Friday, January 10, 2014

A Tribute To Durham & Sense of Place

A few months ago, as preparations were underway for a photo essay on Durham, North Carolina, Bernie Mann, publisher of the acclaimed Our State Magazine, headed down I-85/40 from his offices in Greensboro as he often does to consult with Shelly Green, a 15-year veteran as guardian of Durham’s sense of place.

In parting, he mentioned plans to highlight Durham’s sense of place, but to see it you’ll need to rush to a newsstand for the January 2014 issue.  You can see the photographs and hear the photographers talk about them in a video linked here on the magazine’s website.

While you are at it, check out some other Durham features the Our State digital team has assembled including a fun ride through town on I-85 north to the soundtrack of 1984’s classic anthem “I’ve Got A Line On You” by Spirit courtesy of Freeway Jim.

It puts new light on sense of place at every touch point.  Mann’s digital team also assembled a playlist of contemporary music from artists who call Durham home, featuring among others “Younger Days” by the band Mount Moriah, a favorite of mine during excursions on the Cross Bones through the countryside.

Coverage such as this is cultivated over years of interaction and exchange.  It is forged on a bedrock of trust and authenticity, which is why it is called “earned media” and considered more credible.  But as I’ll note later, both the outcomes and the outputs can also be measured.

Bernie Mann made his name in radio first selling advertising and then owning and operating more than twelve stations.  I met him more than 15 years ago at the start of a friendship when he bought Our State gradually increasing subscriptions by nine times to 200,000 and the size from 48 pages per issue to more than 200 now.

Different, though, than most city and state lifestyle magazines, Mann kept the focus on “place” by maintaining a ratio of 60/40 editorial to advertising, and never letting subject matter be dictated by who advertises as many similar publications do.

But beyond that, Bernie not only loves North Carolina dearly, he has an extraordinary sense about what makes a place distinctive, some of which he may have gleaned from his connection with Green over the span he has built the magazine and she has been responsible for Durham’s sense of place.

He didn’t just seek Green out as one of the top community destination marketing execs in the nation (she just finished two terms presiding over accreditation of community destination marketing organizations worldwide but now serves on the Destination Marketing Association International board.)McKinsey Decision Loop

Mann values her understanding of holistic marketing, especially what is called “earned media” as contrasted to paid media advertising.  This is the part of marketing that works with outlets to provide background, photos and advice to make coverage as accurate and true to place as possible.

Many community destination marketing organizations are anachronistically trapped in sales as a strategy based on the myth that it is the only marketing element that can be measured with a pipeline.  They dismiss earned media as just news releases and love advertising merely as a means of ego gratification.

Leading edge execs learned decades ago that every element of marketing must be and can be measured, not just for outcomes but also outputs.  As one marketing expert paraphrased Sun-Tzu recently:

“Measuring outcomes, but not outputs, is the slowest path to victory. Measuring outputs, but not outcomes, is the noise before defeat.”

In his blog series entitled “The Measurement Myth,” Mark Weiner, the CEO of Prime Research, also argues that earned media and other elements of marketing can emulate the “sales funnel” if it helps marketers move to a more holistic approach to marketing.

Many linear approaches used in my day such as the “sales funnel” and adaptations for marketing overall as part of explaining the process to generate economic development are still useful when informing stakeholders with limited or outmoded levels of understanding.

But Weiner and others such as Brian Solis, McKinsey & Company (image shown in this blog) and DCVB’s Green also argue that the “funnel” is a limited metaphor because true customer engagement is really best represented by a series of concentric loops.

Mann may have crossed into his 80s but he definitely grasps this cycle of stakeholder development when it comes to not only sources of subject matter but as potential subscribers and advertisers.

He views them not as resources to be exploited but as friends and associates on a two-way street.

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