I first got involved in economic development in 2009 when Governor Robert Taft asked AG Lafley (P&G’s CEO) to help brand the state of Ohio. Governor Taft had just returned from a NGA meeting where he heard presentations about both Enterprise Florida and the MEDC. Governor Taft desire was to leverage P&G’s branding experience as a way to help Ohio become more competitive for capital investment. I was tapped to become an executive on loan and start a 501 c(3) company to brand Ohio. With the Governor’s help, we created the Ohio Business Development Coalition (OBDC) and I started to learn how to reapply the brand mastery I learned at P&G to the branding of places.
One of the very first things I studied was the site selection process. I wanted to understand it as a process so I could more easily identify the opportunities for influencing the final site selection process. It took me about 6-months and a lot of interviews with seasoned economic development professionals to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The outcome was a simple, but powerful, model that describes the process in a way that you can evaluate your community branding investment.
This Moment is all about making the short list of sites under consideration. It requires you to focus on ensuring potential capital investors know what your community (region or state) promise is.
In talking with economic development professionals, I often find this Moment is woefully under invested. Communities don’t realize they are rejected by default. For perspective, in DCI’s 2011national survey development professional. That means if your community is not investing in communicating its promise, it is realistically competing for only 24% of capital investment occasions. These data usually strike people as a surprise. They have no clue how many deals their community isn’t even considered for. In particular, their Boards of Directors are shocked. Let’s put this in some perspective. According to Site Selection Magazine’s Governor’s Cup Award Program, there were 5,580 deals nationally in 2012. While admittedly not a truly accurate estimate, if you are not investing in the First Moment, from a practical perspective you are waiting by the phone for only 1,339 companies to call you and learn more about your community. Those are pretty long odds.
So how do you invest in the First Moment of Truth to effectively tell your community story? DCI’s market research provides some perspective. Print advertising and public relations are still effective tactics. The survey indicated 1) dialogue with peers (50%) and 2) articles in newspapers and magazines (46%) were the top two sources of information influencing executive perceptions of an area’s business climate. Their primary sources of news include the Wall Street Journal (82%), local newspapers (39%) and the New York Times (28%). These data suggest you need an effective public relations effort; and, if you opt to advertise you need to be highly selective where you choose to place your advertisements. Of course, this effort requires a meaningful investment in order to achieve adequate reach and frequency levels to communicate your story. If you can’t invest enough or sustain the investment long enough, you may be better served by designing an online communication effort. But, recognize it will take significantly more effort to achieve similar results as more traditional media.
Another suggestion is to consider site selection specific journals. Many company teams will refer to these journals for insights into how to minimize the risk of making a bad site selection decision. That allows you to get your community story communicated close to the timing of an actual site selection decision needing to be made. This can be a more cost effective approach, but it is certainly not a guaranteed one.
My standard advice for investing in winning the First Moment of Truth is to try and not go it alone. Take full advantage of Regional and/or State efforts to both amortize your costs and increase your impact. Remember, this Moment is all about getting a capital investor to contact you for additional information. Co-operative promotion can be the smartest approach if it is available. At a minimum, make certain your community has good visibility in your Regional and/or State GIS system and your other online efforts are also fully integrated.
Finally, no amount of investment in the First Moment of Truth will make a difference if you do not have something worthwhile to say. Be absolutely sure you have a compelling community promise (value proposition) to communicate. If you don’t, then invest in defining one before you spend dime #1 in promotion. If you can’t define a compelling promise because your community is simply not competitive, then invest in getting it competitive first before you invest in promoting it. Don’t try painting a pig!
This is the Moment when your community is on the short list and you have an RFP awaiting your response. This is the Moment most economic development professionals feel comfortable dealing with. Unfortunately, it is also a Moment most economic development professionals fail to truly capitalize on.
From conversations across the nation, I find most economic development professionals approach this moment reactively versus proactively. They provide the information requested in the RFP and often do not “color outside the lines” for fear of having the RFP rejected for technical reasons.
In my opinion, every RFP warrants a full campaign effort to effectively communicate why your community is the ideal location choice. You know your community’s promise better than the RFP author and you need to ensure you communicate it effectively.
When I was running the OBDC, every RFP response we supported told the Ohio story through both the visuals and copy. We answered the questions asked, but also shared information we felt was relevant to the decision (e.g. supporting CEO comments). With the advent of electronic RFPs, this became even easier as it allowed us to share links to additional online information. We also created a full communication campaign including follow-up personal and non-personal communication outside of the actual RFP. For example, if the RFP came from a company in the aerospace industry, we would proactively identify published articles about Ohio’s aerospace industry we wanted the review Team to consider and sent them to the key contacts. We had a pre-defined set of tactics ranging from peer contact to site visits that we would implement to ensure our story was communicated as effectively as possible. And, we had budget set aside to execute the plan.
You need to have a process and a communication plan established in advance. There should be no question what you will do and who is responsible for executing the various components of your plan. You should feel comfortable that if your plan is executed, then the review Team will be making a fully informed decision about your community as a location option. You should be able to describe this plan to your Board of Directors and you should track execution in a way that makes it easy to get their support for plan enhancements. If you do not have a well defined process in place then work on this. Treating every RFP as a stand-alone exercise makes it very hard for your community to win the Second Moment of Truth.
Every day each and every CEO of the companies doing business in your community makes a decision to stay or relocate. Admittedly, it may be on a subconscious level. But every day their experience either increases their loyalty or makes them more susceptible to competitive efforts to relocate their operation. Sometimes it comes down to the number of potholes experienced in a commute, or the amount of blight/pollution encountered. Each mini experience impacts the degree of satisfaction with your community as a place for employees to live and work.
To win this Moment, I advocate (okay, maybe evangelize is a better adjective) focusing on better enabling residents to realize their American Dream. Market research among executives indicates they will give preference to selecting locations where employees can realize their American Dream. This strategic focus allows your community to gain a sustainable competitive advantage in both company attraction and retention. New tools are being created by Xavier University to make it easy for communities to measure the degree to which residents feel they are achieving their American Dream and to compare performance versus other communities. CEOs connect the metric with increased employee retention and productivity that in turn improves P&L performance. I expect this metric to become a key number for communities to optimize.
You can learn more about the American Dream Composite Index by visiting the links I provide below. To get familiar with the metric, you might want to check how well your state performs versus the nation.
Take a sheet of paper and create three columns. As headings write “First Moment”, “Second Moment” and “Third Moment”. In each column, list the tactics and investment you are making. Note, some of your tactics may cross columns. If they do, prorate the investment appropriately. Then take a few steps back and look at the picture. Are you investing sufficiently to have a right to expect to win any of the Moments? My guess is you will be surprised (and disappointed). Share this analysis with your Board and seek their support to strengthen your competitive efforts. Find ways to leverage co-op opportunities to help your dollars stretch. Identify ways to delegate tactics to other Organizations in your community that have budget and a mission to support investment, and then coordinate your activities with them.
I’d love to get your thoughts on the Three Moments of Truth model and your insights from completing the above exercise.
Leave a comment with your thoughts.
What You Need To Know About The American Dream
American Dream Case Study Series
How Easy Is It To Achieve The American Dream In Your State?
To view the complete set of State rankings based on the ADCI and five explanatory sub-indexes, download the complimentary 2012 American Dream State Ranking Report.