Thursday, February 28, 2013

Negative Link Between Campaign Donations & Shareholder Value

The reason many in business and government are skeptical of research is that many of them use “pimped opinion” as a substitute, and so they find it hard not to assume everyone else does.  Especially lobbyists.

Part of content curation such as I do with this blog and that I practiced during my now-concluded 40-year career as a community-destination marketing (DM) exec is to look carefully behind a study to make certain it was produced and vetted by experts and if possible peer reviewed.

Of particular concern are so-called white papers often promoted by partisan think-tanks where even more careful scrutiny is always warranted.

The DMO in my adopted home of Durham, North Carolinas has earned a reputation for objective analysis based on sound data.  This should never be taken for granted.  It can be lost in heartbeat if not deeply entrenched in organizational culture and governance and insulated from anecdotal whimsy.

Last November, purposely held I assume until after the election, an excellent peer-reviewed study was published by Harvard law professor John C. Coates who specializes in corporate law and governance (shown in this blog.)

His study found “in most industries, political activity correlates negatively with measures of shareholder power, positively with signs of agency costs, and negatively with shareholder value.”

The exceptions are businesses such as outdoor billboard companies, where any value is wholly reliant on governmental decisions and regulations regarding tax payer-funded roadways and other government-dependent industries such as defense or those heavily regulated in the public interest such as utilities.

If the failure of massive injections of anonymous corporate donations into the election process wasn’t enough to confirm that these dollars were an unwise wise investment, Coates’ data added an emphatic exclamation point.

Highly threatened, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (not to be confused in any way with local chambers of commerce) immediately dusted off a long-discredited white paper that had never been peer-reviewed and was produced by non other than a lobbyist.

Unfortunately for too many casual observers, this meant “touché, all over again” and a “tie goes to the runner,” right?  Fortunately, Professor Coates opened up with both barrels in a letter this month to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Coates’ findings undermine a pivotal assumption by the Supreme Court in Citizens United.  Hopefully, SCOTUS justices have time to read and not just write.  Regardless, the Coates study should be required reading for corporate shareholders and all C-suite executives.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

All Marketing Should Be Localized

I mostly agreed with an excellent essay posted last fall by NPR’s Scott Simon on the seemingly sudden overuse of the word “curate.”

However, even in its original Latin or Middle English, curate has always been a term broader than is used in museums and the perfect description for the essence of community-destination marketing organizations (DMO), first established in the late 1800s at the dawn of the Progressive Era and more recently my profession during a now-concluded 40-year career.

Content curation is also what I do each day in retirement as I research and write the essays posted on this blog.  The only reason lists me among the top 10% of profiles viewed by its 200 million members is that readers there seek to know who is behind the content I curate.

For any community DMO though, only the tip of the proverbial iceberg is curating information to aid decisions by visitors including leisure and business travelers, group planners, newcomers and relocating executives.

Maybe even more central is curating market intelligence to assist businesses, and not just local businesses or those relocating or expanding. This need is only growing more and more intense.Interactive Global Cities of the Future

At the close of 1989 as I was leading the jumpstart of the DMO for Durham, North Carolina, only one billion of the earth’s consumers lived in cities or surrounding metropolitan areas, such as the one for which Durham is core.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, within the next twelve years that number will reach four billion, with two billion alone in emerging market metros which will inject $25 trillion into the global economy.

It is no wonder that community-destination marketing is exploding globally.

A survey among members of the worldwide Chief Marketing Officer Council (CMO) shows that 59% believe that localized marketing is “essential to business growth and profitability.”  For 33% the biggest challenge is lack of localized content and for 31% the deficit is access to in-market intelligence.

The study also found that 6 out of 10 these global marketers are over-reliant on “hearsay data,” often gleaned from water-cooler gossip during visits by advance development teams during initial investigations of a market.

Savvy marketers know to turn to a local community’s DMOs for localized market information and content.  Savvy DMOs know that for their community to succeed they will also need to assertively power this information through the obfuscation that is created by huge, obsolete, so-called “designated market areas DMA.”

These relics are perpetuated by some television and radio stations as well as by many newspapers and magazines in hopes that it will continue to grossly exaggerate the amount they can charge for advertising.

The DMA in which Durham is lumped sprawls across as many as 23 counties and parts of three states including up to a third of North Carolina, hardly a common market from a consumer viewpoint.

In reality, while these massive media designations may be good for ad sales, they blind businesses by obscuring the existence of organically distinct community business climates/markets.  Unwittingly gross DMA-level data clouds any true understanding of true consumer markets such as Durham, while providing fodder for anyone wishing to undermine it.

DMAs this vast also result in short-handed newsrooms which are then drawn disproportionately to easy-to-cover topics such as crime. Far too stretched to cover topics evenly from community to community or to add context that would mitigate over-generalized alarm, they fuel stereotypes.

This imbalance along with lack of context, in turn fuels exaggerated water-cooler conversations, which then results in what consumer research experts such as Dr. John Lynch are quoted as terming “focalization.”

This is a condition where for many listening to water-cooler pontifications, the brain’s “intake valve” virtually shuts down to other aspects about a community, particular in places such as Durham where 3 out of 5 workers are non-residents.

As Durham’s DMO commenced operation, it took a few years of analysis by communications and media experts, followed up by scientific research to document not only the existence and nature of what was undermining perceptions of Durham, but to lock on to greatly amplified content curation as the strategy to turn this condition around.

Although the effort must be perpetual, the remarkable turn-around in Durham’s image was spearheaded by its DMO largely between the years 1993 and 2000 as documented by annual tracking surveys. 

What made this comprehensive and often-grassrooted effort even more remarkable is that it occurred over a period when the Internet emerged in popular use, not only making non-curated information ubiquitous, but also “fire-hosing” the intensity and proliferation of misinformation.

Anyone dating the turnaround as more recent may be confusing Durham’s overall image with that of just the downtown area.  However, it is probably not coincidental that the rehabilitation of downtown’s reputation commenced in earnest only after the tide had been turned on restoration of Durham’s overall image.

Regardless, the role of content curation was strategically central to both.  Many experts including NYU professor, researcher and author Clay Shirky and most recently best-selling author Daniel Pink have dissected the ingredients of good content curation.

Shirky often notes that content curation is more than just aggregation or information seeking, it is about “synchronizing a community,” something for which Durham’s DMO is now recognized as a best practice.

Pink builds on the “seek-make sense-share” model evolved by blogger Beth Kanter based on inspiration from Harold Jarche who writes about workplace innovation.

As you can see, content curation can have different layers.  I remember a friend of mine who would often call me for research data, then tweak the numbers slightly and use them unattributed in news quotes and with local officials.  My friend was breaking a cardinal rule of curation which is crediting sources while benefiting from another, the act of sharing through redistribution.

Curating content involves gathering, qualifying, and distilling information, and often this includes conducting original research studies.  It also requires making sense of the information and putting it in context, followed by developing tools by which it can be shared and distributed and redistributed.

On behalf of a city, town or county, it is something for which community-destination marketing organizations are uniquely qualified by both purpose and focus.

However, content curation should never include the purging of troubling information but instead the integration of it within the fuller picture.  It is also a perversion to masquerade content curation as a means to merely perpetuate unsubstantiated and anecdotal opinions or observations.

Search engine optimization is part of sharing and distributing curated content but as Shirky notes, making sense of it is a distinctly human endeavor.  It also involves vigilance and relentless follow up with the sources of misinformation with requests for correction and offers to substitute it with valid resources.

Local businesses and chains with local operations or franchises are learning just as the CMO study confirms that consumers, even when they are visitors, focus locally.  Seven years ago, studies began documenting that 70% of U.S. households used the Internet when shopping locally for products and services.

This is intensifying even more as 4 in 10 have migrated to mobile platforms to conduct those searches.  The search engine Bing finds that 70% of mobile searches are followed up by action within an hour.

The search result that rises above the din is curated content provided by a community’s official destination marketing organization.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Down Time

Homes in the U.S. now have nearly half a billion devices connected to the Internet.  According to research by The NPD Group, nearly 4 out of 10 consumers who used to use PCs to access content have switched to tablets and smartphones instead.

Reading and sending email migrated to mobile devices many years ago, but today Internet browsing is the number one activity to have migrated to mobile platforms and reading books and magazines and I suspect newspapers is tied for third.

So when your Internet connection acts up as mine did for four days last week, I easily switched to my phone and tablet by turning off Wi-Fi but I was unable to research and write daily essays which I still find practical only on a PC.

I used the down time last week to catch up on my reading, which I now do primarily on tablet and smartphone anyway.  With access across to the same book over several very portable platforms, I find myself reading far more than the four books read each year by the average American.

As it is for 40% of tablet users and 56% of smartphone users, that is also how I access and listen to music including my personal collection of nearly 4,000 tracks dating back to but not including the hundreds of compact cassette tapes in my closet.

According to NPD research, two-thirds of U.S. consumers listen to music in their vehicle (which for me can also access services such as Pandora or my personal music library,) while about half listen on their PC and a quarter through their TV.

Unlike my Kindle which I left behind a few years ago when the app made it possible to read on my tablet or smartphone, research shows that having more connected devices results in greater use across platforms.

This isn’t going away, but apparently, I’m still pretty rare for my age cohort.  That will change.

However, it isn’t at all clear if a majority of members of the U.S. Congress or the General Assembly in North Carolina, where I live, have a handle on the importance of infrastructure overall let alone Internet infrastructure, in part because they read so little.

Maybe they need a little down time to catch up on their reading!

Monday, February 25, 2013

A City Creek Walk Through Time

My earlier than expected arrival last month in Salt Lake City gave me a couple of hours to explore my personal connection with the recently-opened, spectacular 23-acre City Creek Center in Downtown Salt Lake City, after parking in one of the 6,000 underground parking spaces.

It was nearly 166 years ago that two of my great-great-grandfathers and one of my great-great-great-grandfathers first rode down from a canyon in the Wasatch Range toward a small grove of Cottonwood trees along what would be called City Creek, the Center’s name-sake.

They traveled ahead of a vanguard company of 148 Mormons who were the first to arrive in that valley in late July 1847 following an 1,100 mile journey up and across the Continental Divide.

They pulled up a block or so south of where the new Center is located now and hurriedly constructed dwellings and planted crops in advance of winter, after first softening the earth by temporarily damming City Creek across its six mile journey from a canyon to the Jordan River.

That winter two of my ancestors, Charles and his 15-year-old son Andrew, also found time to build a “ship” as a way to earn funds.  Among that small number, they also encountered a thief who confessed to stealing some seed corn from them during his trial and was given “five lashes on the bare back.”

By 1849, this branch of my ancestors was assigned property in the original 13th Ward, directly across the street to the east of where City Creek Center is now, near where a spectacular Harmon’s has opened in conjunction with the massive development and my great-great-great-grandfather Charles had been appointed Deputy Marshall.

In those early years, Mormon leaders had decided all property would be public-held with stewardship assigned to various families.

There, my then-17-year-old great-great grandfather, A.P. Shumway, busily herded cattle along the creek and built adobes.  He and others also dug ditches to carry water from City Creek past each individual plot to be used for drinking and irrigation.

Today, this location is at the base of an office tower where coincidentally, my daughter and A.P.’s great-great-great-granddaughter works as assistant corporate counsel.

And as City Creek flows out of a canyon on its way to entombment beneath Downtown Salt Lake, it passes near where my grandsons attend an innovative school where learning through music is a balance to their passion for sports.

As I explored the spectacular City Creek Center last month, parts of which are both inside and outside, the temperature hovered in the low teens, held there by several days of inversion above Salt Lake Valley. Breathing air that cold for the first time since leaving Alaska in late 1980s brought back a flood of other memories.

The real City Creek remained the lifeblood of Salt Lake City throughout the remainder of the 1800s.  As the city’s population surpassed 92,000 in 1909, the creek was entombed.  This was the same year that my great-great-grandfather passed away near the town of Franklin in my native Idaho.

The nearly quarter of mile creek of that name that flows through City Creek Center today is a man-made facsimile, much like a similar water feature of approximately the same length dubbed Old Bull River that flows through the restored 16-acre Lucky Strike factory complex in a downtown district of similarly-sized Durham, North Carolina, where I live.

The real spring-fed City Creek famously resurfaced in a 1983 flood when suddenly swollen by a spring thaw it day-lighted once again and flowed during a brief reminder down the surface streets that traced the original path of its south fork.  Entombed once again, efforts to daylight City Creek once and for all continue.

A.P. Shumway left Salt Lake with his father later in 1849.  They were “called” by Mormon leaders to lead a party of 100 families south 135 miles to settle the pastoral San Pete Valley after a request by Ute tribal chiefs.  The valley is the geographic center of what would become Utah Territory a year later and a state in 1896.

However, I suspect, that for them, Salt Lake was already becoming too crowded.  Wagon trains of more than 1,000 people each had begun arriving, followed by ‘49ers who stopped for the winter on the way to the gold fields of California.

Andrew’s father Charles was described by his in-laws as someone of “hardy stock” who “loved wild country.” Even with so few settlers having arrived in Utah in the late 1840s, various aspects of human behavior were manifest.

Cattle will not paw away snow to eat like horses will which is why ranches such as the one where I spent my early years used large horse-drawn sleds to distribute bales of hay during winter snow.

In the winter of 1849, some of the 100 families elected to remain by camp fires deeming it the will of God if their cattle died due to an unusually heavy snowfall while my ancestors went out each day to shovel clearings in the grass so their cattle would not starve.

The Shumways also formed another settlement further north and were caught up in hostilities with Native Americans known as the Walker War with my great-great-grandfather, then 21, fighting at Salt Creek before settlers were ordered to temporarily evacuate.  He assigned blame for the war to those who failed to obey instructions from church leaders to live peacefully and respectfully along side Native Americans.

My great-great-great-grandfather Shumway then bought a farm about four miles from where another of my great-great-grandfathers, Charles Harper, had settled in Holladay.  In 1856, my great-great grandfather Shumway returned east to visit family in Massachusetts after an absence of 18 years and passing through several slave-holding states.

I can imagine that talk of abolition and secession made him wonder if the Union, into which Utah had been annexed after the war with Mexico, would survive its new division into Republicans and Democrats who were subdividing during the Presidential election during his visit into Southern and Northern factions.

In December of that year he sailed aboard the paddlewheel steamship Arabia to Liverpool, England before being called back to Utah within months through New York aboard the packet ship Underwriter when federal troops under Colonel and soon-to-be Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston were ordered into Utah to depose Mormon officials in a bloodless coup known as the Utah War.

Soon, A.P. married Amanda Graham, the granddaughter of a Revolutionary War veteran from North Carolina who had settled in Alabama.

Both Shumways resumed colonizing, settling Cache Valley where my grandparents were born and later Arizona.  I wondered if I inherited any of their toughness as I hiked up an incredibly steep San Francisco-type hill at the end of my walk last month to rendezvous with family.

Looking back at City Creek Center,  I remembered that shortly after I graduated from Brigham Young University in the 1970s, the Mormon Church had invested $40 million to help revitalize Downtown Salt Lake an effort which included two malls.

Now its for-profit real estate arm has invested approximately $1.5 billion in City Creek Center to replace them with a new combination of retail, residential and office, none of it from tithing and part of a $5 billion revitalization.

I wondered what my three ancestors in that 1847 vanguard company would think now and how compelled I feel to leave information like this for my descendants.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Infographic - AFib and Stroke

For original source, click here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Calculating Durham’s Goal of 8,800 Trees Annually

I am responding to a challenge I took this morning to what were kiddingly referenced as “my statistics” regarding a benchmark I computed last October for the number of urban trees that should be planted each year in Durham, North Carolina, where I live.

Appropriately, the comment surfaced indirectly during the meeting of a group with which I have the pleasure of interacting every other month named the Durham Appearance Advocacy Group, aka DAAG.

Members include a cross-section of business leaders and representatives of community groups concerned about appearance, paired with an equal number of public agency representatives with missions that include issues such as appearance and recycling.

The collaboration charges itself with identifying performance gaps and collaboratively advocating solutions to close them but it is wholly reliant on the willingness of participants to ask tough questions.

To respond to the comment in the form of an answer to a question, below is how I came up with my calculation that Durham should be planting as many trees each day as it currently plants in an entire year.

  • Currently, according to the City of Durham, 350 trees are reforested each year while about 200 are removed for disease etc.

The net is 150 additional trees per year.

  • According to estimates by Joint City-County Planning, county-wide, Durham has 51% of its tree canopy remaining including 40% remaining in the city.


  • Durham has lost 1 million trees over the past 30 years, and according to analysis by the UNC-Charlotte, it is losing an average of 4 acres a day to development and impervious surface.


  • Using the UNC-Charlotte data shown over time, the ratio of trees remaining to impervious surface in Durham County has eroded to a ratio of 3 to 1 and 1.4 to 1 in the City, threatening appearance and sense-of-place and surrendering hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars in ecosystem services.


  • Nationwide, according to the National Forest Service, urban foresters replant one tree for every three that regenerate naturally and the survival rate for natural regeneration is 1 in 20.


  • My calculation then that Durham needs to plant 243 trees a day for at least the next thirty years is based on the need:

To gradually replace those lost over the last thirty years during the next thirty years by plant each day –    91 trees

To replace those removed each day by development, net those that may naturally regenerate by each day planting –                                                                   152 trees

Equals a daily urban forestry goal of–                  243 trees

Adjusted for the .41 trees currently planted –      242.6

Even if Durham’s urban forestry was to surrender any responsibility for the community and continue to restrict its focus to just city property, the number of trees planted each year should be at least 1,400.

But my hunch, based on surveys showing that things such as trees are a priority by 6 to 1 and based on those who strongly agree 19 to 1, is that Durham residents would favor the more holistic approach, or more than 8,800 tree plantings per year.

There are many ways to reach the goal but setting the goal is primary.  Hatching tactics that aren’t illuminated by a goal that is based on a strategic analysis and sources such as those cited above is a well-proven recipe for activity traps.

A goal such as the one computed above can be re-calibrated by future in-depth analysis if performed but there is no reason to wait and get even further behind.

Currently, there are some isolated efforts, other than urban forestry, that can and should be counted against the goal including adopt-a-tree, soil conservation tree sales, minimum zoning requirements for tree retention or replacement.

There should be metrics developed and maintained for each of these and the results accumulated to help inform progress toward the goal and closing the gap.

And whoever said I am a bit defensive?

Monday, February 18, 2013

And Time Goes By So Slowly, And Time Can Do So Much

Late last fall, I decided to read three newly released books, all in the course of a week, to find relief from political campaigns.

Each was on a different topic but came together in a way that has crossed my mind many times since:

I haven’t written about them until now because a few days after I completed Steven Pinker’s book, a twenty-year-old man killed his mother and then gunned down twenty school children, mostly first graders and six elementary school officials in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

That tragic event doesn’t undermine the thesis of Pinker’s book.  He made an insightful distinction about violence in an interview last month with Rotarian magazine when he stated that:

“Violence is not a hydraulic urge, like hunger, thirst, or sexual desire that has to be discharged through one outlet or another.  It is more like shivering or jealousy – a response to particular triggers in the environment.”

My sixteen great-great grandparents were all of the same generation as U.S. Grant.  They were born during a period of great awakening but by the time they entered adulthood, the nation had begun to unravel. 

When the Civil War broke out Grant was only 39.  By the time he reached 46, he has saved the Union and been elected President of the United States.

There is evidence that profiteering during the war, e.g. black marketeers following behind Union lines to exchange gold for southern cotton which was in turn used to by the Confederacy to buy weapons and supplies.  You get the feeling from the book on Grant that he felt this extended the war by several years.

In his January essay for Our State magazine, Dr. Philip Gerard of UNC-Wilmington provides evidence that when the war turned against the South, religious leaders did not rethink their biblical rationalization of slavery, but chalked it up to God’s displeasure with merchants who were “price-gouging customers for scarce commodities.”

There are many things in Durham, North Carolina, where I have lived for nearly 25 years, that remind us of the generosity Grant and Sherman planned as the huge surrender was negotiated here to effectively end the Civil War.  But that was all reversed when interrupted by President Lincoln’s assassination.

The ink was hardy dry on documents formally ending the war when Southern apologists effectively rewrote the history of the war as one merely about state’s rights.  Many times during his two terms as President, Grant had to send troops back into Southern states to quell violence and safeguard elections.

As soldiers from both sides fraternized during the surrender in Durham, they developed a taste for tobacco that had been cured and stored here.  They wrote letters seeking more once they got home, which help launch factories that saved Durham from much – but not all - of the destitution and violence that inhabited the south after the war.

Economic opportunity here also spawned a Black Wall Street and made Durham a beacon for racial diversity, which it remains today.

When I arrived in 1989 to jumpstart the community’s destination marketing arm, my first business road trip took me eventually south on US 1 where I was stunned to see a huge NCDOT highway sign heralding a small town along the route as the home of the KKK Grand Wizard.

Within a few years Dr. Cunningham started his masters degree at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill just south of Durham.  His book in many respects helps me understand why that unusual highway marker was not only permitted to exist but enabled.

According to Cunningham’s research, during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the Klan’s stronghold was North Carolina, with more members than the rest of the South combined.

Writing and presenting editorials for a Raleigh TV station at the time, the soon-to-become Republican Senator Jesse Helms was possibly the first in that party to discover how to inflame angry white men, and by the time I moved here, his campaign commercials even in the 1990s still seemed overtly racist.

As Helms was readying his first campaign for the US Senate in Raleigh in 1971, CP (Claiborne Paul) Ellis, the head of the KKK in Durham, was joining forces with Ann Atwater, a poor African American civil rights activist, to put aside differences and improve public schools.  Their story was published a half dozen years after my arrival here.

North Carolina’s complicated journey toward racial tolerance is epitomized for me by a young North Carolinian of the same generation as U.S. Grant and my great-great grandparents by the name of Hinton Rowan Helper (shown in the image in this blog.)

He was born just off the route of what is I-40 today, about midway between Winston-Salem and Statesville and just west of Mocksville.  He was apprenticed to a printer in Salisbury and in 1857 published a book with charts and graphs showing why slavery didn’t make sense for the South as an economic institution.

His book The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It was distributed by the Republican Party as a campaign document and it branded Helper a traitor in the South.  But in the end Helper too was still a white separatist as many were at the time who disavowed slavery.

His book panicked the planter elite for fear this tiny fraction, who held power, would not only face a slave insurrection, a fear of which had spawned the Second Amendment right to bear arms, but an uprising of white yeoman farmers who opposed slavery but ultimately were destined to sacrifice the most blood in its defense.

Ironically though, the right to bear arms also ended up as a protection for free and now freed Blacks who armed themselves following the Civil War and emancipation against the continuing tyranny when following Grant’s terms as President, the Republican Party turned a blind eye to the atrocities and became solely captive to its Wall Street wing.

Today, it is the Republican Party that is more prone to try to manipulate voter rights.  In fact, it may be the Party that saved the Union that is now ironically fostering another era of unraveling which cyclical historians project will lead to another another turn of crisis such as the Civil War or WWII by my mid to late 70s.

It may have a happy ending as WWII did, or it may result in preservation of the Union but decades of unfinished business as the Civil War did.

The cycle is predictable but there are no guarantees of the outcome as time can do so much.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Infographic - Housing Back to Life

For original source, click here.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Near Term Future of Flight

On any given day, there are 60,000 passengers passing through an average airport, giving those in North Carolina a population between that of Chapel Hill and Asheville or collectively about the size of Durham, the state’s fourth largest city.

Globally, within three years, the number of airline passengers each year will reach 3.6 billion, an amount equal to half of the earth’s population.  Airline traffic is projected to double by 2030 when I could be just shy of my mom’s age now.

In 1948, the year I was born, there were fewer than 15 million airline passengers in the United States on 2 million departures.  By age 19 when I took my first airline flight, a Pan Am 707 from the Rocky Mountains to New York in 1967, annual airline passenger traffic in the US had grown to 142 million taking nearly 5 million departures.

Between my first flight and when I turned 30 on the eve of airline deregulation, passenger miles had grown an average of 12% a year, according to analysis by Doug Henwood, a former conservative who now blogs at Left Business Observer.Future of Flight

Since then, according to Henwood, airlines have averaged less than 4% growth a year.  Before I turned 30, planes were 57% full.  Since then they have averaged 68% full and over the last three years 82%.

Henwood makes the case that airline deregulation has been a disaster not only for the airlines and passengers, but most certainly for many communities.

Fewer planes with higher occupancy may be better for the environment though.  Climate change calculations estimate that when I fly round-trip from the east coast to visit my daughter and grandsons in the Rocky Mountains, I pollute the atmosphere with about 2 tons of carbon, slightly more than I discharge per year driving.

If I take a 6,000-mile cross country trip to see them, as I do at least once each year, I discharge the equivalent in carbon of a cross-country round-trip flight.

Today, 42% of U.S. adults report traveling by air for leisure purposes and 48% for business purposes.  Air is the mode of arrival for less than 10% of the visitor volume for the typical destination community or state.

According to the updated study, Flying Into The Future, another major shift in air travel over the last few years has been the shift to using smartphones.  More than 70% of airline passengers have smartphones compared to slightly more than 50% of the general public.

A third of passengers now use smartphones for check-in and 40% more than in 2010 are using these devices for mobile boarding.  In three years, the number of airlines using mobile check-in etc. will increase from 50% to 90%.

It wasn’t too long ago that people couldn’t imagine smartphones and tablets replacing computers as a means to conduct banking and now 9 out 10 do.

The same was true not long ago about booking air travel via website but today 74% of passengers do so and 70% of airline executives believe mobile apps will soon be equally dominant. Already, 9 out of 10 passengers want mobile flight updates.

Technologies such as Passbook and near-field communication chips will mean that most of us will merely tap our smartphone to check-in or board a flight and integration of technologies will greatly smooth out clearing security.

Airlines are now putting actual servers aboard aircraft to make it easier and less expensive and cumbersome to use devices via Wi-Fi while in flight, not only for passengers but for crew members using them for company purposes.

However, as my friend and fellow-blogger and former DMO exec Bill Giest writes, “it’s really all about the juice,” so I hope airports and airplanes will now make it easier to charge up devices onboard and while sitting in boarding areas.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dissecting Collaborations

Collaborations are difficult because of what psychologists call the “availability bias.” Some people vet an idea when it first occurs to them. They don’t assume they are the first to have an idea or that they are expert at everything.

Others just automatically assume their ideas are great because they occurred to them and set off to proselytize others.  Unfortunately, this is usually at the expense of those with background and expertise on the subject by putting them in a corner.

Elected officials and government administrators are particularly susceptible to those with “availability bias,” because politics not only is  one of the few areas left where access to information is automatically assumed to be asymmetrical but there is an over-reliance on lobbying vs. keeping up with other information that is otherwise made readily available.

You hear it in comments on the floor of legislative bodies when bill sponsors chide peers who ask for time to study lengthy bills by condescendingly directing them to sparse summaries or creating peer pressure to make decisions based only on “who’s asking.”  This leads to democracy being representative only of a powerful few.

Individuals with what cognitive researchers call “availability bias” not only make collaboration more difficult and complex, they often destroy any potential by pitting forces against one another. They can’t fathom such a thing as win-win.

They either join collaborations in name only, leaving all the heavy lifting to others, or they politicize these groups before they are fully formed by creating opposing sides in an attempt to control the outcome or specific details. They have no patience for the interplay of ideas without dictating the outcome in advance.

Occasionally during my now-concluded 40-year career as a community marketing exec, I would be frozen out of a launch or a grand opening that had been enabled, in part, by the organizations I led in three different communities when individuals who with whom I had tried to collaborate maneuvered officials to make sure I was excluded.

Having become more comfortable as “the man behind the curtain” as my friends kidded me (a reference from The Wizard of Oz or the TV classic Lost depending on your age,) the blackballings were amusing and brought to mind an admonition from a friend that with some people “you are either on their team or you’re not.”

With these people, raising questions about their pet projects is never tolerated even when I may have been in a position of more expertise.

Decades ago I took part in a team-building workshop with a handful of other civic leaders in a community I represented that included a collaborator I realize now had “availability bias.”  This included a very in-depth Myers-Briggs analysis that I wish I had kept at hand back then to better understand inscrutable interactions.

I am an XNTX and this person’s inherent preferences made them an EXTJ.

The first letter indicates where you get energy.  I rated an X for borderline but I was actually slightly “I” for Introvert, making me more of an ominivert, someone who creates his own energy but is still functional for brief periods in settings where extroverts thrive.

This associate was a strong “E” for extrovert, meaning this individual’s energy came from other people, an energivore, so to speak.  The amusing illustration linked here explains introverts and omniverts to extroverts.

Had I remembered, this difference would have alerted me to counterbalance this person’s insatiable ability and need to to lobby others, an activity that fueled their energy level.  Individuals such as this are also known as “psychic vampires.” 

My inclination as an introvert-leaning omnivert also explains my comfort at being more the “man behind the curtain” as a means of conserving energy.

However, it is the last three designations that are more insightful about our differences and also why at times the two of us were so complimentary.  I was strongly “N” for intuitive and “T” for thinking, while my collaborationist was on the line between “sensing” or “intuitive” and a “T” for thinking but very close to the line for “feeling.”

This means I almost always informed information gathered through the five senses with more of the “big picture” including concepts, relationships and meaning. On some days this person was on that page with me or would rely on me for the “big picture” when learning more to their sensing side.

We both tended toward thinking or facts and logic when interpreting information but, when this person was leaning toward his “feeling” inclination, “gut” reactions took over along with a susceptibility to “who’s asking.”

When we made decisions, this person was strongly “J” for judging or quick to make a decision based on only a few facets of an issue and greatly irritated if re-opening the decision became necessary based on additional information and data.

I was on the line, meaning I often made decisions that way too, but just as often I would want to inform a decision with other opinions and options as well as more information.  This meant we often got on each others nerves and trust in me eroded whenever my inclinations switched between “J” and “P.”

The missions of our organizations were different. This person’s was narrow and more tangible.  Mine was community-wide and dealt with understanding, integrating, balancing and influencing the values and perceptions of a broad range of fluid audiences both internal and external including those of this person’s organization and constituents.

My world was always both/and and relied on collaborations and strategic partnerships while forces often dictated that my collaborator's were either/or and even zero-sum.

All of this is to say that successful intra-community collaborations are often more dependent on the inclinations of those who lead them than the willingness of the organizations themselves.

Communities seeking genuine collaboration based on mutual respect and what’s best overall vs. the zero-sum push and shove of personal politics or “availability bias” are well-advised to have its leaders undergo well-proven analysis such as an in-depth Myers-Briggs and then to keep the results handy for reference whenever interactions occur.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Flossing A Community’s Image Turn Around

I was lucky.  At the dawn of the 1990s, as I led the jumpstart of Durham, North Carolina’s community-destination marketing organization and guardian of its image, brand and sense of place, the scientific research we used to unwrap a perception issue exonerated any role by Durham residents.

Durham’s ratio of residents who are positive has always greatly exceeded the benchmark for communities overall.  Still, several circumstances made the nearly two-decade turn around very thorny.

  • The negativity was rooted among residents of neighboring communities where two out of three held a negative image of Durham, even though most had never been here.

Because, when it comes to communities, neighbors are somewhat like family, the challenge became how to separate soft negatives from the hardcore 10% who actively marketed against Durham.

  • This was further complicated because those holding half - now 3 out of 5 jobs in Durham, including owners and managers of many businesses - are non-residents who, if not negative themselves, were immersed daily in this negativity about Durham.
  • What further complicated the image turn-around were a few opinion-leaders in those nearby communities who denied there was any such problem on the pretense that they were looking out for Durham because to them to admit there is a problem was to be a victim.

Little known to the public was the paradox that representatives of their interests in Durham made daily requests to us for information that would help counter the effects of this negativity.

A few in Durham were worried by the old adage that “the best way to kill a product with image issues is to advertise it.”  They thought to advertise meant to publicly acknowledge it, but with a background in marketing I knew it meant that advertising as a tool is useless for the purpose of overcoming image issues.

Instead, to separate soft negatives from hardcore negatives, we launched a series of guerrilla communications that promoted a wide variety of Durham positives while always incorporating some aspect we needed to improve and statistical benchmarks to put it all in perspective.

A study published recently by researchers at Stanford and Tel Aviv universities calls this the “blemishing effect” and finds that subsequent mention of a negative actually amplifies the positive, especially with audiences who may be distracted or unaware of the source of their opinions.

Gradually, and sometimes glacially, Durham’s image among those who live in nearby communities greatly improved but though isolated, on average there remain 10% who are negative.

This occurs less in Orange County which is part of the Durham metro and more in a Wake County, part of the Raleigh metro and one of the state’s most populous.

The organization charged as the guardian of Durham’s image must be vigilant to see that this proportion of hardcore negatives remains contained.  However it seems that 10% of the overall population is also responsible for any number of other societal problems:

I thought of the never-ending challenge Durham faces to contain the remaining hardcore negativists in nearby counties when I read a study recently about messages to encourage hand washing and a book about win-lose behavior.

As it has been for many years now, on average Durham continues to be held in higher esteem by external audiences statewide than any other community of a similar size or larger.

Its image among residents of the two adjacent counties, while still on average more than 80% positive, is beginning to show erosion especially in Wake County.  This is further evidence that erecting facilities, however remarkable, is not a solution to image.

Left unchecked, the corrosive influence of those who are hardcore negatives can bring uncertainty to those who are positive.  The lessons of Durham’s image turn-around, while informative, must be updated using research by behavior economists, including some of the world’s renowned who live here.

Durham pioneered several techniques to turn its image around.  It will need to stay on the forefront to keep it that way.

In doing so, Durham should continue to promote its status as a place “where great things happen,” but keep in mind a recent study by researchers at Stanford and Harvard which could be relevant to pursuing visitors including newcomers such as relocating executives and other talent so crucial to continued economic vitality.

Entitled The Preference for Potential, the study finds that, during an evaluation, potential often has more power than accomplishment, because it leads to more intensive processing of why it is a good choice.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Inclinations Frozen On Paper

In 1987 psychologists used me as a test subject and analyzed my handwriting as part of considering graphology in a suite of talent-selection tools being considered by the community-destination marketing organization (DMO) I was leading at the time in Alaska.

This occurred a decade after studies began to link signature size with high self-regard and then narcissism but the technique has a long history and has been validated by thousands of researchers.

At the time my handwriting was analyzed, it was reported that 3,000 American corporations were already using the tool to screen new hires, a number that has reportedly transcended 5,000 today. 

However, I was skeptical it would work on me, given a gradually worsening movement disorder called “essential tremor.” The condition had first manifested itself in my right hand when I was a teenager.

By the time of the analysis it was even worse in my left or writing hand.  But the analysis, which is conducted “blind,” worked and very accurately.  Experts, usually psychologists who are trained in graphology, study handwriting as a form of unfiltered body language  but “frozen on paper.”

As we mature, the rules we all learned in school for handwriting gradually become informed by aspects of our temperament, personality, inclinations and unique neurological patterns.  Forensically and in courtrooms, handwriting is much like a fingerprint.

In fact, experts using handwriting analysis have even identified a number of movements common in criminals.  Linked here for instance, is an analysis of the handwriting of executed domestic terrorist and mass bomber Timothy McVeigh done by the company HRC.

In addition to potential as a tool for talent selection, handwriting analysis is used in team building, assessments of leadership or promotional potential, substance abuse detection and even relationship compatibility, the latter of which would have come in handy during my lifetime.

We ended up selecting other tools, but re-reading the analysis of my handwriting nearly 25 years later in retirement reveals in retrospect just how accurate it was.  It confirmed indications of my education level and upbringing, but also pinpointed an inclination to sensitivity, even self-defense.

It identified my tendency to challenge conventional wisdom and an openness to fresh ideas as well as an intensity, a need to participate in change.  It also delved into aspects of my nature such as understanding and tolerance.

The analysis foretold a tireless determination in the pursuit and conversion of ideals to reality, and a strong ego without being narcissistic.  Even more significantly, the analysis accurately notes some vulnerabilities that come with these tendencies.

Earlier in her life, when angry or hurt, my daughter has disputed the part about me not being narcissistic, and always with good reason.  Coincidentally, one of the first studies correlating signature size to self-esteem occurred the year she was born.

At extreme levels, narcissism is a personality disorder but at another level it is a stable personality trait as I learned from a report published a few months ago by researchers at the University of Maryland and the University of North Carolina, which is located in a community just south of where I live in Durham, NC.

Narcissism has been linked to large signature size since the late 1970s but this new study also links narcissism and large CEO signature size to poor performance and also, paradoxically, to larger compensation.

Narcissistic CEOs are not only conceited but overvalue their abilities.  They bring about poorer group decisions “because they dominate the decision process without incorporating feedback or ideas from other group members.”

Ironically, though, these CEOs are also considered more capable by the same group members they dominate during decision processes, resulting a type of closed-feedback-loop.  This is why toleration of dissent is much better than peer loyalty as a gut-check on narcissism.

The study crossed my mind recently as I was leaving a Rotary luncheon at the Durham Convention Center.  My attendance is spotty as best, often bringing puzzled expressions from new members as they spy my past-president name badge.

Dr. Dan Ariely, who teaches at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, had spoken at the luncheon about experiments that show that people are more likely to be dishonest if what they are doing benefits friends and associates.  I suppose this is enabling a sort of group narcissism.

A friend kidded me unmercifully as a little of my own narcissism eked out as we left the building.  Instinctively I glanced quickly back over my shoulder at a portrait that was hung in the Center three months before I retired a few years ago after 21 years as guardian of Durham’s community’s brand and sense of place.

As stand-ins for thousands of people who are even more deserving, a depiction of me in the portrait is shown against the Durham skyline next to Mayor Bill Bell who continues more than three decades as a public official and downtown advocate Bill Kalkhof who is also retiring this year after nearly 20 years of services.

I can’t remember the size of their signatures, but I know they have given their all to Durham, as I tried to do, often at significant personal sacrifice.  I am honored to be in their company.

As I file and store away personal papers, I can see the effects of essential tremor on my signature over time. Eventually, to control the movement in my hands, my signature grew in size.

Many years ago, it became impossible to manage anything other than a large “R” with a line after it.  Today, I can’t even make the “R” and even the line is illegible.

Along with the disappearance of my signature, I guess any narcissist tendencies I may have had must have receded in retirement because my daughter frequently kids me with a big smile by saying,

“Who are you and what have you done with my dad?”

Monday, February 11, 2013

My Genesis of Career Values

I seeds for my career in destination marketing were planted during the first 33 months of the 1970s, while working my way through BYU in a windowless below-ground level nook of the administration building, situated next door to the dispatchers for campus police.

Universities are microcosms of communities, and I’ll explain later how this was also when the seeds were planted for me about the importance of community appearance including a passion for trees.

Back then we were a staff of two, then three, and later four or five of us who handled campus tours, administered the president’s box during football games and actively marketed the campus across the nation as a site for camps, workshops, summer youth conferences and events which included assisting their production.

My job title was conference coordinator.  The Office of Tours and Conferences back then fell under the director of University Relations, a division that fell under University Communications which had been headed until the year prior by the late Dr. Stephen R. Covey, then only 36 years old.

I quickly earned a supervisory role, and following a detour for law school, this experience would anchor what would become a 40-year career as a community-destination marketing executive for communities in Washington, Alaska and North Carolina.

The general idea of the then-Office of Tours and Conferences was to fuel demand for campus food services, housing and campus facilities to sustain year round employment and to engage professors and grad students during what were at the time very low volume summer school sessions.

Apparently the ground-work paid off because as I graduated it was spun off and today there is an entire three story visitor center (a tower of which is shown in this blog) located at the main campus entrance devoted to tours, public affairs, alumni affairs, guest relations, reunions, community relations and even a speakers bureau etc.

Up the hill north and east of Lavell Edwards Stadium is now a dedicated conference center where staff still in continuing education now coordinate and produce workshops, camps, special events and professional and association meetings.

It is a long ways from that basement hovel, but the most remarkable physical transformation since I graduated is the presence now of incredible landscaping and towering trees, part of a makeover that was initiated just as I left.

One of my last classes at BYU was a field botany class during the early summer session focused on trees.  BYU has always been a top undergraduate research university so my professor for the class taught us much more about the value of trees than just how to identify various species.

While I was growing up, BYU had undergone a tremendous building boom that had expanded the number of buildings from 6 to nearly 300 on a relatively flat plateau in the shadows of Y Mountain, a peak in the the Wasatch Range of the central Rocky Mountains.

The campus was manicured and grassed but found lacking at the time in overall landscaping, especially trees. This was not lost on two other people as I graduated in August of 1972 including Roy Peterman, a classmate, and fellow-Idaho native Jack Wheatley and his wife Mary Lois who as I graduated were just dropping off their eldest son for his first semester.

Peterman and I graduated from the same department, he in psychology and me in history but we each found our 40-year careers while working for the university part-time.  He worked in grounds keeping becoming director in 1978, I found my calling in community-destination marketing.  Both involve fostering and preserving sense of place including scenic character.

The Wheatley’s are more contemporary with our respective parents.  Jack was born in Pocatello, at the opposite end of the fault line of my youth.  He and his late wife built a business in Palo Alto, California in residential and then commercial real estate including construction of buildings on the campus of Stanford University there.

Neither had ties to BYU.  He graduated from West Point and she from arch-rival University of Utah.  But by the time they dropped their eldest son off to attend BYU, they had shaped a deep appreciation not just for buildings but the extraordinary value landscaping brings not only to both the built and natural environment but to human inspiration.

Wheatley’s are the name sakes for an incredible Institution housed in the same building as the visitors center at BYU.  In part, The Wheatley Institution’s purpose is to foster the teaching of ethical business behavior in universities.

They have also single-handedly donated thousands and thousands of trees to populate the 560+-acre BYU campus along with overall landscaping inspiration and design for waterways, walkways, outdoor art and natural areas that foster learning and creativity.

As a result, even though hundreds of additional buildings have been erected there since I graduated, the BYU campus has since become a spectacular example of the powerful force of biophilia on our lives.

The term was coined a decade after Jack and Mary Lois began to transform BYU’s campus with trees, art and gardens.  Biophia is now the well-proven concept that scenic preservation “optimizes productivity, healing time, learning functions and community cohesion” (Go Cougars!) as well as economic development.

Jack Wheately’s understanding of the importance of natural and scenic aesthetics is unique among engineers, builders and real estate developers.  He served during the Korean War with the US Army Corp of Engineers before achieving extraordinary financial success in commercial office building and leasing including R & D facilities in Silicon Valley.

Much of this occurred in the ten years before he turned his attention to scenic preservation on BYU’s campus in the early 1970s.

Maybe in part it was the influence of his wife, an art major.  Maybe it came from studying the evolution of the beautiful Stanford campus, or maybe it was from meeting the needs of tech entrepreneurs who seem sensitive to the tie between creativity, innovation and natural environment.

Regardless, if we could only clone Jack and infuse all commercial developers with his humility, understanding and commitment to biophilia, maybe community’s would no longer need to seek establish minimum requirements in order to protect their sense of place and environments.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Infographic - Comparative Jolt

To view at original source, click here!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Throwing Blind

Something important about organizational management occurred to me a few weeks ago while watching my two grandsons, ages 7 and 9 respectively, duel it out on the incredibly realistic Madden NFL 13 video game they play on their upgraded Wii U.

The video game itself offers great lessons in strategic thinking because a player’s point of view is elevated.  That isn’t how it appears to players in an actual football game.

It made me think of Hall of Fame quarterback, Steve Young, who my grandsons refer to now as “one of the talkers,” referring to his role as a commentator.

He didn’t see a football game from the stands for the first time until long after his days as a All American at BYU and guiding the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl in 1994.

Young acknowledged recently that during his playing days he was only six feet tall.  That’s my height – the height I used to be - albeit he was thirty or more pounds heavier.  He was always listed at 6’ 2” but that was with his shoes on.

He wrote recently that he couldn’t see when his receivers were open so he had to learn to throw blind, trusting that teammates such as Jerry Rice would be exactly where they had practiced on each play.  I remember when my boyhood heroes, Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry said the same thing.

Unless an organization has a very simple, one dimensional mission, it is like a football team.  Strategically, every individual involved must understand and execute a role so that the team as a whole functions much as though they were one person, always in synch.

In fact, each team member must earn the trust of the others so that any one of them can “throw blind.”  Any executive can be popular with co-workers.  The real challenge in organizational management is to recruit individuals who are willing and able, and then to persuade them to surrender individual differences to earn success as a team.

It is what my long-time friend Coach K describes as “the fist:”

“There are five fundamental qualities that make every team great: communication, trust, collective responsibility, caring and pride. I like to think of each as a separate finger on the fist. Any one individually is important. But all of them together are unbeatable.”

Steve Young is an inspiration, not just because he starred at Brigham Young University a decade after I graduated from that institution.  Actually, he had been very heavily recruited by the University of North Carolina not far from where I live now.

North Carolina used a run-option offense, much as Young had orchestrated during high school career in Connecticut.  He had never really learned to pass except in emergencies.

But he deliberately chose to attend BYU even though it was earning a reputation as “Quarterback U” due to its vaunted passing offense under Lavell Edwards.  However, BYU didn’t initially have Young in mind as a quarterback when he was recruited.

Virgil Carter had starred at BYU as I was finishing high school but during the years I attended the school wasn’t known for football.  The only player I recall from those years was Golden Richards who went on star as a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys in two Super Bowls.  Who could forget a name like that?

Edwards, who had been an assistant coach at BYU for 16 years, took over as head coach a few months after I graduated from BYU in 1972.  Beginning with Gifford Nielsen followed by Marc Wilson, BYU began an ascent as a football power, eventually winning a national championship in 1984.

An All American, Wilson was succeeded by Jim McMahon who inspired one of the greatest comebacks in college football history before leading the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl.  Both set numerous NCAA records and each finished third in Heisman Trophy balloting.

Young began his career at BYU ranked a lowly 8th on the depth chart behind McMahon.  He set out to become a great passer, eventually succeeding McMahon and setting records of his own.

He went on to win six NFL passing titles before retiring with the league’s highest passer rating following a series of concussions.  He still holds the record with six touchdown passes in a Super Bowl.  Not bad for a guy who started college 8th on the depth chart.

All together during his NFL career, Young passed for more than 33,000 yards and 232 touchdowns while running for more than 4,000 yards and 43 touchdowns including this incredible 49-yard zigzagging run after avoiding a sack.

Young’s 1990s style is epitomized today by run-option quarterbacks who can run or pass.  As impressive as throwing blind is that each of his receivers at every level had to learn to catch the ball, thrown by a left-handed quarterback which means the ball was rotating in the opposite direction.

I guess you could say he was a pretty good CEO too.  But Young succeeded because he could trust his teammates, and they were successful because they could trust one another to each do their job in pursuit of an overall strategic goal.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Forgotten Urban Forest History Lessons

Several days ago, the organization American Forests named the 10 Best Cities for Urban ForestsIt actually names only the best among the 50 most populous communities, but useful none the less.

Charlotte, the only city large enough to be eligible, made the list giving those of us who live in other parts of North Carolina, a best practice laboratory.

What is more interesting than the ranking of cities is the organization’s excellent history of urban forests.  In the United States, this is another of the benefits we owe to immigrants.

They planted trees around their urban homes to remind them of their homeland.  It wasn’t until the Progressive Era of the late 1800s and early 1900s that Americans began to value urban trees,  primarily for aesthetics reasons with a focus on native species.

The far greater value of urban trees for ecosystem services such as climate and flood control, water and air quality and soil conservation wasn’t widely understood by scientists and economists until recently.

However, the seeds for urban forestry in America were planted by Andrew Jackson Downing who became the “father of landscape architecture before dying in 1852 at only age 36 in a tragic fire aboard a ship steaming up the Hudson River.

Today’s officials primarily give lip service to urban forestry, while far too many urban foresters fail to “see the forest for the trees” while focusing only on the tiny portion existing on public property.

It has been more than a decade since American Forests released a study about the importance of reversing the national urban tree deficit, documented then as 634.4 million trees lost to development and other factors.  A study released last year acknowledged that the nation’s urban forests are still declining by four million trees a year.

Durham, North Carolina where I live has surrendered more than a million trees to impervious surface in the last 30 years.  Net those that naturally regenerate, a zero loss strategy including much better and well-enforced tree ordinances would require planting 243 trees a day.

Pathetically, Durham officials probably don’t even realize that they currently budget enough to plant only a little more than that amount in an entire year, barely enough to replace what is lost each day to development, a pattern found in far too many other North Carolina communities.

Long forgotten are the lessons learned a hundred years ago about the crucial importance of green infrastructure such as urban forests.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Reflections on a $1.6 million Weekend Sacrifice

Trees and vegetation are retained or planted by savvy commercial developers as a means of increasing the value of their property.  In Durham, NC where I live, certain standards must also be met to minimize the harmful effects of impervious surface such as parking lots.Outback Closeup

It is all about safeguarding air and water quality, part of what economists measure as ecosystem services.  It is also about preserving sense of place which is crucial to leveraging economic development including tourism which in turn increases the value of commercial property.

Last weekend, on my way into a restaurant for breakfast, I noticed a crew in front of an Outback Steakhouse chopping down and grinding up 10 or more large trees between the roadway and the restaurant’s parking lot.

The trees had probably been planted when the property was first developed. From the location, it appeared this row of trees was being sacrificed to make the sign on the building more visible from a nearby highway.

All tolled, those trees represented $1.6 million dollars in ecosystem services such as absorbing, cleansing and slowly releasing storm water polluted by impervious surface.

Economists have also documented the tens of thousands of dollars that such trees each add to property values.  I wondered to myself if either the restaurant or the property owner had weighed these costs and benefits as part of the decision to butcher the trees.

Once the trees had been converted to chips and loaded for transport and disposal, the crews added insult by failing to be cover the trucks loaded with debris as required by law.  I doubt that particular driving hazard and the resulting roadside cleanup had been factored into the decision either.

Hopefully the owners will plant new trees that will grow to at least 50’ in height and canopy spread so they are able to replace the ecosystem services lost by those that were chopped down.

However, I won’t be surprised if they are replaced instead by smaller varieties that are neither native to this area, nor of the same value to the community.  The smaller varieties are not nearly as effective, if at all, at offsetting the impact of impervious surface.

Two new studies were released last year on the value of on-premise signs.  One was conducted on behalf of The Signage Foundation by researchers at the University of Cincinnati with a focus on economic value.

Another deeper analysis by researchers at Villanova University focused on the effectiveness of on-premise signs as marketing devices.

According to the first study, enhancing the visibility of on-premise signs is second only to redesign in popularly with business owners as a means of generating more revenue from a location.  Taken together, the various changes in on-premise signs result in an average increase of 12% in sales and transactions and 10% in operating profit.

So on average, making the sign for Outback Steakhouse more visible could mean an annual increase of $360,000 in sales or a tad more than 20% of the value of the trees that were sacrificed.

To put this in perspective, full-cost accounting could mean that the Outback Steakhouse in Durham would reinvest a little more than $53,000 each year from those sales for 30 years back into tree-planting that would balance impervious surface in that area.

The second study also found that on-premise signs are much more effective and two and a half times less expensive than outdoor billboard advertising.  They also outperform the use of television, radio, print or the Internet as market tools.

More revenue is critical to Outback Steakhouses, which under the newly created umbrella Bloomin’ Brands Inc. issued an IPO last year.  Now rated the #1 steakhouse in the nation, the chain was founded in Tampa, Florida in 1988 by four friends in the hospitality business.

A few months later I was recruited to jumpstart the community-destination marketing organization in Durham.  Back then, Wall Street was focused on overall company growth.

Today, Wall Street is more concerned about individual location revenue growth, leading Outback to permit managers, who also share in profits, for the first time to open for lunch.

Not opening for lunch had been one of the pillars for the company’s culture because profits for that time period are negligible and they wanted staff to have a life outside the restaurant.

Unfortunately, Wall Street hasn’t yet calibrated to full-cost, triple-bottom-line accounting and the no-lunch pillar was sacrificed for the same reason those trees were last weekend in front of the Outback in Durham.

Full-cost accounting would take into account the costs generated by impervious surface, which are pushed by developers and businesses off onto government and taxpayers.  Government tries to hold the line by requiring trees and vegetation to compensate but the ordinances are weak and not very well enforced.

Most areas where Outback Steakhouses are built are devoid of community sense of place.  I often found myself stopping for the night near one during my handful of 6,000-mile road-trips taken over the the past three years.

These commercial ghettos are new, but they nearly all look identical in design, layout and architecture as well as tenants.

It is too late to worry about the loss of sense-of-place that these areas create for communities but it is not too late to worry about requiring more of them to offset the costs of impervious surface they push off on the general public.

A recently released study for the National Forest Service by scientists David Nowak and Eric Greenfield, based in Syracuse, NY, has quantified both the amount of tree cover and the amount of impervious surface in each state of the United States as well as in urban and community areas overall.

In the urban/community areas where these cookie-cutter commercial ghettos are built, there is now 18 million acres of impervious surface, about 15% of land area, compared to the national average of 2.4%

In North Carolina, these areas have an even higher percentage of impervious surface.  Statewide the ratio of surface covered by trees compared to impervious surface has dropped to an alarming 3.3 to 1.

Even more alarming is how ineffectual local and state governments are.  Ordinances to bring balance to the marketplace are woefully inadequate and even more poorly enforced.  Pro-market enthusiasts such as me sense the playing field isn’t balanced nor inclusive of costs.

As our air and water quality and sense of place degrades, the electorate seems weary, burned out and seemingly detached.  Elected officials if they are aware or care at all, seem even more so.

All of this is to say that we are in desperate need of full-cost accounting.  Brands such as Outback are proud of their commitment to quality of life in the communities in which they are located.

What better way to demonstrate this than to dedicate that commitment to the fostering and preserving of sense of place as well as working to set an example for how businesses can incorporate full cost accounting and the triple bottom line.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Charlotte DNC Study Raises The Bar and A Few Questions

Charlotte, North Carolina, down-state from where I live and once practiced visitor-centric economic and cultural development has raised the bar for communities still obsessed with facilities and mega-events.

Independent economic assessments, some conducted over a period of more than 30 years and looking at 50 different host communities and areas have found no discernable net impact from mega-events.

So Charlotte followed the example of analysis released last summer for Indianapolis after hosting the Super Bowl and had a similar input-output analysis conducted of the impact of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) hosted there last September.

Though executed by extremely reputable companies using a well-proven methodology with which I am very familiar and have used for many years and executed by individuals I know and respect, neither micro-analysis is enough to refute the earlier longitudinal analysis.  These studies do, however, provide additional details.

While input-output is very reliable when measuring impact over time, such as the annual impact of tourism on a community, experts caution when applying it to events of very short duration.  Still Indianapolis and Charlotte are to be commended for raising the bar several notches for future hosts considering these and similar mega-events.

Released last week, the Charlotte analysis of the DNC also raises some questions that weren’t probed in news reports.  In fact, it took a little digging to find the actual report.  Answers to these questions can better illuminate future efforts by other destination communities.

But first an observation.

Charlotte has always benefited from superb community-destination marketing (DMO) professionals.  However, a seemingly odd kind of co-dependency with business and civic officials there has made the organization seem trapped in an old-school, sales-driven and facilities-obsessed model.

This is usually symptomatic of when a community becomes captive to downtown interests rather than left free to pursue the broader, community-wide objective of reaping a community’s full share of visitor-centric economic and cultural development through holistic marketing.

As noted by the nation’s preeminent expert in marketing, Dr. Philip Kotler, it is rare to find even business people who understand marketing, let alone civic officials.  So they often turn to sales instead of marketing or glitzy advertising campaigns, which are ironically sold by people working in sales.

There was some speculation that the joint study on the DNC was conducted because the DMO had used inflated estimates to secure the event but this seems unlikely.  The organization has long been familiar with the methodology used in the DNC study and has deployed it many times to measure the overall impact of visitors on that community.

However, sales-driven DMOs may feel the need to override their research departments to make a proposed event appear greater than unsubstantiated estimates made by past host communities.  However, more often than not, this is a result of pressure from business and government interests eager to host the event.

Sales-driven DMOs are also often guilty of failing to re-calibrate the formulas used to benchmark mega-events with local variables easily obtained from their marketing research arms and various secondary studies on length of stay and spending patterns.

In this day and age, there is simply no excuse for a significant gap between the pre-booking estimate of impact and the post-event analysis of a mega-event, but if there is a culprit it is most likely a combination of booster hubris and political pressure.

The DNC analysis recently conducted for Charlotte is excellent and much more intricate than what was trumpeted by the news media.  All but one business publication seemed to fall into the trap, possibly set by the news release, of leading with the combined figure of direct, indirect and induced impact rather than putting the focus on direct spending and noting the other impacts later in the coverage.

Here are a few questions the study raised in my mind:

  • It is natural that the study tries to measure impact not on individual counties but by lumping six counties together.  Doing an analysis on each county would have been far more accurate but probably cost prohibitive.  This is important because there are no regional tax structures, only county and state.

The study makes a valiant attempt to estimate economic leakage and existing business dislocated by the huge event. It seems that lumping the counties made that task impossible.  Would it be far more revealing to conduct an analysis on each county and then add the impacts while fully accounting for leaking and dislocation?

  • The study notes that lodging businesses benefit the most by far and deducts 15% of those revenues for the amount redistributed to non-resident owners and for various fees.

However, that is the average under normal circumstances.  The huge DNC event increased occupancy by 63% over those dates the previous year and expert yield management increased the average rate for a rented room by an exorbitant 180%.

According to my friends in that business, isn’t it far more likely that under those circumstances the 15% deduction from impact should be more like 30-40%?

Also, is it really realistic to assume that existing visitor and resident spending was merely postponed?  In my experience it is usually forgone.

  • The estimate of direct spending includes $34.5 million in visitor-related spending and $42.2 million spent by three host organization to cover meals and upgrade facilities etc.

However, since a third or more of those donations were extracted from the local economy making them unavailable for other uses there, isn’t there a case to be made that this portion should be deducted from impact rather than added to it?

  • It is noted that many services were provided to the event in-kind by local governments including not only security for increased solid waste removal etc.

Shouldn’t the dollar estimate for these services be deducted from the direct impact?

  • Much was made by officials announcing the impact about the visibility generated by coverage of the event and the impression on delegates, news media and others attending.

However, shouldn’t the estimate of this impact be adjusted by estimating what the local private donations and in-kind public expenses could have generated if invested directly by the DMO into a longer-term, more sustainable earned media campaign?

There are many good reasons to host events, especially of the size that would be complimentary with existing business. But studies have long shown that mega-events themselves have little or no residual impact on community visibility and image, even if repeated every 18 months or so.

Sales/facilities-driven DMOs and communities are often not open to these questions. They seem locked in a perpetual and co-dependent dance - glorifying facilities, then subsidizing mega-events in hopes of masking performance gaps.

Then using these events as a rationale for an “arms race” with other communities for new or expanded facilities, all the while failing to fully exploit their community’s potential for visitor-centric cultural and economic development.

This is what makes these sales-driven DMOs highly vulnerable when in turn their communities try to passively-aggressively chain them to specific facilities rather than enabling fulfillment of their community’s broader tourism interests.

Once trapped in this cycle, it is very difficult to evolve instead to a far more productive market-driven approach but Indianapolis and Charlotte must still be commended for raising the bar.

If others follow and the measurement of impact becomes more and more strict, it will add greatly to the measurement of the one in ten visitors who attend events such as these.