Thursday, February 22, 2007

If Rockford would just knock the competition, it might be able to get rid of a negative element in the city's character

The Register Star has a story today about a consultant's recommendations on how to attract young professionals to the community and thereby improve the local economy, culture and social dynamics.

For $50,000, the booster groups that picked up the tab got a lot of ideas from the consultant, including a suggestion that the city market itself to Yuppies who have moved away from Rockford and perhaps lure some of them back.

At no charge whatever, The Rascal hereby offers some thoughts on that marketing notion.

My first suggestion: Don't follow the consultant's proposal that the campaign be dubbed "Why Rockford?" All that does is beg snide answers, even if they're inaccurate and unfair. Never ask your target market a question that isn't rhetorical (which is to say, make your question one that is posed strictly for effect and implies its own answer). Smart advertisers will ask questions like "Why pay more for less?" or "Why settle for less than blah, blah, blah?"

My second suggestion: Market aggressively by knocking the competition. Pull together all the stats that allow you to say that Rockford has more of certain good things and fewer of certain bad things than Peoria, Madison, Aurora, Naperville or specific other communities. Refer to those other locales by name. Come right out and say that Rockford has more of this or less than that than does Madison, for instance. Or say that Rockford is closer to this or that than is Aurora.

Pile these comparisons on top of one another and complement them with other favorable observations about Rockford. Change Rockford's negatives to positives with numbers that show dramatic improvements (as in "the sharpest decline" in such-and-such or "the fastest growth" in such-and-such in all of Illinois or in the Midwest or whatever).

List the community's attractions in quick succession without dwelling on any one of them. For example, note that the area has professional baseball, hockey and football teams. Emphasize that the area hosts more amateur soccer and softball tournaments than any other community in the region (if that, in fact, is the case). Crow about the number of hotel rooms and the total acreage of parks and forest preserves. Use big numbers wherever you can. Shift your comparisons around to your advantage ("in the state, "in the region," "in the Midwest," "outside of Cook County," "for any city its size in America," etc., etc.).

My third suggestion: If you're going to use video and music in your campaign, make it as slick and professional as you can. Settle for nothing less than what Madison Avenue would produce on a good day. The right kind of video can make Rockford look like the most attractive community in the Western world. Good music can raise a campaign from hokey or mundane to compelling. Don't emulate the work of ad shops or TV stations used by most local retailers. Costs? Twist arms for the money or services to achieve marketing excellence.

As for the consultant's recommendation that certain steps be taken to tamp down Rockford's notorious penchant for negativism among its populace, well...lots of luck with that. The idea of local folks signing "Positively Rockford" pledges on some Web site is, as the consultant concedes, "hokey." Pledges smack of coercion and lockstep. They go against the grain of free expression. Perhaps the negativism problem can be solved in part by exposing area residents to the marketing campaign that's otherwise aimed mainly at oursiders.

The challenge is nothing new. In a piece in The New Yorker magazine in 1976, legendary journalist Calvin Trillin wrote:

"In Rockford, there is always a lot of talk about negativism. Rockford people discuss negativism the way college students in the '50s used to discuss apathy -- as an endemic, mildly regrettable, permanent condition. Apathy is also discussed in Rockford, usually in conversations about negativism...

"When people talk about negativism in Rockford, they are talking not about some new condition brought on by standard urban problems, but about some element in the city's character that evolved from history or geography or chance -- an element that would be present in the best of times."

Well, maybe that "element in the city's character" can somehow be eradicated -- perhaps with an influx of Yuppies.

No comments: