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5 tips to help cities benefit from Amazon’s HQ2 search

The publicity for Amazon’s HQ2 is astounding.

Never before has a site selection process been conducted so publicly, to the enormous benefit of a single company. But why should Amazon have all the fun? The nearly 240 cities and regions that competed for the company’s second headquarters also can benefit from this public process, in ways that are at once subtle and public.

In order to court HQ2, local leaders did far more than slap together a few maps and send locally-oriented gifts to Amazon executives. (A group affiliated with Tucson sent a 21-foot cactus.) They compiled valuable data and information that made the case for why their communities are great places to live, work and play.

The Chicago Tribune hinted at the potential economic development benefit of these efforts when writing about the Windy City’s inclusion among Amazon’s top 20 finalists.

“All may not be lost for the…also-rans, though. They’ll have thick books filled with available sites, potential incentives and glossy pages touting their best attributes, and they’ve learned lessons for their next big pitch,” wrote reporters Ryan Ori and Lauren Zumbach.

Local officials in too many of these cities, however, are likely to turn to their colleagues, give a “nice try” shrug of their shoulders, and allow their “thick books” to gather dust until the next site selection opportunity.

What a waste.

Better to leverage what they learned to tell their story to the world. When Cleveland won the 2016 Republican National Convention, local officials realized the greatest opportunity was to use the political event to communicate Cleveland’s comeback to the world. Here is one of my blog posts on the tremendous effort, which generated invaluable coverage for Cleveland.

As the HQ2 sweepstakes wind down, 237 cities will have a strong start toward a similar effort, based on data and anecdotal information, to communicate their stories and strengthen their economic development efforts. The key is to use the data and information already collected as a foundation for a communications strategy.

Here are 5 tips the 237 HQ2 cities can use to leverage their work:

  1. Break down your community’s elevator speech into authentic and compelling themes. If you don’t have an elevator speech to describe your city, develop one.
  2. Identify your community’s major industries and the themes that drive them. Incorporate the history behind your community’s development.
  3. Determine the best methods to communicate those themes. Effective strategies consider a mix of media relations, digital communications, social media and advertising.  
  4. Understand your target audiences. Remember that you are trying to communicate to internal (residents, local leaders) and external (site selectors, business executives, organizational leaders, media and other influencers) audiences. 
  5. Don’t stop communicating. Telling your community’s story is an ongoing process based on relationships, credibility and reliability. Your community’s story never stops; your desire to tell that story should have equal momentum.

Michael Sessa, an office tenant broker who leads Cushman & Wakefield’s group that specializes in headquarters site searches, reflected on the HQ2 opportunity when speaking to the Chicago Tribune.

“A positive outcome of this could be the self-reflection of communities throughout the country,” Sessa said.

Will your community self-reflect and then move forward?

Do you consider other issues when creating a communications strategy to tell your community’s story? Please send them along or post them in this blog’s comment section. I look forward to discussing them with you.

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