

So who said you couldn’t shoot yourself in the foot while making your point?  Be sure to buy the book online, by the way, so you don’t have to pay state sales tax.


I noticed in the New York Times last Sunday that the Texas state budget is short 13.4% for 2012 but as a percentage of its current budget it is short more than 30%.

Don’t brag to me when you’re relying on reserves funded from oil production, the cost of which is born by everyone in the nation who buys gas or uses petroleum.

His state ranked 35th on national standardized tests of 4th and 8th graders while Massachusetts and Vermont ranked first and second respectively.  Given the philosophy of his book, I assume the Texas governor is on the phone to those liberals up in Vermont and Massachusetts right now. 

The tests include math, but unfortunately for some in Texas, they don’t include geography.  Officials in Dallas didn’t sound very astute  on either count last week.

They crowed that the Super Bowl would pump $600 million into their economy and generate $10 million in tax revenue.  That may or may not be accurate, they didn’t reveal the methodology.  Regardless, what the news media didn’t report or maybe failed to realize is that those figures are “gross,” not “net,” and it isn’t valid or “value-added” unless reduced by the amount the mega-event displaces.

The game will actually occur in Arlington, Texas not Dallas but even so, research for years has shown that the huge event displaces as much impact as it generates, for a net impact of, well “negligible.”  The Game and attendees may generate taxable spending but it will displace as much as it generates.

The game will displace visitors who would have been in the area anyway, it will disrupt resident consumer habits etc.  Studies of “sales” related tax receipts on dates the year before, the year of and the year after hosting a Super Bowl show no increase.

The article lamented that the “outer suburbs” (I guess Dallas is an inner suburb to Arlington) wouldn’t feel the impact.  Lucky them!  Ironically though, if any of the visitors who would normally be traveling to that part of Texas still dare to go, they will probably be dislocated out into those very “outer” suburbs. 

President Eisenhower may have put his finger on the “military-industrial” complex in his gutsy speech delivered 50 years ago yesterday, but that complex is rivaled by today’s “mega-event-industrial” complex including many cities and counties, destination marketing organizations, facilities, consultants, sports-advertising reliant news media, and major sports organizations.

There may be good social and cultural reasons for communities to host big events like the Super Bowl but it isn’t to add value to their economies or to generate visitors or future visitors or billboard effect.  There is just too much established research now to the contrary.

Such delusions aren’t limited to Texas though.  If Tea Partiers want something to get their anger “fix,” they need look no further than the smoke screens put up around major sports events.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Learning From My First Failure

My first ski lesson at age five was a disaster, maybe my first real failure and a decade passed before I tried again.  Doubtless this Skizee would have come in handy.

But that disaster may have had more to do with Dachau, Germany than with that frozen hillside that rose just across the “crick” below the barn and corral behind our ranch house on that late afternoon/early evening in the waning days of 1952 in the Teton-Yellowstone nook of Idaho

My instructor for that disastrous first lesson was my then-just-turned-30-year-old rancher Dad, only seven years removed from World War II and the indelible memories and stench of that 12 year-old facility where his unit stood guard.  Dachau was the first to be officially labeled a “concentration camp” by the Nazis.  It was the only one located in U.S. occupied Germany and only the second to be liberated by the Americans.

I had begged him repeatedly to take me on his Saturday ski excursions but his condition was that I first learn to snowplow and, with only a five-year-old’s perspective, I didn’t understand my Dad’s  intensity, determination and impatience juxtaposed with the frequent periods when he would sit alone in the dark, for hours and sometimes days, without speaking a word to anyone.

Snow skiing was Dad’s release.  He had learned in his teenage years before the War when Bear Gulch Basin opened up above Warm River just a dozen miles from the ranch my great grandparents and grandparents had homesteaded.01786_p_aaeuyfyqe1597

During almost daily Q & A tours through family photo albums and artifacts in the years before and after that failed ski lesson I learned that Dad (shown in the image in this blog if clicked to enlarge) and a couple of friends from his unit, had skied the Swiss Alps during a few days of Army leave just prior to being shipped home.

Long-since burned down, Bear Gulch at the time of my first lesson was a very simple rope-tow, t-bar kind of place, just a few miles up-range on the Idaho side of the Tetons from today’s world-class Grand Targhee Resort , which opened 17 years after my failed lesson.

I learned a lot about Dad from not only those photographs but also when going through the collection of European coins he kept in a yellow, plastic, water-proof case he once used for packs of cigarettes and  my Mom’s ultimatum when he got home that he give up drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.

While handling a hand-made dagger with a handle carved from an antler, I learned it had been given to him by a Communist prisoner at Dachau, and I learned that Dad’s hatred of the Soviet Union and Communism in general came from the fear he witnessed in that man’s eyes as he was liberated, so to speak, and put on a train to return home.

During frequent handling of a J.P. Sauer & Sohn officer’s pistol given to him by an SS trooper imprisoned at the camp, I learned from Dad that not all Germans were evil and that the soldiers who, had been summarily executed by American soldiers who were angered at finding a train full of dead bodies in the camp as it was liberated, had themselves been prisoners at the camp until ordered just hours before the liberation to guard the camp as others retreated.

I also learned that the prisoners found dead on that bullet-ridden train had not been machine-gunned by guards, as those who executed them had thought, but killed when the train was strafed by Allied fighter planes as it neared the camp.

In his description of photos of the gas chambers at Dachau, I learned how, in the 1930s, our Congress, along with other countries, refused to accept Jewish refugees being deported from camps like Dachau, leaving the tiny Dominican Republic one of the few that would.

Even from Dad’s always Spartan, emotionless, one-two- or three-word answers to my incessant questions about the photos and artifacts, I gleaned information that over time gave me insights into why, below the surface of my Dad’s can-do determination and passion and ultra-conservatism, he seemed bitter and cynical and conflicted and always more than a bit sad and alone at some level.

His marching me up and down that hill as a five-year-old in the dark, wet and cold may have turned me off of downhill skiing, which I eventually came to learn and enjoy for a 15 year period ending in my 30s. Boy my Mom was pissed but Dad did successfully breathe into me the will power and fiery determination noted by people during my successful 40 year career in community/destination marketing.

He also taught me how to think and the fact that things are rarely, if ever, clear cut and also to be wary of broadly labeling things such as good or evil without knowing the full story.  He taught me how to argue both sides of an issue, usually by seeming so stubbornly wedded himself to only one.

He taught me that things are never as simple as people make them seem and that even when you’re right, you can be partly wrong and that people who are often wrong, can often be somewhat right.

I just wish that somehow, before he passed away ten years ago at age 77, having skied well past age 70 when lift tickets were complimentary at most resorts, I had tried harder to lift his burdens the way he and Mom always lifted mine, and somehow replace memories such Dachau with those of skiing in the Alps.

I wish in my youth I hadn’t judged him so much or argued with him so often or let my hurt feelings and pride get in the way.  I wish I had told him more often how much I admired and appreciated everything he did for me and for my sisters and for this country just a handful of years prior to that failed ski lesson.

I wish I had told him that everything was okay.  But somehow I think he knows that now, and he’s free from the pain and he’s smiling about the fact that, at a much older age now, it is all making more sense to me.

I also bet he’s still skiing.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Straight Poop on Dog Waste

Let’s talk poop, dog poop to be exact.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I love dogs, especially English Bulldogs. I was surprised with DOGIPOT pet stations appeared in Rockwood Park near where I live; and now I know it isn’t just a gesture by the often entrepreneurial, customer-driven folks at Durham Parks and Recreation.Mugsy at Rest

There are nearly 70,000 pet dogs in Durham County.

Dog waste in North Carolina contributes 20%-30% of the fecal coliform in the state’s water supply.

Just one gram of doggy pooh contains 23 million fecal coliform cells and, in addition to pathogens, pet waste contains nitrogen that fosters algae that soaks up oxygen in water.

On average in this state, nearly half of dog owners DO NOT pick up after their pets. Judging by people I see routinely letting their dogs poop right in someone’s front yard, even in tony neighborhoods, many people don’t have a clue that “picking up” after your pet isn’t just an anal-gesture of politeness or fastidiousness or just for those of us with a lawn ego.

I’m writing about this because I never let my dog Mugsy (shown in this blog in his favorite position) near the strip of grass along the curbs of people’s homes, even though it is public-right away.

To the amusement of neighbors and friends, I’ve always been able to successfully train my bullies to go in the considerable amount of ivy growing in my yard or on mulch. Whether or not I run out of bags during a walk in a park, I always try to take Mugsy up in the high rough or in thick brush to relieve himself.

Now I know that I have still been contributing to the problem, or Mugsy has, because parks are primarily storm run-off areas and waste left even in areas clear of sight and human traffic will probably get into the water supply just as quickly, if not more quickly.

Now Durham’s water is well treated but that doesn’t mean we can just throw anything in there….this is about public health, saving tax dollars and being environmentally responsible.

A thoughtless individual who used to live next door would walk his dog down a private drive by some nearby apartments to let his dog do his “business.” Every time the owner of the duplexes called out to say that this man and his dog were trespassing, his loud retort would have made “Michelle Backmann” proud.

“It’s a free country and my dog can go where it wants.”

Actually it IS a free country…free to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…but it is not free of responsibility and it has never been, nor is it free when it comes to protecting life.

Pick up after your dog. When you see others who don’t know they should, ask them to be considerate and use some of these facts to help them understand that it is in their best interests…in the public’s interest.

Hopefully, elected officials won’t cross the idea of DogiPots off their list just because they’ve been deemed an experiment in a few parks as a trial. They work. Expand them to all parks. Offer them at cost to neighborhood associations and residents. They would fit nicely on the post for mail boxes, every block or so.

However, I believe those of us with pet dogs should pay a fee to offset the costs. Yes, having a pet dog is part of that “pursuit of happiness” thing for many of us. It is our reward, but it comes with a price.

Considering the fact that the 46 million households in this nation that own 78 million pet dogs contribute a major portion of the $48 million spent overall on pets and pet care, we believe its worth every penny.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Great Student Video Illustrating Dangers of Littering

This one, created by high school students at Miami Beach High took first in the older category.  For others, click here.


Illustrating that Wealth + Growth does not = Happiness

I was playing with a cartogram depicting the shape and size of countries by wealth and fast-growth and happiness this morning as the newscasters agonized over whether the US or China is the largest economy.

For readers who didn’t have time or the interest today to open the links in an earlier blog, here are some images captured from a FedEx cartogram that may signal why as Americans we may need to pay more attention to our heart and less to our ego.Wealth

Consider first an image to the right morphing the depiction of country shapes by wealth vs. actual size.

The second image, below, shows the shapes proportional to fastest-growing and below that,Fastest Growth

the third image shows the shapes proportional to happiness (yes, even happiness can be measured.)Happiest

Morphing Cartograms and Other Great New Tools To Illustrate Information or Decision Making

In the ten or so weeks since its launch, I’ve been fascinated at the cartograms , or morphing value-added maps that show statistical data in a diagrammatic way, created by FedEx to give perspective on a variety of topics.Capture

It begins with world population, life expectancy, median age and growth rate.  It is part of a global paid advertising program, but it has already demonstrated an even more powerful earned media impact.

Click on the start button at the bottom after opening this link and the size and shapes of each country will morph proportionately with each measure, thus the term cartogram.

You’ll see a place to “select other topics” at the bottom as well.  Click and the cartograms will illustrate:

National Geographic Magazine began a series this month on reaching the 7 billion mark in world population but the cartograms used as illustration aren’t available online yet.  However, this video by National Geo  on the topic makes excellent use of illustrations.

Another great example of how to illustrate a lot of information at once appeared last week in the Washington Post.

It shows the relative cost and life cycles of communication devices like fax machines and cell phones to computers, television, A/V etc.

Hover over a year and you’ll see, for example, that in 1984 cell phones cost more than $4,000 each and less than 1% of the population had one and by the time I arrived in Durham in 989, the cost had dropped to around $1,300 and 4% of the population had one.

Today the average cost is $78 and more than 90% of the population has one.

If you’re in the business of helping inform data-based decision making, these are excellent examples of how today we have more information than ever at our fingertips yet it is easier and easier to digest.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Marketer’s Perspective on Downtown Durham’s Resurgence

A lot of people take credit for the resurgence to Downtown Durham.  Too many give me far too much credit and a few foolishly attempt to re-write history.

For anyone who wasn’t here in 1989, let me share some perspective.

It is true that my arrival that year to help start the community’s first official destination marketing organization occurred five years prior to the staffing of Downtown Durham Inc. as a focal point for revitalization.Capture

As DCVB set up shop, it was very clear that thousands of people were already working hard to bring Downtown back to life including those listed below:

  • Brightleaf Square was already a huge success and other private developers had breathed life back into many historical buildings, particularly as residential lofts along Main Street.



  • Both City and County governments had already initiated streetscape, erected parking decks and a convention center and constructed/adapted/leased office space.


  • Miles Wolff had already revived the Durham Bulls with attendance nearing 300,000 at the old DAP and both had starred in a hit movie and become a bellwether for revival of MiLB.


  • The Carolina Theater was already thriving as an “art” movie house and film festival venue and Man Bites Dog Theater, along with other store-front theater companies, was already shaping Downtown’s reputation for performing arts.




Those noted above represent but a small fraction of what was already revitalizing Durham as I arrived in 1989.

So what then can be attributed to DCVB?  Nothing that unique. First came research to identify and catalogue a comprehensive inventory of:

- heritage, historical, architectural and cultural background

- everything to see and do

- everywhere to eat and stay

- everything distinctive and unique

- every barrier including misinformation, misperceptions and physical

Then Informed by this research and data:

  • DCVB shaped Durham and Downtown’s stories, weaving them into a blend of marketing activities including the following seven which are specific to Downtown:


  • Publication and wide distribution of a Downtown Walking Tour which included nearly 100,000 copies in the first few years, closing on 1 million copies to date both to inform and generate visitor circulation.  The story of Downtown was also woven into all other Durham visitor literature, videos and websites.


  • A non-stop barrage of publicity, first to re-educate editors and reporters and then stimulate stories about Downtown across the state and nation, an effort that continues today.


  • Defense of Downtown’s identity and brand which at the time was generalized with other neighborhoods in the core while at the same time dissected to isolate Brightleaf as a separate area.


  • Initiation of “districts” beginning with Brightleaf, Chesterfield, City Center and Old Bull (now called American Tobacco.)


  • Publication of the results of fact-finding to overcome misperceptions among banks, feasibility consultants, commercial and residential real estate professionals and residents.


  • Paid special attention to Downtown events in the DCVB-created and maintained community-wide official Durham event calendar.


  • Positioned the Durham Convention Center with meeting planners and booked of events to showcase Downtown and its potential.

Sound familiar?  It should if you live in Durham, and so should many other activities in which DCVB remains actively involved in promoting every part of Durham including Downtown.

This isn’t extraordinary and it shouldn’t take away from the heavy lifting by the City of Durham, the County of Durham and Downtown Durham Inc., the non-profit vehicle they have funded, nurtured and grown as the point organization for this part of the Bull City.

Credit also goes numerous developers who not only reap the benefits of all of these organizations but contribute significantly to this resurgence and for whom, even today, DCVB remains a go-to organization for assistance in overcoming misperceptions about Downtown.

So maybe the past truly is prologue to the future and there is plenty of credit to go around in the broad arc of Downtown’s resurrection.

As another wise man said, “nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Religion And Wealth–Distilling Vast Amounts of Information

As you can tell, even more than information itself, I find fascinating the role it can play in decision making.  Throughout my career in community/destination marketing I faced the never-ending challenge of condensing vast amounts of information into “at-a-glance” formats.Capture

Most often this format was important in order to distill measurable performance indicators or to help time-starved local officials with “just in time” delivery of data to inform decisions, often when retention proved futile, over and over and over and over again..

I’m known to have strong opinions, so people found it ironic that as early as seven years into my now concluded nearly-40-year career, I turned to data- or information-based decision making as a means to help the communities I represented leapfrog more established competition.

Thanks to friends like Dave Dittman, a public opinion researcher in Anchorage and Dave and Judy Palmer, then executives with Alaska Airlines and Princess Tours respectively this was years before data-based decision making became established as a best practice in community marketing.

It worked and so dramatically that in turn I find it ironic that so many remain still wedded to anecdotal opinions, blind to data and are thus pretty much held hostage, along with the communities they represent, to a long-outmoded way of making decisions.

Of course, it could be that some of those DMO execs are being held hostage to outmoded ways of making decisions by their governing boards or local officials.  Either way those communities lose.

So I hope anyone who finds this blog of interest will also find it useful when, from time to time, I share some remarkable ways huge amounts of data are today being distilled into what we now refer to as infographics.

An great example is the one found by clicking on the image above or on the website GOOD (for people who give a damn) which distills information about various religions and the household income of their followers as gathered in a study by the Pew Center .

I know, I know, this doesn’t address the fact that many folks don’t appear to know what to do with information, especially if it is different that what they hold as opinions or conventional wisdom.

More on that later.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Potential of Olfactory Branding Gets Much Stronger

When I first moved to Durham, one tobacco factory remained and the smell of curing tobacco reminded me of the smell of freshly mown hay on the Idaho cattle ranch where I was born.

Scents or smells are often central to the personality or brands of some communities. However, until now, smells such as decaying or burning fall leaves, fresh mountain air, frying bacon, pine trees, fresh linen, a cold winter night, roasted coffee, fishing streams, bourbon or wine barrels, ocean water, sagebrush, fresh mown hay, saddles, wildlife and others relied on word descriptions to trigger memories.Capture

Now, ScentScape, an affordable, patented and trademarked digital scent delivery system is available from Scent Sciences as plug and play with compatible game consoles and PCs.

To me, the day is in sight when computers and smartphones will incorporate this type of scent delivery hardware as ubiquitously as they do cameras now.

Marketers may already be coding websites and apps to be able to deliver scents as they can deliver bird calls now. Community branding expert Bill Baker has been encouraging communities to identify unique scent attributes for most of a decade now.

No product brands will benefit more than the brands for communities and other places to visit. Like any other aspect of branding it will be open to abuse.

Many community marketers will hope no one discovers the true “smell” of their community, while others will try to mask smells or mimic other communities' smells and still others will join the united states of “generica.”

Genuine and authentic branding will carry the day, even when the marketing can include the actual attribute of scent.

And like any other element of branding, fraudulent use of smells will be easily revealed, and complains may be accompanied by much less attractive but equally familiar odors.

Like any other element of a community brand, if your community isn’t able to “deliver” on its scent or scents, your marketing will backfire. which has a scent all its own.


There are good reasons we have a "representative" democracy. If we wanted robo-decisions, it would be easy enough to turn everything over to polling computers and do away with elected officials altogether. As much as I value scientific, generalizable public opinion polling, I say we stick with a representative form of decision making.

Republicans bent on repeal of healthcare reform are driving an agenda that represents only 26% of Americans (page 2) and less than half of the just-more-than-a-third who affiliate with their Party.Capture

But, of course, they weren't elected to just represent Republicans or those who support repeal of healthcare reform.

They represent everyone in their districts and states, even those who choose not to vote at all. They definitely don’t just represent bully-pundits or lobbyists or anonymous corporate campaign donors either.

Representative democracy requires conversations, informed by reading, analysis, thoughtful discourse plus courage and open minds.

The AP-GfK poll referenced above which was conducted a week ago on healthcare reform also shows overwhelming support for nearly every element of the reform enacted last year with less than a third opposed to the most unpopular element, a requirement for virtually all Americans to carry healthcare insurance.

By the way, the largest group of Americans who want the act changed, more than 4 out of 10, want the reform to do even more to change the healthcare system.

Given the amount of misinformation and distortion about healthcare reform, it is astonishing that anyone at all favors any of it.

Suppose there were a way to let the 1 in 3 who object to the requirement to carry insurance to completely opt-out on the condition that they or their families never run up even the most indirect or hidden costs to the system.

That just isn’t possible. It would be like saying one is never use streets or roadways or the monetary system or to breathe unpolluted air.

A free society doesn't come free. It comes with responsibilities. And those responsibilities must be carried by everyone. No one gets to pick and choose. No one gets a free ride.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Dilemma of My 19th Year

I was struggling during my 19th year, torn at the conclusion of the 1960s between duty to God and duty to my Country during the peak of the Vietnam War. My Dad, who was never particularly eloquent or religious, sensed my pain and scrawled one of a half dozen letters he penned to me in those two years of struggle after I left home.Capture

Rare for him while I was growing up, this time he didn’t give me his opinions nor did he try to rescue me by telling me what to think, what to do or how to feel which is how I typically interpreted his opinions.

After a few words expressing his love for me, he just enclosed something he’d been given as a soldier in World War II. I carried it in my wallet until it fell apart in my 40s. My Dad was ultra-conservative but that gesture, as much as any in my life, put me in touch with my progressive-leaning yet moderate-pragmatic politics.

The unattributed words he enclosed were part of a prayer written as a tag line to a sermon by a theologian, a contemporary of my paternal grandparents and by then in the last years of his life.

The author of that short prayer is on my mind today because Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who is one of my heroes is honored by today’s holiday. King felt he was far more influenced by the author of those words given to me by my Dad than he was by Gandhi.

Where I grew up in the mile-high Upper Snake River nook of Idaho, evangelism was inescapable during the years before and after I reached what they called “accountability.” The two dominant religions were Lutheran and Mormon.

A glimpse into these two expressions of Christianity is captured in a recent book entitled Claiming Christ published a few year ago from a series of friendly debates between two professors, one Lutheran and the other Mormon.

Evangelism may explain part of why I eventually eschewed the organizations of religion but not my faith. It definitely was at essence of that 1967 dilemma.

Although the words of the prayer received from my Dad are often misattributed to another hero, President John F. Kennedy, I learned the author was Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr; and ever since then I’ve been drawn to his writings, as was Dr. King, who was assassinated a few months after I received my father’s letter in the late fall of 1967.

I’ve been both humbled and emboldened by the words and deeds of these two great men of faith. In addition to re-reading Dr. King’s speeches today, I’ll read again one of Niebuhr’s essays, referenced in Friday’s blog of a column by David Brooks and which, as I’ve grown older, is just as significant in my life as that prayer from my Dad:

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope…

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love…

Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”

In light of my recent lament about ethics and the events of 2010, I can also highly recommend Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society – A Study of Ethics in Politics.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Conservative’s Poignant Case for Civility

I learned more about conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks during a stint when he taught at Duke University, here in Durham, North Carolina.

I enjoy his commentary weekly or more on NPR. But if you haven’t read his column today about civility and linked here, it rivals the eloquence of President Obama in a speech this week in Arizona after the shootings there.Brooks_New-articleInline

For those who don’t read or talk themselves into thinking they don’t have time, here are five quotes from the column that are particularly meaningful to me:

“Civility is a tree with deep roots, and without the roots, it can’t last. So what are those roots? They are failure, sin, weakness and ignorance….“

“We all get to live lives better than we deserve because our individual shortcomings are transmuted into communal improvement. We find meaning — and can only find meaning — in the role we play in that larger social enterprise...”

“Civility is the natural state for people who know how limited their own individual powers are and know, too, that they need the conversation. They are useless without the conversation...”

“Beneath all the other things that have contributed to polarization and the loss of civility, the most important is this: The roots of modesty have been carved away...”

“In a famous passage, Reinhold Niebuhr put it best: “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. ... Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”

However as Mr. Brooks writes near the beginning of column:

“Speeches about civility will be taken to heart most by those people whose good character renders them unnecessary. Meanwhile, those who are inclined to intellectual thuggery and partisan one-sidedness will temporarily resolve to do better but then slip back to old habits the next time their pride feels threatened.”

Defusing Bombs

One night last October, I found myself waiting for a dinner order at a restaurant bar in Cheyenne, Wyoming, seated between a two men in their late twenties.  One was a club hockey player from Canada, in route with his team to Colorado for a game, and the other I learned was a person desperate for a new career.

“I lost my job in the gas fields up near Pinedale because Obama was elected,” he declared.  I gently reminded him that the economy collapsed under the previous President and he nodded yes with a sudden epiphany.43_unexploded_sea_bomb

Something about him reminded me of my father.  The entire population of Wyoming is no more than the population of the Durham, North Carolina metro area where I live.

He was surprised that I knew where Pinedale was until I revealed that I had grown up on the other side of the Teton Range about the same distance west as Pinedale is southeast of Jackson Hole.

I could tell, even if he hadn’t explained, that he was one of many young people in that part of the country who had married soon after high school, got a good job and started a family only to have his dreams bombed by the financial industry meltdown that none of us truly grasps.

Life isn’t always “fair” and it is likely President Obama is not only blamed by a lot of people for the meltdown, and ironically, probably won’t receive credit by those same people for the turnaround.

I asked the guy at the bar what brought him all the way down to Cheyenne and he told me “bombs.”  His father-in-law had paid for him to take a training course and be certified to “defuse and dispose of bombs” in numerous places around the world.

He wasn’t going to move but he knew he’d never again be able to enjoy, in the same way, the simple pleasures Pinedale gives a sportsman.  He knew he’d miss his wife and kids every day but he was eager to feel useful again, to see the world and to do something to help people.

I told him, “now you’ll have skills and training in two industries”, but something in his eyes told me that he’d never be going back to the gas fields.  I thought back over our conversation as I walked back to my hotel room across a parking lot filled with vehicles and out-of-state hunters readying to follow me in the morning up over the 9,000+ foot Laramie Pass -- I to visit my grandsons in Salt Lake City and the hunters seeking trophy Elk.

I hope everyone who’s life has been altered by this recession can share in some way that young man’s resilience, his lack of bitterness, his humility and courage to pursue a completely different career and his heartfelt gratitude for assistance.

I just wish he could lend his new skill at defusing bombs to regulators in the Federal government who are tasked with making certain that another meltdown like this doesn’t recur at a time when so many new to Congress seem bent on rolling back and short-funding new safeguards including consumer protections.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Opinions About Gun Control Are Different Than We Think

Republicans in Congress, eager to repeal healthcare reform because public support is narrowly divided, might feel differently if the same logic were applied instead to stricter control of gun ownership.1858-1

Seriously, while slightly more people support stricter control and past trends would indicate that percentage will increase after the shootings in Arizona, the fascinating story to me in the tracking by the Pew Center are the differences revealed when the opinions about gun control are broken down by the criteria below.

  • Sex
  • Age
  • Race
  • Education
  • Income
  • Marital status
  • Party
  • Party and Ideology
  • Religious Preference
  • Region
  • Detailed Region
  • Urbanicity
  • Tea Party support

For One Particular Career Altruism and Sense of Place Are Essential

It just might be that a sense of altruism and a sense of place may be the two most elemental indicators that community/destination marketing may be a good career fit for someone.  Yet I was always puzzled by the numerous peers I encountered during my career who appeared to have little of either.

It seemed to me that without these two elements, it would be just another job.  But for any young person who comes naturally to these two traits along with a serious dose of passion and determination, community/destination marketing is definitely a career to be considered.HF Panorama_Wildlife

As yet, I haven’t been able to put my finger on where or from whom I inherited the altruism trait that fueled so much to my success in that forty year career, but I know exactly what inspired my finely-tuned sense of place and quick grasp of what makes a place unique.

It is captured in one of Val Atkinson’s photographs of my birthplace, found rotating on the Henry’s Fork Foundation home page (I’m a member) and a snippet of which is posted with this blog and can be enlarged by clicking on it.   This image depicts nearly everything that is unique to that Fremont County nook of Eastern Idaho cornered just over those mountains by Wyoming to the west and over the horizon to the right by Montana to the north.

Atkinson captured perfectly the contradictions, the light, the cattle and meadow, the foreground river and fly-fisherman and the rolling hills and dales of the Yellowstone Plateau punctuated by forests and those unmistakable Tetons.  Background it with my sound-tracked memory of a Western Meadowlark and the smell of my beloved black quarter-horse Gypsy and you have the primary ingredients of my first and defining sense of place.

I’ll eventually pin down the source of my altruism too.  You know, a hundred years ago altruism was used as a term of derision by ultra-conservatives who used as a euphemism for  “socialism” just about the time my great grandparents and grandparents homesteaded in Fremont County.

That’s a tidbit gleaned from the excellent Edmund Morris book entitled The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, which covers the period of his life from birth up to the moment he. a Republican, took the oath of office as the 26th President of the United States.

“Teddy” was always very clear about where he inherited his altruism.   He was born into a wealthy upper class family, and while still in his 20s, his father, Theodore Roosevelt Sr. already one of the influential men in New York going well beyond the norm of the day in unpretentiously giving of both time (every 7th day entirely) and funds and fundraising from others to help the most unfortunate, especially children.

This President Roosevelt also had a very strong sense of America, as a place, not only what it had been but what it could become.   That sense of place, coupled with his altruism, inspired him to found the modern conservation movement and to stand up to corruption and anything else that inhibited the American dream from being realized by everyone.

Today, we need more people like “Teddy Roosevelt” of every gender and ethnicity in community/destination marketing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

10 Realities That Can Rescue Your Community From Group Sales Obsession -

I started my 40-year career in community/destination marketing working in “group sales.” I was very good at it but I escaped. I didn’t do it alone. I had help on the “inside.”marketing_vs_sales

I’ve been clean now for nearly 40 years thanks to learning that “sales” never works in isolation like many who are still addicted will have you believe including many who operate or consult for convention hotels and conference centers.

People want to know our secret. How were we able then to rapidly grow three different communities as destinations for visitors including securing their fair market share of the 1 in 10 visitors attending conventions and meetings without holding those communities hostage to “group sales” addiction.

The “intervention” that ultimately brought so much success in community/destination marketing came from an old friend who successfully manages major convention hotels. His job, he told me, was to worry about “today,” and my job was to worry about “tomorrow.”

Disguised by my “holistic” approach to destination marketing, including pioneering the use of research and branding/image, is the fact that in developing three community destination marketing organizations largely from scratch one of my first priorities was to establish a strong group sales effort.

People want to know my secret. How as I able to grow all three destinations to “fair market share”for “conventions and meetings” without staying addicted to “group sales.”

After all, when I started my career, community/destination marketing organizations were known simply as “convention bureaus” and “group sales” was their only activity.

Here are 10 realities that show how our holistic approach to “marketing” enabled us to achieve greater “sales” results than other destinations could:

  • It’s always both/and, not either/or. Marketing includes sales and sales requires marketing. Sales is just one of several important marketing activities and overall marketing is a blend of activities, including but unrestricted by, direct sales. Overall marketing includes diagnostics/measurement (aka research), branding (aka image), earned media (aka public relations), paid media (aka advertising), and post-arrival circulation (aka point-of-sale sales).

  • Other marketing activities lower the barriers for direct sales. An example is that burnishing Durham’s image by reclaiming assets like Research Triangle Park and dispelling the myth of Raleigh/Durham as one place overcomes barriers that misdirect customers, rob the community of a rotation and otherwise neutralize sales results. Without marketing to clear the way and open doors, sales is just pounding your head on cement.

  • Sales is about “harvesting interest” while other marketing activities “plant the seeds and grow the interest” that creates the harvest. Other marketing activities plant the community’s story and get it on lists for consideration by visitors and planners, inhibit over-development of product and cannibalization, provide a platform so hotels and other businesses and facilities can harvest their share and stimulate post-arrival circulation to optimize spending and yield for the community outside the hotel.

  • Good sales decisions must be informed by other marketing activities. Uninformed by other marketing activities, direct sales can lead to “big game hunting” for subsidy-laden, mega-events and other poor sales decisions. Informed by research and other marketing activities, sales is less “ego” and more bottom-line driven.

  • Sales may deliver “heads in beds” but good marketing is about optimizing yields with “feet on the street.” While it may be the sole focus of hotels and meeting facilities to harvest “heads into beds,” it is the community and destination marketing organization’s job to put as many “feet on the street” as possible and that requires optimizing the attraction of both overnight and day-trip visitor potential as well as promoting circulation.

  • Knowing where you started and benchmarking progress is pivotal to arriving at successful sales. Research as a means to target and qualify prospects is not only integral to optimizing group sales but also to benchmark community-wide against fair market share, diminishing rate of return and when to diversify to other segments.

  • Pitting sales against marketing for resources is very limited, zero-sum thinking. Sales is about the “trees” but it takes overall marketing to first identify the right “forest.” Sales is product focused, “I have this facility and I want you to book it.” Overall marketing is focused on creating and retaining a customer base from which group sales can harvest.

  • Sales can afford to be generic, overall marketing is about being distinctive and place-based. Uninformed by other marketing activities, direct sales tends to focus on what is generic or similar with the competition. A marketing blend focuses on what’s distinctive and emphasizes place-based or unique attributes.

  • Selling of a “community-destination” is more about primary marketing while booking a hotel or meeting facility is secondary. While sales is a good technique to harvest potential for hotels and other meeting facilities, it must be blended with other marketing activities to draw interest in the community/destination overall which is almost always the first decision groups make.

  • Sales is prospecting, qualifying, presentation and booking, Sales promotion is micro-marketing. Even group sales require the use of sales promotions which are microcosmic blends of other marketing activities.

Superstreet Will Revolutionize Traffic Flow

Gizmag, a blog I receive about new and emerging technologies, reports something good coming surfacing out of nearby Raleigh  (don’t worry, this time is wasn’t stolen from Durham.)

It is a revolutionary traffic design by North Carolina State University researchers that virtually eliminates left hand turns on regular surface streets in cities and towns.smartstreet-1

NCSU will present the successfully tested “superstreet” concept  to Federal transportation officials in Washington D.C. during the last week in January.

I know, most of us are still adapting to the new interchange design at the I-40/Fayetteville St approach to Durham’s Streets at Southpoint, but I’m all for Superstreets.

Obviously, for any “anti-government” folks, this not just for convenience but to reduce traffic tie ups, improve productivity and reduce pollution. 

Threats Up 400% and 300% Respectively on the White House and Congress

A 400% increase in threats against the White House following President Obama’s election and the 300% increase in threats against all members of Congress in the first few months of 2010 bring the Arizona shooting into sharper focus.fivethirtyeight_main

The good news is that actual follow through is rare in this country even though it is the most open society on this planet.  Disturbing, however, is  the coincidence between dramatically more hate-filled, anti-government rhetoric in political discourse and disproportionate news coverage and the increased number of threats on elected officials.

My source including links to the original sources for this information is FiveThirtyEight which became one of my favorite blogs from the day I learned about it many months ago from Mike Woodard, a good friend and Durham City Councilman.

This blog also provides an excellent ongoing primer on how to interpret information and distinguish good, solid research which is the most universally valuable element of decision-making, including good community/destination marketing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Even if Rush Flunked, Isn’t The Issue Really Ethics?

I watched and listened following Saturday’s tragic shootings in Arizona to see if Rush Limbaugh, the vitriolic king of hostile talk radio, would accept even a smidgeon of the personal responsibility that he so often preaches.500x_palin-crosshairsarrowsmallgood

He didn’t.  He dodged it with the same sense of indignation and entitlement which he so often attributes to others. 

Even Fox News CEO Roger Ailes was apparently sobered enough to tell his on-air talent to “shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually”  But have they?

I’m not certain what part hate-fueled rhetoric may have played in the tragedy but high School teacher and blogger Elizabeth Bisbee Silber makes a lot of sense writing about the consequences of today’s “rapid-fire culture.”

USC Annenberg School professor Marty Kaplan does the same in writing that “the lock and load rhetoric of American politics isn’t just a metaphor.”  Best of all may be Jacob Weisberg writing about how anti-government, pro-gun, xenophobic populism, regardless of ideology, makes these tragedies more likely.

But I wonder if all of this is actually more about “ethics” when under the guise of so-called free speech, we permit adults and children to be bombarded non-stop with deliberately false or misleading information.

Oh I understand that a slim majority on our Supreme Court still believes people can drink from today’s proverbial “fire-hose” of 24/7 information and somehow research what’s true and what’s false as demonstrated when they recently permitted it to be deafeningly amplified by anonymous, unlimited corporate campaign contributions.

Frankly I wonder if anyone who still believes that, in this day and age, has a clue about what it’s like to live in the real world.  To me, the people whose reckless rhetoric contributed to the actions of the shooter in Arizona are guilty of “yelling fire” in a crowded theater.

I was amused when one of the many blogs to which I subscribe listed the 15 biggest whoppers perpetuated by another talk show host in 2010 alone, with #1 being his claim that if he told a lie on-air he would be fired.

What does it say about a society that looks the other way as huge sums of money are deployed, as frequently as every other year to bombard its citizens with deliberately false information and hatred.

How can we possibly teach our children or grandchildren to be ethical or expect ethical behavior from business executives or those entrusted to set the rules that ensure a “level playing field,” if we don’t expect it from political campaigns, news commentators or politicians.

To me ethical behavior for which we should all strive is captured in the simple 24-word “Four Way Test” (read below) penned in 1932 by a business owner during another worldwide economic crisis and adopted a decade later by the now 106-year-old Rotary International, the world’s first service club.

The Four-Way Test

Of the things we think, say or do

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned

For anyone needing or seeking more nuance, take a peak at these excellent student essays.

Disturbing Trips to Sarilda

I finally got around to watching Sundance-winner Winter’s Bone and it brought back some very disturbing memories.

I grew up in the Fremont County-Yellowstone-Teton nook of Eastern Idaho on a horse and cattle ranch homesteaded by my great grandparents and grandparents more than a hundred year ago and operated then by my Mom and Dad.

My sisters and I never wanted for anything nor did we realize it when our parents were ripped off by a business to whom we had sold our entire year’s inventory took possession, then suddenly filed for bankruptcy before paying a dime.Capture

Ranches are actually small family businesses that rely on one pay check a year.

My Dad refused to file bankruptcy himself and he and my Mom worked years to dig out of that hole but they sheltered me from feeling or knowing a thing about it until years later when I was grown.

During a recent family get-together it surfaced that the guy who ripped them off had received much local praise for donating an organ to a church just after he had weaseled out of paying my parents what they were owed.

Bankruptcy may be the only choice for a lot of people, especially if the Republicans are able to repeal healthcare reform but it isn’t just business creditors that get hurt.

Winter’s Bone reminded me that we used to travel north along the back way toward Island Park to just past an area called Sarilda to help out a distant relative of my grandfather usually by occasionally buying a hog. That family always seemed a bit afraid of me but it was probably more like amused because on the school bus when I was a 1st grader, I had punched out one of their sons who was several years older, for calling me “Eddie.”

Edward is my middle name and I’m proud of it because it comes from my Dad’s cousin and best friend who was killed in World War II action when the B-26 in which he was a tail-gunner was shot down over northern Italy. But my first name was the same as my Dad’s except I went by a shortened version, Reyn, to avoid confusion and I hated the name “Eddie” for some reason long now forgotten.

I obviously had an inkling about branding well before my recently concluded 40 year career in community/destination marketing commenced.

Winter’s Bone brought back memories of some of the people and places up around Sarilda at the time. “Places” is the rural Idaho term for individual farms, ranches and some are solely subsistence. I didn’t realize at the time that I was witnessing the devastating effects of abject poverty so very foreign to my own cozy existence just several miles south of these folks.

The wary glances, seemingly always unwashed faces and clothes, yards cluttered with abandoned equipment and houses and building that looked to be falling apart and the distant thousand yard stares were disturbing to me, maybe a little scary, I’m embarrassed now to say, because nobody smiled, ever, and when they spoke, which was seldom, the words seemed harsh, almost violent.

The movie was filmed in Missouri but those scenes are common anywhere in this nation. My resulting flash-backs reminded me again that clearly we don’t all share the same reality, that as a society we are judgmental of people in poverty, the vast majority there through no actions of their own and why I’m irritated by today’s frequently smug, dismissing, disdainful talk show pontification and accusatory rhetoric about “personal responsibility.”

I love America and the American Dream but I’m pissed off that the richest country on earth still hasn’t found a means to resolve poverty and that so many of us appear so ignorant, or just plain hostile, to its existence.

If you missed it as well, rent Winter’s Bone. It’s not just a movie and more than poverty, it is about courage and resilience and hope.

Signal Of Major Economic Acceleration

If you want to see how fast the economy is recovering, look at travel numbers rather than job recovery.

According to a report by American Express, the travel and tourism segment that served as a bellwether to the recession and was clobbered most during the recession is now roaring

Leisure travel, the majority of tourism, wasn’t hit nearly as hard as business travel during this recession including a 30% free fall in convention and meeting travel.

Tourism is a sector involving a half dozen different industries.  It is also one of the purest forms of community economic development and works like an export against an imbalance in the trade deficit.

Business travel overall has been in decline as a proportion of travel for several decades now and many corporate meetings, the vast proportion of all conventions and meetings, are giving way to technological alternatives.

Regardless of how much will return, it’s great to see business travel on the rebound and it means the rest of the economy won’t be far behind. 

For more information and charts read the link to the American Express Report or a great summary at .

Monday, January 10, 2011

It’s Never Good To Do Business With Someone Who Puts A Gun To Your Head!

Bullying seems to be a standard response regardless of who privately owns the hotel built in air-rights leased atop the very publicly-owned Durham Convention Center.

It is a very dysfunctional way for a government contractor to behave, regardless of how well intended the motive may

The current ego-threat to downgrade the hotel’s flag to a “Courtyard” is far from the most egregious example of bullying that has hampered this government contract over two different ownerships and its two decades of existence, much of it outside the public eye.

Going forward, regardless of who the City and County of Durham select as the operator, putting an end to this dysfunction will unencumber the Convention Center and enable it to fully participate in Durham’s ongoing emergence as a destination for visitors as well as conventions.

Yesterday's ranking of Durham by the New York Times as one of 6 destinations in the US and 41 worldwide to visit this year is just the latest of many accolades flowing to this community as a visitor destination since community/destination marketing commenced just two decades ago.

Belying the good management at the hotel for the last few years and many good people who have worked there are abuses stretching over two different owners during those same two decades that have plagued and undermined the local government contract to operate the Durham Convention Center including:

  • Virtually usurping the identity of the Convention Center as merely the hotel’s ballroom without seeking and paying customary “naming rights” in consideration.

  • Robbing the community of economic impact by diverting overflow guests to an entirely different town, county and business climate where the then-owner owned another hotel.

  • Inconsistent response to RFP’s and infrequent participation in community-wide co-op sales promotions while contaminating the community’s image overall as a venue for conventions and meetings with hundreds of meeting planners.

  • Repeatedly trying to hijack for its own resources and efforts intended to market the community as a whole in diversified segments.

As much as it is tempting and worthy of public review, rather than rehashing here the almost humorously absurd “Abbott & Costello-like” details of these and other abuses, it makes more sense to look forward.

Listed below are seven of many reasons the current recommendation for a separate operator can be mutually more beneficial for the facility, tax payers and even the hotel atop the Durham Convention Center:

  • There is compelling evidence why separate identities and managements for convention centers remain a “best practice” often even when both are privately owned.

  • Over 25% of all corporate and association meetings use convention centers, about the same percentage are drawn to any particular hotel flags. Having dual identities is win/win.

  • Durham overall draws its fair share of the 10% of all visitors who attend conventions and meetings as well as a healthy diversity of other segments. Separate management will permit the Center to do the same with facility users.

  • Logically, hotels give preference to higher-rated guests over groups, often letting meeting facilities go fallow. Separate management means the Convention Center will never play second fiddle and will warrant first priority.

  • Other Durham hotels will be even more likely to work with the Convention Center if it has neutral management and isn’t blanketed with the identity of a direct competitor.

  • Courtyard is now a greatly upgraded flag and while not full-service, if that’s the direction the hotel’s owners take, it will perfectly complement the new luxury boutique hotel developing just across the CCB Plaza from the Center.

  • If the hotel’s owners elect to retain a full-service flag, there is precedent to pursue an exemption that I’m certain would have the active support of local officials, DCVB and the Center’s new management.

From what I can see, kudos to the City’s Joel Reitzer and the County’s Drew Cummings for not only excellent “due diligence” during the bid but for standing up to, rather than deferring to, what has been the norm in that agreement.

Bullying is a common tactic among many businesses but not all. Some seek a win/win, while others feel entitled to push as far as they can.

Most government administrators don’t usually excel at resolving conflict even if it is their own, preferring instead to be mediators because politics so often intervenes while others make their point which rarely if ever works when one side is bullying.

I don’t know when the relationship between the hotel owners’ approach to and interpretation of the government contract to operate the adjacent Durham Convention Center became dysfunctional.

I came to Durham just weeks after those two facilities opened, recruited to help jump-start Durham’s first community-wide destination marketing agency, and the emerging dysfunction was already clearly evident at the time.

I took my share of blows over the years while standing up, as instructed by local officials, to the bullying that was rarely in public view or evident to others including administrators.

Standing up to special interests is a significant and essential part of the job of a DMO executive but that particular special interest was far from the most challenging I faced.

While no one was ever able to get the issues between the hotel and its government contract fully resolved over those years, I’m proud that we never let bullying by owners hinder our working as closely and as hard as we could with people inside the hotel to equitably promote both that facility and the Durham Convention Center.

Adopting the current recommendation will be a productive breath of fresh air for all concerned.