The Importance of Stakeholder Buy-In in Economic Development Marketing


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Although it is a well-known predictor of success, garnering buy-in from key stakeholders, like your Mayor, Council, business leaders, Chambers and BIAs, is rarely included in a marketing strategy. It is seldom tied to a specific deliverable nor does it have a budget line item allocated to it. But without it, your place branding efforts will suffer and possibly even fail.

This white paper looks at why buy-in is so critical and what steps economic development professionals can take to ensure that it is part of their marketing strategy.

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The Importance of Stakeholder Buy-In in Economic Development Marketing

  1. 1. Buy-In Begins at Home:The Importance ofStakeholder SupportCurrent issues foreconomic development professionalsEDAC / ACDEMarketing and CommunicationsWhite Paper SeriesApril 2009
  2. 2. Introduction I googled the town’s name and began to click. “Ok, so it looks like they’re using this bird as an icon, and they’ve got tourism as aAs we’ve discussed in our previous white high priority…”papers, the activity of place branding– that is, marketing your community I relayed this information to my colleague,and its distinct advantages – is a critical who was doing an internet search of hisfunction for economic development own.professionals. Without a strong marketingand communications strategy, it is difficult “No, no,” he countered. “They’re using thisto attract new business, make current building here, and all they can talk about isbusinesses aware of the services of your being a technology centre of excellence.”EDO, or draw tourists and new residentsto your community. In short, if people don’t Huh?know why your city is great and what it hasto offer, then your other goals become very As we continued to search we found sevendifficult to achieve. – count ‘em, seven! – “official” looking sites with a mishmash of looks, messages andThis white paper will look at a one of priorities. We couldn’t make heads or tails ofthe trickier aspects of successful place it, and we had spent a significant partbranding: Buy-in. of our afternoon trying to. We came away from the exercise more confused aboutAlthough it is a well-known predictor what this town was all about then when weof success, garnering buy-in from key had begun.stakeholders, like your Mayor, Council,business leaders, Chambers and BIAs, is When we arrived for our first meeting,rarely included in a marketing strategy. It the problem became apparent. Eachis seldom tied to a specific deliverable nor stakeholder and player in town wasdoes it have a budget line item allocated to promoting the community in a silo. Variousit. But without it, your place branding efforts groups had spent lots of time and moneywill suffer and possibly even fail. on a myriad of campaigns. Although their intentions were good, the appearance toThis white paper looks at why buy-in those trying to glean information about theis so critical and what steps economic town became one of a place that simplydevelopment professionals can take to didn’t have its act together.ensure that it is part of their marketingstrategy. The task ahead of us was clear: In order for this town to compete in the market, we needed to rally all the stakeholders aroundLet’s begin with a story a single vision and strategy for promotion. We had to transform the “mish-mash” we had stumbled upon into a collective ofYears ago, our marketing firm was hired complementary projects and a small town to do some brand This town needed buy-in, and it neededconsulting. Before our first meeting, we it bad.made every effort to get to know the townbefore our arrival. Of course, our first stopwas the internet.
  3. 3. Why buy-in is As an exercise, try googling the name of your municipality or region. Since most ofso critical us spend so much time maintaining our economic development web properties, we often overlook what the web experience isSilos are the “default setting” with like overall for outside users. Put yourselfplace branding in the shoes of a site selector and make a note of the impression your communityManaging the brand for a municipality or is making on the internet. Is it clear whereregion is a complicated task. Traditional you should go for information on businessbranding has a structure in place – e.g. a in your community? Do the sites of variousmarketing department – to manage how organizations within your communitythe image of the company or product is complement each other or confuse andcommunicated to the public. With most compete? What image would you be leftmunicipalities, no formal structure exists. with after a few minutes of googling?Various departments, community partnersand local organizations must come together Don’t underestimate the importance of theand create an ad hoc structure, built on web. It is often the only chance you get toconsensus and passion for the place they make an impression.are promoting. A brand is more than a logo and aIf this collaboration is not initiated, clever taglinemost organizations will carry on managingtheir specific piece – be in tourism or This has been discussed at length in pastdowntown investment – in isolation. white papers such as “Place Branding inEach will develop its own messages, Practice” and “Has Branding Become a Dirtymaterials and campaigns to achieve its Word?”, so we won’t belabor it here. Sufficeobjectives. Not only is this confusing to it to say that a true brand is reinforced bythe market, it creates redundancies and every interaction and touchpoint with yourwastes resources that could be pooled to community, from your website, to using yourmaximize their effectiveness. city’s services, to the people on the streets and in the coffeeshops. Everyone must livePeople go to the web first the brand, and this is easiest to do when the brand is authentic and creates a senseThe silo problem is further exacerbated of pride in each individual. If people don’tby our reliance on the internet. We know buy in, then they will not provide that criticalthat most travel planning and business reinforcement necessary to truly build aexpansion investigation is done online. In brand for your municipality.fact, if someone is unimpressed by whatthey see on the web, it is unlikely that you The “public” faces of your communitywill ever get a chance to influence them in need to believe in the brand the mostperson, as they will have moved on to acommunity that has its online act together. Politicians. City leaders. CompanyOnly then will they delve deeper and presidents. Community organizations.make contact with the Office of Economic These are people who put a face toDevelopment or other contact within your community. Be it a public speakingthe municipality. engagement, an interview with the Globe and Mail, or a trade mission to another
  4. 4. country, these people must walk the talk ofyour brand and represent your community So how do youconsistently and with conviction. get buy-in?Your public leaders must be able torecognize your brand strategy as an honest Unfortunately, there is no magic answer.reflection of your community. The brand Getting buy-in is a time-consuming processposition must resonate and it is better that can be very unpredictable. It can throwable to do this when it balances your a wrench (or one hundred) into the executioncommunity’s current state with its ambitions of your strategy. Although that’s likely notfor the future. the answer you wanted to hear, we can at least offer some Do’s and Don’ts to get youFurther, your community leaders must thinking about buy-in amongbe able to speak to what makes your your stakeholders:municipality truly unique. Give them the toolsto articulate your competitive advantage, or DO recognize that buy-in is rooted inyou will miss opportunities every time they relationship management. LOTS ofespouse that your city is “a great place to relationship management. Stakeholderslive, work and play”. Well guess what? So want to be heard, consulted and advisedis everywhere else. Use their voices to of direction. It is important to touch basemake an impression and stand out from throughout the branding process, fromyour competition. development to launch to maintenance.A final note about your leaders: DON’T be a victim of death by consensus. With such a complex undertaking andIn our experience, when a community competing agendas, consensus simply willundertakes a branding initiative, there is a not be possible. Your role is to solicit inputsurefire litmus test for whether it will endure. and feed progress back to stakeholdersPeople will look to the leadership in your for information purposes and further to see if this is yet another They must see their input reflected, but theyoverpriced logo redesign or if it is a true must also see that the real value comesreflection of the direction for the community from a synthesis and analysis that takes theand a vision for the future. Long after the strongest ideas and translates them into alaunch ceremony and media conference, community brand and marketing the Mayor still communicating the core This is a delicate balance that you mustmessages? Is Council making decisions strike, but don’t shy away from making thisthat are consistent with the brand direction? investment. It will be critical in the long run.Are organizations working together to poolresources and attract new investment as a DO create community consortiums to leadcommitted collective? the initiative. Buy-in will come easier if your brand and strategy are set by a core groupYour leaders will determine the success or of community leaders, rather than beingfailure of you marketing strategy. Getting perceived as a directive from the EDO orthem onside can be difficult and frustrating, city. Be careful in selecting this group. Keepbut we have seen many good brands die it to 5-7 members from various sectors whobecause they lacked the backing of the are able to set aside their own agendas andcommunity’s leadership. see the big picture. There’s no room for ego in this group or it will quickly collapse.
  5. 5. DON’T blindside anyone with a finished it comes to your community, then howstrategy. Too often we’ve seen economic can you expect anyone on the outside to?development teams and their consultants Stakeholder buy-in can be likened to a roothuddle around a boardroom table for canal at times, and we suspect that is themonths crafting a brand strategy for reason it is so often overlooked in marketingthe community, only to be met with a and brand strategies. But, as this whitelukewarm reception. Instead, find ways to paper demonstrates, failure to secure buy-inlet the community know that the process has lasting consequences. Take the time tois underway. Use media releases, public engage your stakeholders in your brandingevents or a city blog to communicate the process, and do it often and with patience.purpose of the initiative and the expected Everyone wants to see the communityoutcomes. Create some buzz and thrive, and it is your role to help themexcitement long before the launch, and understand how your municipality’s brandcontinue to use these channels to publicize strategy will do just that.the success of your initiative so that thecommunity can celebrate together.DO use examples to convince stakeholdersof the need for their buy-in. There’s nothinglike a little healthy competition to light a fire About the Authorunder your leaders. Profile municipalities that On Three Communication Design Inc. is a creative agencyare getting it right with buy-in and show the specializing in promoting places not products. For moreimpact of a sophisticated and coordinated information and insight, visit them at www.onthree.cabranding effort. You can even share the or read the blog at of your google experiment from theprevious section if the findings were astelling as the town we told you about in theintroduction to this paper.DO start an ambassador program. Thisallows you to extend your consortiumsignificantly and fosters a formalcommitment from your business leaderstowards promoting your brand to theirpeers. Ambassador programs are one of themost impactful place branding initiatives youcan undertake in your community. Theseprograms will also be the subject of the nextwhite paper in our series, so stay tuned!ConclusionThe title of this white paper is “Buy-in Beginsat Home”. We’ve chosen that for a goodreason. If your own residents, businessleaders and politicians don’t “buy it” when
  6. 6. About this White Paper SeriesEDAC is pleased to announce a new service for our members to support yourcommunications activities.Over the next year, EDAC will release a series of white papers that explore current issuesin marketing and communication as they relate to economic development.You can access our white papers at