A Publication of WTVP

I paused when I read about the latest efforts to “brand” our area, as if a new tag line will open the floodgates to corporate relocations, conventions, business expansions and economic prosperity.

Don’t get me wrong—I am a huge proponent of the value of community marketing. When I was at the EDC in the ‘90s, we focused on ensuring that the right people had an updated picture of the region. We aggressively pursued the national press to generate valuable earned media. We courted the real estate developers and site location consultants. We exploited Peoria’s reputation as a place where ideas and products are tested before going to market. We got some positive attention for the area at a time when the national perceptions weren’t great.

But to do this right is not a trivial undertaking, and not without substantial cost. I remember yearly debates with skeptical city council members about the amount of money, per capita, that was required to do effective economic development marketing.

Truth is, the Peoria Metro, a region with distinct and marketable assets, but even more significant perceptual challenges, can probably never spend enough to market itself effectively. But when resources are scarce, it’s best to go back to the basics. Today, business investors decide on where to expand (or locate) because it makes the most economic sense for them over the long term. With a few exceptions, they won’t be enticed, lured or gimmicked.

In 2010, external marketing should start by answering this question: “Who are we?” Are we a manufacturing center that is leveraging the strength of a multinational corporation to diversify? Are we a medical center that wants to be the next hub for biotech research? Are we the place where entrepreneurs successfully launch new ventures? Are we a region where you get the best of big-city amenities at small-town prices? We’re probably all of the above, as are hundreds of our competitors. Finding what makes us dramatically different and then focusing the dollars to exploit these assets is one way to achieve measurable results.

The best sales job starts from within. The feeling citizens have about the place they live and work is key. An energized constituency is your best storyteller, your best marketer. In the ‘80s, Mayor Jim Maloof put the horse before the cart by focusing on inward directed pride before going outside. If companies stay, add workers and create jobs that add wealth and buying power, this fuels (and pays for) your external efforts. Mayor Maloof recognized that national image building is fruitless if your current “customers” trash the product. Some saw his efforts as useless cheerleading. They were actually laying the foundation for success down the road.

For a variety of reasons, Peoria has always been a tough sell. We look better in the flesh than we do on paper. By focusing on keeping what you have and getting your house in order, you’ll have a marketable brand, and, hopefully someday, enough resources to tell that story to the world. iBi