Interview with Robert Radcliff – Expert Economic Development Fund Raiser

To be successful, place branding efforts must be adequately resourced. Often, this is a challenge for economic development organizations. I decided to chat about the subject with Robert Radcliff, Principle of Resource Development Group. RDG specializes in providing experienced fund raising counsel. Their client list includes a wide range of project sizes and is national in scope. Robert’s candid and thoughtful responses to my questions provide important perspective for anybody thinking about starting a place branding exercise.

  1. Question: What are the key benefits business leaders are looking for from a community branding effort that will make them feel the project was worth the time and effort?

    Increasingly, business leaders are most interested in “regional return on investment”.  Most successful leaders subscribe to the theory that “as the tide rises, so shall all ships” and therefore will support efforts that display results, movement in the “right” direction, and can generally be shown to relate back to the overall goal of elevating regional economic enhancement.  In other words, branding for brandings sake won’t cut it.  It needs to be tied to the larger goal of overall economic growth.

  2. Question: What are the key measures of success you would recommend to clients that initiate a community branding exercise, and how long do you think it would take to positively affect them?

    Most regional EDO’s struggle with benchmarking and measurements.  Even so, it is crucial to develop and maintain an organizational metrics Dashboard to guide strategy, gauge tactics and measure overall success.  Here’s the key:  the EDO needs to develop a Dashboard that measures the impact of strategies and tactics for which they have direct control.  Too many regional EDO’s fall into the trap of utilizing job creation and economic investment as their primary measures when they may not have immediate or direct control over either.  Most often, regional EDO’s are responsible for branding, marketing and overall lead generation, but not deal flow and closure.  Thus, appropriate metrics will be things such as website activity, image enhancement, third-party manifestations of branding strategy impact (list placement, etc.).  Ultimately it will be important to develop a baseline metric of external perceptions of the community based on key indicators that can be measured against over time, perhaps in annual increments but ideally over a two to three year time span.  After all, generating positive perceptions of the respective community is the ultimate goal of any community branding strategy and so measuring those perceptions over time is the best way to gauge impact.

  3. Question: What are the typical hurdles you see communities have to address for successful execution of branding efforts, and which few cause them to fail most often? 

    There are a number of things that can negatively impact a communities ability to develop and execute a successful branding initiative.  Politics, short term agendas, competing interests, lack of leadership, inadequate funds, and lack of consensus on the brand are all factors that can lead to less than optimal results.  At the top of this list is inadequate funding.  Too often, communities will engage in extensive exercises involving diverse interest groups and literally hundreds of individuals to develop community “visions” with the goal of developing and promoting a common “brand” to the outside world, only to fall short on generating appropriate funding to implement the initiative.  To put it simply, the greatest advertisement in the world is exactly as good as the companies ability to “show” it to their target audience.  The same holds true for place branding.  Our advice is if a community does not plan to adequately fund a branding effort, they should not go through the exercise of creating the brand in the first place as it will lead to untold frustration among various community stakeholders.  Rather, communities that are serious about place branding will make a commitment to fully resource the effort once the brand is developed and execution strategy identified.  How much is enough?  That’s a great question that depends on a number of factors, including the size, scope and breadth of the target audience, the projected time span of the branding campaign, the relative size of the community being “branded”, the ability to “leverage” other resources (local EDO that may be able to leverage a regional brand exercise; region that may be able to leverage a state brand, etc.)  All of these factors should be considered when developing the specific brand strategy and included in the project budget.

  4. Question: What advice would you give to potential clients looking to invest in a community branding exercise?

    Seek help, be committed, don’t allow ancillary distractions to divert you from the overall goal of developing an appropriate community brand and adequately resourcing a branding strategy, and most importantly understand that developing a strong brand takes time and effort. For more information about generating revenue for economic development in these difficult economic times, check out Resource Developments.

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