Winning Strategies In Economic Development

Ed BurghardIn God We Trust, All Others Must Bring Data.

W. Edwards Deming

Development Counsellors International (DCI) publishes results of a survey they do every 3-years to understand how the private sector makes site location decisions. At the 2014 Annual IEDC Conference, DCI released their 2014 Report – A View from Corporate America: Winning Strategies in Economic Development Marketing. I applaud DCI for their focus on better educating the economic development profession by investing in creating insights for the greater good. And, while DCI would never request it, I am hoping in exchange for underwriting the research you take a minute or two to visit the DCI website and learn more about their services. It only seems like a fair quid pro quo.

One of the key findings in the Report focuses on when local economic development professionals are brought into the site selection process. In the past, when I have quoted this statistic in talks, the audience is always taken aback. The 2014 data are consistent with the 2011 results.

75% of the time, economic development professionals are not contacted until after a short list of location options has been identified.

2014 chart copy

The results have been very consistent since this question was asked in the survey: 2005 (73%), 2008 (71%), 2011 (76%), 2104 (75%). Consistency like this suggests reliability in the conclusion that a community’s online and media presence is extremely important to lead generation and should be a major focus of their branding efforts.

The Report cites that often an executive’s first contact with an economic development organization is through its website. This means your website should be optimized for success if you want to have a shot at competing for the 70+% of site selection opportunities. My guess is if you do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation you will discover your community cannot achieve its economic growth objectives unless you do compete for a fair share of the 70+% leads.

From a marketing mix perspective, online activities (internet/website), in person visits and earned media are the top three rated communication tactics. If your EDO does not have a knowledgable staff resource assigned to each of these areas, it may be time to revisit your staffing plan. I would also suggest you resource each area for success. My personal bias is to decrease trade show investment to ensure adequate funding of these three areas. Visit for the season Tradeline inventory. I apologize to my friends in the trade show business, but I personally view trade shows as a nice to have versus need to have marketing investment. 

In earned media (PR), nothing beats coverage in the Wall Street Journal. It is still viewed by executives as the #1 source of reliable information. Of course, getting coverage for your community in the WSJ is a real challenge. But, if you do, treat it as gold and leverage it to your community’s advantage.

So here is the big question – How good is your community’s online and earned media presence?

I think it is a question that you really need to get an answer to. If it isn’t as competitive as you want it to be, then you may want to take a hard look at how your community marketing budget is currently allocated and make some alterations for the upcoming year. Be sure you are putting first things first.

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