IEDC Award Spotlight: Branding the City of Salinas as a Global AgTech HubNovember 9, 2017
At the recent International Economic Development Council (IEDC) Annual Conference in Toronto, the city of Salinas, Calif., won IEDC’s Gold Award in Entrepreneurship for its AgTech Innovation Ecosystem. Salinas’ incredible turnaround story – and the marketing behind it – is worth knowing.
City Crisis Spurs AgTech Initiative
In 2012, the city of Salinas learned it would lose more than 850 jobs due to a major employer shutting its doors in the city. In the wake of this crisis, city leaders came up with a plan to leverage Salinas’ proximity to Silicon Valley and $8 billion agriculture industry to create an AgTech Innovation Ecosystem to drive innovation, support entrepreneurship and ultimately create more high-tech jobs. The initiative encompasses entrepreneurial development, workforce training and marketing in the agtech industry – a bold task in a largely low-income farming region that once had little to no existing startup culture.
How Marketing Helped the City
Salinas brought DCI on board at the beginning of this initiative to help the city brand and market itself for agtech. While Salinas had long been known as the “salad bowl of the world,” it was not known for technology, and much of the city’s media coverage centered on crime and negative issues happening in the city.
DCI began by developing a marketing strategy to position the city as an agtech hub and quickly moved into implementation. One of the goals was to help the city gain third-party credibility by telling Salinas’ agtech story in the media. When we first began pitching reporters, the term “agtech” was just starting to make its way into the mainstream media, and Salinas did not yet have many concrete results to showcase. Despite these challenges, we piqued the interest of a few reporters based in nearby San Francisco and arranged interviews and visits to Salinas. This resulted in front-page stories in the Financial Times and San Francisco Chronicle, as well as a feature on NPR, which created a snowball effect of marketing momentum.
Since then, the city has made tremendous strides on other components of the ecosystem – training youth how to code, creating workforce initiatives to help its most disadvantaged residents, launching an accelerator program and attracting an agtech incubator downtown. These milestones helped fuel the story we were able to tell, and over the past four years, we have placed more than 100 articles in national publications such as the Los Angeles Times, WIRED, CNBC, Fast Company and Forbes – resulting in more than 1.5 billion impressions.
Further putting Salinas in the national spotlight, DCI pitched Forbes Media on the idea of holding an agtech summit in Salinas. After we introduced the city and its partners to the Forbes team, Forbes selected Salinas for its 2015 “Forbes Reinventing America: The AgTech Summit” in downtown Salinas. The invitation-only event brought together several hundred of the smartest minds in Silicon Valley and global agriculture to tackle some of the world’s most critical challenges in the agriculture industry. The first summit was such a success that Forbes made it an annual event, and continued to hold its agtech summits in Salinas in 2016 and 2017. Having a major media brand like Forbes establish one of the world’s leading agtech events in Salinas has not only put the city on the map as an agtech hub, but also positioned the city of Salinas as a thought leader in the industry and exposed hundreds of executives, potential investors, entrepreneurs, influencers and media to the city.
Advice for Other Cities
As many cities across the country strive to become the next “(fill in the blank) hub,” there are four takeaways that we believe contributed to Salinas’ unprecedented success.
- Authenticity. While Salinas struggles with many serious issues, city leaders aren’t afraid to talk about them. Their transparency and ability to acknowledge challenges, and also speak to how they are overcoming them, make for a more compelling story.
- Razor-Sharp Focus. City leaders made the strategic decision to build upon Salinas’ existing strengths in agriculture and proximity to Silicon Valley to focus on agtech, putting their resources towards developing their strongest industry instead of trying to cast a too-wide net.
- Truly Compelling Spokespeople. Throughout this process, C-level executives, the mayor and other high-level spokespeople have made themselves available for media interviews. This has helped bring credibility and color to the story.
- Global Relevance. While it was a local crisis that spurred this initiative, the timing was right based on changes already happening in the industry. Farmers in Salinas and across the globe were beginning to embrace technology that could help them solve challenges surrounding major issues like labor, sustainability, food safety and growing demands for food.
While there is still much work to be done to create more agtech jobs and investment in the city of Salinas, we’re excited to be part of putting Salinas on the map and a successful initiative that has changed the city’s trajectory.