Key Strategy #5:
Marketing and Promotion
The Pittsburgh Region has a great story to tell:
- a world class urban setting with a small town feel
- a center of innovation and transformation
- a workforce with pride in working, making & creating
- rivers, mountains, & outdoor adventure surrounding unique urban beauty
- a genuine opportunity for citizens and young people to make an impact
In an age when people can choose to work and live virtually anywhere in the world — i.e., a “flat” world — Pittsburgh's strong intellectual capital and high quality of life can be a magnet for innovative businesses and for the talented workers they need for success.
However, too many people don't know the current story of Pittsburgh. People who make decisions about where to locate and expand businesses. Entrepreneurs looking for a place to start a new business. Talented young people deciding where to work.
Reseach has shown that Pittsburgh has an "image gap." Many people believe that Pittsburgh is still the dirty, smoky city of 50 years ago. As columnist Peter Miller says in the 1/10/06 edition of Realty Times, “Pittsburgh may well be the nation's least-appreciated big city. Long associated with steel mills and choking smoke, the old image of Pittsburgh is out-dated and wrong. Instead the city today has a gleaming downtown and a new emphasis on medicine, robotics, computer engineering and bio-tech.”
What good is a great product or service if potential customers don’t know about it? Just as successful companies develop and execute successful marketing strategies, the Pittsburgh Region must effectively market and promote its assets – those that exist today and the improvements that will be made in the future – in order to realize its full potential for job growth.
The first step in eliminating the image gap is having our own residents become promoters of the region. Many people have observed that the worst salepeople for the Pittsburgh Region are Pittsburghers themselves. Larry Fish, the CEO of Citizens Bank in Providence, RI recently noted that people in the Pittsburgh region are too negative. He said, “...you will not be successful marketing Pittsburgh outside until you talk positively inside.”
The region needs to market itself to its key customers — the people making decisions about where to live, work, and invest. Marketing doesn't mean just advertising or promotion — it means identifying decision-makers who have a need that the Pittsburgh Region can fill, and then communicating with them as directly as possible to help them understand how the Pittsburgh Region can help them achieve their goals.
The region's number one goal is to create new jobs, and that means attracting, retaining, and growing businesses. So the region's number one customer should be businesses. Not every business will be a “match” for the Pittsburgh Region — the challenge for the region is to find those businesses whose needs best match what the region has to offer, and make them aware of the opportunities here.
Traditional economic development efforts tend to focus primarily on recruiting new businesses to the region. This is desirable, but it needs to be strategically focused, and it's only one part of a comprehensive marketing effort. The following elements are all critical to having a maximally effective regional marketing and promotion initiative:
- Outreach to businesses already located in the region. Every successful business knows that its first priority is its existing customers. Similarly, the Pittsburgh Region needs to keep its existing customers — the businesses that are already here — happy. Although this is often called “business retention” in economic development circles, the term “retention” misleadingly implies that the best outcome is simply keeping what exists, rather than recognizing that many existing businesses
can and will grow. It's a lot easier to get new jobs from
the growth of businesses that are already here than to try and recruit new businesses to come.
The region cannot take existing businesses for granted — other regions will recruit them to move and take their growth elsewhere if we don't recruit them to stay. Providing a competitive business climate is critical to having a strong regional product to market.
- Outreach to entrepreneurs. Most of the largest employers located in the Pittsburgh Region today did not relocate here, they started here. And most of the job growth that has occurred in the region in recent years has come from small and startup firms, not from major firms locating new facilities here. The region has a shortage of entrepreneurs, and it can't take the ones it has for granted. Encouraging/assisting existing entrepreneurs and recruiting new entrepreneurs need to be a priority in the region's economic development efforts.
- Outreach to selected businesses not currently located in the region. All too often, the reason that new facilities built by out-of-state companies don't come to the Pittsburgh Region is not because Pittsburgh was an inferior choice, but because Pittsburgh wasn't even on the list of options considered! The Pittsburgh Region's image gap results in many companies and site selection consultants never putting the Pittsburgh Region on the initial list of choices, when it might have
been the winning location in the end.
The greatest success will be “getting Pittsburgh on the list” of companies where the region's assets match the company's needs, and where investment by the company will have a significant impact on the region's economy. For example, corporate R&D centers not only bring good jobs to the region, but they can enhance the region's strengths in innovation and lead to more ideas and more new companies, so they should be a priority target. New anchor firms in the region's key sectors — such as advanced materials, energy, information technology, and life sciences — should also be priorities.
Who are the best people to “sell” the region to businesses? The best salespeople are the CEOs of successful, growing businesses already located in the region. When John Friel, CEO of Medrad, says “MEDRAD's growth is proof that with committed employees and innovative products, a biotechnology company can thrive in western Pennsylvania,” that carries more weight with biotechnology companies considering the region than any sales brochure could ever hope to. A satisfied customer is the best endorsement for any business's product or service.
As the Pittsburgh Region increases job growth, its employers will need to find talented workers to fill those jobs. Although many of those talented workers are already here, growth in jobs will require the region to attract more talented workers than are here today and to retain more of those who are here. Some firms are already having difficulty finding skilled workers (see, for example, Pittsburgh Business Times 1/2/06.)
Availability of jobs and a high quality of life are the key factors influencing talented workers to choose the region in which they will locate. The Pittsburgh Region has both of those features, but it needs to do a better job of marketing itself to the customers — the talented workers — who want it.
In terms of quality of life, the region has many of the kinds of assets that talented workers want. However, the region's "image gap" means that many of those workers, even those who are already here attending the region's colleges and universities, don't realize what exists. Initiatives like Pittsburgh Perspectives are designed to communicate the region's many quality-of-life assets to talented workers.
Although the region needs more jobs, it already has many jobs that would be attractive to talented workers — if they can find out about them. However, since most of the region's job growth has been occurring in small and startup firms, these jobs may not be as visible to job-seekers as positions in larger firms. For example, small technology firms do not have enough open positions at any one time or sufficient human resources capacity to do on-campus recruiting the way that large firms do. Regional job banks, such as the Pittsburgh Technology Council's Career Center, and the Regional Internship Center that connects students to local employers, are important ways to overcome this problem.
Tourism promotion is a critical economic development strategy for the Pittsburgh Region. Not only does tourism generate jobs in the hospitality industry and tax revenues from non-residents, it is a major marketing tool for attracting businesses and talented workers to the region.
Why? What better way to close the region's image gap than by giving prospective investors and residents an opportunity to “test drive” the region — to see for themselves the tremendous cultural and recreational assets which are here.
To the maximum extent possible, tourism promotion needs to be done on a regional basis, since what is truly unique about the region is the combination of assets that exist in Downtown Pittsburgh, the Laurel Highlands, and other parts of the region. Unfortunately, there are currently 9 separate Tourist Promotion Agencies in the 10 counties of the Pittsburgh Region, each of which focuses primarily on the attractions in its own county or counties. As a result, potential tourists may not realize the full range of opportunities available.
A particularly high impact form of tourism for the region is conventions and meetings, particularly when those conventions and meetings bring business leaders and staff from target industries to the region. Bringing these conventions and meetings in key industries to the Pittsburgh Region requires a strong collaborative effort between local members of an industry association and the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau. For example, thanks to the efforts of The Technology Collaborative, Pittsburgh has been named the location for the annual Robobusiness Conference and Exposition in 2006.
The Pittsburgh Region has an unprecedented opportunity to market itself to business decision-makers, talented workers, and tourists by attracting major televised events to Pittsburgh and capitalizing on them for international visibility.
This process began with the Bassmaster Classic and the 84 Lumber Classic in 2005, and will continue with Major League Baseball's All Star Game in 2006 and the United States Golf Association’s U.S. Open in 2007.
Events like these bring with them national and international television coverage of the region with an impact far beyond what could ever be achieved through paid television advertising. For example, over a half million households watched the 2005 Bassmaster Classic television coverage on the final day, seeing Pittsburgh's clear skies, beautiful skyline, and clean rivers with fishing right in the heart of Downtown Pittsburgh.
There are many opportunities to bring more of these kinds of events to Pittsburgh. Sporting events such as bicycling races, extreme sports, and additional fishing tournaments that would be televised on ESPN and other sports channels. Musical events that would be televised on MTV and VH1. Food programs that would be featured on the Food Channel. And cultural and historic events, such as the French & Indian War and the current Pittsburgh Roars initiative that would be shown on PBS, The History Channel, The Travel Channel, etc.
Attracting such events every year will expose new audiences and re-expose existing audiences to the reality of Pittsburgh. Planning needs to start now to maximize the number of events occurring in 2008, which will be the 250th Anniversary of the founding of the Pittsburgh Region. An organized and adequately-funded effort is needed to be successful.
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