Can We Talk?

October 29th, 2015

At the risk of repeating myself, I’m going to repeat myself.

We are terrible at marketing this city.

We sell some of the parts well enough, but our message, internal and external, is splintered. One hand not only doesn’t know what the other one is doing, it’s busy slapping it out of the way.

While the Grizzlies do the best of all the parts and Choose 901 plays an encouraging part, other parts are out there somewhere with City of Choice, or maybe One Memphis, or trying to come back from The Comeback, or copying some other city with a heart in the middle of borrowed bumper sticker branding.

Rumor has it that some of our big money has decided to spend a chunk of it in New York to come up with an idea. Guess we’ll hear about that when they deign to tell us what’s best for us.

Years ago when I was doing advertising for the chamber, I heard someone bitching about some other city, something Memphis is very good at, and the comment stuck with me:

“If Atlanta could suck as hard as it blows, it would be a seaport.”

Well, as Atlanta has blown by us – and Nashville – and Indianapolis – and more – the fact that we can’t marshal the forces of one of the most creative places on earth to tell our unique story just sucks.

As published in The Memphis Daily News, October 30, 2015, and in The Memphis News, October 31-November 6, 2015



I’ve been saying for years that our city, as a city, does not understand or value the role of marketing and branding in the city’s game plan.

Doesn’t look like we’re dressing out for this administration either.

Using the playbook analogy they’ve employed, I was encouraged by last week’s announcement that a communications pro was coaching policy for mayor-elect Strickland’s transition team, but I didn’t see any branding players named for the actual game. Marketing didn’t even make the team.

Good people are calling in plays for City Planning, Community, Crime and Public Safety, Financial Responsibility, Metrics and Accountability, Minority Business Development, Poverty and Youth but positioning and promoting the city has been sidelined again. No playbook. Only one advertising or marketing or branding person anywhere in the named playbooks. No budget. No voice.

Put us in, coach.

A while back, my longtime friend and Nashville marketing maven, David Bohan, and I traded column comments about barbecue, but really about marketing and positioning our respective cities. Allow me to share some of his column in The Tennessean again:

“Today, you need a focused effort to get publicity. Our town did not get all of its recent accolades just because we earned them. The mayor’s office, the Convention & Visitors Corporation, the Chamber of Commerce and our Partnership 2020 initiative have been working together aggressive to cultivate relationships with the national media. This marketing investment has really paid off.”

That is exactly what I’ve been advocating in this space, from podiums, and in offices and bars all over town – get our act together. We have our own versions of all those civic voices David mentions. The difference is they speak with one clear voice in Nashville, calling for attention in unison. Ours is a mixed babble, speaking in tongues.

The Chamber is about business. The Convention and Visitors Bureau is about tourism and meetings. Our attractions and institutions ... St. Jude, the airport, Graceland, Beale Street, The National Civil Rights Museum, The Grizzlies, and more ... all have agendas. Some have several. Memphis Tomorrow, and New Memphis Institute, and Leadership Memphis, and Yet-To-Be-Named Memphis all have all-encompassing vision but separate focus, pocketbooks, and depth of pockets. While they are all part of our synergistic fabric, none are about the warmth and appeal of the whole quilt and its unique design. That story must be told.

So add a Communications and Marketing Playbook.

Charge them with the city’s message and planning the trip down two parallel paths to deliver it – one local/regional, one national/international – and ask all the aforementioned to help fund that delivery. Consider a new Communications Department and Director to defend the city’s image, champion the causes, tell the stories, and communicate the vision.

Then speak as one, loud and proud. And clear.

It should be no surprise that others are taking things away from us. If we can’t defend ourselves in compelling, coordinated fashion, no telling what they’ll get away with.

I’m a Memphian, and we need to talk.


I'm a Memphian by Dan Conaway

If you don’t read it, I’ll read it to you.

The book is available in print online and all over town and now in audio online at Amazon, Audible and iTunes, read by the author – columns, comments and character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it. Take a look or a listen.



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