Thursday, June 24, 2010

Great Talk About Personal and City Brands @ Urbanophile

The subject of who should or could control an urban brand, has been filtering around in my head for awhile and now Urbanophile has a post about it.

Readers of the blog, know I'm pretty sceptical about major taxpayer investments in sports teams (or any other private business). Mostly, this is about risk VS. potential reward. In terms of land use, stadiums are hard to fill most of the time and require huge parking footprints, but all of this I've brought up before.

Another, risk is the way concentrated investments like this tie a local brand to so few people or entities any of which could quickly turn toxic or choose to leave town.

Pittsburgh hit a brand lemon with Ben Roethlisberger but we seem to be surviving. Even worse, is watching the way so much of Cleveland's brand has now been tied to LeBron James, a sports figure honestly so huge and bankable that Cleveland has little chance of retaining him if money alone is the only factor. He holds all the cards and now they have to hope he stays.

LeBron's impact on the local advertising market is so great that some people wonder if The Cleveland Plain Dealer can even survive without it. It really seems to have been the plan of every major Cleveland institution, from the sports teams to The Symphony, to the Cleveland Museum, to The Cleveland Clinic to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to reach a scale and importance that might enable it to be called "too big to fail". Not many places have gambled so much on so few and so far it hasn't worked out.

Even worse, is that many of the other talented, hardworking "players", in the region see this kind of thing and have to secretly resent it.

Urbanophile's suggested strategy is likely a lot wiser.

"It strikes me that as with corporate brands, cities should do a market scan of their town and build an inventory people there like Fischer who are doing really cool stuff. Then you try your best to promote them, following the principle of “first do no harm” of course, and also encourage them to associate themselves with the city in some way, so that people at least know where they are from. Then if something cool like these maps goes viral, the city can pick up a bit of cred along the way. Most cities have lists of all the famous people who are originally from there. Wouldn’t it be nice if they were equally or more so focused on those who are still around that are doing cool stuff today? Done right, and in a non-heavy handed way, this could potentially be a win-win."

What interesting emerging innovators, talents and small business folks do you think carry the Pittsburgh brand? Same with Cleveland? What new ones are you watching?

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