Friday, March 21, 2008

Promoting Venangoland

(News-Herald, March 20) I had the pleasure of attending the premiere party for the Venango Chamber’s promotional dvd, and it’s a pretty good piece of work.

Traditionally, we’ve been pretty lousy at this sort of thing, stuck on one simple truth-- If you want to play the game in the big wide world, you have to play by the big wide world’s rules. We have had far too many people who insisted that we should be able to play the world’s game by our local rules. We’ll do it our way or not at all, some insist. It’s not much of a choice.

We have had some people over the years who got it. Guy Mammolite boosted Franklin so vigorously that it’s a wonder he wasn’t perpetually bedridden with multiple hernias. But he knew you had to shmooze the rest of the world. I suspect that at all those PA Mayors’ meetings there were plenty of mayors in the room thinking, “Oh lord, here comes that Guy again.” But they knew who he was, and they knew where Franklin was.

We have not always been good at branding. I am a major fan of the ORA, and I applaud them for trying to finally get us out of 1962 and into the twenty-first century. But “oil region” and “oil heritage” are not great pieces of branding. For that matter, “Franklin” and “Oil City” are not great brand name assets, either. A quick search on line will show you that these names are associated with a gumzillion different places. They don’t distinguish us from the pack.

Our best branding asset is the word “venango,” which is only used three other places in the USA, all of them small and not likely to draw attention away from us. It is odd, unique, and memorable—a built-in brand name. (I will happily chip in “Venangoland” as my cost-free contribution to local marketing.)

Franklin has made some odd choices in its quest for a nickname over the years. “The Victorian City” was, well, weird, given that in many places “Victorian” is not really a compliment. The new incarnation as “a small town with great festivals” is a step up, though somehow, I doubt that people in Pittsburgh, Cleveland or even Erie can be convinced that we are the only go-to location for small town festivals.

Oil City’s television ads also confuse me. These cable-placed commercials invite folks to “rediscover Oil City” and I can’t help wondering who they think has misplaced it. Part of what our marketing whizzes need to figure out is not how we view ourselves, but how an outsider could distinguish us from Mercer or Warren or Grove City.

Marketing does not start with the assertion that the prospective customers ought to want what we want them to want. It starts by figuring out what we have that might have broader appeal. This means that some businesses, good card-carrying, dues-paying members of many of our assorted Chambers of Commerce, must be willing to take one for the team, step back, and let the most alluring choices serve as our marquee attractions.

Marketing also must start with the belief that we do have something to offer. I am tired of people who have gotten bored looking at the same scenery for sixty years and therefore believe it is uninteresting, just as I am tired of those who believe that nothing less than a massive manufacturing firm is worth bothering with (provided that it is silent, immaculate, and in somebody else’s neighborhood). People who won’t stoop to pick up money unless it’s a hundred-dollar bill deserve to be poor. Many regions have achieved success with far fewer resources than we have here.

We have a beautiful outdoors. We have beautiful waterways. We have bike trails. We have people willing to work. We have a cluster of small towns that, taken together, represent everything that people imagine when they think about Mythic American Small Town Life. We can go outside at night, safely. We have an arts community large enough to have quality but small enough to have room for people who are not ready to go pro. We have the kind of recreation activities that city-dwellers spend millions to imitate, badly. We have a remarkably low cost of living, right down to homes that would cost ten times as much in any other market.

There are many reasons to want to live here. If you don’t believe that, you need to get on a bus and ride a hundred miles in any direction and look at the miserable conditions people settle for.

The people who made the dvd get that, as did the people who made the full-color flyer for Franklin. I can look at both and think, “Yeah, I’d want to live there.”


Matt Croyle said...

Nicely put, Peter. Couldn't agree more.

condatis said...

Yay! You are so right. And I was "from away" so I *do* appreciate what the local area has to offer. A couple years into living here I still haven't lost track of why I love it here and nothing has become "uninteresting".

Dittman said...

I've been thinking a lot about this and one of the things that stands out is that I can't find any of this promo stuff online - pdf forms of the great walking tours of the region (or, God forbid, a google maps version...)? Nope - you actually have to come here to get them (or, I suppose request them by mail which means that you already know they exist). Online clips of the new DVD? Nope. So, how does one see them? Or for that matter, what good is a local cable ad promoting the area do? Do we hope that someone will be in the area, turn on local cable access, and then say, "Wow, I"
They may have taken us out of 1962, but I'd argue that they dropped us into circa 1990...
There's a longer rant brewing, I just wanted to check in...

Peter A. Greene said...

Yeah, the distribution of the promo stuff is problematic, as is the on-line presence, though I am in the process of getting someone to back a real shot at that. And yes, I am mystified by the supposed target audience of the cable ads. Not only do they lead with an appeal to come here aimed at people who are, well, here already, but they then move on to enticing businesses like eyeglasses and tax preparation and tapeworm removal and other businesses that nobody would drive to another county to patronize.

I do think the dvd is made with a particular audience and purpose in mind that is in line with the corporate sponsors thereof. I think the dvd is part of what recruiters, hirers and promoters put in the mail to, say, a doctor they're trying to recruit. And I think it's pretty well suited to that. But putting it on line is a good next step.

Anonymous said...

How's this? Once they decide on a "brand", advertise the HECK out of our region. I am an ex-patriate living in (gasp!!) New Jersey. Every few months there is a travel brochure in the Sunday paper for Pennsylvania. There is NEVER advertising for the Venango area and what information there is about the oil region, is usually inaccurate. Please,pretty please, let the rest of the world know where you are!!! You don't need to become the Poconos to profit from a few tourist dollars.

Dittman said...

"I am in the process of getting someone to back a real shot at that" -
Good Lord man - You've got a personal stake in this!?! Do you not get enough abuse from your column?!
Anyways - my two cents would involve getting an intern from one of our local schools and:
1. Regularly Google - Find out what appears when people type in our region's markers - it has to be, as you suggest, a county wide initative.
2. Use the tools available - Google Webmaster Central Blog, and Technocrati to find out what people are saying about us. Travelisitic to make sure people know what they can find here.
3. Set up Social Media sites - YouTbe, Facebook, and Myspace should be utlized to expand positive online content about Venango.

Unless, you know, we don't want 18-35's with lots of income to find out about us...Or, we could hire another consultant to tell us what we already know - that seems to work well...

Anonymous said...


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