CBS’ headline was cautious: “Cleveland begins to shine again.”
The Associated Press’ was understated: “Safe GOP convention boosts Cleveland's image to the world.”
The European Agence France-Presse headline was active: “A city on the rebound, Cleveland shines as RNC opens.”
Inside Edition was edgy: “From Doom to Boom: Home to RNC, Cleveland Is Surging After Years of Urban Decay.”
The Chicago Tribune was urban: “Cleveland, a city on the rebound.”
ABC’s headline gave me whiplash, but in a good way: “Cleveland on the Rise: Look Back on the City's Comeback Before RNC.”
PBS was temperate: “Hot in Cleveland? The city’s new, cool Public Square.”
Even Yahoo! Finance got into the act: “Fancy hotels, revamped airport welcome RNC visitors to Cleveland.”
Thanks largely to an ambitious and proactive communications strategy and a skillfully hosted event, these were just some of the hundreds of headlines that emerged from last summer’s Republican National Convention.
Not bad for a city with the former moniker, “Mistake on the Lake.”
It was an honor for Dix & Eaton to play a lead role in the region’s communications strategy linked to the RNC. We collaborated with a number of key organizations in Cleveland, including Cleveland Plus, a nonprofit charged with promoting the region’s economic transformation, and Destination Cleveland, the region’s convention and visitor bureau, which led the marketing effort for the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee for the RNC.
The communications objective was to help inform approximately 50,000 convention visitors and provide 15,000 journalists from around the world with additional information and creative story ideas that would trigger positive reviews and media coverage for Cleveland.
The results exceeded all expectations. Now, the strategy is attracting national awards and other recognition.
The effort, “From Cleveland to Believeland: Leveraging the RNC to Change a City's Narrative,” was named a 2017 North America SABRE (Superior Achievement in Branding, Reputation and Engagement) Award finalist in the Institutional Image category by The Holmes Report and received a 2017 Bronze Anvil Award in the Media Relations – Associations category from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).
How did this team of collaborators achieve this? Among our tactics, we:
- Identified and communicated credible story ideas.
- Leveraged relationship-based media communications, including monthly desk-side visits with media representatives in New York, Washington and London.
- Provided journalists with data on topics that interested them, such as downtown development, manufacturing and healthcare.
- Developed content for blogs and other forms of social media.
- Coordinated digital media contact lists of experts and sources in Cleveland’s business community.
- Worked for two years to understand what journalists and, by extension, what national and international audiences would want to know about Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, and we provided that information.
The successful immediate outcome was the result of a phenomenal collaboration. But in the long run, after the headlines, after the awards, the payoff was even greater. In the end, our efforts were part of a larger restatement of this region’s value to the country.
The City of Cleveland needed this. Northeast Ohio needed this. Actually, a city and region that have come so far deserved this. Winning the RNC wasn’t a victory lap in the city’s comeback. Certainly, more work needs to be done. But the RNC was an affirmation of progress.
It was a victory in the battle against the region’s 1970s Rust Belt image.
Cleveland and Northeast Ohio are at the heart of the revitalized Industrial Midwest. We are redefining ourselves.
As with any rebranding effort, we need to communicate it.