If you are my client or you read my blog, you will know that my firm’s tagline is “Tell your story or someone else will do it for you.” I have blogged about this for years and as a public relations professional, I see it everyday in the trenches. I tell my clients that good, bad or ugly, we have to get the message out. Social media has been a game changer for many and is why telling your story is even more important than ever before.
Memphis as a whole needs to do a better job at telling its story. I have written a lot about what we need to do as a city (see my op-ed three years ago here) so as an update, here’s what I would do if I were tasked with improving PR for our community:
1. Define a clear strategy and vision for our airport and communicate it. Unfortunately—although work is being done to try and recruit other airlines to Memphis International—perceptions have become reality. In addition, the national media is comparing us to cities like Cincinnati and St. Louis who have also lost airline service. WE NEED TO SHOUT TO THE WORLD THAT WE ARE UNIQUE! We can’t let someone else “classify” us, right? If there is behind the scenes work taking place but nobody knows it, the assumption largely becomes that nothing is getting done. Never in my 25 years of working here have I felt such a ground swell of frustration by both businesses and individuals.
Putting a one million dollar incentive on this effort is certainly a plus, but in my opinion it’s like putting a Band-Aid on a something that needs surgery. The strategy and vision of the Airport Authority is not clear. We are allowing Delta Airlines to tell our story and now—in today’s news—we learn that the threat of Pinnacle Airlines (headquartered here in the renovated One Commerce Square) being lured to Minneapolis is real. What are Southwest’s plans? Are there plans for them to be here (or any other airline for that matter) or are we stuck with a nice airport with no choice for economic flights? I think that the tough questions aren’t being addressed publicly.
2. Fix the schools and fix them fast. I know it’s not simple, but it’s vital. Do you think a surgeon says, “This is really a problem and it might take years to fix this” when someone is dying on the table? No. The surgeon does whatever he has to save a life. This is not a realistic analogy, but my point is that there is a sense of urgency in a do-or-die situation. We need actions and we need them now. Memphians need to stop fighting each other and band together to help fix every school—we’re all in this together. If we don’t wake up and realize that we swim in a global fish tank, we’re going to get flushed!
3. Let’s hear more straight talk. Be constructive and be critical while being considerate at the same time. It is short sighted to lash out at someone who is merely stating his or her opinion. Our political system is not working and our elected leaders need to take a few steps backwards and listen to what businesses and individuals are saying, rather than their own personal agendas. For the record, any public official that cannot manage her or his own finances should NOT be empowered to help run the city.
3. Focus on revenue and we can fix most everything else. Money is not the key to happiness but it sure makes solving problems easier. Clear and simple: economic development must be on the front burner everyday. Run Memphis like a business and look for ways to create more jobs (real ones) and move people in to our city. If we can’t balance a budget, we can’t expect to grow and add the services we need as a community. So, we need a new financial strategy to go along with a new message for the fiscal fitness of our river town. Are we shrinking? Do we have enough services to support the taxpayers? Raising taxes might be the easy thing to do but not the smartest thing to do. If we don’t give people reasons to stay here, play here, recruit here, they’ll just vote with their feet.
4. Finally, we need younger leadership in every non-profit, public service, boards, etc. If Memphis doesn’t promote younger, more diverse leaders in our city, it will be a great shame. It’s time for the good ole boys to admit this party ain’t working. I’m not talking about Republicans versus Democrats. I’m talking about people in leadership positions who are failing at getting the job done. Push our younger leaders into your organizations. Accept with gratitude their energy and mentor and help them. Where are our future leaders? Where are the women in influential positions? I am certainly not anti-age or anti-male; I have learned a lot from past and present leaders and respect many. I am a woman-owned business standing on the sidelines asking and supporting but getting the same old stories. We need new stories and new voices!
I believe in letting facts (rather than race, gender, religion, personalities, money, etc.) speak for themselves. I believe that if we had more objective analyses and less rhetoric, we could get to some of the key issues behind why we “can’t” and then develop solutions to execute how we CAN. Let’s get Memphis back on the track she deserves because if we don’t? People will vote with their feet. Thank you for reading this and I’d love your comments.
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