Friday, January 28, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something similar happened with Civil Rights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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