Thoughts about business and economic development in rural areas.


January 2008
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Archive for January, 2008


Ever been tempted to try a gimmick or a giveaway (I call them ‘geehaws.’) as part of your marketing efforts? It’s a way of standing out in a crowd but it has risks as well. A good marketing campaign can employ ‘clever’ but must always remain in the ‘believable’ range. If it gets attention but doesn’t deliver a message then it’s probably not worth the money. Super Bowl commercials are a classic example. We might remember the commercial, but do we remember the product?

Sometimes gimmicks try too hard to be funny. It’s a bit like the ‘joke’ too many speakers feel compelled to use to start after-dinner speeches. If it’s not delivered well, or some of the audience doesn’t get it and most importantly, if it doesn’t relate to the main topic then the results are usually negative. The speaker would have been better off just plowing into the topic.

That said, I do believe that gimmicks can be used to make a marketing campaign more effective if we follow a few guidelines.

1.) The gimmick should enhance an existing message.
2.) It must not be offensive…..and this means knowing your audience. Sending singing Christmas cards to your contact in Israel might not cut it. Duh!
3.) It should have a high ‘show’ factor. Will the recipient be likely to pass the message or gimmick on to others. (Hey, look at this!)
4.) The message must be obvious and not dependant on outside information. (If the gimmick is separated from the accompanying letter will both the letter and the gimmick still make sense if they are viewed separately?)

I worked for a rural medical center and I always tried to find giveaways and gimmicks that were ‘health’ related. I know for a fact that I didn’t always succeed and it was usually because I forgot this basic concept:

It’s only a good gimmick if it enhances your existing message as perceived by the recipient.

And Now a Word from Our Sponsor

I was just reading issue #382 of the Publicity Hound’s Tips of the Week written by Joan Stewart. Tip #2 was titled, “Don’t Make a Deal Like This One” and related a story about a hospital’s attempt to negotiate an exclusive arrangement with a local TV station for all health related news. The ethical issues raised in that instance were pretty clear since there were several other competing medical facilities and resulted in the resignation of the news director in protest.

That story got me to thinking about how we work with the businesses and communities that fund and support our economic development programs. While the ethical questions raised in the “Don’t Make a Deal” article are fairly obvious, the ones we face are (usually) more subtle.

For example, the community or region you represent has several financial institutions and not all are financial supporters of your organization. If you give clients contact info related to local financing do you list everyone or just the ones who are members of your corporation? A quick answer might be, “You dance with the ones who brought you” but if the county or city you represent is also giving you financial support (and they usually are), then how do you justify excluding others who are members of that political or business area?

Here’s a suggestion: Be totally open about your relationship with the businesses you are listing. For example, “The following financial institutions are actively supporting our efforts to bring new businesses to our community: then list names and contact info.” And then add this line, “Additional financial resources are available through (List names only, no contact info.)

This whole dance is very tricky and you are bound to tic someone off somewhere along the line… a matter of fact, I guarantee it. But the guidelines I suggest are these: “Do my efforts provide the best service to my client” and “Is it fair to all involved?”

I’ll close for now by imagining Alfred Hitchcock saying the following, “And now a word from our sponsor.”

How much is too much?

Information, that is. We’ve all struggled with this one and usually lost. At least from our customer’s perspective. We spend days and weeks agonizing over how we will gather and present information on everything from area demographics to lists of available sites and buildings.

All good info but where do you stop? The curse of the so-called information age is that there’s so darned much of it. So let’s just impress the heck out of our client by giving them everything we’ve got. Ouch. Wrong answer.

I’d like to say I’ve never done anything like that but the people who know me would tell you the truth if I’d try to fly that one by you. In fact, a number of years ago I was on a call trip to a regional metro area and had assembled a formidable packet of information that I was intent on delivering to anyone who let me in their door. My partner on the trip joked that I would be better off just hitting them over the head with the packet and then dragging them back to my area. At least I think he was joking.

Ok, lesson learned. At least I hope so. We found that sticking to the basics was more fruitful (and less intimidating). The challenge became figuring out what were ‘the basics.’ One of the things that surprises people most when they develop promotional materials (or presentations of any type) is that it takes much longer to prepare a brief message than it does to prepare a long one. Maybe that’s why most economic development materials are so long. No one took enough time to make them shorter…..and better.

I was just looking at a presentation on Rowan Manahan’s “Fortify your Oasis” blog that ended with a simple slide showing Albert Einstein and this quote, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Could it be that we spend too much time gathering information and not enough time trying to understanding it?

Right Time to Measure Success

Ok, start of a new year and time to make those resolutions. In 2008 I will (insert wish here). One of the big problems with annual resolutions is that we expect to accomplish them in one year. In most cases, by setting up a timeline based on a calendar year we have already set ourselves up for failure.

Most goals, especially major ones, are likely to take longer. Yet we judge our success on how far we are going to get in one year. So a few weeks into the year we discover that the task will likely take longer than a year so we abandon the resolution as unattainable. Result…..nothing, or at best very little.

We do the same within our organizations. We elect officers for an annual term and then set our goals based on that term of office. Yet in most organizations and certainly in almost all economic development groups the tasks we are undertaking may take years to achieve significant progress. At the end of an annual term of office the folks involved wonder why ‘nothing’ got done and then feel frustrated and worse, question whether the next year will be any different.

The problem isn’t with our goals, but with the timetable we have for measuring progress. In my experience in the economic development field I’ve found that the only things completed in one year are usually bad. Closing a business in one year is easy. Building one can take five years or a lifetime. Even if the groundbreaking or ribbon cutting happens this year, the process that it took to get there most likely covered several years.

When I worked with Grant County I always did a year-end report and I always found the results listed not living up to my expectations even when we had a ‘good’ year. But when I took people on a tour of the county and showed them what had occurred in our communities over 10 or more years I was always amazed by how much measurable progress had been made.

Tony Robbins may have said it best. “People have a tendancy to overestimate what they can accomplish in one year and underestimate what they can accomplish in ten.”

So what should we do? Maybe it’s time to get away from ‘annual’ reports and change them to ‘discords on the decade’.