Thursday, December 28, 2006

Wow, That's a Lot!

I’m always amused that, whenever someone inquires how many staff it takes to run DCVB, they invariably respond with “wow, that’s a lot.” Compared with what? People in my job are used to a few people who will try to use that as a form of criticism. What they usually mean is, “I don’t have a clue what to say, so to sound like a critical thinker, I’ll blurt out – wow, that’s a lot."

But the fact is, most of us underestimate the human talent and resources it takes to do any type of job. We stroll through life thinking mail delivery, trash collection, custodial services, public safety, firefighting, utility pole work, home building... almost any job is much easier than it really is.

Then there’s the crowd that thinks there must be waste in every endeavor, so if we attack the number of staff doing the job, it’s a safe bet it will become more efficient.

Well guess what… it may drive up stock value, but it drives down productivity, morale, unity, teamwork….

We need to turn the tables. The next person who utters the remark, “wow, that’s a lot,” needs to hear an immediate chorus of: “What kind of comment is that?” “Do you think this happens by magic?” “What are you thinking?”

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A New Theater

In 18 months Durham will have a brand-new, 2,800 seat, professionally managed theater for the performing arts. It will be Durham’s 14th but arguably in a class of its own.

The good news is it will be a joy to promote and market to visitors; PFM/Nederlander has already proven an excellent partner, it will keep some Durhamites from leaving Durham for certain shows and will be a tool to help draw visitors and it will finish off the southern part of Downtown Durham, already home to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, American Tobacco Campus, Diamond View I, and two national historic landmarks (Old Bull Building and the Lucky Strike smokestack).

The new facility presents challenges that are equally significant. It will require drawing three lodging room nights for every one it has the potential to generate, in order to pay the debt service. No matter how much effort is put into “raising all boats in the harbor,” it will divert some business from existing theaters and other leisure facilities and activities. Getting patrons to come early and stay after in restaurants will be complicated by the commute people will make in this region from work, then back to theater and back home again, and getting them to walk to and from other parts of Downtown will prove as complicated as it does now for the ballpark.

All in all it’s a major plus. But beyond the first few years when everyone will come just to see the facility, like they did for DBAP, the easy part is behind us and the hard part yet to come…make it sustainable and, at the same time, make existing cultural facilities sustainable... and develop a much more coherent decision process and funding mechanism for future cultural needs.

Is the theater a great thing?…yes. Was it creatively developed?…yes. Was a lot learned to improve the process?...not yet, people are still playing offense and defense. Now the real work begins. Can we put aside personalities and stop the finger pointing at people who raised good, although uncomfortable, questions and seriously sit down together to make this all work?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Running From Taxes

It's conventional wisdom these days that politicians can’t raise taxes and still be re-elected. I’ve heard surveys to the contrary, but it has permeated the national, state and local levels and brought everything into a kind of “finger pointing” grid lock.

It used to be that “taxing” visitors was thought to be a work-around, but recently Governor Romney of Massachusetts reportedly vetoed $25 million in visitor promotion with an eye to running for President of the United States. In community after community where taxes on visitors have been jacked up to absurd levels, there is evidence visitors are rebelling.

A local political expert told me once that surveys show the issue isn’t taxes per se, but the fact that the public no longer associates taxes with the services they receive. Could be we’ve all fallen for the idiotic idea that anything is free. Could be the media’s obsession with amplifying each and every mis-step in government while only rarely amplifying either its own or that of corporations. But I doubt the media is fully responsible or able to reverse this.

The problem may be politicians themselves, who often vilify taxes during campaigns. My personal take is that, to reverse the trend, it will take a group of individuals to run for office on “fixing problems” and playing very straight with the electorate about the cost of the things the public “wants.” Once in office, they need to communicate often and directly with taxpayers about the cost of services and how those costs are being mitigated and how waste is being eliminated.

I believe we have leaders like that. But it will take a lot of courage to deliver these messages and an electorate willing to push aside the usual hyperbole of election campaigns and news media willing to give more exposure to solutions than to rhetoric and smear campaigns.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

State of Durham's Economy

Durham is so extraordinary, and it is such an honor to be part of this community. Sitting through the 9th Annual State of Durham’s Economy Breakfast (which DCVB co-founded and co-sponsors) was humbling. There is so much greatness in one place.

For instance, Ryan Wuerch, founder of Motricity, gave some remarks about why they chose Durham as home. This is the company that provides ringtones etc. all over the world, and it's based right here. They are the wireless industry's leading provider of content, and it's all done just blocks from where I write this blog.

Each year as we go through hundreds of economic development and quality of life benchmarks, it’s clear that Durham is indeed where great things happen. It's also clear that great things alone won’t make a pesky image problem go away.

No, it's not in our head, and it's not just a complex. Studies have proven that Durham is assaulted by highly negative word of mouth from residents in nearby communities, often fed by the fact that Durham is the only major city in the state covered by two major dailies, Durham’s and one from Raleigh.

Late last week I had a conversation with John Wagner, plant manager for Merck’s vaccine plant. He volunteered that I was right on--in comments during a discussion--that it was vital that Durham be vigilant and inoculate newcomers as early as possible to this negative word of mouth. He said that, by the time they were orienting executives about Durham, several construction people had been down earlier and had already become contaminated by exaggerations and war stories that would make your skin crawl.

Many people don’t have the stomach to stand up and confront inaccurate information about Durham. We get paid to do it, but it's not the most fun part of the job. But as branding experts say… you either defend a brand or your competition and enemies will define your brand.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Telling Yourself a Story

Two of the most incredible books I’ve read are Crucial Confrontations and Crucial Conversations. I only found out later that the authors also graduated from Brigham Young University. ;-)

The steps don’t come naturally for me. I have to do a refresher whenever I’m quick enough to know I’m in or needing a crucial confrontation.

But the most incredible insight for me is the part about “Telling Yourself a Story.” It’s the lightning quick (reminds me of the book Blink, another great read by Gladwell) presumption of motive and intent in another person or group before you’ve confirmed it exists.

It's served me well in some aspects, e.g., avoiding grave danger. But more often than not, it gets in my way by setting in motion a whole series of actions, reactions.

But knowing my quickness can result in “telling myself a story” is a very small part of the solution, and the easy part. The hard part is catching yourself before you do it. I’m making progress, but it will be a lifelong battle.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Project Management Requires a Lot of Trust

Experts say that 50% of all jobs are project management, and to me, in destination marketing, it may be even higher.

But beyond the steps, good concept description, list of stakeholders, steps, timeline, milestones and deadline, project management requires a lot of trust.

Trust first of all that, when you send an email with a question, the other person will respond in a timely manner, either with the information requested or an alternative if that isn’t possible.

Trust that people will pay attention to the “wrangler,” or person keeping everyone on track.

Trust that people will bring up issues in time to seek alternative solutions.

This all breaks down way too often but rarely out of negligence or bad faith. The culprit is failure to communicate and either hoping for the best until it's too late to make a change or telling ourselves a story that we’ll somehow get to it... or being hesitant to share bad news. It all ends up in breakdowns.

Oh, there is one other culprit. People by nature don’t like deadlines. And without deadlines, project management doesn’t exist.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


With many civic and business leaders, there is a big disconnect when it comes to perceptions of economic development.

Oh, for a good run now, anything "economic development" has been embraced. But the term still labors under the narrow constraints of the old “industrial development” model, popular in the middle of the last century. This type of economic development focused on what is often called buffalo or big game hunting to recruit companies willing to relocate from other communities. The measurements were jobs (often jobs relocated not created) and expanded property taxes from capital investment.

Visitor-related economic development is still an enigma for many, because it is “demand based,” but can be equally potent. Instead of going after the business to relocate, it focuses on recruiting the consumer. Those consumer visitors then generate new hotels, new restaurants, new retail opportunities and new entertainment venues, while at the same time making existing ones sustainable.

These facilities also generate property taxes through capital construction. In 2001, for example, surveys showed the costs of developing and constructing a typical hotel room ranged from $49,000 for economy all the way up to $376,000 for luxury. That means that currently in Durham, from hotels alone, there is $102 million in capital construction occurring over just the next few years.

But at a cost of far less infrastructure, visitor-generated economic development also yields significant amounts of sales tax revenue.

My guess is that people will finally let go of the narrow “industrial” definition of economic development when taxation practices are truly reformed. That may take a bit. Local governments in particular are still wedded to property taxes, even though that model dates back to when economies were mostly agrarian and businesses were manufacturing-based.

The new service and creative economies mean that tax policy needs to be reformed, and when that happens, voila—it will likely be that getting people to see the equal value of visitor-related economic development will be much, much easier.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mixed Messages on Research

I got a nice compliment from someone the other day at KPMG, a global firm doing feasibility work among other things. “You guys have the most incredible website and research about your visitors that I’ve ever seen,” she volunteered. Now that’s praise indeed.

But here at home, I often get statements from a vocal few that “you do too much research; just place some ads.” That’s a blast from the past. Remember the old “ready, fire, aim” approach to marketing. Ugh! Actually for many CVB’s, we’re still in the old days. ;-)

The comment is even more anachronistic, though, in Durham, the home of Research Triangle Park, Duke University, North Carolina Central University and Duke University Health System, all strongly research-driven.

My theory on why someone would be pejorative about research in this day and age is that (1) very few organizations in a community do marketing, let alone understand the value-added benefit of good market research and (2) they feel trapped or threatened by a research-driven formula because it thwarts marketing by “who’s asking” or “special interests,” or “politics,” which is a combination of the first two.

Market research is worth every penny. A study done recently by a university indicated that, on average, 10% of a marketing budget is market research. That varied greatly by type of business or organization. In destination marketing, the best practice is nearing 4%, and that is rapidly increasing, as people understand just how much more effective research can make other marketing tactics and strategies.

Another reason people may be pejorative about market research is they don’t realize that it's one of the few DCVB marketing activities that is truly visible at the local level. Locals probably don’t see all of the advertising or direct sales or publicity etc., because that is targeted to external audiences. But to empower local stakeholders, including all visitor-related organizations, to embrace the community’s brand, DCVB distributes as much research as possible, so it can be used to inform decisions beyond our efforts to market the community.

Actually, thanks go to the foresight of the State Legislature, which inserted market research as a component of promotion and marketing in DCVB’s charter legislation, and just as much to the people who founded DCVB and believed that a CVB in the home of RTP, Duke, DUHS and NCCU, should definitely be “information-driven” in its decision-making.

And thanks to Dave Palmer, then with Alaska Airlines, and Tim Skoog with Northwest Airlines, who during my time in Anchorage, helped us pioneer an in-flight visitor survey and to Dave Dittman, who schooled me in opinion research. I’m sure there was a time when I was caught in the paradigm of “let's just place some ads.”

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Instructions for Adding the Durham Brand to Email Signatures

The first link below includes instructions on how to add the Durham brand signature to your email signature. The second link is the brand signature itself (image file).

Friday, November 03, 2006

A Glimmer of Hope on Airport Greetings

Managing Durham’s brand is a key responsibility of DCVB. One of the things that undermines the Durham brand the most is how the community is positioned by airlines. Tickets, credit card receipts, listings of cities serviced, gate listings and onboard announcements often create havoc.

But I was very impressed on a US Airways flight Sunday afternoon from the airport in Philadelphia to RDU. The gate listing read “Raleigh-Durham,” which is much better than some airports, e.g., DFW where it is truncated to just Raleigh or Raleigh-Dur because the gate readers aren’t long enough.

The ticket receipt read “Raleigh,” so there is still work to do with US Airways’ Accounting Department, and the website listed “cities served,” although it was really only a listing of airports, so someone looking to see if US Airways serves Durham had to look down under the “Rs.”

But the flight crew was nearly flawless. Departure announcements were careful to refer to Raleigh-Durham Airport rather than treating the name of the airport like it was an actual city or, worse, truncating to the name of one particular city.

The weather announcements reverted back to “Raleigh,” but that is probably because the FAA beacon recording for the pilots is mistaken.

On arrival, the crew referred to Raleigh and Durham, so passengers understood that, while the plane landed at RDU, an airport, the owner communities are separate and distinct brands.

It's only one crew, one flight, so we still need to work with RDU and other destinations it serves to come up with a holistic solution.

But kudos to this crew for the respect it paid to the airline’s brand, the airport’s brand and the destination brands.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Everyone Should Visit Nursing Homes

I just went out to the Pacific Northwest to visit my Mom. She lives alone with a little Pekinese dog named Charlie. They are both getting on in years. She goes two blocks away for several hours twice a day to help care for her husband who’s in a nursing home with severe Alzheimer’s. She has severe macular degeneration.

It's inspiring to see how she navigates, stays organized, uses the computer and a cell phone, all with only very limited peripheral vision. She’s hell on nursing home staff, making sure that, even though her husband Leon is virtually unaware, he gets timely care.

I feel like such a whiner after seeing the folks in that nursing home. Most can’t communicate very well or have deteriorated physically. Many are in wheelchairs and need to be moved from place to place. People like Leon, even if they don’t weigh 250 lbs., have to be lifted out of chairs or beds with a machine. Most have very few visits from anyone or a gentle touch.

I think everyone should walk through a nursing home once a week. One, it should remind us that we aren’t very kind as a society to people as they exit this life. We storehouse them, debate and stall research like stem cells, refuse to let them decide when they die and, each year, cut the funding for nursing homes.

But a visit to these places would also help us all be more inspired... Inspired to be more resilient and determined and to whine less, if at all, about how tough our life is. Inspired to be more humane and communicate better. Inspired to be less defensive and to listen. Inspired to strive harder each day to do a better job, to find ways to around obstacles, to continually improve and to say what’s on our mind.

I come back from these trips full of fire and determination to expect much more of myself.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Being Quick Has Its Drawbacks

From a fairly young age, I was told that I had two key strengths for someone in my career. One is the ability to see further into the future than most people and, with it, the ability to make applications with what appeared to be foresight. Second is the ability to very rapidly detect “personal agendas” when individuals or groups interact.

I’ve always taken those comments at face value, but over a career and hearing them repeated, I’ve come to accept there may be something to these comments. Like everyone else, I’ve never been anyone but me, so I couldn’t really see these things from the inside.

But for every strength, there are drawbacks. I’ve had to learn that, while I could vision further, that made it even harder to bring people along to share a point of view. It also makes me very vulnerable to people who only think in concrete or literal terms and focus primarily on checking things off the list rather than calibrating to the future.

At first I would see the “rolled eyes,” or worse, people would just ignore what I said, rather than ask questions. I’ve tried a lot of things to deal with this over the years, but by natural selection, I’ve come to work with people who either trusted what I was saying or asked good questions.

More problematic has been the ability to detect “agendas.” Because I detect them very early, I also react rapidly and sometimes too fast to be strategic. The personal or group agendas and dynamics are so clear to me I can’t fathom that others don’t see them. I’m also surprised that they see me as defensive when I respond… only to later marvel that I had been right on.

Of course, being able to detect people’s agendas means that I’m not usually included in what we call the “good ole boy” club. However, that has never bothered me a whit.

These two gifts also mean that I can get caught not reading or listening more carefully. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reacted, only to change my mind considerably once I studied an exchange in more detail.

I don’t regret having these abilities. I am puzzled, though, that, after so many years, my ability to adapt to their drawbacks is so agonizingly slow.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

New Brand Wears Well

I have to admit, I had my doubts during the overarching brand process, but the outcome is really wearing well on me the more I read it and view the signature elements.

First doubt I had was if it was possible at all to come up with something overarching for a community as complex as Durham. Polls show that Durhamites have an extraordinary relationship with their community, and while that is positive, it presents challenges to branding. The closer people feel to a community, the more they want their individual perspective to be the brand.

Second, the process itself was painful and a lot of hard work. It isn’t a direct path between A and B. It involves incredible amounts of networking (nearly 50 different segments of the community and hundreds of people), the working and reworking, listening and relistening and, most of all, informing anecdotal views with more generalizable input.

Third, I know as well as anyone that a logo and especially a logo and tagline are not a brand. I wasn’t drawn immediately to the elements that tested so well. But very rapidly now, as I’ve seen the breadth of application and let the symbols and words roll around in my head, it has grown on me.

Lastly, I now have to have patience while others go through the same process and even more patience with the months and years it will take to embed this brand and measure its effectiveness.

Overall though, this has been an incredibly informative process. Even the questioning and second-guessing of latecomers have been both informative for the next go-round and an opportunity to reach people about a topic in which many would not otherwise engage.

We also owe a great deal of thanks to Total Destination Management for patiently guiding Durham through this process.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Sometimes people in my profession embarrass me. It seems many aren’t pushing to continually improve. For some, it’s all about who’s asking and you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

Sometimes we sound like a selfish clique, looking out only for our own interests. We don’t listen to the needs of other sectors; we just want them to support tourism, well, just because.

Take the school calendar discussion. It’s clearly important to some destinations but not nearly the majority. Other school issues are equally or more important to many of our stakeholders, and they won’t be served by one-size-fits-all or if we “circle the wagons” around some issues, just because they were raised by other tourism officials.

What would others say if we as tourism officials stuck our nose into the way they conduct their business? I think tourism is far more deeply and broadly embraced in destinations where tourism officials are as concerned about other stakeholder needs as they are about those of special interests.

What if the liquor stores/ABC boards all got together and tried to make all of the churches in North Carolina stop holding services on Sunday mornings? Their argument might be along the lines of, “It’s hurting our business, because people don’t want to stay out late on Saturday nights.” And of course, “If we free up people to stay out late drinking, think of the economic benefit that would result…all of those tax dollars for government (not to mention a tidy profit for the distributors).”

Never mind that some communities and some churches would likely say, “It’s fine if you want to change, but leave us alone…we’re quite happy with our service hours on Sunday morning.” Can you imagine how it would feel to have your church hours legislated by a small group having no idea of the consequences of that to each faith community, on the basis of how important the economic benefit would be?

Part of maturing as a profession is being able to ask very difficult questions of one another and treat issues that impact others in a way that we would like tourism treated.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Why Many Listservs Lose Diversity of Opinion

It is disturbing that many listserv comments are used for attacks or result in “piling on” rather than civil discourse. The initial genius of listservs was that they provided an easy way to share opinions and get feedback. But many people on listservs are now only “listeners.”

My theory is that email is a difficult medium in which to gauge tone and humor, especially among relative strangers. So while listservs promote unbridled expression (sometimes vehement, strident or derisive), they require little transparency or accountability for statements and are easily hijacked.

People can vent frustration, often with little justification or rationale. Hidden agendas are easily fostered. These aspects are more than a bit chilling to public discourse. It's the same reason small groups can dominate public hearings. Often they are dominated only by negative agendas or ulterior motives or at best prone to overstatement and theatrics (thus the popular saying, any 30 people in orange T-shirts can determine outcomes).

So listservs to me serve a purpose, but they aren’t nearly as democratic or as engaging as once thought. Oh, they are often democratic in that anyone can sign up and in relative anonymity say whatever they want, but they don’t often yield true discourse, and that’s disappointing.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Seeing Into the Future Is Frustrating

Applying historical trends to the future works for me. It's always been so easy. The frustrating part is that the world appears much more interested in the anecdotal crisis of the day.

So we slip quietly toward a tipping point for global warming. We slip into another Vietnam, not more than 30 years from when we said never again.

In my world, when I’m not trying to explain that visitors are an important source of economic development, I’m trying to warn people not to take it for granted.

Take tax revenue. We can’t take visitors for granted. Oh we learned that in the aftermath of 9/11. It provided a tragic example of what happens to tax revenue and small businesses when the plug is suddenly pulled on travel.

There is a long-term issue that worries me. It isn’t enough that the competition for visitors is more and more fierce. We could be extremely successful as a destination and still be dead even in the near future, when business travel continues its long, slow decline and we just barely replace those travelers with new leisure travelers.

To me it means we need to be deploying significant increases in promotion and marketing just to ensure that the current base of visitors keeps growing. More is needed because transitioning to new markets is always more expensive than growing existing ones.

But people glaze over when you talk about more than 5 years from now, just as many complain if they have to read 10 to 20 pages to apply findings from a report. We’re becoming more and more anecdotal, more and more spoon-fed by the crisis or topic du jour, and in the meantime, we’re ignoring some very real threats in the future.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Street Delivery Designations

For more than a decade, the United States Postal Service has assigned mailing addresses to homes and businesses that are different than the physical location of that home or business. Yup, it adds a whole new meaning to catch-22. I know it’s been that long because I have an editorial from the National League of Cities decrying the practice.

We’re working to get them corrected in Durham. There are tons of reasons for you to have an address that is the same as your physical location and only one for making them different. Our regional post office is in Greensboro, and they seem much more reasonable, but when it was in Raleigh, I was told during a phone conversation years ago that the postal service assigns your address based on where the post office is located that delivers your mail.

So if a post office in one community needs more work to meet its capacity or the postal service anticipates the need for additional facilities, it just goes over into a nearby community (or not so near in some cases) and assigns mail delivery addresses that coincide with the station where your carrier picks up your mail in the morning but totally different than your physical location.

I can see how that benefits the postal service, but why did they make it our problem? With zip codes, it shouldn’t matter if your physical location is Timbuktu and the carrier picks up your mail in Chapel Hill. The address should still coincide with the physical location.

Okay, I’ll calm down. We are making very slow progress in getting corrections. When I first came to Durham, half of the hotels in the City of Durham had been assigned to receive mail as Morrisville, NC, a small town in another county.

I believe the “cons” to this policy vastly outweigh the singular convenience to the postal service. Here are just a few ways this practice is harmful to people and communities:
  • It confuses visitors and newcomers who still predominately use addresses to find physical locations and only logically expect them to be the same.
  • It undermines or dilutes a community's brand or persona, causing economic harm.
  • It confuses people about where their kids go to school, where to pay taxes and where to vote, where to move, how to avoid commutes etc.
  • It even confuses the cable company, which often makes assignments based on the mail delivery designation.
  • It confuses the news media and results in inaccurate datelines. It also confuses the PR person supplying news releases.
  • It confuses the headquarters for many businesses, which end up advertising locations as a city different than the physical location of the store and often publish directories with stores that are located in one community under the heading of another community, thus negating the entire purpose.
  • It confuses companies conducting marketing research or public opinion polling.
  • It confuses Internet mapping services and websites.
  • It confuses Realtors and brokers, home sellers and home buyers.
  • It confuses advertising agencies.
  • It confuses delivery drivers.
  • It makes people feel stupid.
I won’t go on, but I could… forever. My point is there are many ways for the postal service to be efficient and still synchronize mail delivery addresses with actual physical locations. I’m sure by now the people who came up with this practice have retired… so let's grant amnesty (by the way, this practice was never reviewed at any level of government) and get it corrected across the board.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Student On My Mind

Repeatedly over the last week, I’ve thought about a young student who just traveled to Durham and enrolled at Duke University.

She is the first person in her family to go to college. She took the bus from her home in another state. She had student aid, maybe a scholarship, but when she got here, it became clear there was a gap for other needs, like a computer.

I’ve been wondering about how someone gets this motivated. Who in her life fueled that drive?

I’m amazed at students in public school here in Durham. Have you ever reviewed the end-of-grade tests they take? They are difficult and demanding. I’d bet most of the adults pointing fingers at the school system wouldn’t pass them.

Same with the new SAT and that monster essay part. Whew! When I went to school, there were no end-of-grade tests. And for both the ACT and SAT, there were maybe 50 of us in the library… and the results were never put in the newspaper.

We have great kids coming up right now…. Things are complex for them, but I am so proud of people like this new student at Duke… and inspired.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

How We're Perceived in the Presence of Others

In the early '80s when I was at the Anchorage (AK) CVB, we called on Roher, Hibler and Replogle. RHR at the time was a pioneer in management consulting and organizational development, kind of a precursor to coaching. In Durham we do the same with Performance Management, Inc.

I often recall a statement the consultant said to me in passing one day. He said, “You see everyone as equals, but other people don’t. Many people see people as friends or enemies, losers or winners, allies or obstacles.” He went on to explain, “You don’t realize the impact you have on people in your presence.”

It struck home, but more than 20 years later, I’m better but I’m still really not cognizant of the impact I have on people in my presence. The consultant told me I would always have problems with this... something about intense focus.

My hands shake. It began as a young boy, and it has gotten steadily worse. It’s called familial or essential tremor. The condition isn’t degenerative, but it’s embarrassing. I’ve read it’s a distant relative of Parkinson’s.

My first recollection was in the second or third grade when the teacher had us all gathered around a table to make a rock garden with “bluing.” It was like bleach, and you couldn’t spill it, but sure enough, she handed the bottle to me and said, “Pour only a small amount and be very careful.” The rest is history.

In high school I was the first person to learn to type (out of self-preservation). In my 40s, I even had to change my writing hand… but now they are both just as bad.

I see people during conversations suddenly become focused on my hands. I can see them wonder if I’m nervous, and maybe it sometimes makes me more human to them… less confident, assured, focused, intent… some make jokes that get back to me. Others assume I’m either vulnerable or ready to come loose on them. ;-)

I really do see everyone as equals, and I guess that isn’t going to change; neither will the tremor in my hands.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Durham's Sense of Place Increasingly At Risk

I think this guest editorial by Shelly Green offers some excellent insights on how to preserve and sustain Durham's unique sense of place.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

No Wonder People Are Confused

You have to pity travelers sometimes. Some things are just not customer-friendly, and the bigger they are, the slower they are to adapt. Take Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, for example. Recently it was noted that, on arrival/departure monitors, DFW was just listing "Raleigh." There is no airport in Raleigh, and the airport that serves that community equally serves many other destinations. You would think an airport with a name as long as DFW's would have room to put Raleigh-Durham Int., but the best they could do was Raleigh-Dur. Progress but not friendly either to destinations or travelers.

Similarly, Sabre, a huge operation providing travel data to travel agents and other intermediaries, is based around the old notion that there must be one airport for each community; therefore Raleigh and Durham are one place. Only users with intimate understanding of the geography here will get good search results. For example, a search on "Raleigh-Durham" doesn't bring up hotels near the airport but instead a hodgepodge of properties randomly drawn from 10 different communities--giving users the potential of being 60 miles round trip from where they truly are visiting.

Smith Travel Research is another hugely popular and essential service that isn't friendly to developers. It was never set up to reflect destinations or even MSAs. So pulling up Raleigh pulls up all of the scores of cities in Wake County and several north and south, and an area called Outer Raleigh circles around Durham to include Hillsborough--two counties and 60 miles away. Using this information, a developer or feasibility consultant will have seriously polluted performance data.

What do all of these have in common? Inflexibility and a one-size-must-fit-all approach. Good people in each operation are now struggling to adapt, and it's up to destination marketing organizations both to keep the heat on and to be of assistance.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Friendly Fire

Image is important to a community, but it's crucial to a destination marketing organization like DCVB. The issue of Durham’s image is complex, because half of the people working in Durham (and likely to influence newcomers, visitors and relocating executives) are residents of other communities, some of them rivals.

This means that, to determine information diffusion (how it moves from person to person, community to community), DCVB has had to unwrap and document:
  • Durham’s self-image among residents,
  • Durham’s image among residents of neighboring communities (because they hold jobs in Durham and "look like a Durhamite" but also because they control most of the jobs in news media covering Durham, at the co-owned airport, in State Government and in the regional namesake, Research Triangle Park),
  • Durham’s image nationwide, in the Northeast and Southeast.
The good news is that, by nearly 8 to 1, Durham residents have a good self-image of the community. By a 6 to 1 ratio, Durham enjoys a positive reputation nationwide, and it's higher in the South and Northeast. The problem begins next door in Orange County, where the ratio of people with a positive to negative image of Durham is 2 to 1.

It gets worse yet in Wake County, the second most populous in the State, where the ratio is barely 1 to 1. It's about the same in a 100-mile radius but worse to the east, following the footprint of the new viewing and readership area that includes Durham.

So, the problem of image is pinpointed. Its focus is in Raleigh and Wake County. The challenge is at best how to improve that image or at least to inoculate newcomers and visitors from negative word of mouth that emanates from there.

But the title "Friendly Fire" comes from a military term to be shot or wounded by friendly forces vs. the enemy. It's hard enough to back people off who want to overreach and claim RTP for Raleigh or who encourage or tolerate truncation of the name of the airport to the city Raleigh, but it's even more complex when one realizes that half of the people on Durham boards, running Durham non-profits and running Durham-based businesses are non-residents, who are likely to be contaminated by people back where they live.

This means traditional advertising isn’t a solution, and the solutions that will work are much more complex and time-consuming.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Travel Experience as a Brand

The travel experience, especially via air, has some problems. I just traveled to Austin, Texas, and back on business. Here are some of the problems I incurred. Unfortunately they are not isolated, and they undermine the brand for travel as an experience.
  • Seat assignments were not as preferred, because it appears we booked too early?
  • The wait for a cab in Austin was interminable, not because there weren’t any cabs but because of the process of calling them up one at a time, while they moved at a "crawl," with a line of 20 or 30 people all standing in 100-degree heat.
  • I thought the unusual and less-than-aesthetically-pleasing entrance to Austin must have been a cabbie shortcut, but it wasn’t much better on the return. Durham is worried about wayfinding, but we’re not alone.
  • Upon arrival at the hotel with a very courteous cabbie, we learned he didn’t take credit cards. We came up with cash and asked for a receipt but learned later it was blank… this is a loophole for fraud.
  • During the commotion, the bell staff had unloaded the trunk and immediately called me over to the stand. After the cab had left, I learned they had not unloaded a shoulder pack with my keys, my electronics and charger cables, etc. Fortunately, it occurred to me that it was missing right after checkin.
  • The first person I tried to explain it to at the bell stand was too busy to focus. We called the cab company and got nothing but a rude reaction from several dispatchers, all of whom explained that the company didn’t know which cabs were out on service and not all of them (and none of the ones serving the airport) had radios.
  • Finally one of the bell staff who had made the mistake took up our plea and went down to check the security tapes, only to find they didn’t capture either the cab number or whether the missing piece had or had not been unloaded.
  • The good news is that two and a half hours later, the cab returned, and the driver returned my pack. Good guy, and I was sure to commend him to the dispatch company and the security and bell staff at the hotel.
  • On the way out, the airport HVAC wasn’t working well in Austin. We were able to change our seat assignments at self-checkin but were not able to get seats at all in DFW for RDU. When we arrived in DFW, the terminal for departure was on the opposite side of the airport with only 15 minutes to make the trip.
  • We got there on time… got a person to switch so the seats worked… but then sat on the tarmac in a sweltering plane for two and a half hours while a mechanic worked on the hatches in the rear.
A lot went right on this trip. Austin has done a lot to rejuvenate its downtown without making it generic and fueling a very active street music scene with good restaurants, etc. The conference was exceptional. The hotel was outstanding.

But we need to do a lot to improve overall travel experience.

Friday, July 14, 2006


I’ve been going through and cleaning out the old "Central Information System," DCVB’s first "filing system." It has been both rewarding and very hard on my allergies. We’ve come a long way, and fortunately we have all of our history intact.

I’ve been a Chief Executive Officer for 30 years, in three organizations (granted, the first stint was an organization of 5 people and about $150,000 budget), and more than half, 17 years, have now been at the Durham CVB. Looking back, the position is definitely not for everyone. I’m fortunate that it suited my abilities and preferences, but there are several other jobs in destination marketing where I think I could be successful and just as fulfilled.

Time flies. I was 27 or 28 when I took over that first organization (after working my way up over a five-year period), just turned 30 as I took over the second organization, and less than a year past my 40th birthday when I came to Durham. I still feel like I’m in my 20s. I wake up every morning with the same drive and passion for this work as the day I started.

But when I talk about movies, music, trends, or use certain buzz words, it’s quickly clear that I’m working with people much, much younger. They humor me. They inspire me. They seem much better prepared and more mature and wise than I was at the same age.

What’s clear in these files, though (as we determine what to scan or place in hard copy archives), is how clear Durham’s challenges were right from the beginning... how far we’ve come but also how incredibly strategic and long-term it is to execute significant change. It deepens my sense of urgency all the more.

I envy younger people who work here. I wish I had worked in an organization like DCVB from the beginning. The intensity, the fun, the creativity, the sense of accomplishing good things for a good cause, the opportunity to change and improve and innovate…. They will always remember this time and the people.

I’m reminded of this blessing every day and not for a second do I take it for granted.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Another of Life's Great Ironies

If it didn't present such obstacles to destination marketing, I'd probably be amused at the irony that many businesses including news media outlets, while defiant about the integrity of their own brands, are often dismissive of others, particularly community brands.

It humors me, for example, to read comments attributed to a brilliant television and radio tycoon convey that no one cares about a community's brand. Like viewers really care which is the local affiliate for television programs on ABC, CBS or NBC? No, but they certainly matter to the viability of the affiliate.

Similarly, businesspeople (and even more perplexing, some community messengers) seem, with few exceptions, to fail to grasp why it's important for a community to adapt best practice branding techniques.

Well, a branding expert named Post probably put it as succinctly as anyone can when she once wrote...

Communities, cities, and even states all compete in the world of everything--commerce, tax bases, cultural riches, hometown intellects, the creative class, and happy folks using it all. It's the fuel to keep geographic areas going and growing.

It also brews healthy combat zones, the seduction of buyers to destinations. For business or pleasure, the game is called branding....

For decades, this practice has existed, but more recently it's become...a powerful economic advantage.

As people and companies decide where to plop down their roots and cash, just like with any other buying decision, they need to feel the emotional connection to their needs and the earned trust to reduce their fears.

Destination branding is about:
  • clearly defining a purpose
  • being distinct
  • consistently communicating a persona
  • delivering on a promise

Sounds easy enough. Then why is it that so many cities and other geographic destinations have a bad case of brand blues?

Clearly there are well-branded cities and places… These destinations have crisp stories, distinct attributes, and consistent messaging. They deliver the brand promise at all touch points. They affix a vivid brain tattoo on the minds of their markets….

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Culture of Fear

It is amazing how a single book can change my mindset and yet research shows it's almost impossible to change someone’s mind, even with the "truth." I am fascinated with The Culture of Fear by Dr. Barry Glassner. It's not just about the news media, unless you mean just the part of the media that sensationally exploits fear. Glassner argues that just as many reporters debunk fear-mongering.

I guess I’m most fascinated by how fear has been and is being used to perpetuate prejudices. Glassner notes a book that documents that, in fourteenth-century Europe, the dangers of impure drinking water were recognized long before it became convenient to accuse Jews of poisoning wells and people became preoccupied with clean water. In other words, it took people preying on a prejudice like anti-Semitism to get the general public serious about the real life and death fear of illness and death from impure drinking water?

Does it still happen today? Is the obsession about crime, during a period when it is and has been in sharp decline, a perpetuation of bigotry, either intentional or unintentional? Glassner points out that fears are "perpetuated by excessive attention to dangers that a small percentage of black men create for other people, and by a relative lack of attention to dangers that a majority of black men face themselves." He notes that "many more black men are casualties of crime than perpetrators."

Or is it a means to motivate us to do something about the "elephant in the room" called poverty?

Glassner is thought-provoking. I can see his point that there is a lot of money and power underlying our society’s obsession with misplaced fears. Activists use it to draw support to agendas. Editors use it to draw readers. Politicians use it to rally support. Parents use it to reinforce obedience. TV uses it for ratings. Advertisers use it to sell products.

Equally disturbing is why are we so gullible? What is our responsibility as individuals? Are we just pawns or lemmings?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Information - Just In Time Delivery?

Much is made of supply chains now that work with "just in time delivery" vs. warehousing or stockpiling.

Many now argue that, as communication intensifies and access to information is uninhibited, paradoxically opinion-makers and decision-makers like elected officials, members of boards and commissions and others no longer "read." Many believe that, rather than staying current and building a body of knowledge upon which to hinge major decisions, the majority of opinion-makers and decision-makers rely instead on "just in time delivery" of information upon which to make decisions.

What’s wrong with that?

If true, I guess the benefit is saving time. But the risks seem staggering. If true, it would mean that incredibly important decisions are increasingly shaped only on the information and perspective available or presented at the moment of decision or controversy.

If true, it also means that opinion-makers and decision-makers could be easily buffeted by prevailing "winds" or "who’s asking" or "partisanship and divisiveness" and "ram it through" politics rather than what’s best for the long term or for the most people involved.

That’s truly chilling.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sports Event Analysis Fails to Account for Redistribution

For CVBs that pride themselves in sound performance measurement, a recent comment attributed to a Clemson professor in another community's newspaper really made me cringe.

In response to hearing some unlikely economic impact estimates for major sports events held in that other community, Dr. Raymond Sauer is quoted as saying "numbers thrown out by tourism groups and chambers of commerce have a 'whiff of boosterism' associated with them."

For years there have been warnings that if "all" community groups don't shift to more credible models, it will undermine the credibility of those like Durham that have.

There are five basic pitfalls into which some communities continue to fall:
  • Using data from another city that held a similar event without first vetting how it was computed and making adjustments. This also often results in an exaggeration "arms race" of sorts, with communities vying to outperform others.
  • Using national formulas without re-calibrating them with local inputs.
  • Including residents in computations. Residents are never included in economic impact estimates because they would have been spending money elsewhere anyway and going to the sports event is considered redistribution, not new impact.
  • Failing to distinguish that events create losers and winners. For example, if fans go to the game or stay home to watch it on television, they benefit certain businesses at the expense of others in which they would be spending.
  • Using gross spending and failing to adjust for input-output leakage or dislocation. Not all spending is "value added" to that economy.
In this day and age, why would communities still use numbers that are suspect? Unfortunately many fall victim to trying to please the news media or local officials, both of whom get caught up in the euphoria and believe the numbers must be "stupendous." Ironically, both quickly turn on the source when numbers prove incredible.

Fortunately things are going in the right direction, and more and more CVBs are being very conservative. But it will take years to restore credibility. In the meantime, many of us will need to send messages that people will resist.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Love for Durham

My love for Durham is often dismissed, because my job is to promote it. Many things make my job harder than it should be, but one thing makes it much more rewarding: residents have a passion for Durham as a place.

A good example are the mini-blogs below as submitted by readers of the Independent Weekly:

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Very Disturbing Information

The information below is disturbing to me because it shows development is outpacing growth in population. But maybe it always has.

“Poor planning has consequences:
Poorly planned strip malls, big box stores, and other developments are replacing our natural areas almost twice as fast as our population grows. In fact, Environment North Carolina research shows that every day, we lose another 383 acres—an area the size of 20 Wal-Marts—to development.”

Friday, May 05, 2006

When Is a Community Polarized?

A New York Times reporter gave the impression recently that the entire community of Durham is polarized over the allegations at a lacrosse team party. I’m almost sure the reporter would justify this generalization as true because people at the fringes seem polarized… but people at the fringes are always polarized.

An expert in these affairs, Peter Sandman, has a nice explanation for why the news media is prone to these exaggerations. Journalists are primarily in the "outrage" business. Many of us are primarily in the "calm down business."

But it isn’t just giving into temptation or lacking the time and space to do in-depth reporting or lack of familiarity that made the NYT journalist generalize Durham as polarized.

Durham is an "activist" community, and activists are also in the "outrage business." Sandman says it’s their stock in trade. In my opinion, any of us with an activist bent can get so locked on powerful institutions that, even when those institutions acknowledge and share outrage, it will never be enough.

With the lacrosse issue, everyone is outraged about something.... at this type of crime, at those who disrespect "innocent until proven guilty" and rush to judgment, at those who mischaracterize the community, at allegations when they are false, at those who exploit these situations to make a point, at people who don’t grasp there is still racism and bigotry in the world etc.

I see myself primarily in the "calm down" business during times like this, but as Sandman notes, we’re all in the "outrage business." I get dialed up that Durham isn’t investing what it takes into promotion and marketing to draw its fair share of visitors.

I get dialed up at people who would rather cannibalize the occupancy tax than emulate it with other special taxes for special purposes.

I get dialed up that we’re burning up land, water and air. I get dialed up that, on my generation’s watch, we’ve fallen into the same mess in Iraq that we promised we would never do again after Vietnam.

I get dialed up at people who are condescending about Durham.

I’m outraged that there is so much poverty and that so many children are born into homes at risk for abuse and neglect. I’m outraged by criminals at any socioeconomic level, whether it be gangs and welfare cheats or preppies and white collar crooks or terrorists of any kind.

This list is too long for a blog. But mostly I’m in the "calm down" business.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Media Frenzies

Well, I’ve been through some mini frenzies, but the frenzy over an allegation of rape at a lacrosse team party is major. However it turns out, it won’t be pretty.

Nearly everyone in Durham has anecdotal stories about how friends and associates outside Durham are reacting and, as a result, glum predictions about what it will do to perceptions of Durham and its image.

Anecdotes are just that… extreme, given to hyperbole, fear…. It’s the opposite of reading and believing too much of the clippings during accolades, e.g., rankings of best places to live, visit and do business, etc.

But anecdotes are dangerously unreliable. It was reassuring, when national public opinion polling by Opinion Research Corporation, revealed that nearly two-thirds of the nation hadn’t noticed that the media frenzy was taking place in Durham and that about as many people had an improved image of Durham as those whose image of Durham had declined (and only 8% had a negative image of Durham).

The biggest obstacle remains lack of knowledge, and as branding experts often warn, image is long-term balance, no matter the momentary ups and downs from media coverage.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Overcoming “NWOM”

Years ago, scientific diffusion research pinpointed that the Durham brand is heavily undermined by negative word of mouth (NWOM), centered among residents in nearby communities. Some is overt dissing, much is "damned by faint praise."

In non-marketing circles, especially when it comes to cities, towns and counties as visitor destinations, it is often conventional wisdom that positive word of mouth (PWOM) trumps or effectively counters NWOM. That would be great, but many studies show that’s just not the case.

Word of mouth and the marketing that generates it have been studied for decades if not centuries, but two great reads, The Tipping Point and a great new book entitled Connected Marketing, have made many more people aware.

One of the authors in the latter book reviews a 2005 study by Informative, Inc., on the financial impact of NWOM on airline profits, which documented that, while respondents were roughly split as to the power of PWOM or NWOM, negative comments were found to have 2.5 times more financial impact.

While the study found very little correlation between the amount of PWOM and operating profits, it documented a very close connection between NWOM and profits, meaning when NWOM increased, profits decreased and vice versa.

Two authors in the book cite the importance of intervening with the sources of word of mouth, in addition of course, to making every improvement possible. Addressing misinformation was found to create a "perceived justice" effect, inoculating others to NWOM.

Unfortunately, traditional advertising isn’t the answer. Separate studies show that ads have the effect of entrenching both negativists and positivists equally. Other types of marketing are needed to address NWOM.

DCVB has many initiatives to address NWOM, but one takes a two-pronged approach with tools like the 300+ Great Things About Durham flyer, used to energize PWOM, and 25 Common Misperceptions About Durham, used to inoculate potential visitors and newcomers, so they will "perceive injustice" when they come in contact with NWOM, and used with positive opinion leaders, empowering them to overcome NWOM.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Will Durham Recover?

Durham is, and historically has been, a very diverse community where residents have openly and passionately shared differences, shared power and worked well together. These attributes have always mystified many in nearby communities and across the state.

But the current media frenzy over the allegations about members of Duke’s men’s lacrosse team have some worried that it may drive wedges of distrust so deeply that the community may never recover. Using extreme contrasts and hunting rabidly for story angles, the news media can be viewed as often inciting behavior, e.g., if you’re repeatedly asked if you’re angry, and if not then why not, eventually human nature is to become angry.

But I believe the inherent core values of this community will survive the intense arc of this news story. Oh, it will take years to repair misimpressions across the nation, and some people’s lives will never be the same. And individuals invigorated by accentuating divides may be disappointed and attempt to refuel the adrenaline rush.

But the community will rebound and be better for it. The core values that make Durham unique have survived generations, and they will survive this.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Unmediated vs. Mediated Information

The serious allegations and investigations surrounding members of the Duke men's lacrosse team and an exotic dancer have reinforced a new paradigm about where people get information about current events and how that information is disseminated.

The day and age when mediated information, either through official news outlets and reports or paid advertising, was key are gone. Even when these media were the only source other than person-to-person word of mouth, there were concerns, e.g., news reports were often based on fragments of information as the reporter or editor or even headline writer made connections, laid out the story, made sense of complex topics.

This worked well at its best and still does, but it’s called mediated because someone else is controlling or interpreting. Of course at its worst it is sensational, agenda-driven and full of hyperbole. Advertising too can be misleading or over-promise.

Today, though, people may first learn fragments from mediated sources, but this is quickly overcome by listservs, blogs, and yes, the grapevine. If the issue is emotionally charged…well, most folks have seen the pros and cons.

What it means, though, for communication professionals is that one can’t rely now solely on official statements based on thorough evaluation of the facts then mediated by traditional media. People either get information and feedback in real-time, or the viral nature of unmediated outlets will fill in the blanks, and things can get out of hand in a hurry.

People’s lives and reputations can be destroyed, perceptions can be shaped on fragmentary information or no information at all and instances requiring full facts and justice can be overwhelmed by the need to make a statement.

Not sure we’re headed into better times for information. But things are definitely changing and so will how and where information is disseminated.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Social Injustice Is A Two-Way Street

A good deal of listserv discussion surrounding allegations against members of the Duke men’s lacrosse team in mid-March is very emotionally charged.

Those who know me know that my passion for Durham is based in part on its sense of place, its core values, its response to the injustice of stigmas and stereotypes. I don’t just apologize for Durham. My job is to help inform people about Durham so that, if they elect to visit, Durham can meet their expectations and they can contribute to reinforcing our sense of place.

But I guess I’ve thrived here for nearly two decades and hope to live here the rest of my life because I share this community’s deep-seated reaction to social injustice.

So I hope that those Durhamites who are emotionally charged beyond what is already an emotionally charged issue will permit me to express the following 10 beliefs:

· I believe social injustice is a two-way street. It impacts the privileged as much as the underprivileged.

· I believe that, in our concern for victims, we should be careful not to victimize others who may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

· I believe our only hope in a civilized society is to believe in the system of justice. Even if and when it may be flawed, it’s better than any alternative including vigilantism.

· I believe the administrators at Duke are honorable people, wanting to do what’s honorable for Durham, students and Duke. Their motives are no more or less honorable than those of us incensed at anyone being victimized.

· I believe the stereotypes of Duke students as rich and privileged are inaccurate and unfair. Duke raises and distributes an immense amount of aid to its students.

· I believe both privileged and underprivileged people can believe and act as though entitled.

· I believe in DNA and technology to help us identify culprits and focus our indignation but, most of all, in a jury of peers with access to far more information than I have. I believe as many innocent people can be convicted as guilty people can go free.

· I believe our minds must remain open not only to whether something happened but also to who and where and when.

· I believe we need to deal with this as we would if we were learning about a group of black men at a historically black college in the 1930s, accused of victimizing a white woman in the days of white hoods and burning crosses.

· I believe in personal responsibility and that we put too much responsibility on cities, counties, public schools, police departments and universities to “police” personal responsibility when it really belongs with the individual.

I’m proud of a community that is passionate about social injustice. I just believe it’s a two-way street.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Stewards of Place-Based Assets

I just attended a conference for a movement called “civic tourism.” It’s an umbrella extension of the discussion of eco, geo or cultural and heritage tourism, all of which focus on “place” vs. entertainment-based tourism that has no connection with “place.”

I haven’t regularly attended conferences for some years. There are too many more efficient ways to engage in dialogue that are less redundant or about people “bearing testimony” vs. engaging in true dialogue.

But this one was an exception. I’ve always been considered an “odd duck" in some circles for espousing the importance of place as a context in tourism development.

But at this conference I learned that convention and visitor bureaus are the “stewards for place-based assets.” Not the only stewards, of course, but key because tourism is much more than economic development. Tourism is about preserving buildings and heritage, conserving the ecology and landscape, celebrating ethnicity and art and music, and articulating a community’s sense of place.

Why is this important? Because, in the words of Dr. Scott Russell Sanders:

"[As contrasted to] many American cities and towns, where any sense of character or coherence has been eroded by the forces of development. Uniform highway design, strip malls, cookie-cutter suburbs, manufactured housing, garish franchise architecture, and box stores surrounded by deserts of blacktop have made our settlements less and less distinct from one another….

"A real place feels as though it belongs where it is, as though it has grown there, shaped by weather and geography, rather than being imported from elsewhere and set down like a mail-order kit….

"A real place conveys a sense of temporal depth, a sense that people have been living and laboring here for a long time. The traces of earlier generations are preserved in festivals and folkways and habits of speech; in old buildings that have been restored and kept in service; in landscapes that are still devoted to…traditional uses."

Friday, March 10, 2006

Why I Cheer for Duke

The question is why not. I represent Durham, so duh! It’s a team with a following similar to the New York Yankees… similar proportion of fans nationwide as locally or with graduates. To top it off, it’s a great school, great basketball tradition, great coach. I’d have to have my head examined to not cheer for Duke.

But I’m frankly astonished at how some people who similarly represent Durham as a place don’t connect these dots, yet expect people to be loyal to their efforts.

One of my peer “Durham messengers” sees no conflict of interest with cheering wildly for a team in a nearby town because a child went there? Excuse me? Maybe I’ll encourage a business to select Downtown Raleigh over Durham because my daughter enjoyed herself there once. Another messenger wears clothing the color of schools in different nearby cities that compete with Duke, hoping to be neutral? What’s that about? Maybe membership dues in that organization should be split with similar organizations in other cities?

I can understand having an underlying (keep it to yourself) loyalty for where you went to school, but to me, when you’re a Durham messenger, you’re true blue (Duke blue) for the ACC and true Eagle maroon when it comes to the CIAA, soon to be MEAC, for North Carolina Central.

Otherwise, go work somewhere else. Life is too short to be conflicted, and it's just hypocritical to represent Durham as a place which includes Duke, ask Duke for money, and then not reciprocate.

Next blog, I’ll tell you how I really feel. ;-)

Friday, March 03, 2006

Visitors Much More Than Economic Development

There’s a great project run by Dr. Don Schilling called Civic Tourism. He very articulately writes that tourism development is about much more than economic development or spending, jobs and tax revenue.

Don notes that tourism, if done around place and done organically, is about preserving the environment, historic preservation, cultural sustainability, community pride, citizenship and much more.

Destination Marketing or Management Organizations (DMOs or convention and visitor bureaus) must be a forum for communication and discussion about these areas.

It's also about avoiding copy-cat marketing and development, or as we often call it, emulation marketing. It's about getting in touch with the organic sense of place in each community and revealing as much as building it. It's about the cultural, natural and built environments.

It’s a tall order. I remember when tourism development wasn’t even given credit for economic development, and now the challenge and the obligation is even greater.

We’ve come a long way since the '70s when the debate was about adding visitors to convention promotion.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Why Is Marketing So Threatening?

It's funny how marketing as a tool is threatening to some people. First they have a very superficial understanding of marketing and, as a result, view it as superficial.

It doesn’t help that many marketing people use it superficially. Maybe marketing has an image problem. ;-)

But it’s as though some people worry that, if they admit the existence of image and perception as a problem (though in a different dimension than reality), it will somehow divert energy away from real civic problem-solving, change and improvement.

The answer, as with many things, is both/and, not either/or.

Civic improvement is crucial, in every ingredient of “place” (cultural, natural and built). It’s more important than marketing…but while improvements may generate some short-term buzz, it’s been long proven that they don’t result in a change in image or perception.

It’s because the two areas are driven by two different forces.

Image and perception are often driven by word of mouth or consumer-generated marketing. The word of mouth is often fueled by prejudice, peer pressure or ignorance and intolerance. These powerful forces often have little basis in reality.

Take racial or gender discrimination. Do we really believe they were justified by reality and they were overcome because the reality changed? These powerful forces were grounded in image and perception. Both conditions have been greatly eradicated (but not completely) by the use of good marketing techniques…yes, the sit-ins were not just defiance, they were tools to leverage awareness. The foundation of feminism began in books and articles.

Nothing replaces the need for civic improvement and problem-solving. But left unchecked, forces that fuel a poor image or perception will outweigh the impact of those improvements and threaten investment, residence, corporate citizenship and the tax base crucial to funding the civic improvements themselves.

Image isn’t about hiding the negative and promoting the positive. It’s about the balance all along that spectrum. Marketing is a tool that works hand in hand with “reality” to better define a community’s image.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Riding the Line

In destination marketing, there are a lot of thin lines. Articulating what Carl Sauer at UC Berkeley called "the essential character of a place," something he termed cultural landscape, is very tricky.

There is a thin line in destination marketing organizations between capturing the essential character of a destination and then branding and promoting it in a "deliverable" way to travelers for whom it will be a highly valued, satisfying experience and dumbing it down into a simulation, cute caricature or tag line.

There’s a thin line between what Dr. Dan Schilling terms as the "poetry" of civic tourism (or DCVB’s role) and the "politics" (or development of place).

There is a thin line between funky (lots of personality) and seedy. There is a thin line between a generic, manufactured sense of place and places true to their soul, like the American Tobacco Campus, West Village I, Brightleaf Square and even The Streets at Southpoint, which have all gone to great lengths and expense to retain an authentic and genuine character.

There is a thin line between being a growing, dynamic community and one that loses its soul in the process of trying to be all things to all people.

There is a thin line between being a caring, tolerant community and one so overrun with litter, poor curb appeal, aggressive panhandlers and loitering it appears unsafe.

There is a thin line between open and passionate public discourse and hostility, mean-spiritedness and political theater.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Punishing the Innocent

Years ago a friend of mine gave me a plaque with the “Six Phases of a Project”:

  1. Enthusiasm
  2. Disillusionment
  3. Panic
  4. Search for the Guilty
  5. Punishment of the Innocent, and
  6. Praise and Honors for Non-Participants.

But “Punishing the Innocent” is so pervasive it's not really funny.

Take the State’s Local Option Prepared Food Tax for instance. It was shaped by the General Assembly working with the N.C. Restaurant Association. Like the room occupancy tax, it was very well-thought through.

Then a few of the first counties to be approved for a Local Option Prepared Food Tax began to fudge on the rules. So the General Assembly pulls back and essentially puts a moratorium on additional approvals, and the Restaurant Association rescinds support under any conditions, even the 10 previously agreed upon.

So who gets punished and learns a lesson? Not the local governments that messed with the system…but all of those counties who hadn’t even been given an opportunity.

This isn’t the only example of this happening or even the worst. But it happens more often than we think, and it's unfair.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Cost to Taxing Visitors

For years more than a few elected officials across the country could be heard to quip that taxing visitors is painless because they can’t vote.

Recently, some business people have chimed in, but notably they almost always represent businesses that don’t collect or pay taxes, e.g., media, lawyers etc. I’ve even heard non-profits propose some businesses be taxed then turn around, when a tax is proposed on their customers, and cry foul.

People like me have always cringed and--given the opportunity--objected if for no other reason than it is so blatantly disrespectful and because we know this bit of conventional wisdom couldn’t be further from reality.

There is simply no such thing as a painless tax. Part of the reasons why occupancy taxes fund visitor promotion is to offset the drag from the tax and grow and protect revenues, then leverage greater revenues through other taxes paid by travelers such as general sales tax.

Visitors may not vote, but a tax impacts local spending and therefore jobs, personal income and even tax collections, and the local people impacted by this can vote.

But let's be real; travelers do vote…just not at the ballot box. They vote with their feet and pocketbooks by shortening trips, shifting to less expensive purchases, traveling less frequently, selecting alternate destinations and, for some at the margins, not traveling at all. Some are even beginning to lash back on principle, with websites popping up to help travelers identify where they are being gouged by taxation unrelated to tourism.

The impact is not just on the specific business being taxed. For example, travelers feeling the weight of a tax on one business, e.g., hotel rooms, will shift spending in ways that impact others like restaurants, retail stores, entertainment, sports etc.

Economists like Dr. Charles de Seve have long been able to compute the impact of a tax and specifically how much can be passed on to the consumer vs. absorbed by the business, its revenues, employees and tax contributions locally.

It's time for business leaders and elected leaders alike to demand greater respect for tax payers, whether they are local or not, whether they vote or not. Because it's respectful and because it's good business.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

DCVB Like Duke

I've always been puzzled why more than a few people resent the success of Duke University. It may be in my head, but I don't think so, and it goes beyond basketball rivalries. In this respect and hopefully some others, DCVB experiences this same reaction. Most are positive about both Duke and DCVB with positive public opinion ratings, more than a few accolades and strong stakeholder support.

My gut tells me that, for those who resent this success, it's all about money, and here's why. Both Duke and DCVB seem to engender envy and maybe jealousy over funding. Duke is exceptional at raising development funds.

DCVB is self-funded from a special tax on visitors, thanks to the late North Carolina Senator Robert Swain of Buncombe County, who worked with tourism officials in the early 1980s to pioneer a local option tax on overnight visitors. Local option means the State Legislature grants the authority to each County on a case-by-case basis with stipulations.

This special tax was created specifically for the purpose of self-funding convention and visitor bureaus and to relieve the general funds of cities and counties from that traditional responsibility. Win/win, right? Visitor promotion pays for itself, new business is drawn to the businesses collecting the tax and local governments not only benefit from the freed-up general funds but also reap a 6 to 1 return in other visitor-generated tax revenues from general sales, property and fees.

So what is there to resent? The room occupancy and tourism development tax pioneers must have believed it would serve as a template to inspire other groups and needs to wean from the general funds of local government by proposing, along with closely related and willing businesses, other special tax/self-funding solutions. This would also free up significant amounts of local general fund revenue to redirect to core services and infrastructure.

For a few this has sparked true admiration. Maybe it's human nature or maybe they are just more vocal, but it seems more than a few are gripped by resentment and jealousy accompanied by the customary back-handed compliments. A few have even tried to undermine the original intent, devise work-arounds or diversions, all of which caused the State Legislature to tighten down definitions of promotion and marketing and embed stipulations. A special sub-committee was even formed to monitor compliance.

Maybe, like some people say, this is about politics and turf. To me that's still disturbing. I prefer to believe it may be more lack of understanding or philosophical disagreement.

What's truly puzzling is the lack of energy among other groups and related businesses to replicate the model. More often energy goes into trying to cannibalize the room occupancy tax and increase the burden on travelers in other ways, instead of identifying more closely related businesses and partnerships.

What’s wrong with this picture? Instead of rewarding and emulating innovation and win/win proposals, there are grousing, snide comments, back-dooring etc. The result is cynicism instead of continued innovation of funding sources at a time when some local governments truly are strapped.

It's time to move past resentment and challenge those so tempted with the spirit of Senator Swain and those who worked with him. It's time to insist on accountability... If people feel strongly about funding for other than core services and infrastructure and there isn't a sustainable way to do it with private funding, then they need to jump in and follow Swain's model.

It's time, rather than resenting successes like Duke’s fundraising ability or DCVB's funding formula, to closely examine them as best practices and model similar solutions.

Local governments need to put a sign on the door: If you want funding, come with a self-funding solution.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Trading Paths Give Insights

There’s an interesting organization called the Trading Path Association (TPA) based in Hillsborough, NC. It’s a preservation organization focused on the Piedmont of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Eventually it will encompass Tennessee.

The group studies and preserves the artifacts of ancient roads from Native American trading paths to horse trails, wagon roads and river crossings. It had never occurred to me that these elements are obviously important landmarks to understanding pre-modern and pre-historic cultures, societies, communities and economies.

They often give clues as to why communities sprung up where they are, and communities are crucial to our sense of unique place and identity. Communities transcend the organization of states and nations because they are organic vs. contrived.

Ancient roadways mark the organic evolution of communities or settlements, but they also mark the connections between cultures and cultural and racial blending. We’re fortunate in Durham that what we term the Old Indian Trading Path runs through the northern part of the community, as it once made its way between Petersburg, VA, and Athens, GA, with a spine roughly tracing what is today I-85. In Durham, the Old Indian Trading Path passes right through the Historic Stagville State Historic Site, goes through Treyburn and roughly along Mason and Saint Marys roads.

One of the major services the TPA provides to cities and counties is the identification and mapping of these paths and river crossings so they can be preserved and interpreted, not only for visitors but also for residents. Even private developers are using the information to provide new residents the history of the land and a connection to place.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Yellow Pages Very Customer Un-Friendly

Remember when the yellow pages used to be the “go to” resources for reliable information? Even though they were advertising-driven, you could rely on the indexing and that these were the most convenient businesses to your location.

Then the phone companies shot themselves in the foot. Out of greed, they began to let any business, local or not, buy a listing…and they were salt and peppered into local listings without any indication that these businesses were located far away in other communities.

Then deregulation spawned a bunch of knock-off books.... They took listings from legitimate yellow pages and lumped a bunch of communities into one book to make it “convenient” but again with no rhyme or reason to the listings. A user takes a “crap shoot.” The listing may be a mile away or a 60- to 100-mile roundtrip.

Now out of self-defense, the legitimate books contracted by phone companies are doing the same.... Who gets screwed? The truly convenient local business and the reader/user. Neither has a chance in a million of knowing what’s convenient, fast and reliable.

I guess the whole notion may work in a region centered around one dominant city. But in polycentric regions like the Triangle, with no dominant center and covering an area many times the size of a state or two, it drives people crazy…both as a figure of speech and in drive time.

All that these folks are doing is driving people to the Internet…where the Web is doing just the opposite. Local is even more local…except Citysearch which insists on lumping the communities in the Triangle together and treating them differently than almost any other area…ever notice that Baltimore and Washington get separate sites?

But that’s another blog.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Remembering Dr. King

The phone rang last month, and the voice on the other end said, "This is Reverend Douglas Moore...." It got no further because I interrupted with "Wow."

He chuckled and said, "You know my name?" Reverend Moore went on to tell me that he noticed that he has been cropped out of a photo in one of our brochures, and since he’s writing a book, a lot of which takes place in Durham, he wondered if he could be reinstated.

I told him it was probably inadvertent as redesigns took place but he was if anything the subject of the photo. Reverend Moore now lives in Washington, D.C., and was formerly an elected official there.

He’s a hero of mine, as is Dr. King, because Moore, along with the late Judge McKissick, used Boy Scout and ROTC training methods in the basements of five, activist Durham churches to train students from several states on how to conduct sit-ins to effect desegregation of lunch counters and other facilities through the late '50s and early '60s.

In fact, Dr. Aldon Morris at Northwestern University, wrote a book noting that the sit-in in Greensboro, often heralded by the news media as the first, was no where near first, and the students were trained by Moore here in Durham. The Associated Press caught on to the movement when Greensboro happened, and for some reason, it was anointed "first."

But the other reason Reverend Moore is so significant is that, as the movement accelerated, he persuaded Dr. King, during a trip to Durham, to embrace "direct actions" like this. Prior to this Dr. King was a pacifist. King and Moore were graduate school classmates in Boston. Dr. King was the studious one, and according to Moore himself and others, Moore was the rabble-rouser.

So in no small way, Durham played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement, one that is slowly coming to the forefront.

In the meantime, you can be sure Reverend Moore’s back in every photo possible.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Individual Responsibility

You know I’ve always been what my Dad called a "bleeding heart." I’m proud of it. Compassion for those less fortunate and idealism about the potential of people given access to opportunity aren’t just words for me.

I’m proud to live in a community that values its ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. I’m proud of the school system for aggressively addressing the achievement gap and the dropout rate. I’m pleased that individuals, neighbors, universities, local governments and the private sector are focused on neighborhoods in distress.

More and more, though, it’s dawning on me that what will make the difference is the individual…the individual person, the individual family and the individual neighborhood. I fear communities like ours have grown too reliant on governments and non-profit agencies, and we haven’t re-empowered individual responsibility and values.

Too often bad things happen, and people look immediately to the City or County or bus system or Public Schools or Social Services or emergency rooms to make things right. But it all starts with individuals and families.

Lots of people, including their children and some underage adults, were at a retail store recently when a young man outside was shot in the back for sticking up for his sister. Blame isn’t an issue, and the community has a role in the solution, but the dysfunctions that led to this will not be resolved until circumstances are unwrapped down to the individual and family levels. Everyone, including the news media, must dig down to immediately find out what went wrong at the individual, family and neighborhood levels so everyone in the community, including others at risk, can learn and improve.

In general, only by using each example to stimulate appropriate reactions and changes at those levels, will we be able to truly resolve community problems. It may be a wrongdoer comes from poverty, but lots of people rise from poverty without violence. It may be that the home is broken, but lots of very good and decent people survive and even thrive with broken homes. It may be substance abuse or holding two and three jobs has eroded the ability to parent and establish important values. It may be that neighbors and family members aren’t getting the reinforcement they need to rise up and deal with wrongdoers.

But in general, the solutions to the problems will be very clear as circumstances are evaluated at the individual and family levels.