How About A Little Action?

How About A Little Action?

Recently there have been a number of emails and blog posts relative to the "marketing" of Youngstown — or the lack thereof. Everybody in town, it appears, is calling for a focused, community-driven, positive-spin campaign that positions this community as more than "crime-riddled" and, as one national media outlet described it, struggling.

Golly, what a great idea! (insert visual here of individual slapping himself/herself upside the head, with a facial expression evocative of stupidity and wonderment)

Who wants to take the lead? Which individual or organization amongst all these disparate voices calling for this effort is going to step forward and, at the same time, divest themselves of the need to take the credit?

Just as many have commented, I too am embarrassed by allowing regional and national media to have their way with Youngstown; formulating the tenor of their stories on drive-by or anecdotal evidence.

Attempts have been made in the past to make things happen, to create a clear marketing message touting the historical, cultural, and economic merits of this city. I know. I’ve been a part of a number of them over the last 30 years. Unfortunately, most failed to gain traction due to a number of reasons: they were too narrowly focused; they lacked funding; there was no comprehensive ‘plan’ to sustain them; varying agendas and self-interests reared their ugly heads; or a combination of some or all of the above.


Do I have the answer? Maybe. Maybe not. I do know, however, that I have been involved in organized efforts to make a difference, with results that I consider to be ‘baby steps’ in the right direction. These include campaigns important to the future of this city: Youngstown 2010, Jay Williams' mayoral campaign, the Downtown Youngstown branding campaign, Youngstown City Schools levy campaign, and most recently, the WYSU radio and YMCA branding campaigns. Often my involvement was on a volunteer basis; other times Keynote was paid for its expertise.

Whereas these campaigns were vital to making a difference in our city’s physical appearance, educational environment, as well as its political and cultural landscape, their focus was relatively narrow.

In my humble view, the only way a successful marketing campaign can become reality is through (A) hiring a marketing firm (local, regional or national) that answers to only one body; or (B) form a working group that will develop a plan with the assistance of marketing professionals.

Each option has its merits. And each has its drawbacks — In (A), who will that single body be? And in (B) well, call it what you like, but it's a committee.

I do like (B) however. It does, after all, involve a wider cross section of the community. But how about the who and why of this working group?

Here are a few thoughts:

An independent working group should consist of a representative or representatives of organizations such as:

Youngstown City Government
Youngstown State University
Regional Chamber
The media
The marketing profession
The business community
…and any other qualified entity I may have unintentionally omitted.

Its membership must be limited in number. Its goals must be simple and clearly defined. I believe the following to be crucial:

1. This group must exist solely for the development of a marketing initiative and must possess final decision-making powers relative to the planning, creation, and implementation of a branding and positioning strategy for the City of Youngstown.

2. It must be devoid of even the slightest hint of political or personal agendas (could be a tough one).

3. This group must be responsible for procuring funds, either private or public, to give this strategy the best chance to succeed.

Perception and Reality

Not until a comprehensive marketing plan is formulated and a single, impactive brand identity and positioning statement for the city is adopted does this town have a prayerat least in terms of Youngstown-brand perception and Youngstown-brand reality.

A motivating factor in moving my firm, Keynote, from the suburbs to the downtown business district was the hope of making a difference (insert video footage here: tight, slow motion shot of twiddling thumbs; dissolve to close up of moderately good looking, 60+ male with the word “FRUSTRATION” superimposed on forehead).

This isn’t brain surgery. It’s a little cooperation between the best and brightest this town has to offer, those who still believe a difference can be made. I know you are out there. It only takes a little vision, a little time, and a little imagination — (a little prayer is optional).

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