Detroit’s “Hub” a Role Model for Economic Development PR

January 14, 2013

Today’s New York Times included a fascinating story about the work of the Detroit Regional News Hub, a nonprofit media organization founded in 2008 by a group of civic leaders and journalists. In an effort to present a more balanced view of what has been a struggling city, the Hub recently hosted a press event highlighting Detroit with writers representing Forbes, Bloomberg, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal and, yes, The Times.

It is rare that such a Who’s Who of top-tier media outlets would travel with each other on the same bus for essentially the same story. But if you look deeper, there are three reasons why this worked.

1. The Hub is a collection of the right storytellers. When business leaders and former journalists, both groups of which make up the Hub, are the ones sharing information about a place, there is a level of instant credibility that could never be achieved by any economic development group. At DCI, we consistently advise communities to have someone else tell their story (third-party endorsements, CEOs, industry experts), and this is a perfect illustration.

2. The press event covered the good and the bad. So many times PR professionals want to portray a sense of 100% positivity associated with their brand, be it a product, service or place. Economic development groups are perhaps the worst offenders. Remember this NPR story during the recession? The reason the Hub was so successful wasn’t because all of the messaging and site tours proclaimed “Detroit is back.” It was successful because the trip revealed both the warts and the plan to remove those warts. “Give them access to the right facts, and more balanced stories will emerge about Detroit. But whitewash our problems, and it will fail from the start,” said Marge Sorge, executive director of the Hub.

3. If you build it (credibility), they will come. Because of the first two points above, the Hub had developed street cred over time that allowed it to pull in such an all-star press group. “To avoid ethical conflicts, the Hub was set up as a nonprofit and does not market itself to journalists,” the article reads, saying nearly all communication with the media is inbound. “The Hub now assists some 2,000 reporters and bloggers a year, and the city’s efforts at revitalization have resulted in cover articles in Forbes, National Geographic Traveler, The Christian Science Monitor and Delta Sky Magazine.” Wouldn’t we all love that!

Of course, Detroit has the “advantage” of becoming the posterchild for the country’s recent recession, so the media is naturally drawn to the city (and, more recently, it happens to be the symbol of recovery and innovation that all recessions seem to inspire). But for communities not under the national microscope, consider following these three steps and, over time, it is a legitimate possibility that The New York Times will come knocking on your community’s door.

Written by Steve Duncan

Steve Duncan is Vice President of DCI’s lead generation division. Since 2004, Steve has managed marketing programs for a diverse set of city, state and country organizations, from Albuquerque and Houston to Tuscany and Wyoming.

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