6 Things To Never Do In Promoting Your Community

Ed Burghard


“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”
― Napoleon Bonaparte


Building a compelling image for your community is challenging on a good day. But there are a few mistakes that will make success impossible. In my experience, I see these mistakes made too often in economic development. How many of these mistakes do you believe your economic development Organization is guilty of?


  • Be trite. Your community deserves better. What is trite? Describing your community as “Open For Business” is a good example of a trite way to characterize your community. Every community is open for business or there wouldn’t be any real reason for economic development. As an aside, if you do discover (or have discovered) a community with an active economic development effort that is “Closed For Business” please let me know. Other real world examples include “We Mean Business”, “The Premier Location For Your Business”, “Ideal Location”, “Business is Booming” and “Where Business Grows”. In my opinion, these types of statements about your community are throw away claims. They squarely position your community in the middle of the great majority of “vanilla” choices. Trite claims suggest you really have nothing worth saying about your community. And, if you have nothing worth saying, why should a capital investor spend money to conduct a due diligence exercise of your community? The probability of finding something of value that you haven’t discovered is nil. Your community deserves better because trite positioning is a complete waste of money. Money that could have been invested in other programs capable of delivering a positive ROI.
  • Talk to yourself rather than your customer. It is so easy to describe the features of your community, to talk about the assets and infrastructure. But what really matters is the business benefits a capital investor will realize from your community. To really understand the benefits, you must first understand the capital investor’s business needs. It is easy to tell the difference between a feature and a benefit. Features describe WHAT is available while benefits describe WHY features matter. Another clever way I have heard it described is features tell while benefits sell. If at all possible, use the language of business in your communication with capital investors. If you were in a foreign country, it would be obvious to you that speaking the local language would make your attempt at communication easier to understand. It is equally valuable to speak the language of business to executives and not the language of economic development.
  • Over promise and under deliver. Pride is a tricky thing. Pride in your community can translate into a “liberal” description of what it is like to live and work there. Your community’s promise needs to be relevant, competitive and authentic. In the world of product advertising, nothing kills a bad product faster than trial. That is because when the product fails to live up to expectations, it quickly gets a poor reputation. You don’t want your community to suffer the same fate. If you over promise, chances well executed due diligence process will make the risk of under delivering visible and your community will be eliminated from further consideration. If you win the deal, but over promised and fall short on the follow-through, you will create dissatisfaction and mistrust among the leadership team of that Company. The relationship will quickly move from partnership to adversarial. Bottom-line? Don’t over promise. Instead, over deliver.
  • Care more about winning the investment than ensuring a great fit. If you cannot legitimately create a win:win proposition, then you will lose the Company in the long run and create a negative impact on the lives of families counting on employment with that Company. Contrary to the current rhetoric, in my opinion it isn’t all about attracting jobs. It is all about attracting sustainable jobs. If your community is not a good choice for a Company, and conversely, if the Company is not a good choice for your community, have the foresight and courage to take your community off the list for investment consideration. Your citizens will be better served by you passing and working hard to find a Company that is a good long-term fit and by using your limited resources to win that opportunity instead of incurring the opportunity cost of bringing a wrong fit Company into your community. One of my mentors, Bob McDonald former CEO of Procter & Gamble, advised me it is always better to “choose the hard right, than the easy wrong”. If you genuinely care about a Company’s long-term success, you will make the “hard right” choice of voluntarily passing on a bad fit.
  • Fail to work hard at winning the repeat investment. Many communities treat their current companies like tenants. That is unfortunate since according to a study by Donald Walls most (71%) of the new jobs in your community will either be created or destroyed by those very same companies. As an economic development professional, you should adopt the paradigm that with every sunrise CEOs of companies in your community wake with the option of a) staying and growing in their current location, or b) relocating their business and jobs to another location. The question then becomes – How easy are you making it for those CEOs to elect to stay? You can’t answer the question if you don’t talk with the CEOs in your community on a regular basis and constantly seek opportunities to help them be even more successful. Based on Donald’s research findings, winning the repeat investment is the key to sustained and significant job creation in your community. My counsel is to scrap your capital retention efforts and start funding an accelerated capital growth effort where you partner with Companies in your community to remove the barriers to their success. If Companies succeed and feel your community was a true partner in that success, they will elect to expand in your community. You will win the repeat investment with every sunrise.
  • Lose your objectivity. It is easy to overlook or under prioritize the shortcomings of your community. It is your home. You are comfortable and happy there. But, no place is perfect and no place can provide everything a capital investor is seeking. In today’s world of transparency and easy fact checking, authenticity is critical to success. If you exaggerate about what it is like to live and work in your community, the capital investor will independently find out and your personal credibility will be diminished. There is a great article by Peter Wink about the critical importance of trust in deal making. If you lose your objectivity and over sell your community, you will erode trust and winning the capital investment deal becomes virtually impossible.

What Are Your Observations?

Do you see the mistakes discussed above being made by your EDO? Have you found a way to avoid making the deadly mistakes? Leave a comment and share your thoughts. By sharing your learning we collectively become better at our jobs. Contribute to the “rising tide”.

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15 Comments so far

  1. Kim Ann

    September 15, 2011

    These points can be ebbeded(sp?) in the Economic Development section for the Comprehensive Plan. With well written objectives that have these words of wisdom guiding the desires of the community.

  2. Al Jones

    September 15, 2011

    Excellent points Ed and the mistakes you point out I’ve seen endlessly. I’m surprised at how often we thrust newcomers into presenting the community and how little old timers turn out to know about their own communities when you get past platitudes and recreation. None of us know enough about where we live and work, addressing that with digging for relevant facts (rarely the demographics) rather than just using platitudes makes a tremendous difference I’ve found when meeting with actual corporate inquiries. That same research into local business services and capacities, local business infrastructure and facilities, relevant tools and laws, etc. is extremely helpful to local businesses who are assumed to know all of this somehow. Generally we’re mostly unaware of the real, powerful reasons to stay or come here while relying on reasons that most communities can offer…”unlike other places, we have trees, grass, water, some roads, some houses, some buildings, schools…did I mention people live here, many in families?”

  3. Della Rucker

    September 15, 2011

    Excellent. I’d recommend this be required reading. Nails most of the most half-baked marketing attempts.

    One thing that I’d like to see addressed here is strategies for sustaining these efforts. I think that’s one of the biggest barriers to markering communities effectively. To often not only is the message foolish as you have identified, but when one ad doesn’t result in a landslide of new business, the effort falls apart.

  4. Antonio Segado

    September 16, 2011

    Thanks! Clear and concise. I’ve forwarded twice.

  5. Mark Litten

    September 16, 2011


    “Ohio Means Business” was a state slogan/branding effort a couple of years ago, was it not? I just found it odd that you would now say that it is a “trite” saying….

    While I agree “today” that the saying might be perceived as trite, back then it was sort catchy!!!!

  6. Ed Burghard

    September 16, 2011

    Mark – Great memory! Yes Ohio used that as the tagline. But, in 2005/06 nobody else was using it in place advertising so the line had value. As you pointed out, it was “catchy” and had some stopping power. But, when a positioning becomes commoditized, it becomes trite.

    For perspective, the Ohio promise is “You can achieve both your personal and professional goals without having to sacrifice one for the other”.

    The Ohio campaign moved onto a different articulation of the promise (State of Perfect Balance) as we began to believe the “Ohio Means Business” tagline wasn’t working as hard for us as it did when launched. Catchy became kitchy. Not everything starts off as trite. But over time can become so when too many competitors adopt the same phrasing. A great example is “Open for Business”. First use is intriguing. But, when everybody makes the same claim it is not differentiating. Skim through an issue of Site Selection magazine and you will see how many communities are now “Open for Business”.

    Your comment is a great one because it highlights the need to proactively monitor your communication campaign to make certain changes in the competitive landscape have not neutralized your messaging.

  7. Matthijs Weeink

    September 19, 2011

    Ed, this article is spot on! I have seen and experienced too many of these mistakes made by EDO’s and a poor first impression can totally change (or ruin) an investor’s perception about an investment location. Although, at this stage, we must be careful not to overestimate its direct influence.

    EDOs must understand that there is no ultimate location, yet investors are looking for those locations that offer the maximum fit with their needs and requirements, and EDOs must provide them with this information in an objective and professional manner. More importantly for EDO’s is to win the Investor’s confidence and trust that this location is manageable from an operational point of view and in addition, would save resources in the medium and long term.

    Perhaps one more item that I have personally encountered is the fact that EDO’s are sometimes even arrogant and presumptious over some of their competitors. They should never ever show these attitudes or this kind of behavior in front of corporate investors. Investors could feel offended, given that they have spend weeks of extensive analyses to arrive at a shortlisted of competing locations. By acting cynical, disdainful or even hillarious an EDO would questionmark the capabilities of an investor.

    Instead, EDOs should learn from these investors and start exploring ways to compete with these competitors with true capabilities. They should ask themselves this important question: why is this investor, in this industry, showing interest in my location compared to location B and C, and how can I be more alert the next time a similar investor shows interest.

    I am very interested to learn in other NO-NOs for EDOs!

  8. Chris Manheim

    September 20, 2011

    Excellent points, particularly in regards to business reinvestment. So many elected officials (and volunteers) completely miss this point.

  9. Karen Schultz

    September 23, 2011

    One of my long term observations is that many people, companies, and communities do not have an understanding of their strengths. While some profiles may come close to charting personality strengths, the follow up of the whys behind the inventory are seldom explored with an appreciative inquiry. This process examines the thread of consistancy throughout one’s life or career that brings them personal strength. My model for sustainable rural communities takes the time to inventory community strengths to create portfolios that are strong throughout the peaks and valleys of business life cycles. The long term ourline lays out the steps and describes citizen responsibility toward the agreed vision. The vision is built upon the stories and experiences of the participants. The model is proving out successful within a small model of 75 participants. It is a culture change of approach that I believe will last as long as the vision is shared and understood over generations of time. The importance of keeping the vision and the supporting stories alive gives the breath to long term health plan of the community.

  10. Edward Burghard

    September 23, 2011

    @Karen – Storytelling is recognized as both a powerful branding tool and an effective market research tool. When I was managing brands at P&G, we often used story telling to better understand how our brand touched consumer lives and improved their life. I encourage you to keep experimenting with story telling. You may also find some value in this earlier post on the subject – https://strengtheningbrandamerica.com/blog/?p=655

  11. George Borovilos

    October 16, 2011

    The six points raised are very common marketing pitfalls that we all have experienced , either directly or indirectly. In economic development marketing, the bottom line is what is a community’s unique selling proposition. Can they substantiate their selling proposition through their attitude and actions in order to create a point of differentiation with the competition? Therein lies the challenge.

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