Thursday, December 27, 2007

Big Drought - No Water - Plenty of Tea?

Listening to initiatives proposed for the drought, I can’t help but be reminded of the knee-jerk security initiatives post-9/11.

The goal quickly became more about perception than reality, so initiatives that visibly impacted the most people won the day. So while tweezers were being confiscated from each and every passenger boarding an airplane, shipping containers coming into every port went largely unchecked.

And so go responses to the drought. Fill water glasses only when requested and then again for each refill, but order as much tea as you like. :-)

And before we lay it all on politicians, let’s remember one of the definitions of politics, “competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership.”

As in the “politics of fear.”

Friday, December 14, 2007


On a flight from Nashville back to Durham a couple of weeks ago, I sat next to a gentleman who was expressing how glad he was to have made it out of Cleveland that morning for a connection. It was snowing as he left, and the plane had to de-ice several times.

He asked where I was headed, and I said, “Durham,” and he said, “oh, Raleigh.” I said, “no, Durham,” and explained that Durham and Raleigh are distinct places that share an airport.

He said, “I know, I’m from Raleigh.” Herein lies a major threat to Durham’s brand. People from Raleigh, my friends, associates and counterparts there excepted, think centrically. Everything is about Raleigh, and they make little room for any place else to have an identity.

Believe me, little of this centrism has to do with “rivalry.” A lot has to do with overreaching references and failure to make distinctions in the news media there. Most has to do with “centric” thinking… kind of “I am the World.”

I’ve not found it as condescending as much as ill-informed.

Now do Durham residents go around assuming everyone near and far goes by the term Durham? Not that I’ve ever witnessed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Good News: Arts Groups Are Beginning to Deploy Economic Impact Studies

But depending on who computes the impact, the results can be grossly overvalued for several reasons. First of all, many do not use good methodology or they lump both resident and visitor spending into the impact (economists do not include resident spending as value added to the local economy).

Secondly, these studies generally make two key mistakes. They fail to deduct “leakage,” the word used for spending that immediately ricochets out of the local economy for goods and services purchased elsewhere. It is very unlikely that all supplies are purchased locally.

Equally significant, the studies nearly always assume all related spending was "prompted" by their facilities and events. Many fail to distinguish that much of the spending was generated by visitors who took in the facility or event on trips for other purposes. In other words, they would have been in that town at that time anyway, regardless of that facility or event, so it isn’t truly considered economic impact.

Depending on the type of cultural event, e.g., performing arts, museums, historic sites etc., anywhere from 3.9% to 4.9% of visitors take in the events. But only 5% up to 15% are prompted by the event or facility.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Authentic Brands Include All Character Traits

Just as our individual personalities are a combination of traits, so is a community’s overall brand. For instance, “fragmented” is part of Durham’s brand. As closely as we work together in Durham and as creative and colorful and genuine as the community is... we also tend to be fragmented.

Part of this may be an aspect of our innovative and entrepreneurial nature, e.g., better at start ups than follow through. Part of it is that people are so talented and involved with the community, it becomes hard to yield to someone else’s obvious expertise. Everyone becomes experts at everything.

Part of the appearance of fragmentation may be from the activist part of Durham’s brand. Activists, as Peter Sandman told me years ago, are in the “outrage” business. So that alone could give the impression of being fragmented.

But you are who you are, warts and all, and a community brand is likewise, a combination of characteristics, not just your “Sunday best.”

Friday, November 30, 2007

In the Words of George Gershwin, "Let's Put On Some Speed!"

With my bias for action, almost everything is more complicated than I envision. But I wonder what’s holding up the public side of the public/private city center revitalization partnership with Greenfire Development.

While some objected to the tactics and/or the amount invested with American Tobacco, it is what it is, and it clearly set the standard. By all accounts, American Tobacco is a success, and over time, it could self-fund a return on investment to taxpayers.

So the partnership with Greenfire Development seems like a slam dunk. No hardball, no “my way or the highway,” and they put real money on the table first, not just conditional options. And Greenfire is clearly taking on the much larger and more significant task of truly jumpstarting the city center.

Any experience I have is on the “demand side” of economic development, and I have only vicarious expertise with this “supply side” stuff. But to me, the public sector should be jumping for joy and immediately executing an “American Tobacco style” template with Greenfire.

I realize most of the public sector players are new, but playing hard to get now isn’t going to compensate for any perceived past excesses, and besides, it is unfair.

I do know one thing. We’ve only truly just begun the task of Downtown revitalization. Other communities would die for a Greenfire. Just because the company is homegrown doesn’t mean its investments have to be here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

So Refreshing

Durham was honored recently as one of the locations where VitalSmarts president Joseph Grenny will present a workshop around his new book Influencer.

Only one problem: under details a skyline of Raleigh, and the name of the airport Raleigh/Durham was substituted as the location. Kind of like winning the World Series, but the other team’s name is inscribed on the trophy, and the publicity is about both teams rather than the winner.

This, of course, is what place branding expert Bill Baker warned against… e.g., in a polycentric region, if you permit your brand to be hyphenated, you gradually disappear as a place or become an appendage.

The good news is that VitalSmarts is a company that obviously walks the talk and thrives on feedback. In no more time than it took to hit send and make the clarification, I had heard back from several people, one in email and two via phone just how much they appreciated the clarification, which was fixed within hours.

Oh, another thing. Between the lines it became apparent that people in this region may have neglected to make the clarification or, worse, spoke so centric that it was assumed that Durham used Raleigh for its skyline for one big city called Raleigh-Durham. :-) The City of Raleigh is working extensively with Grenny, and Capitol Broadcasting is a sponsor.

Now if we can just get the airlines to be as reasonable and responsive as VitalSmarts. Rare is the airline that will quickly respect and honor such distinctions. I guess flying at 30,000 feet so often gives a warped sense of branding. While defiant about why destination communities should help distinguish one airline from another, some communications representatives have even been downright rude and dismissive when a community asks for clarity in its brand. Even more disturbing when factoring in that to reach a destination is the reason people fly at all.

But of course, runways are “one-way streets.”

But maybe it is a college rivalry thing. The VitalSmarts guys are BYU (my alma mater, obviously back when it wasn’t as hard to gain admission), and the latest airline to be dismissive of Durham’s brand has roots in the University of Utah. And if you think Duke in Durham and UNC in Chapel Hill are intense rivals, well, let’s just say, it isn’t pretty.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


On most things I’m much more patient than I was earlier in my career. Hard to believe for some, but yes, my sense of urgency has been even higher at times past.

But on at least one note, I’m less and less patient. That’s being asked the same question over and over by an individual or group. Drives me nuts, and from there, things digress into who was most offended. Unfortunately for me, I rarely get to show how offended I am, because it gets fired back at me as “why are you so frustrated?”

Demonstrates a “Nickism” (bumper stickers created by friend and former Mayor Nick Tennyson). He always says there is only room enough for one person at a time to stand on “principle.”

Unlike many people I meet, I do a lot of introspection. I’m think I’m less and less patient at answering the same questions from the same people, because (1) I sense more than ever how much it takes to execute change and how important it is, and (2) while I am as intuitive and opinionated as anyone, in my work at least, I can’t ask people to use that as my primary decision-making rationale. So here, we make information-driven decisions, with intuition and opinion as a seasoning.

People who ask the same question over and over (I truly think they forget that they have already asked that question and received an answer) appear to make decisions on intuition and opinion, with a little information as seasoning. Elected officials can often give that impression, but they are far more information-driven than they are given credit for.

But those “one-way street” people I talk about… I’m probably being generous to suggest they even put information on their decisions as seasoning. Oh and by the way, people think I’m thin-skinned?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

And You Think I Have Evident Body Language

People have always said they can read my face. They may be right. But maybe the expressions are learned expressions from childhood, and they actually don’t have a clue what emotions I have them tied to?

The other day I was standing at the back of an event. One of the speakers brought my name up and gave me credit for something. Two individuals, who, let’s just say, won’t be sending me any holiday cards, became visibly animated, suddenly crossing and uncrossing legs, twitching side to side, whispering and snickering visibly.

Maybe they were just commenting on what a great guy I am. Not!

But as they left the meeting, they made an effort to shake my hand, be jolly, etc.

I guess people always know where they stand with me. Because they can read my face. Some folks, though, have two faces.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Save Our Summers

In Idaho we used to have “spud break” in October. This was back when most potatoes were picked by hand or with limited machines, so kids were ostensibly off so they could help their parents. For those of us on ranches or dry farms though, it was just a vacation, and often we took family vacations. Now potato-picking is largely automated and only a county or two still have spud break.

I’m reminded of the hubbub now over “save our summers,” which is a plea by tourism interests in a growing number of states to prevent public schools from starting earlier than Labor Day. My friend and fellow blogger Bill Geist posted a great blog on the movement and provided some new research on the impact. While most people weighed in on this and began playing offense and defense without any information, Bill is one that has kept his eye on any valid substantiation.

But Bill knows I’ve been less than empathetic with the school start issue. It is true that nationwide 29% of leisure travel occurs in June, July and August (or 25% of the year). Bumping school start up a couple of weeks makes that more like 18-20%, but I have trouble with the notion of “lost” vacations. I have no doubt some are moved up and that revenues show then in July, which would have been in August. The problem may be one of workforce, but as difficult as it is nowadays for kids to get jobs at that age, even that needs deeper analysis. Maybe we’re talking more about kids in family businesses.

But my ambivalence is largely because I don’t think it’s a good idea for tourism officials to mess with school officials, unless we’re ready for that in return. This is a two-way street, and we might be trading chits for something even more valuable to tourism overall one day.

But I’ve also been reluctant because Durham is a cultural destination and frankly benefits from more leisure tourism in spring and fall. There are as many people drawn to cultural destinations are there are to beaches, mountains or theme parks. Some say that 80% of North Carolina’s tourism revenue now comes from cultural destinations. And in communities like Durham, year-round schools are increasingly popular, as families catch on to the benefits over traditional summer breaks. Maybe we should be more positive about this and promote more year-round schools, but then again, that wouldn’t benefit summer-only tourism. They actually benefit tourism interests by spreading the summer vacation season out over more of the year.

I guess my point is that school schedules need to revolve around local conditions, and one size doesn’t fit all. But posts like Bill’s also make the dialogue much more rational.

Friday, October 26, 2007


I don’t work for City government, but I do know many of the top-notch public service professionals who do. Sure there are some people there who need to find something more suited but no more or less than any organization, large or small.

I know City government professionals hold themselves to a higher standard and no one more than the City Manager. Let’s not kid ourselves--Durham couldn’t function for 10 minutes, let alone be one of the top places in the nation to live and do business, were it not for City government.

Water, sanitation, fire, police, parks, streets... so why is it that when the City of Durham makes a mistake, people turn into playground bullies and treat it differently than similar gaffes in any organization, including other cities and towns? Even some officials we hope would protect and foster that organization feel the need to pile on.

Let’s get real and get off the City Manager’s back. Let him do his job. Let him make the changes he’s trying to make. Let’s not distract him every 10 minutes with hyperbole and finger-pointing. He’s the chief executive under our City’s charter, and he deserves respect. He has more innate understanding of management in his little finger than some of his critics do. Even if he didn’t, who deserves public humiliation with condescending remarks, like sending him to management school?

And the next time a finger even twitches to the pointing position, let’s demand that person walk a day in his shoes... better yet, let’s make the punishment for acting superior a day working the counter at McDonald’s. I can guarantee that would instill humility and an appreciation for what it takes to make things work that are taken for granted every day.

And yes, that includes news media from other communities and non-resident louts around the water cooler who feel safe to cop an attitude with Durham that they obviously don’t dare take in their hometown.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

25 Water-Cooler Fables

It is often said that marketing a community is a lot like marketing any other product, and that's true. But it is also much more complicated, especially in a community as complex and outspoken as Durham.

We'd like to root out some negative word of mouth in nearby communities, but it's more like dealing with family than a competitor and takes just the right balance.

Then at home, it is more like friendly fire. There are always one or two people, usually with no communications background, who think we're being too strong or too soft or too paranoid. And then there is always one or two "can't we just be positive and it will all go away." I wish.

While it's our job and our experience and background and our tushes on the line, it is important to remember there is always a both/and. Here is the latest incarnation of a document that came from a visitor turned newcomer years ago.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Elliott Blog Sounds Alarm

One threat destinations have in common is the brand for travel and leisure in general. I often read a guy named Christopher Elliott, both on MSNBC and his blog.

If he is only half-accurate, he is putting his finger on a threat that impacts each and every visitor destination community, and that is recent degradation of the brand for travel and leisure.

Typical is this column on six double standards that travel-related industries must fix. Another is six airline ticket rules you should know.

You should read this guy. We all have issues to resolve to improve the post-arrival visitor experience. But the community's brand is impacted just as much by what happens on their way here and on their way home.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I Am A Town

A good friend commenting on my blog about "smells" brought to mind this song by Mary Chapin Carpenter. Understanding my passion for "place branding," she brought it to my attention many years ago.

It reminds us all that branding a place isn't just a logo and a tagline. It is about the values and personality for which a place is or wants to be known. This song captures a good deal of the part of North Carolina that is genuine and authentic.

Artist: Mary Chapin Carpenter
Song: I Am A Town
Album: Come On, Come On

I'm a town in Carolina, I'm a detour on a ride
For a phone call and a soda, I'm a blur from the driver's side
I'm the last gas for an hour if you're going twenty-five
I am Texaco and tobacco, I am dust you leave behind

I am peaches in September, and corn from a roadside stall
I'm the language of the natives, I'm a cadence and a drawl
I'm the pines behind the graveyard, and the cool beneath their shade, where the boys have left their beer cans
I am weeds between the graves.

My porches sag and lean with old black men and children
Their sleep is filled with dreams, I never can fulfill them
I am a town.

I am a church beside the highway where the ditches never drain
I'm a Baptist like my daddy, and Jesus knows my name
I am memory and stillness, I am lonely in old age; I am not your destination
I am clinging to my ways
I am a town.

I'm a town in Carolina, I am billboards in the fields
I'm an old truck up on cinder blocks, missing all my wheels
I am Pabst Blue Ribbon, American, and "Southern Serves the South"
I am tucked behind the Jaycees sign, on the rural route
I am a town
I am a town
I am a town

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

New Place Branding Book

Bill Baker of Total Destination Management has just published a new book called Destination Branding for Small Cities. You can get a quick preview on Wow, do I wish I had this book 30 years ago. I think Bill titled it for small cities so they wouldn't presume it was beyond their reach. Smart move because many do presume it is, but this book is perfect for communities of any size, even sub-elements of a community like districts or neighborhoods.

The road maps he provides to distilling a community's brand are invaluable. So many people, even after scores of patient explanations, still think a brand is a logo or tagline or something you buy off the shelf from an advertising or PR agency (although services like those can be very useful in deploying a brand, especially if the destination marketing organization doesn't have specialists on staff or needs assistance). For the attention-deficit crowd, logos and taglines are obviously the most visually intriguing elements of a brand, but they come last not first, and they are only a signature.

Place branding is a specialty... much more complex in many ways than branding of services or products. It is a slippery slope once a community sets a course to reassess or distill its brand. Durham was lucky to find Bill Baker. He isn't pretentious. He listened. He adapted. He wasn't afraid to tell us what we didn't want to hear. He wouldn't let the process be politicized. He was patient with process, and Durham required and deserved a very thorough process. He drove me nuts sometimes. But he takes so few clients that Durham was exceptionally fortunate.

The fact that he has put so much of the process in a book like this doesn't mean a place branding specialist isn't needed to facilitate the actual process. It just means the process is easier for stakeholders unfamiliar with marketing or fearful the outcome won't be what they have "predetermined."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Shoebox Wisdom

I bought some shoes recently that deliberately don't have laces. Just like I used to wear them.

They are Timberland's. Inside the box lid is a great comment:

"How Will We Change Today?

The opportunity to make it better is everywhere if we choose to act. Better is seeing a void and filling it. Hearing a call for help and answering it. Taking a wrong and making it right. It is as small as making boots, shoes, and gear or as big as changing the world. Better is giving employees paid time to serve. Building a home. Painting a school. Empowering our youth. Feeding the hungry. Or revitalizing a community. Better is a call to action. A rallying cry. Fearless. Determined. Passionate. And connected. It is searching within. Reaching out. Heading into the eye of the storm. Adventuring out to the middle of nowhere. And doing so with purpose. So when the sun sets and we think about what tomorrow might bring, we understand that better is not what we do. It is who we are."

Friday, September 14, 2007


Smells are some of my best memories.
  • The smell of a horse when rubbing its nose or hugging its neck,
  • the smell of a dirt road when it's wet,
  • the smell of sagebrush,
  • the smell of a bog and a crick in a meadow,
  • the smell of pine trees,
  • the smoky smell of a snowy night,
  • the smell of a calf or colt when it is newborn,
  • the smell of leather tack,
  • the smell of new-mown hay and fresh-harvested grain,
  • the smell a gasoline spill evaporating on an old tractor,
  • the smell of air from my Grandmother's old organ,
  • the smell of fresh turned earth in the Spring,
  • the smell of my Mom's petunias,
  • the smell of my Grandmother's gladiolas,
  • the smell of coffee on my Grandfather,
  • the smell of naphtha soap covering a leak in the gas tank of my first Jeep,
  • the smell of my Uncle Louie's Bull Durham chewing tobacco,
  • the smell inside my Dad's army helmet from World War II,
  • the smell of a campfire with Basque sheepherders,
  • the smell of a leather baseball glove,
  • the smell of an old schoolhouse the first day each year,
  • the smell of a oil furnace early in the morning,
  • the smell of my sisters getting permanents,
  • the smell of talc and aftershave in a barber shop,
  • the smell after firing a hunting rifle,
  • the smell of hand-me-down football shoulder pads,
  • the smell of chlorine at a swimming pool,
  • the smell of fresh whole milk, warm from the cow,
  • the smell of burning salve while branding,
  • the smell the fresh morning air coming off the Tetons,
  • the underwater smells at the lake,
  • the smell of my Mom's White Shoulders perfume and my Dad's Old Spice cologne,
  • the smell of fresh popped corn.
When I first came to Durham, there was still one tobacco factory operating, and there was a time in the processing where the air Downtown was filled with a smell like a new-mown hayfield. Sweet, pungent, musky. I have allergies now. They came on after the first 10 years living in the Southeast. I can't smell as much. But smells are some of my best memories.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

People Who Cherry-Pick Durham

I'm always amused when people are drawn to Durham for some aspect, e.g., Duke, RTP but wish they were somewhere else when it comes to community.

First sign is they live in Chapel Hill, Cary, Raleigh etc. Good communities but not Durham. Next they try to convince me these communities are all "one big place" to try to realign reality to fit their preferences.

They really should have sought a job in those communities. They will always be swimming up stream... e.g., holding events outside Durham and mystified why it doesn't make sense or appeal to either community, bewildered why things won't work like it's one big place.

But mostly I feel sorry for them. They miss out on what's unique about Durham… what spawned these great institutions.

What a waste.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Hotels Were the Center of Early American Settlements

I've been blessed with great hoteliers. While only 3% of Durham's visitor-related stakeholders, they can often be the bane of a Bureau's existence. It is aptly said that hotels worry about today, CVBs about tomorrow.

According to historians like Daniel Boorstin, hotels are a uniquely American innovation. At one time, hotels were the center of our early settlements, and owners and managers were the most involved in the community; their lobbies were the original "civic meeting places," many the epitome of civic pride, the place where events took place, the center of the community.

Today, hoteliers are more often tethered so tightly by chains or franchise flags, if not owners, that they come and go every two years, three if a community is lucky. Often they don't even live in the destination where the hotel is physically located, which can make them even more detached. Their companies rarely give them time to be outside the hotel and often schedule visits or meetings without regard to a hotelier's commitments locally. With a few exceptions, regional and national overseers drop in at a minute's notice and demand hoteliers drop everything.

Fortunately a good friend, Richard Green, a VP at Marriott, is working with other chain counterparts to try and shift that paradigm.

But Durham and DCVB have been blessed. People like Martino, Hunter, Philbrick, Pokrass, Dempsey, Lile, McGhee, Teber, Wagner, Adams, Vickery, Defeo, Book, Simpson, Koll, Spencer and many, many others have come through Durham and taken a strong role in teaming with DCVB to build the Durham brand.

People like Ron Hunter started at entry level and worked up to general manager, while raising a family in Durham and giving back to the community in a way that has brought his hotel untold millions in business.

Mike MartinoMike Martino (pictured here) at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center is extraordinary. His hotel was built in the late '80s by a developer two towns away in nearby Raleigh. Early on, it probably wasn't clear the hotel knew it was located in Durham. But Mike's been here as long as I have. (We both had gray streaks in our hair until it all began to turn gray.)

Mike is upbeat, always can do, courageous, willing to stand up for what's right and never, never self-serving. He's bonded the hotel with Durham. He's supervised the property's contribution to Durham charitable causes, most recently running a can drive to support Durham Rescue Mission following a disastrous fire that wiped out its food supply.

Hotels are only 3% of the visitor-related businesses in Durham. They are virtually dependent on the destination (the very first decision any traveler makes is "where to go," not "where to stay").

But hotels can work with other visitor-related businesses, restaurants, shopping, entertainment, performing and visual arts, historic sites, sports clubs to forge a destination… or they can hijack a destination for special interests or they can hold a destination back.

Durham has been blessed with great hoteliers, and it has accelerated the community's evolution as a destination.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Greenfire Development

Greenfire Development is an incredible company. It is a work in progress, but the culture is deep and strong. I'm incredibly impressed by this team, and they have several homegrown talents.

They epitomize Durham at its core.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Durham, Can You Spare a Change?

It must be generational that so many people email me or call me separately about this blog but so few actually insert comments. I'm just glad that my Mom and I have company

INC is on to something with the "Can You Spare a Change?" campaign. INC for all you folks who don't live in Durham is the InterNeighborhood Council of Durham. They are the umbrella for what arguably is the most diverse and active group of neighborhood associations that exists in any community... certainly any I've known.

Neighborhood activists are also a key part of Durham's brand.

Several programs have been tried like "Can You Spare A Change," but this one resonates. It seeks to educate residents, non-residents who work here and visitors to stop feeding money to panhandlers and instead give it to the many agencies seeking to help this population. It is a classic supply and demand problem. The behavior thrives only because people feed it.

Panhandling itself is a result of some decisions this country made 40 or 50 years ago, and in hindsight, they were very impractical and idealist. We dumped millions of people with mental illness on the streets as out-patients on the premise that someone mentally ill was still well enough to stay on medications.

Okay, along came our generation and the book and movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest," and we forever more glamorized mental illness by demonizing practitioners.

Fact is, there is nothing glamorous about mental illness. It is criminal what we do to the mentally ill in this country. To save a nickel here and a dime there, we deny them health insurance, we create a revolving door in and out of prison, we drain and destroy families struggling to solve the problem all on their own.... In the end, this is probably five or 10 times what it would cost to do it right.

But in the meantime, we can all make a difference by getting behind INC. For information contact INC at

Friday, August 24, 2007

Documentary Captures What Makes Durham Special

I saw a teaser from a new documentary a week ago. It's in the final stages of editing for premiere in mid-November at the Carolina Theater.

Documentaries aren't new to Durham. We're home to the most significant documentary film festival in the world, Full Frame.

But this one is a portrait of Durham by award winning Steve Channing, also a Durham resident. As I watched it and heard just everyday Durhamites describe what is special to them about this community, it reminded me of why it was such a clear-cut decision and honor 18 years ago to accept an invitation to come here and help start a destination marketing effort.

I've often thought and probably said, to myself at least, that I've succeeded at telling Durham's story if I can convey the essence that makes it attractive today and have it blessed by people who have been here 70, 80 and 90 years.

This was also echoed in some testimony folks like Carl Webb made at the end. This place is special... way down in its bones. There is a sense of place here and a passionate connection of people and place that make it extraordinary.

What a privilege it is to work for this community. By the way, documentaries are a work of love. Steve can still use some sponsorship. Let me know if you need his contact information.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Allegiance to Places and Teams Intertwined

I have a vivid 1957 or early 1958 memory... during recess on a bright sunshiny Rocky Mountain Idaho winter along the North Fork of the Snake River. Five nine-year-old boys stomping out a circle in the snow for some type of tag.

A spirited discussion ensued about whether one was a Yankee or Dodger fan. For boys that age, inspiration came from names like Mantle, Larson, Berra, Ford and Slaughter (who ironically is from Roxboro just north of Durham) or Hodges, Newcombe, Koufax and Campanella. The two teams had been rivals and the players our heroes all of our lives; we were often listening to World Series games on the radio as we worked on our respective ranches.

But the Dodgers had just moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. While we were proud the Far West finally had a MLB team, those of us who were Yankee fans couldn't fathom the move, and the two who were Dodger fans converted to the Yankees. I believe now our allegiance was as much to place as team. The two were intertwined.

Thus is the dynamic that mystifies many. Durham is a place that inspires strong allegiances. A Durham organization holding its golf tournament in Raleigh is about to learn what that means the hard way.

While often dismissed by major corporations, it can be argued that place brands... brands formed around the identity of cities, towns, counties, states, provinces and countries... are among the most enduring of all time.

By the way, I'm still a Yankee fan. But my allegiance to the Baltimore Colts stayed with Baltimore when the Colts moved to another city many years ago.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Urban Legends and Word of Mouth

Urban legends thrive in an atmosphere of bias. I took one folklore class in college and, in my business, it has turned out to be invaluable.

Urban legends are to word of mouth communication what radioactive dyes are to determining blood flow. It gives an immediate sense of how fast word of mouth travels and how often it circulates and re-circulates.

An example followed a newspaper article in the Raleigh paper a month ago that the largest source of relocations to that county were from Durham. The insinuation was that they were fleeing Durham. I missed reading it initially but people quickly brought it to my attention, obviously believing it to be true and alarming.

DCVB dug out the data upon which the newspaper article was based and discovered something left out of the story. Raleigh/Wake county is also the largest source of people relocating to Durham. Examination of patterns quickly revealed they have nothing to do with "popularity" and everything to do with personal issues, e.g., job changes, commuting, housing and land costs etc.

It isn't clear why the original story didn't give the full story, other than it wouldn't have really been news then. The data made it obvious the patterns had nothing to do with popularity. Otherwise Smithfield/Johnston County would be more popular than Raleigh/Wake and Durham more popular than Chapel Hill/Orange etc.

We let it go by, though, and only alerted a few opinion leaders. But that news didn't travel at all. Positive news rarely ignites word of mouth like negative information does. And a few months later, another news outlet picked it up and ran a story with the same premise. Then a Raleigh news executive began using the information to prove that people were fleeing Durham.

We made a mistake by not distributing the data more broadly. But the experience reminds us of how negative word of mouth works. Interdiction has to be swift, visible and repeated. Distributing information to provide perspective and amping up the positive can never outrun the effects of negative word of mouth. The longer that time goes without interdiction, the more virulent the negative word of mouth becomes. Just ask someone running for election.

It is not easy to practice interdiction. People who spread this type of word of mouth have put their reputation on the line. They have embedded it in their belief system. They almost always react with hostility, believing you are showing them up.

Oh well, I guess that's why there are destination marketing organizations.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Community Image Isn't about Your Castles

I was asked recently by economic development colleagues about what influences image. Before I could comment, the chorus began about new developments, super-regional malls, a new theater, factories turned into office developments and residential etc.

The room stiffened a bit when I responded that, actually, the needle on image doesn't move around huge developments, although there are many other great reasons for those.

I couldn't think on my feet or I would have used an analogy. Community image isn't about your castles and cathedrals. If they are surrounded by weedy lots, unkempt medians, potholes, inadequate signage etc. they won't improve image.

Like a person, community image is about two things. One is the way you're perceived, and that may have nothing to do with reality and more about stereotyping, stigmatizing, gossip etc. You combat that with information and marketing... balanced perspective, not spin as it is used in the pejorative.

The other is about overall appearance, a sense of arrival, clean streets and sidewalks, absence of litter, well-kept medians and wayfinding etc.

Community image isn't just about castles and cathedrals. It is about "curb appeal." And you're right, you have to have both, but the latter is indispensable.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

MiLB Understands Place-Based Tourism

With four national championships (three Duke, one NCCU), Durham has a great basketball tradition. But it is equaled by our community's connection with baseball. The Durham Bulls have played since 1903. Minor League Baseball (MiLB) was based here in the 1930s. The Durham Bulls and the movie Bull Durham resurrected national interest in minor league baseball, now the second highest in attendance among pro sports.

Now MiLB is planning to operate the soon-to-be-renovated Historic Durham Athletic Park, known affectionately as the DAP and home for the Bulls until they moved to the other side of Downtown in the mid '90s.

They will grandfather in the festivals that occur there, like the upcoming Bull Durham Blues Festival and the World Beer Festival. The DAP will remain the home field for the NCCU Eagles, and MiLB will turn the facility into a training center where minor league clubs will send front office personnel, grounds crews, umpires and others for training.

MiLB is also proposing a partnership on a Minor League Baseball History Museum, hopefully along the right field wall. MiLB also plans events like fantasy camps etc.

This is all about what's called "place-based tourism." As settlements begin to look more and more alike, the communities that will excel are those that develop place-based assets, meaning events and facilities with natural ties to the community and that make it different from other places.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Regional Alignment on Wayfinding

Not many travelers combine a visit to more than one community in what we call the Triangle region. It is a polycentric region with no dominant city or center. There is so much to do in each destination community that commuting just isn't practical or desirable for visitors.

But we collaborate on a wide variety of initiatives. Destination marketing organizations, like DCVB, from across the state meet monthly to shape co-op marketing strategies, and this includes destinations in what we call the Triangle. I say that because visitors have no concept of a "triangle" except that it is a geometric shape.

But the destinations in the Triangle have found ways to collaborate other than marketing. We each draw different visitors. They are different age groups, different income levels, they come from different origins, they are drawn with different elements, usually indigenous to each community. In that way, as a NYT reporter friend of mine once said, "one of you just as well be Tulsa and the other Kuala Lumpur." But we've worked to shape the Triangle – A Family of Communities campaign. We've drawn together an advisory council of destination marketing organizations to help better brand RDU International Airport.

For 7 years, I've unsuccessfully tried to convince Durham to do a countywide wayfinding system. Impatient, Downtown end-ran the system to get one for just that one area of town, but it works and it helps people understand what real wayfinding systems will do. So it's probably ironic to some that as unsuccessful I've been so far at the local level, I'm inviting my counterparts and their respective transportation officials, along with the regional transportation alliance, together to discuss a region-wide wayfinding system.

We all suffer from geographic elements that inhibit visitors, newcomers and, most of all, residents from fully enjoying their respective communities, e.g., distance friction caused by irregular road patterns, duplicate street names, hills and dales, no defining geographic reference points like mountains etc. and ... well you get the point.

I envision a regional system will be coherent and consistent but still locally based and locally executed. Each community's system will be branded and focused on getting people around that community. But a region-wide system means that when residents travel between communities in the region or newcomers look for the right fit or visitors experience more than one community, they will find a familiar, coherent signage system.

It is still a long shot, but it's great fun.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What's Local?

It burns me when a business tries to make it appear it's located in Durham. I'm not talking about the organizations that rent a post office box in the Durham postal substation for Research Triangle Park. I'm talking about businesses that join the local chamber of commerce, for example, then send solicitations as a "local organization."

I got one today and had to read clear to the bottom to determine that, in fact, the business wasn't local; it is based in Raleigh. I guess, from Mars, Raleigh looks local to Durham, but not from here.

You see, local Durham businesses are not just businesses that try to do business in Durham. They are physically located here, pay taxes to support Durham services and build Durham facilities like the ballpark, hire Durham residents and buy services from Durham businesses.

Any economist can tell you that economic impact is measured by location. A business located in Raleigh taking business away from Durham businesses really located here is creating what's called "import leakage." And when the economy is measured that doesn't count as impact. In fact, economic development in part is the process of having more and more services provided locally so they truly impact the local economy.

I'm not against free trade. But I'm a huge proponent of "truth in addressing as well as advertising."

Monday, July 30, 2007

Don't Ever Order a Car from the Factory

Always wanted to do this. One of my first cars was a Porsche 912, kind of a 911 with a VW engine. But they made it possible, and still do, for you to order it new, just the way you wanted it, from the assembly line in Germany. There was a package so you could fly over, pick it up and drive it around Europe before they shipped it to the U.S.

As you imagine in the '60s I was in no position to take them up. Or to get one new. Although at the time, I think they were only a few thousand dollars. Mine was used.

Well I tried it again but this time with a new Jeep Wrangler, but with no trip and no tour. Just off the line, just as I wanted it. Went to the folks at Morgan who had helped me with a handful of cars this decade. Took a print out from the Internet with everything selected that I wanted or could afford, including a built in navigation system with the radio.

Everything was smooth at the dealer end. But the nav system showed backorder, and it was stalling the assembly. I asked them to go ahead with the radio without the nav. Within two days, I notified the dealer to remember that I have Sirius, a system they had adapted to my last Jeep. And that's where things went south.

I picked it up a month later, asked if the Sirius was already registered and got a nod. But when I got home I couldn't find it, even after studying the manual forward and back where the Sirius is explained.

Turns out, once it is on the line, you can't make a change. And instead of moving to the next radio down from the nav, Jeep had dropped it down to one that didn't even have Sirius. Nearly three months later, I've been told I'm on my own to get this remedied. Dealer has tried everything (and believe me they no longer have much sway). I was told I could buy the radio I want for $800. It would have been about $200 if installed at the factory.

I was told I could try the 800 number and they might help.

No one is really at fault, except the rigidity of the system and a failure to communicate. But no one is taking responsibility. Everyone is pointing at someone else.

My advice. Never buy one new off the line. You get all the flexibility you want if you ask for what you want and the dealer swaps with other dealers until they find it.

But the factory? No flexibility at all.

I'll probably go buy a $300 paste-on solution. But I'm in the consumer satisfaction business, and you can bet I'll write to the President of Daimler, the President of Blackstone (company buying Jeep), President of Chrysler, President of Jeep Division, chief officer over customer satisfaction, chief officer over the plant where it was assembled… maybe even the President of Sirius.

My request: Make it possible to make a change on the line, especially for little things like radios, which are probably stacked by an installer near the end. Little thing. Huge difference.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Durham Image Improves

Conventional and anecdotal wisdom is that Durham's image took a hit during the past year because of association with the LAX debacle.

In North Carolina, it's true that, unique among cities, the news media and residents in other communities seem to blame Durham as a whole for the actions of individuals or groups.

Fortunately, that isn't the case nationwide. A new scientific poll by Opinion Research Corporation reveals that Durham's overall image stayed consistent with last June and polls done since 1995. And Durham's image as a place with many cultural, educational and entertainment features moved up to 14 to 1 positive to negative. As a place for new business and growth potential, it also improved to 10 to 1.

This took place as more and more people are familiar with Durham. The percentage answering they "don't know" about Durham has declined from just over half in 1995 to 25% now. As more people have become familiar, the percent negative about Durham has dropped now to 5% overall and only 3% for cultural/entertainment.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Visitor Satisfaction

I had to fly to Pittsburgh for meetings last week. As I stood in line to take my shoes off, etc., it occurred to me how punishing the process of air travel has become. And my job in part is to convince people to go through that experience.

It isn't about the people anymore. They are working diligently under the circumstances. It's the very process itself.

My drive time to Pittsburgh from Durham would have been a little less than 8 hours. My time flying involved:
  • Dropping my car and getting to the airport an hour and a half early each way; that's 3 hours.
  • Delays took another hour; that's 4.
  • Time waiting for baggage on both ends, another hour; that's 5.
  • Not being able to leave when I wanted; another 3 hours, that's 8.
  • Flight time round trip, 3 hours; that's 11.
So it would have taken 3 hours less to drive and a whole lot less hassle.

Durham draws more air travelers than communities nearby or the same size and competitive set. It also draws older, more experienced, well-educated and, yes, demanding travelers. When rating Durham visitor satisfaction, they rate Durham not only for the experience here but also the experience en route.

We can tell because our satisfaction numbers have dropped in the last couple of years.

We've got to find some solutions. Or start encouraging visitors to drive.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Search for a New Police Chief

I wonder if the news media know how obnoxious it looks when they interfere in a high-profile executive search, like the Raleigh paper just did in Durham's search for a new police chief. They couldn't wait for the announcement. They had to badger people "close to the process" for "off-the-record information" then barge into the negotiation of details.

Thank goodness the Durham newspaper laid back a bit. It's usually a blessing to have two major dailies covering your news. But this double coverage stinks when one is from another community and appears to have an agenda... overtly to undermine the Durham paper and try and put it out of business but many believe covertly to make sure Durham isn't seen as Raleigh's equal.

Yes, they are good people as individuals, and this is just free enterprise. Yes, I'm risking passive-aggressive retaliation from folks who control the ink.

But instead of relishing in these intrusions, as though we just got the latest gossip, I hope readers will eventually revolt from this revolting interference in a delicate and, yes, personal process between a community and a candidate, whose wife I'm sure wants to know he's coming into a place where the news media treat people, communities and processes with respect.

And for folks who trade "off-the-record tidbits" to curry favor with the news media, watch your back.

I'm just glad there are still so many great editors who have restraint and don't sic their reporters on stories this way. I just wish they would write more stories about news professionals who don't.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Durham Self-Image Doing Just Fine

A May public opinion survey revealed that Durham residents have a very positive overall image of the community by 7.5 to 1. Another 9.7% are neither positive nor negative, and only 5% are unsure. Most impressive is that more than 21% have a very positive image of Durham, and the number very positive vs. very negative is more than 3 to 1. This rivals Durham's nationwide image ratio of 6 to 1 positive to negative.

Sometimes the news media and residents of other communities get the impression Durham is down on itself, because people here are so outspoken and determined to solve problems. But Durham residents have always had a very positive overall image of the community. Negative people are a little louder, and of course, half the people working in Durham don't live here, but many talk like they do.

What's astounding, though, is that this self-image has been resolute. Durham residents are the only ones in the state bombarded by news from two major dailies and a home delivery weekly. Of course, this can make the drumbeat of troubling news almost assaultive. Couple that with the fact that half of the residents of nearby communities report they would expect a negative experience in Durham from what they hear from friends and around the water cooler... and then the incredible frenzy over the LAX accusations and distortion in the national news media.

It is also assaultive on Durham residents that much of the news media and portions of the population in Raleigh are threatened by the fact that Durham is very much Raleigh's equal and determined not to acknowledge the great things that happen here.

So this tells us two things. The image issue really isn't about generating community pride or giving ourselves more love. The issues impacting Durham's image rest with external audiences in a 50-mile radius. There lies the image problem that so undermines Durham in the eyes of newcomers and visitors. Imbalanced news coverage and Internet babble may stoke this negative image, but it's negative word of mouth around the water cooler, over beers or the backyard fence that fuels it.

Friday, July 06, 2007


In the eight months since Durham launched a new overarching brand that would help make all messengers more consistent, already there have been more than 150 supporting uses, with DCVB launching many more.

It's being embraced even faster than the most optimistic forecast. Already, surveys show that nearly 40% of residents are aware of the brand, and more than 90% of those who are aware agree it makes them feel even more positive about Durham.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Undercurrent of Negativity about Durham

Undercurrent, my tush. Surveys document that more than half of the people living in communities on either side of Durham report, from what people say, they would expect a negative experience in Durham. And hundreds of millions of dollars in high-profile community improvement projects haven't made a dent in this "torrent" of negative word of mouth.

The reason isn't always what we would think. Crime or sense of safety come into play but way down the list. At the top one year were verbatim responses like "too many Muslims on the streets," "too many African-Americans on the streets."

This year the highest median ratings were given to things like "Class," "Intolerance," "Ignorance," "Rivalry," "Envy."

Same ole, same ole junk that has always been the swords for bigots, racist and sexist stereotypes, even genocide.

Durham could ignore it but for half of the people working in Durham commuting from these areas. Here it can contaminate visitors and newcomers.

It's a communication problem. Even back to back to back multimillion dollar civic projects with tons of buzz haven't made a dent in negative word of mouth. Like politics, negative word of mouth is "personal" not "logical."

Whenever this junk appears in print, it is collected in a list called "Tudes." This month a Raleigh writer couldn't resist taking shots at Durham, thinly veiled as humor but hardly the "equal opportunity" offenders he was parroting. After softly chastising the Museum of Art there for telling him to keep his paws off some art, he took a shot at Durham by writing "it's not like we want to leave them in Downtown Durham overnight." And under the next heading, during a segue to news on Durham, he began "Speaking of dead people and Durham...."

People can preach regionalism all they want, even when it's used to cloak self-interest. But until we eliminate this cancer and restore mutual respect, it's a hollow argument.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Video Report on City Bonds

Linked below is a brief video report on the City's progress on executing its recent $100+ million bond projects.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Images of Downtown Durham Rising Event

If you missed Saturday's unveiling of the "Bull" statue and celebration of the completion of new infrastructure and streetscape for 18 square city center blocks in Downtown Durham, the link below offers a series of images DCVB captured to use in ongoing promotion and marketing.

Most are also available in the online Durham Image Library. The work on behalf of DCVB is by Stewart Waller, an outstanding Durham photographer.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Up In Arms

DCVB is the film office for Durham and our office received an email this week from an individual in Arizona who claimed to be associated with film and tourism. He chastised Durham for not “rising up in arms” about Mike Nifong. At one point he wrote that he didn’t envy the job DCVB will have to do “as the nation looks down on Durham County and says, What’s wrong with you people in North Carolina…don’t you have any rules or values?”

It was far too easy to point out in response that in 2004 when a prosecutor in the Tucson/Pima County jurisdiction was disbarred for soliciting false testimony in a capital murder case that the headlines in Arizona hardly called for people to “rise up in arms” nor did the nation blame the entire state of Arizona. People do love to be self-righteous but who lets a little hypocrisy get in the way when you can pile on?

Contrary to the writer’s opinion, this isn’t as easy as assigning evil to one person and sainthood to others. It is sad, and Durham is deeply saddened that people make false accusations, that attorneys spar to the point of pushing each other to forget why they are there, that activists too quick to move to outrage can forget to wait for the facts, and that some of the news media was all too willing to fuel hyperbole instead of letting the justice system work. It is sad for three young men, their families, and an entire university, as well as for a community that was stigmatized, for a coach who lost his career, for the team that lost it chance at a national championship, and yes, for Mike Nifong and his family. Mike might have been stubborn and na├»ve, and these acts may be unconscionable, but the Mike many of us have known was definitely not an evil person.

Yes, Durham is indeed saddened. Angry too. Someone once told me that if you draw a circle with the continuum of emotions, “sad” and “mad” are right next to each other. Sad is mad and mad is sad.

But fortunately, our world has an increasingly short attention span. Once the piling on, finger pointing, and blame game are exhausted, people will move on. Reputations restored. Souls redeemed. Hopefully lessons learned.

With what we all knew or know now as the case went along, everyone without an agenda felt the system should have worked much more swiftly. But in the end the system worked and hats off to all those people who argued for patience to let it work.

But the system is indeed imperfect and this case should result not in over reaction but serious, thoughtful improvements to a system that in the end, worked.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Innovation Is at the Margins

DCVB staff last week reaped nine awards in statewide, independent, blind judging for innovative practices. That was about half of the innovations awarded at NCACVB's Annual Meeting and part of 12 Destination Marketing Achievement awards overall.

Since 2000, this team reaped 22 Destination Marketing Achievement awards in this judging, and in just three years, it has reaped 24 innovation awards.

I'm very proud of them as they should be of themselves. But having innovation as a core value and strength has rewards of its own. It fuels productivity and effectiveness and a passion for continuing and never-ending improvement.

The trick is to remember that innovation occurs when you improve or tweak or adapt improvements at the margins. Not everyone can be da Vinci, but everyone can modify, tweak or adapt things.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Accreditation Process Is Well Worth the Effort

Top-to-bottom organizational introspection is exhausting but well worth it in the end. DCVB just received accreditation by the independent Destination Marketing Accreditation Program. It took months to prepare and about 100 hours of staff time. This measured DCVB against the highest standards and best practices for community marketing.

A few years ago, we volunteered to undergo a yearlong diagnostic as well. Both processes are worth it because you see where you’re truly excelling and more importantly where you can improve or close some gaps. I don’t blame DMOs for not undergoing this scrutiny, but personally I find it not only invigorating but reassuring.

I would encourage any organization to seize the opportunity to go through the process. While many will not be accredited, it’s still the best feedback you can get.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Who Controls Your Brand?

Business 2.0 did a ranking of places recently regarding jobs, and it was further distributed by CNN.

It listed Raleigh but with a 1.5 million population, so it was obvious for this area there were two problems. Apparently they used the Raleigh-Durham-Cary CMSA here, which involves two MSAs and a micropolitan statistical area, then pitted it back against other MSAs. In other areas, they appear to have disaggregated an MSA.

We called to see if the label could be changed, since the ranking obviously wasn't for Raleigh, which is maybe a quarter of that overall population. We did the usual, explaining this is a polycentric region, and the brand isn't Raleigh.

What was stunning was the response back by an editor. He wrote, "Raleigh is now and will continue to be how we refer to your region in our lists. No slight is meant to Durham, but it's simply not as familiar a name to our readers as Raleigh…. Should you succeed in raising Durham's profile higher than Raleigh's, we'll be glad to reconsider our policy."

Never mind that it isn't his right to play fast and loose with brand names or that he's absolutely wrong about Raleigh being more familiar (surveys show Durham is only slightly less well-known, which is remarkable considering Raleigh is a state capital, and everyone has to memorize those in school).

What is absurd is the notion that Durham can raise its profile while his magazine ignores it. Am I missing something?

He certainly isn't the first editor to play fast and loose with community identities, often substituting "city" when it's really MSAs that are being measured and truncating names just to "fit."

Our response to this editor was that, in our opinion, Fast Company and Forbes are more familiar than Business 2.0, but we won't be substituting their names in reference to his magazine, because we know how important that brand is to him.

Wonder if he would be as cavalier with the business brands his company covers?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

It's a Wonder People Travel

A University of Michigan Customer Satisfaction Rating just found that airlines are more unpopular than the IRS. It's not all their fault… just the other week I got back from attending a Board meeting down between Pensacola and Mobile. While air travel involves only 9% of total domestic person-trips (165 million person-trips), it's a bummer right now.

It isn't because people aren't trying hard. The Delta crews were almost perfect on references to RDU rather than truncating it to Raleigh.

It's the logistics involved. Drive to the airport, long-term parking, schlep to the counter, checking bags, running the gauntlet through security, cueing up at the gate for boarding, boarding, transfer from one concourse to another for connecting flights, getting bags and a rental car, driving to the venue. And then it's all over again on the way back.

The flights themselves were flawless. But the overall reality of air travel is enough to make even the most extraverted, ADHD, can't-sit-still, gotta-go-gotta-go traveler, stay home.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Maps Are the Faces of Destinations

There's nothing more symbolic of a travel destination than a map. I remember when US troops parachuted onto the island of Grenada, all they had were "tourist maps."

Now, thanks to The Map Network, DMOs or destination marketing organizations like DCVB, are partnering to transform the idea of maps from those old tourism maps and then the map search engines that first launched on the Web now to truly interactive databases.

In Durham's case, DCVB created its new interactive maps from the official City and County GIS maps, so they are useful for far more than tourism. They can be reached via Durham's official website for visitors and newcomers or via TMN's catalogue of 90 different destinations, including 3 now in North Carolina.

The new maps can be updated in real time via the same databases DCVB uses to update the website overall. Initially there are three maps, one region-wide from Burlington to Smithfield and Roxboro almost to Pinehurst. Another zooms in on Durham in detail. The third zooms in on Duke, Downtown, Ninth St. and NCCU.

Users can tag sites, creating their own map, populate or un-populate with various points of interest, right click and grab and move the map with a cursor… go down to as much detail as exists or go out to the big picture.

TMN is owned by Navteq, the company providing the map backbone to navigation systems, so by the end of the year, these far more accurate maps will also have point-to-point directions.

Maps like those used for the drop onto Grenada in the '80s look about as ancient now as the cartography done hundreds of years ago.

Friday, May 04, 2007

10 Signs Durham's Image Issue Will Have Turned the Corner

DCVB has taken point over the years to address issues focused in about a 50-mile radius that undermine Durham's image as a place to live and visit. It often involves doing work that isn't so pleasant but made easier now with Durham Image Watch. The problem was documented by opinion surveys beginning in the very early '90s, and the progress has been slow but sure.

To maintain focus here are just 10 of the ways I'll know when we're turning the corner.

10 Signs Durham's Image Issue Will Have Turned the Corner:

Mutual respect for the differences in each part of the region and the unique cultural identity for each community will replace the undercurrent of negativity about Durham among residents in nearby communities.

The term Raleigh-Durham will be reserved for the airport, arrivals at RDU will be welcomed to the Triangle or to Durham & Raleigh and branding within the co-owned airport will reflect each as unique destinations.

Durham will be datelined for positive stories like those at RTP, Duke, NCCU, just as much as its datelined for troubling stories.

Great curb appeal and excellent way-finding in all Durham neighborhoods and districts will reflect the priority local officials place on image, economic development and crime reduction.

All postal delivery addresses assigned in Durham City or County will reflect Durham as the physical location, with the exception of historic Durham substations like Bahama, RTP, Rougemont.

News coverage of issues in various communities will be similar in intensity and tone and comparisons "apples to apples" in perspective.

Durham's unique diversity of opinion and ethnic diversity will be accepted as positively throughout the region as it is here.

Enthusiasts for individual communities or the region will accept this as a polycentric region that is not centered around any one dominant community.

Regionalists will embrace both/and, celebrating a family of distinct communities with both shared and differing priorities bringing the region closer on issues of water, air, traffic etc.

No community will be bullied by another to subsidize its project decisions, and events and assets termed "regional" will be those that can occur throughout the region rather than just draw from throughout the region.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Being Authentic

One of the things often observed about Durham, even by news media in nearby communities is that this community has a soul. It is also called real and authentic. There is a cool article by Bill Breen in the May issue of Fast Company magazine about authenticity from a brand standpoint. Below are some things I gleaned. They helped me understand and put into words why Durham is authentic.

What does it take to be authentic?

A sense of place
Authenticity comes from a place we can connect with.

A strong point of view
Authenticity also emerges from people with a deep passion for what they are doing.

Serving a larger purpose
Consumers believe every brand has an ulterior motive. Authenticity is when a brand is convincing that the motive is a byproduct of a larger purpose.

Authenticity comes to a brand that is what it says it is… its actions align with the story it tells through communications.

How do you stay authentic even as you get big?

Ubiquity may not be toxic to authenticity, but it certainly dilutes it.

Can you be authentic when you’re trying to be authentic?

Warmth can wear out its welcome and feel contrived if it isn’t real.

A brand doesn’t feel real when it overtly tries to make itself real.

Can you be cool and still be authentic?

To maintain its integrity a brand must remain true to its values. And yet to be cool, a brand must be as dynamic as change itself. To be authentic, these must be reconciled.

What’s real are the experiences and connections brands allow us to make.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Bull Puckey

Geez, I have a hard time getting into the daily routine of a blog. The pace things move and change in my work and life is unbelievable, at least to me.

I love this work. For more than 30 years, it has been so much fun, and it’s as much today as it was at the beginning. One thing isn’t fun. That’s explaining things over and over to the same people. I used to take full responsibility, since communication doesn’t take place until its two-way, right? Wrong. Many people don’t read or listen. Instead, they are either crisis/adrenaline junkies… or they expect people to spoon feed them (a weird type of “just in time” delivery). Or, they have an agenda and, rather than communicate directly, they just keep asking the same questions until they get their way.

I say a new “rule of communication” be established, and that’s to call “bull-puckey” (not exactly the way we said it in Idaho) and save all the time these people cost…. Maybe if we insisted they do their job, they wouldn’t have time to play with people’s heads.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Feeling Numb

I’m feeling more numb than relieved this morning about the Lacrosse party story. I’m relieved for the young men and their families.

But having been near the epicenter when the story erupted, my mind still keeps going back over what could have prevented this.
  • It turns out both Duke and the police were accurate in downplaying the allegations when first made.
  • The paper in Raleigh took credit for “breaking” the story, but they weren’t taking credit yesterday when charges were dropped.
  • Actually there is dispute about how the story exploded. A member of one of the listservs picked it up on the DPD log and, because there had been friction between neighborhoods and student parties, it was a natural topic on the listserv.
  • The Raleigh N&O by some accounts actually picked it up from the listserv and made it a story about race. As WUNC reported this morning during NPR, the story fed the media’s appetite for salacious stories about race and crime etc. Maybe that media appetite should be a candidate for some serious dieting.
  • People pled… I was one… during the initial listserv discussions for calm and a presumption of innocence.
  • But part of Durham’s personality is activist… and the story set off people with issues about Duke, people with partisan UNC issues, people angry about domestic violence, people who have issues about race, poverty etc.
I guess my concern in hindsight is the news media wasn’t there to balance perspective and provide an anchor with the facts. Instead it fell hook, line and sinker and became a huge part of the problem.

I don’t understand the rush now to judge Durham as a community. More than half of the community didn’t vote for the district attorney. And even if they had, it’s a double standard to blame a community for the actions of individuals or groups. Are Raleigh and Charlotte being blamed, one for electing Jim Black, an admitted felon, the other the place where the bribes were exchanged? No.

In fact, we should all step back from blame for a moment and take a good hard look at whether justice is being served by the rush to judgment and impatience with process so common now. If you think lessons were learned during Lacrosse, just watch coverage of the Imus story right now… actually, it isn’t coverage as much as news media and listservs eager to drive a story.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Press Interviewing the Press

Can’t the press find subject or content experts or observers to interview as sources? Increasingly I see reporters quoting other reporters on stories, and they are largely regurgitating headlines, conjecture, story lines in the form of facts.

I guess it has to do with lower budgets and too many news media organizations chasing too little news. I think good reporters and editors probably do become very intimate with details, but I’d feel better if the media continued to report the news as neutral observers rather than generate news.

But maybe it’s too late for journalism as it existed or seemed to exist only a few years ago. Day after day now, I see reporters forcing stories that don’t exist, pitting individuals or groups against one another, amplifying everything as sensational or fearful. Once in a while, they are on target. Many times, as with the recent “lead” scare… it is costing communities, groups and individuals thousands of dollars in lost productivity and extra and duplicate steps.

When the news media are at their best, it makes us all better. In today’s world… and a lot of journalists agree with me, the media are part of the problem.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Bodies...The Exhibition

Marketing doesn't resonate with everyone. Many people prefer to think they came up with an idea themselves than to accept that they learned about it through marketing and communications. Reminds me of a comment by a homebuilder a few years ago who could only accept that people bought houses because he built them vs. he built them because people wanted houses.

But now and then an organization comes along that truly understands and appreciates the DCVB's role in marketing Durham to visitors. Premier Exhibitions has selected Durham over many other excellent venues--Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh etc.--to host Bodies...The Exhibition, a world-class, four-month (and maybe longer) event that has been in Amsterdam, NYC, Miami, Seattle, Atlanta, Las Vegas and now Durham.

DCVB helped facilitate the decision, but more importantly, the synapses have been firing like rocket launchers between Premier's marketing and DCVB in deployment of marketing strategies. Premier understands that, no matter how outstanding the exhibition is, it requires huge amounts of marketing to be profitable and successful. You see, Premier is a for-profit outfit, and it understands that “build it and they will come” is fiction.

Bodies...The Exhibition opens April 5 at The Streets at Southpoint and Main Street.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Giving Accurate Locations

I feel sorry for travelers including meeting planners when they are given the misimpression there is such a place called Raleigh-Durham, NC. I say given, because when we track down the origin of the misinformation, they were most often misled by someone from this general area but not from Durham. It goes like this: The planner books a meeting in Durham, but an acquaintance in Raleigh, hearing about it, says, “Oh, you’re meeting in Raleigh?” If the planner clarifies by saying, “No, I’m meeting in Durham or Research Triangle Park,” the acquaintance goes “Oh, Raleigh-Durham.”

Seems innocent enough unless you’re attending the conference. If the attendee searches for information or directions to the hotel using Raleigh-Durham, NC, it will almost always come up that this doesn’t match any locations (because there simply is no such place as Raleigh-Durham--it’s the name of an airport). If the attendee then puts in Raleigh, which would be logical, it will give directions to the address but in Raleigh, where no hotel is located.

It is rare they will put in “Durham,” if the location reads Raleigh-Durham.

Of course if DCVB steps in to give the planner a heads-up that the location they’ve selected is in Durham, NC, the planner may feel stupid and thus angry for having been misled by the acquaintance in the first place, or the acquaintance will be livid for being busted. Either way, they’re both likely to take it out on the messenger. We’ll usually get called un-regional or worse, e.g., condescending or unworthy of being world-class. Okay, people get mean when they feel dumb… that’s human, kinda.

But through it all, a CVB needs to keep focused on the needs of the customer and the integrity of the community’s brand. If we say nothing, just imagine how “dumb” the travelers feel when they discover Raleigh-Durham is an airport and, upon exiting, find two arrows pointing in opposite directions. “Oh, oh, which one do I take?” Worse yet, they have equal odds of overnighting in a community different than where the meeting is held… and commuting I-40 in traffic.

We know how dumb they feel because they hammer the Durham CVB for not helping the planner get the location right. So year after year, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

I guess using a term like the airport name, “Raleigh-Durham,” would work if the Triangle was centric or centered around a dominant city. But the Triangle is polycentric, and none of us will be truly world-class until residents in any part of this family of communities accept that giving the specific location, both community and address, to a traveler is just being courteous. Giving anything else borders on malicious. In fact regionalism has nothing to do with embracing ambiguous terms.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Closing the Gap

As a visitor destination, Durham has been exceeding the benchmarks for its peer group but for one area. Until now, having 1/4th to 1/3rd the number of guest rooms Downtown has been a drawback.

Now that issue has reached the proverbial “Tipping Point” to use a Malcolm Gladwell term. The Durham Marriott has stood adjacent to the Durham Civic Center for 18 years. Being next to the Durham Civic Center, Carolina Theater, and Brightleaf District would seem enough to guarantee success, but it hasn’t. Now all that begins to change with the announcement by Greenfire Development and Lifestyle Hospitality for a 110-room boutique hotel in the historic Hill Building, formerly CCB, then SunTrust, just across the CCB Square from the Durham Marriott and the Durham Civic Center.

Hotels are like fast-food joints and convenience stores (almost wrote “service stations,” a blast from the past). They work best in clusters. That creates synergy. Even if the current wave of redevelopment Downtown had never blossomed, more guest rooms in that area would have generated success. It’s just that much better now.

I remember learning this principle of supply and demand many years ago. Airlines were regulated. CVBs and their cities had to bid to the Federal Government to get additional carriers or routes for carriers. An executive with the “first” Frontier Airlines told me that, when a second carrier is added to a route between two cities, the number of travelers will increase, even though the existing carrier had a lot of empty seats.

I predict several more hotels will develop Downtown in the next few years, and this is both a blessing and a challenge for DCVB. It’s a blessing because it adds a dimension to our ability to draw interest from both leisure travelers and conventions. It’s a challenge because every one of these new hotels will come out of the “box” empty. Not only that but, different than even spec official building, which can rely on long-term leases, at the beginning of every year, Durham starts at “0” for visitors and has to not only exceed the prior year but make up the entire gap.

That’s what so much fun about destination marketing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Subsidizing Groups

I’ve always been puzzled, if not amused, when “business” and/or “local government” officials, not to mention CVBs, propose subsiding groups in order to draw group visitor business like conventions, meetings or sports groups. Yes, it’s truly “buying activity at the expense of the bottom line.”

With a straight face a friend of mine recently rationalized that, in order to draw a national convention of business-related associations, his community would have to come up with $60,000 cash. Our own N.C. League of Municipalities does something similar.

Why is it amusing? Because ironically, the reason a community hosts these groups is to fuel the business climate and generate local tax revenue. So the group in question will generate $30,000 in local tax revenue. That means this community will spend twice what the group is worth in yield, essentially going into the red.

No one in their right mind would make such a business deal, or every business and local government would be broke.

What drives this insanity? Communities build convention centers and sports facilities that aren’t feasible. So to generate the “impression” of activity, they subsidize groups as basically a cover-up for a crazy decision to build something that wasn’t sustainable in the first place. Then to cover that up, often they cook the economic impact numbers.

What’s ironic about the group in question? They are supposed to be generating economic development for communities, so the first thing they do is insist their own convention is a losing proposition for the host community?

So why doesn’t the news media get wind? Unless they are like ours, they are often complicit in the initial decision via boosterism and therefore reticent to question.

I’m proud that Durham doesn’t go after subsidized business. Although we’re not immune from building things we can’t sustain.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Toady, My Bulldog, Understands Happiness

My English Bulldog, Toady, seems to be living life in reverse. She’s eight, which is getting up there for her breed. She has the typical age-related issues and gets a little pill for pain in the hips and a little pill to help her airways open up. She no longer jumps in the Jeep, preferring to climb up part way and then get a little boost from me to get the rest of the way. She’ll pass me in people-years this month.

But she’s as playful and energetic as she has ever been. She was timid as a pup, not too adventuresome. Took her two years before I heard her bark. Actually, it’s more a deep woof. She didn’t even eat that much as a pup, sometimes going once a day.

The secret to her acting like a pup when she’s an old lady is that, in her mind, she thinks she’s a little dog, maybe schnoodle size, maybe 15-20 pounds vs. a stocky, muscular (still svelte and beautiful) 50 pounds. She loves where we live now because there are dogs of all sizes out in the courtyard at any given time. That’s how I can tell she thinks she’s a small dog. She even prefers small places, so when I move next month, it will be to a house that will still be the size she prefers.

So I guess it’s how you view yourself that determines happiness… not how others view you. Well that and “greenies.” Smart pup.

Friday, March 02, 2007

RTP to Become More Like the Rest of Durham

When I moved to Durham in 1989, an elderly gentleman who has since passed on gave me a tour of the community. I remember two things he prophesied: (1) Durham would become more like RTP and (2) South Square was the new Downtown.

Prophesy is a dangerous business, but I recalled this conversation recently while reading a futurist document identifying themes that will impact RTP’s future. It appears that dedicated research parks may become a thing of the past, and they will evolve into mixed-use developments with lifestyle amenities clustered around lab facilities. Hmmm… sounds to me like what’s already happening four miles away in Downtown Durham.

South Square never did become Durham’s Downtown. The mall was torn down to make way for another type of shopping center, and Downtown is in a spectacular renaissance. But as part of that renaissance, a couple of developers have lab space mixed right in next to restaurants and living spaces and shopping. Similar things are planned for Erwin along Duke University to the Ninth Street District and in a mixed-use development planned adjacent to the Park.

So we can see the future today, but it’s the RTP part of Durham that will evolve to look more like other parts of Durham. It all ties in nicely with Richard Florida’s findings after studying the correlation between economic development and the creative class. Researchers are members of that group, and it also makes sense then that the Durham, NC, MSA ranks first in proportion of workforce composed of creative class workers.