The Higher ED Blog: Want to Market Your City? Build Relationships
Joshua Hurwitz / April 10, 2014
Bostonians were already worried about their city’s eroding tax base and the looming national recession. Then, in short order, three of the city’s iconic companies- Fleet, John Hancock and Gillette– moved their corporate headquarters away. Boston needed some aggressive economic development initiatives. In my major research paper (MRP) as a student in the Master of Applied Environmental Studies (MAES) in Local Economic Development at the University of Waterloo, I examined one response to the crisis: Boston World Partnerships (BWP), the city’s first internally-owned and operated marketing agency.
The agency’s task was to assess the city of Boston as a brand and then create a marketing strategy. The assessment revealed that Boston was well-known for its colleges, skilled workforce, and entrepreneurial companies in biotech and software. But the city was also perceived as the epitome of New England snobbishness- a difficult place to do business; factional, insular, elitist and mistrustful, and these perceptions turned away potential investors.
As part of their marketing efforts, BWP wanted to leverage the established relationships in and around the city. They created an ambassador program. These ambassadors, called ‘Connectors’ (from a term in Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point) would serve a dual purpose. First, they would serve as a frontline force to welcome visitors to the city. Second, they would build relationships, helping to introduce promising entrepreneurs to the businesspeople and decision-makers in Boston who mattered. The Connectors, in effect were doing a sort of reverse-professional networking, using their social capital (Rolodexes) on behalf of Boston. What lessons does BWP’s ambassador program design offer for public sector marketing agencies that might follow it?
1. The medium can be the message. Welcoming, pro-business ambassadors are more than just messengers – they can be part of the effort to change a city’s image. Choosing the best and brightest as your ambassadors is important. But more important is that they are diverse in their connections – giving the marketing strategy not only a wider audience, but also a greater range of resources to draw on in helping others.
2. Avoid being exclusive. Some perceived that BWP undermined its efforts to combat Boston’s elite business culture by exclusively vetting its connectors.
3. Real development means building relationships. In the case of BWP, this meant running networking and speaking events open to the public.
4. Build a sense of community among the Connectors. When they have a common sense of trust, camaraderie, and purpose, they will be more effective.
5. Create buy-in and accountability from connectors. Connectors need to benefit in order to stay involved, but they also need to deliver on their promise to help outsiders (and thus bring benefits to the city’s economy).
6. Rigorously define your mission. Promoting Boston’s economy, building networks, increasing a sense of trust, and forging cooperation were some of the stated goals of BWP. Were these goals too ambitious for a start-up marketing agency? I’ll consider just how effective BWP was in Part II.
Joshua Hurwitz completed a Master of Applied Environmental Studies (MAES) in Local Economic Development under the supervision of Dr. Tara Vinodrai. Toronto-based, Joshua’s research interests include urban planning, education theory, and infrastructure economics.
About the series
Higher ED: Ivory Tower Insights for Economic Development Professionals was conceived as a way to share research completed by Local Economic Development (LED) students at the University of Waterloo. It features blog articles by current and recent LED students with cutting-edge insights.
Established in 1988, the LED program is the only master’s program in Canada devoted solely to local economic development. It offers a balance between theory and practice by combining coursework, a major research paper, an internship, and weekly seminars featuring guest speakers. Students are prepared for careers in local, community, or regional economic development.