Thursday, January 30, 2014

Betrayal And Resilience

During my long concluded, nearly four-decade career as a community destination marketing exec I made it a practice to organize strategic partnerships, especially during the latter half.

This was both as a means of sharing the experience of the organizations I led with others, but also to leverage synergy that was mutually beneficial to the partnerships and the three communities I represented.

Some were one-off projects with another organization, some involved as many as twenty different intra-community organizations which met monthly and worked to execute strategic initiatives.  Some involved peer organizations in other communities with common values.

But overall, the average partnership involved about four or five organizations.  In common was that all participants were involved with the community I represented as a place or among similar communities.

Also in common is that they were intended to be gatherings of equals, although often as the convener, my organization facilitated.  Frankly, an underlying objective was to preempt predatory organizational behavior.

Initially, the partnerships were organized as a tactical sideline to my job as a CEO, but seeing the results, during the final decade of my career my governing board incorporated it as one of my five weighted overarching performance objectives.

I recall many years ago, a friend and I walked to our cars after a particularly difficult meeting involving a handful of partner organizations.  We had been friends a long time but rarely shared anything as personal as he was about to tell me.

He started by giving me the compliment that I was the most resilient person he had ever known.  Then he said that he didn’t know how I stayed that way when it seemed so frequent that one or more partners who had agreed to align would then betray that agreement.

I hadn’t thought about it, but as I drove away his comment caused me to reflect on how often I had experienced betrayal over the course of my career representing three different cities.  Inside, I felt anything but stoic during those occasions.

Each betrayal marked a momentary low but I realized that by resilient, he meant that I not only bounced back quickly but never retaliated.  Working on mutually beneficial solutions I suppose requires a suspension of disbelief similar to anything reliant on trust.

But I also believe my resilience steadily grew more muscular over the arc of my career.  At least in part, it is a learned trait and I got a lot of practice.

I realized during my reflection that day and periodically since then, that in nearly every instance of betrayal from a strategic partner during my four-decade career, I liked and often admired the people involved.  In some instances they were friends.

In fact, perhaps due to my resilience, after the betrayal they often continued to act as though we were still friends, at least to my face, although rarely did we ever actually clear the air.

A condition of betrayal requires a good dose of denial.

Over the years, I came to learn not to take offense.  In the larger sense, partnership betrayal by others isn’t in any way about you.  It is about them.  More on how later.

Maybe experiencing betrayal is common for anyone trying to achieve objectives through coalitions or partnerships, but this aspect sure wasn’t a topic ever raised that I can recall in management courses, books, conferences or workshops I attended.

Even in studies, euphemisms such as “defection” are used.  Maybe it should be taught and discussed more overtly, and not just in the context of ethics.

Below I’ll get into some things I wish I had known or better understood earlier in my career.

But first, here are some traits of proven and loyal collaborators that I gleaned early in my career from the classic book by noted ethologist Dr. Richard Dawkins entitled The Selfish Gene, followed in 1986 by the related documentary entitled from the last chapter as Nice Guys Finish First:

  • They are never the first to defect, if ever.
  • They are not envious.
  • They are forgiving, not retaliating.
  • They have a clear cut understanding of win-win.

I would add after re-reading the book recently, that reliable partners are also able to dissent openly and resolve conflict not only with other partners but with people in their respective organizations who may push them to defect on partners.

Now, in no particular order, based on my reflection and a handful of other studies, here are ten ways to detect those prone to betray alignments and collaborations.

I never became very good as using these observations strategically or to preempt defection.  In my field, you didn’t get to be very selective about strategic partners.

  • People who defect see the world through a lens where everything is either their way or your way. To make things happen they believe someone else always has to lose.  They despise tables of equals unless they can dominate.
  • Defectors are easily bored, in the negative sense of that term.  They agree to alignments when the stakes are low and only when things are certain.
  • They are deeply discomforted by uncertainty about the future.  To relieve this, their goals become their identity which blinds them to any new information or a better or even third way
  • They are generalists, prone to perpetual mission creep.  Success at one thing makes them feel entitled to feel expert at everything and to dabble where others do have expertise, again as a means to avoid uncertainty.
  • They are narcissistic, not just at the place on the continuum where nearly all leaders emerge but to the extreme, beyond any link to effectiveness leaving a need to constantly self report their own.  
  • They have trouble listening unless they are seeking something. They have trouble maintaining eye contact unless they are talking or there is an agenda.
  • Uncomfortable with the uncertainty of exchange, they respond to questions with a monologue and often limit social interaction for its own sake unless they can dominate.
  • They are prone to cronyism and cabals and often make decisions based on “who’s asking.”  They thrive on the push and shove of lobbying.
  • They are prone to “goalodicy,” a type of obsessive groupthink where individuals and groups become so wedded to a goal that they succumb to zero sum, and pursue any means to reach the end as long it is not at their expense.
  • In general, this means they are restless, dislike informing discussion with ideas and concepts, because they are obsessed with having certainty or avoiding uncertainly at any cost to others.

During my career, I often used the true story of the Christmas Truce between two opposing units in 1915 during World War I to illustrate that even under extreme conditions, people can work together to mutual benefit.

Small area truces such as this occurred throughout the war when opposing soldiers learned to send and interpret unofficial signals.

But it is unrealistic to assume the same of strategic partners.  During those moments during World War I, many other units intensified the carnage even at the expense of their own troops.

There are definitely parts of my career that I don’t miss.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Nothing’s Really New

A friend of mine from my Alaska days in the 1980’s, having read this blog, emailed recently that I haven’t changed a bit.

He reminded me that on an airplane trip we took together over the North Pole to harvest potential business from Europe early in that decade, I did something I often do today in this blog.

He had watched me go through a huge brief case of reading materials, tearing pages from periodicals and using a handheld Epson device (regarded as the first laptop) to create notes and then print them out on ticker tape to staple to clippings for routing or mailing after I got home.

Running a community destination marketing organization requires gathering marketing intelligence wherever possible but my friend observed that in most cases, I was routing the clippings to other people in community, most unrelated to my former visitor-centric career.

A best practices consultant who interviewed several hundred community leaders hypothesized that this habit of circulating information was one of the reasons our organization was considered so much more relevant than peer organizations were in other communities.

I do enjoy it so I guess it is no surprise that I do something similar in retirement now with these essays.

Marketers for any enterprise should be on the forefront of trends and changes but far too many lag behind even within their own organization.  This is clear in the USA report from the “Annual Global CEO Survey by PwC.

CEOs were the only members of the C-suite to cite technological advances as the trend that will be most disruptive in the future.  In the US, only 36% of CEOs believed that those responsible for their marketing and brand management were prepared to make the changes necessary.

I suspect this is why you often see marketing departments so out of touch with their organization’s sustainability efforts, such as when they use roadside billboards which require huge amounts of deforestation, ultimately reducing carbon sequestration and fostering pollution.

Of even more concern to CEOs may be that only 20% believed their R&D divisions were prepared for the coming changes that will be wrought by technology.

Looking at the verbatims, those surveyed have very large concerns. These are the ones pursued by those I refer to as “big game hunters” on the supply-driven side of economic development (as opposed to those working on the demand-side such as tourism) which they hope to land in their communities of states.

Even though small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) were hit much harder during the recession, they remain where the action is.  The 23 million SMBs in America (fewer than 100 employees) generate 54% of the sales, provide 55% of the jobs and fill up 30-50% of all commercial space.

Since the 1970s, SMBs have accounted for 66% of all net new jobs.  About 98% or 22.5 million are independent, locally owned concerns that account for 54% of all U.S. sales.

They are under threat from chains for which 600,000-plus franchised small businesses in the U.S. account for 40% of all retail sales and provide 8 million jobs.

It isn’t just technological trends where big business marketers are unprepared.  Studies show big business often doesn’t understand small and medium-size businesses which for 70% are their customers.

The battle ground for this misunderstanding is on Main Street.  Part of the solution is better exchange and sharing of marketing intelligence and data.

Many local organizations that represent small businesses eschew strategy plans in favor of frenetically running around in an attempt to find a “parade” and then desperately seeking to be at the head or at least be the convener.

They have no patience for being at a table of equals if they can’t dominate the conversation.  They fail to see that a strategic plan is merely a pathway to make it easier to spot and react to trends as they arise.

They especially fail to grasp that today’s new breed of strategic thinkers see into the future by analyzing the past, sometimes referred to as “temporal planning,” something I stumbled onto decades ago by virtue of fusing my college major into my eventual four-decade career in community marketing.

But the aversion to strategic thinking among many organizations portending to represent business is why businesses of all sizes - but especially small businesses - have lost patience with and increasingly find these organizations irrelevant, leaving them to devolve into places where only “whiners” congregate.

Identifying and responding to trends is best done when organizations share and treat each other not only as equals but with a deeply respected division of effort and expertise.

Strategic partnering such as this works best when all eyes are trying to spot trends regardless of relevance to one partner or another but then quickly to shuttle them to the partner for which they are most relevant.

I realize this is annoying for generalists, who having been successful at one thing assume they are now expert at everything, dismissing organizations with expertise specifically suited.

In parting, I’ll forward 2014 trends by Sparks & Honey which takes an ecosystem approach to 80 areas of trend and culture.  If you find this amazing, you should see one of their custom reports.

Share them with strategic partners at a table of equals and assign which organizations will take point based on expertise and focus.

My favorite?  I’m retired.  My expertise now is narrowed to sharing.

Call it “content marketing.”  Just don’t refer to it as part of the new “sharing/collaborative economy.”

That isn’t new.  Nothing really is.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Durham’s 1970s Sense of Place Revolt

During intermission last week at an incredible performance of “Once,” in the sparkling DPAC, I couldn’t help but think back forty years to the genesis of downtown Durham, North Carolina’s revitalization.

It wasn’t launched by deal makers or politicians or “heavy hitters” or development advocates, a few of whom over the years - including recently - have always seemed somewhat ambivalent about that neighborhood’s distinct sense of place.

By ambivalent I guess I include those in every community who appear so fearful of losing a project that they seem determined to surrender sense of place for the generic.

Others just seem impatient and dismissive or prone to ridicule preservationist sentiment when it suggests further reflection.

Unfortunately, this undermines far too many public facilities too whenever they get fast-tracked within the bureaucracies until it is too late to mesh them with overall sense of place.

This tension between sense of place advocates and those prone to the generic is apparent in the first studies of downtown Durham which were facilitated in the late 1950s on behalf of the then Downtown Development Association, a non-profit and the public Durham Redevelopment Commission.

One dealt with economic and demographic trends and the other, known as the Tarrant Report, with layout and transportation.

They were triggered by development of Durham’s first shopping center just less than a mile from city center at a gateway to the historic Forest Hills neighborhood.

In a panic, beginning in the 1960s, much of downtown was demolished as a well-conceived national urban renewal movement became more like an indiscriminate battering ram, seemingly unconcerned for sense of place, when in the hands of more narrow special interests at local levels.

Back then, the New York Times lamented that:

“We will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.”

This was never more true than in Durham where iconic structures perfectly suited for what we call “adaptive reuse” today were demolished including the 1905 Union Station and the historic 1924 Washington Duke Hotel.

Swaths of structures and landmarks similar to those that are such a priceless draw for Durham today were destroyed to make room for parking lots and parking decks and a loop or noose around what we call the City Center District.

The sense-of-place carnage continued for fifteen years leaving deal makers and enablers sated, but downtown still in decline.

Finally, in the mid 1970s, they placed their sights on demolition of the 1926 Carolina Theater (Durham Auditorium,) the last remaining of Durham’s original thirteen theaters in downtown alone.

The Carolina had good bones, much better than buildings have today.  In fact, it had been the first to bring Broadway to Durham, original casts too.

But years of neglect by local officials had taken its toll.  So it faced the wrecking ball, just as its famous Durham architect too lay dying.

Defiantly, Durham residents and sense of place activists revolted, rose up, and began to reclaim what was left of their downtown’s distinctiveness.

It is upon their shoulders that downtown revitalization finally took hold.

They formed what is now called Preservation Durham.  They saved the Carolina Theater, and in the process spurred Durham’s first commercial historic inventory the basis for a unique national historic district designation.

This quickly spurred place-sensitive developers in 1980 to restore the iconic Kress building followed by the adaptive reuse of two tobacco warehouses into Brightleaf Square in 1981, along with conversion of other historic warehouses into condominiums in 1982.

However, demolitionists and dealmakers never entirely gave up nor did their fear abate of losing projects because they were out of character.

Monuments to this include an incongruous office tower and the shoehorning of a convention center into a parcel only one-third the size needed.

But by the time I arrived in 1989 to help jumpstart the community’s overall guardian for sense of place including downtown, the tide had already turned.

Our mission included fueling the marketplace and tax base by leveraging place-based assets into demand-driven, visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

A few months earlier, voters had approved bonds to overhaul the Carolina Theater which reopened that year giving Durham, once again, a dozen performance halls.

Durham had also conducted a community wide, first blush historic inventory that was invaluable.

By 1990, upper story lofts were being developed in historic buildings above restaurants on Main Street and quickly inhabited by artists and RTP executives.

By 1991, Morgan Imports had begun adaptive reuse of a huge 1926 brick laundry building with unique architectural details that planners for a suburban shopping mall emulated in 1996.

In the mid-1990s an energetic successor to the 1950s Downtown Development Association was organized to see the revitalization through to its climax and beyond.

Planning by then had already begun on adaptive reuse of tobacco warehouses into apartments which opened around 1999 as the first phase of West Village.  Nearby, about that time, Measurement Inc. also began adapting a series of historic factory buildings into office space.

These all set the stage for adaptive reuse of the old Lucky Strike factory or American Tobacco as it is known today by the name of a now defunct parent company.

The massive project, the largest of its kind in the Carolinas, was obviously already germinating in the mind of the owner of the Durham Bulls by 1996 when he asked his general manager to have me join him along with his corporate counsel in his seats along the third base line.

He wanted to discuss who owned the old factory complex towering behind the ballpark’s first base line and its potential for redevelopment.

By 2000, it seemed clear that the revitalization of downtown Durham was seemingly irreversible.  The sense of place revolutionaries in the late 1970s had ignited a transformation.

The following year, American Tobacco began undergoing redevelopment, opening in 2004.

Many involved go no further back when referring to revitalization of downtown, probably because this impeccably executed transformation required significant public investment, both direct and indirect.

It continues to evolve each day and is without a doubt a testament to the economic importance of retaining the aspect sense of place related to the built environment.

You would think that American Tobacco alone would have put to rest for good any incongruity from newer buildings but it hasn’t.

At least four public facilities erected since then stand out as anomalies to Durham’s sense of place and several private projects pushed through since then also fail to meet that test.

Maybe the tension between sense of place and “generica” is impossible to fully reconcile.  For many, the thrill of the deal and/or fear of the unknown if they push back on a project to ensure a good fit will always trump the more temporal value of sense of place.

Maybe over time, sensibilities will be fully aligned.  Maybe the anomalies are just a carryover from the past century when the focus of economic development was on “what you don’t have.”

Experts such as Edward T. McMahon, a researcher at the Urban Land Institute, note that in the 21st century, the focus is all about building upon “what you do have.”

In his outline of what makes some communities more successful than others, McMahon also notes that the 20th century model was “driven by transactions” while the 21st century model is “driven by an overall vision.”

The world needs transaction deal-makers and Durham has had among the very best.

But maybe communities are best served by those who are secure enough to say no to a deal and who listen carefully to sense of place experts when it comes to preserving this priceless attribute.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Poverty’s Genesis & Possible Resolution For Durham

Durham, North Carolina, where I live, was the fastest growing of the state’s major cities from 1930 to 1940, second during the decade dominated by WWII and fastest growing even through the 1990s, for that matter.

This may relate to its stubborn poverty problem, although when indexed to ethnic make up and an entrepreneurial bent among the poor here that fuels an underground economy, it may not be as high as many other major cities in North Carolina.

A clue to the genesis of Durham’s poverty is that while the population here skyrocketed by nearly 20% in the 1930s, during the same period, known as the Great Depression, the number of jobs in Durham’s long-vaunted manufacturing sector fell by nearly 20%.

But this disconnect wouldn’t really be pinpointed statistically for another two decades.

Durham had dramatically transformed North Carolina’s economy following the Civil War, which effectively ended here with Johnston’s surrender to Sherman, first with value-added manufacturing of tobacco and then with textiles.

Overall, North Carolina fell into the throws of white supremacists who rallied North Carolinians by re-spinning the Civil War as the “Lost Cause,” a movement that gained steam especially once the Republican Party gave in to Wall Street and pulled the plug on Reconstruction.

Durham became a workforce beacon, soon earning a national reputation for leading the way to a New South.

But in the 1920s, a few Durham leaders, foreseeing the eventual decline of tobacco and textiles, had already begun perusing a new model of economic development for North Carolina based on higher education, healthcare and research and development (image shown in this blog is of Duke West Campus under construction, linked from the exceptional blog Open Durham.)

Long a beacon for those of various ethnicities who were willing to work side by side, Durham’s population continued to soar well after the first factory closed down in 1938 which signaled a long-term loss of jobs including those in the business service sector and a dramatic decline in retail sales.

This was not detected by most who labored on factory floors because they had become accustomed to periodic and temporary lay-offs.  Little did they, or as manifested in generations after them, realize that call backs were gradually becoming extinct.

The percentage of blacks in and surrounding Durham, both free and enslaved, had been more than 30% of the population in 1860.  With Durham’s emergence as a manufacturing center after the Civil War, that percentage increased to 4-in-10 residents by 1890 as people of all backgrounds flooded to Durham for work.

However, by 1940 with manufacturing in decline, that percentage had fallen by 11 points even though the overall population of Durham kept swelling with newcomers deserting subsistence farmland for factory jobs.

Poverty certainly was not limited to blacks even back then but as it does today, it has disproportionately affected blacks and now Hispanics.

If they were able to detect the calamity they faced with a swelling population but a dwindling manufacturing workforce, Durham leaders put reactions on hold during World War II.

However, within a few years of its conclusion, Durham established:

  • A community fund (a precursor to United Way) to rally donations to help the poor -
  • The Committee of 100 to pursue economic development and jobs -
  • A public housing authority and its first complex
  • Better pay for public teachers and a series of educational innovations -
  • A hospital care cooperative (a precursor to Blue Cross)
  • Coalitions to pursue equal rights, political inclusiveness and social justice  -
  • An Industrial Training Center, now known as Durham Tech
  • A public-private Durham Industrial Development Corporation to facilitate relocating and expanding business -
  • Its first Downtown Association to revitalize the core area
  • A spearhead for development of a Research Triangle Park four miles from downtown

Durham’s economy transformed, as it has done five times now throughout the history of this land area being populated.  Most communities are lucky to re-engineer once or maybe twice but this attribute wasn’t enough when it came to addressing poverty.

Even Durham’s transformation since the 1950s into a center for creativity including research, hi tech, healthcare and higher education, including emerging as one of the most widely and highly acclaimed communities in the nation has not yet been able to erase poverty here.

By 1960, 1-in-3 Durham residents had fallen into poverty, as had 4-in-10 North Carolinians.  The generation of Americans who fought and won World War II, including many from or who passed through Durham, emerged committed to building a middle class, securing equal rights and reducing poverty.

Within little more than a decade they were able to make incredible strides.

Durham was on the forefront of each of these changes, but like nearly all ethnically-diverse communities, it has never been able to totally eliminate the poverty that took root in the 1930s.

Many assume because Baby Boomers such as me made more racket, that this generation was responsible for the dramatic socio-economic changes of the 1960s and 1970s.  But these changes in America are a credit to the two generations that came before.

If anything, it is today’s lawmaking bodies - dominated by Baby Boomers - that are responsible now for holding us back, even regressing.

We would all be wise to look back on that remarkable period as well as to listen more carefully to people who have experienced poverty.  According to acclaimed conservative critic and author Joe Queenan, himself raised in poverty:

“The philosophical infrastructure of poverty is rooted in an interlocking series of self-fulfilling prophecies. Poor people eat bad food, drink bad beverages, and ceaselessly make bad decisions, and these counterproductive activities are then used as an indictment of their moral character.”

Durham is a highly integrated community now except for one class of people, the poor.  In Durham, we are well-advised to read a study released last week entitled “Where Is The Land Of Opportunity?”  by economists at Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley.

It geographically ranks consolidated metro areas for upward mobility.  The one including Durham is mislabeled as Raleigh but it is a ranking  for two distinct metro areas taken together, Durham and Raleigh-Cary.

Together, the scores of cities and towns and counties - including Durham - is ranked 48th out of 50.  Ominous for North Carolina, the area including Charlotte is 50th.  Atlanta is 49th.

The area labeled as Salt Lake City, which apparently takes in nearly all of the cities and counties along 100 miles of the Wasatch Front and more than a third of that state’s population, is taken together ranked 1st according to the metrics used.

But the reason to read this new study is not to see that Durham falls near the bottom in this ranking, contrasted to how highly ranked it is in nearly every other area where these scientific analyses are conducted.

The new study notes that “both blacks and whites living in areas with large African-American populations have lower rates of upward income mobility.

Segregation plays a role according to the study but not just because bands of the country where upward mobility is stymied seem to track states that had significant slave populations in 1860.

For nearly 130 years, Durham has been widely noted for having a strong black middle class forged by entrepreneurs.  The community’s neighborhoods are integrated today except where poverty is entrenched.

The link communities like Durham have is a different type of segregation.

The researchers note that (paragraphing is mine for ease of reading):

The results suggest that it is the isolation of low-income families rather than the isolation of the rich that may be most detrimental for low income children's prospects of moving up in the income distribution.

One explanation of this correlation is that the separation of the middle class from the poor reduces beneficial peer effects or funding for local public goods (e.g., schools) for children from low-income families.

In contrast, the separation of the affluent from the middle class may not directly harm low income individuals.

There is much more to this analysis.  But let’s start there.  Durham’s poverty today is anchored just where it took hold with that first mill closing in 1938.

Geographic isolation within a community is part of the problem and addressing it may be a solution possibly including a much broader application of affordable housing models that mix incomes.

Read the study.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Infographic - Bond, Jamesss Bond

Friday, January 24, 2014

Super Bowl Advertising Is A Tricky Play

Advertisers will shell out $4 million for each 30-second spot run during the broadcast of the Super Bowl game the Sunday after next.

Nearly 30% of Americans won’t be watching, and among the 70% who are, if even for a glimpse while socializing and eating, the ads have no guarantee they won’t be a turn-off in general, something most advertising enthusiasts, especially males, still fail to factor in.

Past studies show that nearly 3-in-4 viewers of the game consider the ads as entertainment but that doesn’t mean they all view them favorably.  Far too many advertisers still fail to consider the ratio of people turned off by ads.

Even simple awareness generated for the brands that advertise, the most superficial of metrics, is only achieved among less than 17% of the game’s viewers.  This is far less than the 27% who will watch at a party specific to the event.

The ads have a turn off ratio of 5-to-1 compared to 8.4% of viewers who will actually buy products or services from those who advertise during the game.  More than double that percentage wish the advertisers would just save their money and pass the savings to them.

More than 1-in-5 viewers of the game have a negative reaction to the ads because they bother them, interrupt the game and make it last too long.

Advertising in general now has a negative return on investment.

There are simply many more effective, credible and efficient ways to reach consumers that don’t involve “yelling” at them, a description many marketing professionals give to advertising.

Masterful marketing these days is “low intensity,” a fact guaranteed to shed “old-schoolers” wedded to advertising for the perceived ego-rush it is guaranteed to deliver to the advertiser.

Super Bowl ads are more than eleven times the cost they were in the mid-1980s when a cooperative marketing group I was part of considered placing one when I was involved in marketing Alaska for visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

Forced to choose an element that is most important about the game, just as many viewers select “getting together with friends” and the half time show as they do the commercials.

Over the last 16 years, studies by Gallup and others measuring the  interest among viewers in the actual game has remained steady at around 46% while the percentage interested in the commercials has fallen by nearly a third.  Part of the reason is that people are now inundated by nearly 10,000 advertising messages a day.

Consumers have just tuned out, even during the Super Bowl where advertising is such a big part of the spectacle, especially in the 7.4 million households considered affluent.  But this phenomena isn’t germane just to advertising on traditional media.

Online advertising for newspapers fell off the cliff in the mid-2000s, at about the time print ads did.  Experts understand that news media wasn’t ever about the news.  It has always been about collecting a “community” of affiliated consumers and then selling ads to those trying reach that community.

Today, those “communities of affinity” have been sliced into smaller and smaller pieces of the pie, by the proliferation of places these consumers can gather, including followers of this blog which I have and never intend to subject to advertising.

In fact, longitudinal meta-analysis shows that the tipping point in the effectiveness of advertising may have been 1984, the year our group in Alaska backed away from an ad during the Super Bowl.   Yet even today in mediums such as television, where audience growth is stagnant, ad spending continues to grow.

Greed, as much as streaming, will eventually spell doom for television too.

Even if advertisers experience a broadly felt epiphany tomorrow and begin to dial back on use of this element of marketing, as well as measuring the turn-off metrics of advertising, the nature of the beast is that advertising would continue to kill the very things it loves.

And one day, that may be the Super Bowl itself!

Until then, the only advertisers who seem to clean up on the event are those in television sales, which 1-in-10 Americans will buy leading up to the game, a third of all those who will buy a television this year.

The major factor in those decisions?  Price.

Some studies estimate hosting the big game can add as much as $264 million to a metro-wide economy but the models are not so good at netting out the impact the game dislocates.

Year-before and year-after sales tax collection comparisons of communities hosting past Super Bowls reveal that the Super Bowl dislocates as much economic activity as it creates.

Unfortunately, this isn’t something taxpayers are likely to learn from politicians or sports-advertising-reliant news media or enthusiasts, you know, the ones likely to refer to themselves as heavy hitters (with someone else’s money.)

The real winner may be the national economy which reaps $11 billion in game-related consumption but apparently even that is not enough to give it a boost.  Anecdotal events never are, even at the local level, a lesson yet to be learned by far too many community marketing organizations.

Personally I would have preferred to see the Pats in the Super Bowl against the 49ers, my coastal favorites for many years.  It is my youngest grandson who is heartbroken the Panthers won’t be playing, Carolina’s most ardent fan west of the Rockies.

But alas, go Hawks, they are my native Idaho’s team.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Community’s Deeply Rooted Progressiveness

Progressive roots in Durham, North Carolina go back at least to the 1880s, a few years after the business wing of the Republican Party overwhelmed its social justice wing putting an end to a decade of “Reconstruction” following the Civil War.

Agrarian populists filled the void, standing up to a Democratic Party dominated by white supremacists.  Even Durham’s conservatives at the time manifested a progressive streak back then when they stood up against white supremacists as well.

But today’s progressivism in Durham can be traced to a local insurance executive in the late 1940’s when the city’s population was cresting 60,000, with just 80,000 countywide.

John Leslie Atkins Jr. was a Durham native and Duke graduate, who sharing that name with both his father and his pre-school son at the time, preferred to go by Leslie.  When I lived in Trinity Park for a time, I would often walk past his 1939 family home on Dollar Avenue  which was built when nearby Northgate Mall was a cow pasture.

A disease similar to polio in one of his legs resulted in the use of a brace to be able to walk.

In the late 1940s following World War II, Atkins, then in his mid-30s, began holding extraordinary meetings for the time.

Just a few floors below the office of George Watts Hill in a building now undergoing adaptive reuse as one of a handful of 21C Museum Hotels in the nation, Atkins was forging a coalition of labor unions with members of the black community and other progressive whites.

Labor unions had taken hold in Durham’s booming factories as well as among workers on the trolley line here as Atkins was growing up.  But in 1938 during his time at Duke, he witnessed the closing of a cotton mill, leaving the neighborhood of Smoky Hollow (now called Edgemont) in decline.

In addition, Atkins’ progressive sensibilities were probably also greatly influenced by Dr. Howard Jensen, one of the first sociologists at Duke and a Durham community activist on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged such as those in Edgemont, then an all white neighborhood.

In 1949 this unique coalition helped secure the election of a forward thinking mayor, Daniel K. Edwards, a lawyer, former U.S. Army colonel and also a Durham native who had been serving in the state legislature.

Atkins had passed away a decade before I arrived in Durham in 1989 but I was able to talk in passing to former Mayor Edwards back then as he passed by daily near the temporary offices we had in the Brightleaf District.

The year after Edwards was elected mayor, Dr. Jensen helped found the community fund, a precursor to a United Way chapter and famously gave a speech entitled “Durham’s Unmet Needs,” which evolved into a series of op-eds and essays.

Atkins’ fledgling coalition didn’t stop with the election of Edwards.  In the early 1950s, they successfully elected two women to the City Council, including the progressive Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans.

Mary, who became a good friend after my arrival and who passed away only recently was the great-grand daughter of Washington Duke who helped bring what became Duke University to Durham in the 1800s.

In 1953, the Atkins coalition spearheaded the election of retail executive Emanuel “Mutt” Evans, one of the first Jewish people elected mayor in the south.

Evans by then had crossed over norms by adding bathrooms for blacks in his stores and famously removed stools at the lunch counter in his stores to circumvent a prohibition against whites and blacks sitting together.

During his six terms as mayor, Evans, who passed away a few years after I came to Durham, led Durham collectively through tumult around desegregation.

In 1953, the Atkins coalition also spearheaded the election of Durham’s first black city council member, Rencher Nicholas Harris, a real estate appraiser.

Durham’s progressiveness in the early 1950s transcended politics.  This is a period when Durham natives working in the same building as Atkins began working with Durham native and North Carolina Governor William Umstead to make Research Triangle Park here a reality, transforming the state’s economy from textiles and tobacco.

This is also a period when two Durham movement entrepreneurs began to coalesce around a proactive plan to achieve equal civil rights.  This was an unusual nexus at the time across so many areas but especially for a community in the South with not yet a population of 80,000.

Atkins’ coalition was ripped apart by reaction to the Supreme Court’s dramatic ruling in 1955 based on the 1954 case Brown vs. Board of Education declaring separate facilities on the basis of race unconstitutional.

But Leslie Atkins kept working to bring people back together into the 1970s when he served on the City Council.  Before his death in 1977, he had passed Durham’s progressive torch to an extraordinary new generation, nearly all of whom, such as former mayor and long-time state senator Wib Gulley have become friends during my tenure here.

Gulley continued Durham’s long heritage for progressive politics through coalition building, surviving an attempted recall in the late 1980s for endorsing gay rights.  He deepened Atkins’ commitment to affordable housing in Durham.

Atkins’ influence is still felt today in elected officials including a newly arrived IBM engineer back then named Bill Bell with whom he crossed paths and whose span in local elected office of nearly 40 years includes his now-seven terms as Mayor of Durham.

In addition to what I have gleaned by living here now 25 years, I owe some of this information to historians and friends such as Jim Wise and Jean Bradley Anderson and the recollections of his father shared with me by John I. Atkins III, an acclaimed architect in Durham.

As I set out in 1989 in my former life charged with reclaiming and fostering Durham’s story and identity, I was inspired by a story of passion involving the younger Atkins, who is only a few years older than I am.

He must have identified with the challenge I faced because as a college student body president, he fought to preserve the storied name and identity of North Carolina State University when state officials sought to change it to the University of North Carolina at Raleigh.

This essay is intended to reinforce my belief that a community’s personality is almost temporal and manifestations today can be found rooted in the past.  These are among the things that make a community distinct.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Reciprocity Principle

Spurred by the ex-officio public-private partnership Durham Appearance Advocacy Group, city and county officials in Durham, North Carolina are crafting a plan to beautify several exits from the Durham Freeway as it skirts downtown.

The project is to serve as an aesthetic template that will eventually be applied to all interchanges on various controlled access highways as they pass through the community.

But at cross purposes is the desecration just created at an exit less than two minutes earlier where a new pedestrian bridge was intended to be a welcome to downtown.

The desecration also violates a stretch of Durham’s Pearsontown-Rocky Creek Greenway and lays bare a tree screen that had sheltered residential homes and a place of worship, all with the apparent active endorsement of the local chamber of commerce.

So, even if it has legal cover from the State General Assembly and Department of Transportation, why would a company risk the ire of residents in a community long-opposed to billboards when the billboard at that exit already had plenty of visibility through selective pruning and window-framing?

Greed plays a part but so does consumer behavior.  The company that owns the billboard understands that different than advertising placed in magazines and newspapers and on broadcast media, consumer revulsion to the roadside desecration won’t accrue to the company that owns the billboard and responsible for the clear cutting (note Charlotte example in image below.)

Negative reaction will accrue instead to the unsuspecting advertiser paying to showcase its brand on the billboard, even if just as a public service announcement.

Anyone or any organization still considering the use of a roadside billboards under these conditions has plenty of reasons to be concerned, not the least of which is what experts are calling the new “status currency,” the status and vales that consumers wish to project through their purchasing decisions and brand affiliations.

The leading indicators that this consumer behavior will be dominant in only a few years are Millennials, ages 18 to 34 years old, who already account for an estimated $1.3 trillion in direct annual spending and who within 16 years will far outnumber baby boomers such as me.

The highly regarded Boston Consulting Group also describes the two-way, mutual relationship expected by this generation from the companies and brands they use called the “the reciprocity principle.”

It is clear that in the near future, outdoor billboard companies will be unable to hide behind their dwindling number of advertisers.  In fact, Millennials prefer channels other than advertising to learn about products and brands.

Lawmaking bodies such as the General Assembly in North Carolina skew much older than the general population and are among the last to lean on advertising in general, let alone billboards, where there is no editorial other than the message on them to rationalize roadside desecration.

Regardless of political ideology, the hoof beats of obsolescence for billboards will grow louder as Millennials come to power with a sense of reciprocity that relates to sustainability vs. campaign contributions.

My guess is that Millennial lawmakers will not only return roadsides to the taxpayers by permitting only selective cutting for billboards accompanied by a requirement for replanting.

But the next generation of lawmakers will also drive a hard bargain, insisting on a percentage of revenues in return for the parasitic reliance (term used by the Courts) of billboard companies on publicly funded roadways.

Even at this vastly increased assessment, the “reciprocity principle” will also mean this new generation of lawmakers will carefully balance any gain from billboard companies with the damage they wreak on the economic and cultural brands of cities and states.

The infectious disease model that researchers apply to the lifecycle of social media has failed to account for the ability of outdoor billboards to remain virulent—while on life support—after their popularity declined early in the last century through a mix of intense political lobbying and the infusion of huge amounts of cash into campaigns.

This interference by lawmakers from both major parties has undermined the Highway Beautification Act which would have enabled the free market to allow billboards a peaceful exit of their own.

Anyone still persuaded to revive outdoor billboards through desecration of roadsides should visit studies showing that they are:

Even if those extremely low ratios somehow warrant the risk for a dwindling number of advertisers, the “reciprocity principle” among the growing majority of consumers dictates balancing the use of the huge billboards against their impact:

  • lowering property values
  • air, water and particulate pollution
  • turning off relocating businesses
  • destroying community and state curb appeal

Any use of advertising these days must be weighed carefully on return-on-investment (now in negative territory overall) rather than just the hope some awareness might be achieved.

The desperation of billboard companies to go digital at even greater costs to society is not for the benefit of the advertiser but to add more and more advertisers to each board, not matter that the visibility for each message is less.

Savvy marketers understand that at the very least a marketing channel such as advertising on a certain medium must require deeper analytics than just being seen.  It must carefully factor and avoid if possible, residual turnoff.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Durham’s Movement Entrepreneurs

There is a story behind the story of sit-ins which involves two social entrepreneurs who formed a friendship in 1949 while attending college in Durham, North Carolina, where I live.

By the time I arrived in 1989, one of these entrepreneurs, Floyd McKissick, had passed away soon after being appointed a judge by Governor Jim Martin, the Republican governor prior to the one we have now.

I met the other entrepreneur, Doug Moore (shown a few years ago in the image below,) long after he had moved away when I answered the phone in my office soon after my arrival in Durham and heard him say, “Hi, I’m in town and I understand you’ve been asking about me.”

For several weeks this time each year, the news media falls prey to a narrative it created around a sit-in that occurred in Greensboro, North Carolina.  More than three decades after the notion was debunked by researchers and scholars, reports still often mislabel it as the first or most significant.

But any understanding of the Greensboro event requires knowing more about Durham, a community known for entrepreneurs since its founding, including by the 1880s, people of color, both those descended from free blacks and those from former slaves.

New research published last month in the American Sociological Review points to the nexus that makes some communities, such as Durham, stand out as ecosystems for entrepreneurs, both homegrown and as a magnet to draw them from elsewhere.

One of the investigators on that study, Dr. Martin Ruef at Duke University here in Durham, is also responsible for a groundbreaking analysis in 2012 comparing the valuation of black labor in the South from 1831 through the years immediately after slavery was abolished.

The two Durham social entrepreneurs at the heart of the sit-in movement were drawn here to further their education from roots in Asheville and Hickory in western North Carolina.

After going on to achieve advanced degrees in law and divinity, McKissick and Moore reunited in Durham as neighbors in the summer of 1955, in the tumultuous weeks after the Supreme Court published its ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education  in which separate facilities based on race  were declared inherently unequal under the Constitution.

These two Durham social entrepreneurs anticipated that the South overall would be reactionary, often enabled by Black Bourgeoisie, (middle class) perhaps because some had built businesses based on separation or because some just feared rocking the boat.

Neither Floyd B. McKissick nor Reverend Douglas Moore were strangers by that time to “direct action.”  Both had been inspired by Pauli Murray, who had been raised in Durham.

They were also influenced by the book From Slavery To Freedom, which had been researched and written in part in Durham by Dr. John Hope Franklin in the years before he settled here.

In 1943, Murray had published a powerful article in New York entitled  Negroes Are Fed Up and then participated in a demonstration at Howard University in 1944 before publishing States’ Laws On Race and Color in 1951, used as a “bible” during Brown vs. Board of Education.

McKissick had been on a Freedom Ride through the South in 1948 and Moore had repeatedly refused to give up his seat on buses in several cities in North Carolina during the early 1950s, preceding the storied event in Montgomery that drew the attention of Moore’s graduate school classmate, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

McKissick and Moore lobbied within the NAACP, which opposed mass action, arguing that it would take much more “direct action” than the Supreme Court case.

So, adapting Boy Scout principles, the two Durham friends quickly organized training schools in the basements of five Durham churches.

These weren’t establishment black churches such as White Rock but smaller churches such as Moore’s 25-member missionary congregation meeting in Asbury Temple United Methodist as well as Union Baptist, Mount Zion, St. Mark and St. Joseph’s.

In 1956, on the heels of the Montgomery boycott, Moore also wrote to his classmate King with the idea of forming a regional organization and pressing him to fully embrace “direct” vs. purely “pacifist” action.

In the meantime, McKissick and Moore forged links between movement centers in other states to intensify the swell of sit-ins from 1957 to 1960.

Some, such as one of the sit-ins in Durham became significant court cases.  Students, including those involved in the later Greensboro event, as well as many from nearby states, came to Durham for training and planning.

Another key entrepreneurial innovation by McKissick and Moore is that they deepened mere linkage among movement centers into a communications network that enabled movements in Durham and other states to be coordinated.

It was this network that triggered mass reaction when a sit-in occurred in Greensboro.

Within hours, King was in Durham meeting with McKissick and Moore as a prelude to publicly endorsing mass, direct action.  At the heart of its success, culminating in the Civil Rights acts of 1964 and 1965, lay the entrepreneurial network spawned in Durham.

The story behind the story came to my attention in 1989 from reading a new book by Dr. Aldon Morris entitled, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement.

Part of jump-starting Durham’s community destination marketing agency, as I did, was reclaiming its story and I quickly laced the author’s findings back into Durham’s story.  It didn’t hurt that one of my most vocal advocates became John Hope Franklin.

I also began to ask around about where I could find Reverend Douglas Moore and soon the phone rang.

More than two decades later, newbies to Durham are promoting entrepreneurial activity, a few as though it is something new, some futily hoping to export it and others fully aware that this is only the latest manifestation of an an attribute inherent to Durham’s personality.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Infographic - Drone Nation

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Recycling Conspiracy

In a downpour last Saturday, my Jeep was one of nearly 900 personal vehicles snaking through the County Stadium parking lot in my long-adopted home of Durham, North Carolina.

Collectively, souls driving these vehicles dropped off 14 tons of electronics and another 36,000 pounds of paper.  It is one of several events held each year to make it convenient for residents to recycle e-waste, items not accepted curbside for bi-weekly pick-up nor in garbage disposal.

That’s an average of 32 tons per vehicle, obviously considerably less in my two-door Rubicon.   I had begun assembling items to take for collection a few months earlier and still forgot several items.

In a community northwest of Durham, the waste is stripped down and each element, including precious metals recovered, are returned to manufacturers to be made into more products of this type.

If we lived in a world with “full-cost” accounting the components of every product we buy including food would go full circle like this.  Then there would be zero waste and the built in financial incentives would result in zero litter, for that matter.

This would be both because the cost of waste, litter removal and recycling would be built into the marketplace and because the value and cost would be built into the product instead of shifted onto the general public, more specifically taxpayers.

Today in the U.S., only 27% of e-waste (anything that plugs in or runs on batteries or a motor) is being recycled, 19% if you go by items vs. tonnage.  This includes 40% of computers, 33% of monitors and copy devices and only 17% of televisions and mobile devices.

In other terms, Americans generate 4.41 tons of e-waste each year and of this only 850,000 tons or one quarter is being recycled.  The rest ends up in landfills or incinerators rather than being captured and reused by the marketplace.

The good news is that we are recycling nearly two and a half times as much as we were a dozen years ago but as of 2012 on average, each American household was spending $1,312 on new electronics annually, accumulating an average then of 24 distinct products.

Different than other appliances, the the vast proportion of the environmental impact from electronics is in their production, not their use.   Using one ingredient – aluminum - as an example, recycling reduces that impact by 90%.

On top of that, reuse compared to disposal, using computers as an example, creates 296 jobs for every 10,000 tons disposed each year.

Cost is often given as the reason these items can’t just be placed in curbside, single-stream recycling.  The prohibitive cost is apparently separating them from other recyclables.

You would think that curbside administrators would be working furiously to resolve this just as they have had to do with every other recyclable item, but there is more than bureaucratic inertia slowing that process.

You probably have to be my age to remember The John Birch Society, but the ultra-conservative group is still around.  They made everything a Communist conspiracy beginning in 1958, when I was ten years old.

Before it became popular within the Republican Party, this society sought to purge moderate and liberal Republicans from that political party, even labeling moderate Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower a tool of Communists.

The group lost influence, credibility and membership after the 1970s but it still exists and its ideology is promoted by other groups less tainted or rebranded.

About a year and a half ago, the Society’s bi-weekly publication The New American that curbside recycling is a conspiracy to undermine American values, this time by environmentalists.

It doesn’t take much to suspect the group’s finger-prints were on so-called regulatory reform legislation passed recently by North Carolina lawmakers, giving new life to landfills - mega-landfills – and surrendering public roadsides to billboard blight, eroding the state’s brand as “Beauty Amplified.”

When I relocated to Durham in 1989, nationwide there were already 1,000 curbside recycling programs.  Within two years there were 4,000 and now there are more than 10,000 in addition to tens of thousands of recycling centers.

But curbside recycling began in 1874 in Baltimore, Maryland, nearly two decades before the founding of The Sierra Club, a connection ripe for conspiracists I suppose.

Trash became a national policy issue for Congress in 1965, the year after the all-aluminum can was introduced and four decades after landfilling became popular, ironically promoted as a way to reclaim wetlands.

Obviously conspiracists would see linkage, although municipal dumps date to 500 B.C.

Recycling, beginning with paper, dates at least to the first century of 1000 A.D..  Patriots and American Revolutionary War soldiers were big recyclers.  Recycling peddlers in the 1840s were among America’s earliest entrepreneurs.

The Salvation Army made recycling philanthropic in 1865 and materials recovery became a municipal function in New York City in 1897, at the dawn of the Progressive Era when recycling and reuse programs shot up, ah, definitely a conspiracy then!

Recycling became a patriotic duty in America during the two World Wars and there you have it, recycling comes full circle as a Communist conspiracy.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A View Too Long

The question is why the overkill?

Along highway exit ramps, lawmakers have now given out-of-state billboard companies permission to clear cut 340 feet of trees and vegetation in North Carolina’s cities, even if it conflicts with local, voter-approved ordinances.

The 7 seconds of blight (at exit ramp speeds) created by the 340’ of clear cutting is ostensibly so drivers have the potential to take their eyes off the road for the 2.5 seconds studies show it takes to decipher a message on a roadside billboard.

The overkill is nearly three times what is needed for the billboards to have their view.

By comparison, research also shows that this same span of inattention to the roadway in order for a billboard message to be deciphered more than doubles the chance of an accident.

It is the same span of inattention found just prior to 80% of crashes and 65% of near-crashes.

What does a typical billboard pay for this desecration in fees and property taxes in order to reach the fewer than 1-in-10 Americans, 1-in-25 marketing professionals and 1-in 33 small businesses who still use billboards?

On average each year, what they pay in fees and taxes on each billboard equates only to the cost of a good steak dinner for two with fixings (wine not included) compared to raking in $24,000, on average, from rentals.

North Carolina doesn’t permit billboards to be assessed on rental revenue.

There is no taxpayer compensation required, as a rule, for the public trees that are clear cut, unless it is an exceptionally large specimen.  Even then the cost is about 1% of the value economists place on a tree in terms of just ecosystem services, soil retention and pollution removal.

Even then, lawmakers permit the billboard companies to sell the wood to offset the cost of removal. 

The rate of crashes on these exit ramps varies by type, but on average there are about 1,200 crashes per year per ramp.  Close to half are rear-end collisions, a type of crash with a nearly 1-in-3 chance of resulting in injury.  This costs society $8.5 million in medical treatment alone.

Visual inattention is a contributing factor for 93% of rear-end crashes, and the rate is four times higher for novice drivers.

Even when paying rapt attention, studies have now shown that drivers cannot detect slowing by the car ahead unless the difference is 8 to 10 miles an hour, a finding crucial to safety on exit ramps.

So turning away for more than a split second is hazardous, and exit ramps are no place to be purposely creating distractions, especially just to triple the time needed to gawk at a billboard.

Overall, more than half of car crash fatalities are caused by drivers who are distracted, overcorrecting, driving erratically, or failing to stay between the lines, nearly as much as alcohol and speeding combined.

No matter that the most recent North Carolina billboard legislation is in conflict not only with other state law but also the federal Highway Beautification Act, both of which guarantee localities a say when it comes to signs such as these.

Even without the opposition of 8-in-10 North Carolinians, all of this would seem enough to motivate sensible billboard companies to revisit this with lawmakers in pursuit of a more moderate solution.

Complicating such a move is that the average North Carolina lawmaker is my age, 65, and generationally a “baby boomer,” nearly double the median age for North Carolinians.

Studies show that different from younger generations, boomers still rely on advertising and sales pitches.  Millennials, for example, do consumer research via a smartphone while boomers are twice as likely to research via newspapers and magazines.

Lack of concern for roadsides in the legislature may reflect a widening generation gap.

Use of roadside billboards has declined to around 3% among small business advertisers.  At the local level, even when mid-sized businesses are included, that proportion climbs to just more than 1-in-10.

More telling, according to the Local Commerce Monitor, 6-in-10 of the small and medium sized businesses that still use billboards do not give them positive ratings for return-on-investment.

In fact, the study reports that overall these businesses are shedding advertising channels and billboards are next in line to go.

I wonder if North Carolina would make better decisions about billboards if state officials deployed return-on-investment metrics?

One measure should be against the state’s new slogan for visitor-centric economic and cultural development:

“Beauty Amplified!”

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Hyper-Localness of Sense of Place

One thing you quickly learn growing up on a family cattle ranch, such as I did in the 1950s, is that beefsteak has a distinctive taste based on the geographic region where the cattle are raised and grass-fed.

Judging by the number of people in the nook of Idaho between Montana and Wyoming that specifically sought a side of beef only from my dad, that taste varies even within a locality.

I suspect the flavors specific to our ranch came from volcanic soils and spring-fed waters that had gathered tastes as they filtered for hundreds of years through rhyolite lava flows.

That water bubbled up from Big Springs (image shown below by Robert English) to form the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River and recharge groundwater where it was again filtered down through the nestled calderas of Henry’s Fork and Island Park created by past supervolcanic eruptions.

It then emerges from the slopes of Big Bend Ridge onto the ranchland and meadows along its base such as ours.

Further south, these same waters contribute a distinctive flavor and texture to seed potatoes which are then replanted much further south again giving Idaho its famous Russets, heralded on restaurant menus nationwide.

Both our cattle and those potatoes are taste- and sense of place-distinct, just as are the Jersey Beef grown on Bull City Farm in Durham, North Carolina, long identified as one of the “foodiest” towns in the nation and where I have lived since the 1980s.

Long before these terms were coined, “foodie” and “local-sourcing” emerged in Durham’s DNA.  Newbies may misattribute their notoriety here to Downtown Durham’s resurgence, but quite the opposite, Durham’s long pre-existing restaurant culture, when transplanted, fueled that revitalization.

“Local” plays a role in six of the top ten national culinary trends for 2014, including specifically ranch- and farm-branded produce, dairy and meats.

Altering Durham’s DNA, beginning more than thirty years ago, Durham chefs led by Georgio Bakatsias (Bok-i-shaw,) Ben and Karen Barker and Mary Bacon began relying on local-sourcing and even hyper-locally sourcing meats, dairy, produce and seafood either grown in Durham or nearby including their own gardens.

As they mentored, they also passed the importance of locally-sourcing foods to generations of other now-acclaimed Durham chefs such as Scott Howell, Amy Tornquist, Chris Stinnett, Phoebe Lawless, Matt Kelly and Billy and Kelli Cotter.

But going back even further, locally-sourced food products can be traced back in Durham more than two hundred years to locally-grown grains milled at Cole Mill and West Point, as well as famed dairies such as Croasdaile and livestock growers such as Quail Roost.

From the time it was formed twenty-five years ago, this uber-organic food scene was woven into every fiber of Durham’s overarching personality and appeal by its community marketing agency, and today it is viewed as much a part of North Carolina’s brand as its vaunted scenic beauty.

Communities began to lose their distinctive taste when transportation enhancements resulted in food products traveling now an average of 1,500 miles before they reach our grocery stores or restaurants.

One must also be extremely wary when the term “local” is used today which is often attributed to sources in a 500 mile radius.

More than just semantics or attempts to encourage more sustainable practices, locally-sourced foods have tastes that differ even within a community.  Foods sourced from northern Durham, for example, where many of its farms are located, will have gleaned the much older taste of slate.

Any foods gleaned to the south of downtown are more likely to exhibit the influences of shale, accented by Trilobites, extinct marine arthropods.  Yum, yum!

Both Durham tastes are distinct from flavors elsewhere even within the same poly-centric sub-region such as those locally-sourced in nearby Raleigh or Wake County.

Dining out is one of the two most frequented activities overall by visitors in the United States.  Recent surveys show that 83% of travelers make it a point to experience foods specific to a destination.

A destination’s locally-sourced food products will influence even the taste of recipes that aren’t distinct to a location.

Food may not be exclusive to a community, but the way it is manifest can be as much a part of a community’s distinct personality and brand as its building materials or architecture or species of trees or heritage or indigenous events or scenic character.

In the end, all local is hyper-local.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Long View of City-County Merger

The single city-county in North Carolina where I live and have called home for a quarter of century is shaped much like the head of Astro the dog on The Jetsons 1960s television show which, by the way, the English-speaking canine pronounced as “Rastro.”

In a state where only one city-county merger has taken place, no city-county pair in North Carolina has seemed more suited to merger than the City and County of Durham.  This dates back to 1911 when the last 25+ square mile piece was added to the county to form “Rastro’s nose.”

The 17th smallest county in land area is inhabited by just one municipality, with the exception of tiny slivers granted annexation by towns in neighboring counties to facilitate utilities for developments that spillover. 

These two jurisdictions have always shared more than 85% of their inhabitants.  Today they also share various consolidated departments and a common school system, but there may be something in Durham’s historic DNA that inhibits a merger.

Dating to the Civil War that effectively ended here, Durham has always been more politically diverse than perceived, even today.  But one thing has been consistent, Durham has always marched to a different drummer than that played by the North Carolina establishment, regardless of the predominant ideology.

The chief reason for forming Durham County was ostensibly, to regain the lost productivity from having to frequently run to the Orange County seat of Hillsborough to file legal papers.  Ironically, four-fifths of the papers filed there at that time actually originated from Durham.

The major factor contributing to this was that the population of the proposed Durham County’s namesake city had swelled to twelve times its size in just over a dozen years, not counting numerous black settlements it would soon incorporate such as Hayti.

Today, nearly every city and town in the country is envious of entrepreneurs, but this attribute has been a central part of Durham’s DNA for more than 150 years, including political entrepreneurship. 

The roots of this political as well as ethnic diversity and entrepreneurship may explain many things, including resentment of Durham over the years as well as its own resistance to merging its two local governments, one county and one city.

Proponents for chopping off a portion of Orange and Wake counties to form Durham had to first overcome opposition from Raleigh interests including its chamber of commerce who had been fomenting opposition over here and in the legislature.

Some things never change.

Today, Raleigh is insisting that Durham pay to clean up that community’s water supply.  Back then, it insisted that Durham shoulder that county’s debts—which voters here agreed to do, proportionate to the number of taxpayers involved—when they voted overwhelmingly to approve formation of Durham as a county.

Yes, that is a double standard, and it goes way back.  While Raleigh and Charlotte were granted a prepared food tax in the 1990s without a vote of the people, the legislature insisted on voter approval in Durham just as they had done during its formation.

Raleigh interests meddled in the prepared food tax vote just as they did during the vote to form Durham County.  They had also meddled by subterfuge to switch the name of the jointly-owned airport to be non-alphabetical. And a decade later, they started to hoodwink relocating executives about the true location of Research Triangle Park.

Fast forward to my arrival.  Raleigh interests were spending millions to sway Durham voters against ballot proposals while also lecturing Durham to surrender its agency responsible for protecting and promoting the community’s brand and identity to leverage visitor-centric economic development.

The miracle, in light of this history, is not that there has always manifested a spirit of cooperation between the two neighboring counties and cities when it made sense, but that Durham has been far disproportionately entrepreneurial in the formation of those partnerships.

The terms political and entrepreneurial are not readily associated but in Durham they always have been.  Even more than outside interference, this may have spurred resistance to merger of the City and County, dating to formation of Durham County in 1881.

Nationwide, only six mergers of local governments had taken place before then and none in the southeast, so it isn’t clear it was even an option for consideration in North Carolina.   But by the 1950s, five more mergers had taken place across the nation including three in the south.

Even though more than a dozen attempts in the south had failed, including two in North Carolina, Durham officials put it on the ballot first in 1961 where only 1-in-5 voters approved and again in 1974 where 1-in-3 approved.

People think Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina are merged, but a measure to do that in 1971 received only 30% approval.  Charlotte and Mecklenburg have consolidated some departments like Durham has.

Those two governments have also taken two further steps, establishing a common home page to their websites and getting state approval to form one common, county-wide police department.  There is still a sheriff’s office there that handles the customary activities of administration of the jail, security for the courts and the serving of warrants and writs.

Unfortunately, resistance by the sheriff in Durham scuttled efforts to again seek merger in Durham a few years ago.  More conservative Republican elected officials have also stymied any further merger in Charlotte/Mecklenburg.

Instead, ultra-conservatives there have threatened “de-consolidation,”  which may shed some light on a source of opposition for any future merger attempts in Durham where there is a long tradition of ideological diversity dating back to the formation of the county.

Countywide, Durham is not actually an island of blue in a sea of red as shown here in maps of election results in 2000, 2004 and 2008.  It is more complicated.

The maps were created by Dr. Mitch Fraas who received his doctorate here from Duke in 2011 before becoming the Schoenberg Scholar-in-Residence at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Special Collections.

Nor was Durham any more politically homogenous at its founding.  In the decade after formation, Durham became a center for populist third parties, which drew Democrats and Republicans as the shift to being politically Independent is today.

Even Durham’s conservatives at the time pushed back against their white supremacist peers across the state who were seeking to disenfranchise black voters at just the time that black businesses entrepreneurship was exploding in downtown Durham, both among former slaves and freedmen.

Angered, the then white supremacist paper in Raleigh sneered that in Durham, “white people and negroes were working side by side on the same street like a wild west town.”  Likewise, Durham had already earned a reputation for being politically entrepreneurial.

Current political affiliations aside, a fusion of conservative voters in the areas shown in red on these maps, as well as some black neighborhoods afraid of losing influence, could defeat a merger the same way they did the prepared food tax measure in 2008.

There is no reason Durham should not be able to move ahead with legislation to streamline and consolidate law enforcement similar to that which passed in Charlotte/Mecklenburg, preserving both, but with a far more productive division of effort.

Durham may also find solutions for a merger proposal by studying Anchorage where I lived and spearheaded community marketing in the 1980s.

A measure to merge the City of Anchorage with it borough (the name for county) failed in 1971—the same year Charlotte’s did—but passed when put before the voters again in 1975, with 62% voter approval, even under political divisions similar to those show on the maps of Durham shown above.

In the Anchorage formula, small crossroads, fire and water districts such as those in the red areas of Durham County on the map (including Research Triangle Park) were permitted to keep their identities and voting representation on the 11-member assembly, similar to the size it could be in Durham.

The mayor became a Chief Elected Officer, while the combined city and borough manager became a Chief Operating Officer.  This eliminated the confusion where in communities such as Durham, the mayor is chairman of the board of elected officials but often confused as a CEO.

As has been confirmed by many studies, a merger doesn’t really result in much saving because the two forms of government have very different responsibilities.

The huge benefit is that merger makes it much easier to streamline processes, achieve alignment and set a strategic direction including overarching policies.

Note: Some of the background for this post relies on sources in the book Durham County: A History of Durham County, North Carolina by Jean Bradley Anderson.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Lifetime Lesson - Sense of Place is Either/Or

I can’t remember why, when in my thirties I suddenly stopped fly- or even spin-fishing, but it probably had to do with worsening of a condition that first manifested itself in grade school called “essential tremor.”

It was the end of a long line of rivers I frequented wherever I lived with names such as Provo, Spokane and Ship Creek but it all began on the Henry’s Fork.

Well into retirement now, following a four-decade career in community marketing, I sometimes wonder about the origins of my sense-of-place sensibilities in that career and the realization reached late in my career that “you can’t have it both ways” when it comes to that attribute.

I suspect my sensibilities trace to when I first began to fly-fish the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River (aka North Fork or Upper Snake) as a young boy.  It ran less than a mile from our ancestral horse and cattle ranch.

The prized trout species on the Henry’s Fork, acclaimed as one of the best in the world for fly-fishing, is not the invasive Rainbow but the native Yellowstone Cutthroat.

It is one of at least fourteen subspecies of cutthroat, each native to a separate geographic area of the Rocky Mountain West.  While it was the first type of trout encountered by Spanish explorers in 1541 near Santa Fe, New Mexico, cutthroats evolved millions of years ago in the Snake River basins such as the iconic Henry’s Fork.

They had become rare in their native Henry’s Fork by the time I caught my first Yellowstone Cutthroat in 1954 or so.  They had fallen victim to commercial fisheries about the time my great-grandparents homesteaded in that nook of Idaho.

That’s also about the same time invasive, non-native species of trout such as the Rainbow were introduced and began to overrun the native Yellowstone Cutthroat.

It wasn’t until 1958 that efforts began in earnest to protect and foster Yellowstone Cutthroats as well as repair their native ecosystem.  By the time I was heading to Alaska in 1978 for the decade prior to coming to Durham, North Carolina, Idaho Fish & Wildlife forsook non-native trout planting.

After nearly seventy years of stocking lakes and rivers with the use of fish trains, fish trucks, fish helicopters etc., Idaho adopted a wild or native trout management policy eventually including a plan now for Yellowstone Cutthroat.

Still, until recently, the state tried to have it both ways, stocking 100,000 Yellow Cutthroat annually in the 1980s and 1990s while also flooding its population over that period with 44 million rainbows, polluting not only the gene pool but the ecosystem.

Yellowstone Cutthroat is the only native species on the Henry’s Fork, but reestablishing this incredible trout has also relied on organizations such as the Henry’s Fork Foundation, founded in 1984 and the forging of partnerships with ranchers, farmers, towns and hydroelectric projects along the river.

Much of the credit for the realization of the importance of geographically-specific native trout species is due to the work of Dr. Robert Behnke, who in his 80s, passed away a few months ago a few years after authoring the spectacularly illustrated and encyclopedic, Trout And Salmon of North America.

In tribute, this winter’s issue of Trout Magazine, a publication for members of the conservation group Trout Unlimited, features mini-essays by scientists Behnke influenced entitled Why Natives?

While learning about the corrosive influence of non-native or invasive species of trout may have planted a seed in me as a six year old, during the first three decades of my career in community marketing for visitor-centric economic and cultural development I labored under the hubristic fallacy that somehow a community can juggle both.

Only in the fourth and final decade of my career did I come to grips with the truth that no matter how hard a destination marketer tries to balance the real and fake attributes of place while guiding venturers who seek the former, in the end the two cannot coexist.

Just as with trout, the invasive, non-native or fake attributes are corrosive and by their nature, even as hybrids, erode sense of place.  This epiphany is also at the root of my strong belief now that no amount of accommodation for sign blight such as roadside billboards can be tolerated when it comes to preserving sense of place.

While this epiphany came to me in the year 2000, I heard it prophesized so eloquently a few years later by Dr. Scott Russell Sanders at a groundbreaking conference held in the Southern Rockies but attended by only a handful of professionals responsible for preserving, promoting and protecting sense of place.

For some communities, it is too late.  But they can become reservations for that shrinking layer of tourism that is more like shopping, where people seek out the familiar in settings that are either simulations or the backdrop for zip lining.

In time, as the 1973 movie Westworld foretold, maybe one day there will be regions of what some call fake places.  Ironically, it was the last release by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM) before transforming as a centerpiece in simulated places such as Las Vegas where the “real” no longer exists except in film.

Others such as Durham, where I have now lived nearly forty percent of my life, are still riding the fence.

Belying well deserved credit for preserving sense of place, such as that published last week by the uber-hip Virgin Atlantic airline from Jason Frye on its Our Places blog post, is that Durham does not have a comprehensive over-arching strategy when it comes to preserving and fostering sense of place.

Just because unique sense of place is in Durham’s DNA, something fully embraced by the community marketing organization responsible for leveraging visitor-centric economic and cultural development, doesn’t mean corrosive influences aren’t at work.

Often these influences are enabled by those who think they can ride the fence by also fostering things that make the community the same as hundreds and thousands of other places.

It took me an entire career to realize it can’t be done.

Just as Idaho came to value its wild and native trout as unique to specific geographic locations such as my native Henry’s Fork, Durham is in a struggle for its soul, drawn as often to the “new and shiny” as it is to sense of place, often planting one next to the other as if to tempt fate.

Instructors such as Dr. Dana Clark at Appalachian State University in the northwestern mountains of my state, are valiantly attempting to embed respect for sense of place in a new generation of community marketing executives, often using Durham’s as a role model.

But judging by how long it took me to come to the realizations expressed in this essay, it may not be possible.

This may be why we experience the awe of a genuine and authentic place in our youth but come to appreciate what it means and what it  takes to sustain only with age.

I so hope I am wrong.