Friday, February 16, 2007

The Challenge of A Non-Resident Workforce

You’d think creating so many jobs that half your local workforce are non-residents would be an accomplishment. But it doesn’t come out that way.

A hyper-cynical reporter or editor (or both) twists this to mean that Durham is so unpopular that people who work here don’t want to live here. This fuels a condescension among these non-residents, or maybe it’s the other way around—reporters are hired from this population and therefore condescending? But for sure it’s then in the arena of “word of mouth,” upon which news outlets have little influence.

News media can squeeze toothpaste out of a tube, but they have little influence on putting it back in. :-) They can generate temporary buzz like they did for The Streets at Southpoint or American Tobacco Campus that can also generate an equally temporary blip in public opinion, but word of mouth is face-to-face communication. It can be launched by news, but that is rarely what propels or perpetuates it.

The circumstance complicates the job of DCVB in four ways:
  1. It intensifies the amount of destination awareness training we have to do with frontline, visitor-contact employees in restaurants, hotels, shopping malls etc.
  2. It fuels other negative word of mouth around the water cooler, as non-residents attempt to get validation for why they have to endure that commute. This in turn infects or puzzles and confuses newcomers, who are often visitors first.
  3. It requires DCVB to split time between shaping and promoting Durham’s brand to defending and protecting it. No amount of positive information can alone overcome the power of negative word of mouth. You have to turn into the wind.
  4. It contaminates the populations from which we also draw day-trip visitors.
So we’re forced to pull together information and perspective like this comparison of public school systems and then labor to explain to residents how to use this information to first step up to this type of bashing but also turn the paradigm around.

But I wouldn’t trade places for the world. I wouldn’t trade a genuine, high-performing destination with an image issue for an underperforming, over-reaching destination with a pristine image.

Give me an image issue to tackle any day over a well-perceived destination with “no there-there.”

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