Authentic Storytelling: Three Recommendations by Site Selectors at IEDC Annual ConferenceSeptember 26, 2023
More than 1,600 economic development practitioners gathered in Dallas last week for the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) Annual Conference. The conference concluded its four-day programming with a morning plenary of six site selection consultants sharing the latest trends and best practices for communities.
Among the hourlong discussion are three recommendations directly relevant for economic development marketing strategies that coalesce around the notion of authentic storytelling.
Elevate Diverse Voices – When and Where Appropriate
Jason Hickey states that his firm, Hickey and Associates, is seeing 10-15% of site selection decisions involve ESG (environmental, social and governance) factors, with that number particularly high for office and tech operations.
When it comes to environmental considerations, economic developers have an opportunity to proactively promote policies and programs that streamline companies’ ability to meet and exceed their internal sustainability goals. Many companies are finessing their own goals and objectives, and forward-thinking communities with established frameworks for companies to latch onto will have a leg up.
In considering the social aspect of ESG, company examples and site visits are prime opportunities to tell a location’s diverse stories. Perhaps companies in your community partner with a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) and advance Black talent in key occupations, a story that can be elevated across business attraction marketing. Likewise, consider who is sitting around the table in meetings with companies and their site selectors and if that delegation is an accurate representation of your community.
That said, authenticity and transparency are paramount and a community should never tokenize a partner or community voice. The back-to-back nature of site visits puts communities in direct comparison and allows companies to quickly see through potentially inauthentic messaging, as Seth Martindale of CBRE makes clear through his analogy of site visits to wine tastings. Companies and their team of site selectors visit finalist sites one after the other for a side-by-side comparison akin to a flight at your favorite winery.
While diversity is increasingly important to companies, demonstrating your community’s true value proposition will allow site selectors to create a successful match with the right companies. “A lot of this conversation is hard to quantify, and opinion on a location’s diversity, cultural landscape and stability will vary from company to company,” says Martindale.
Speak Your Truth at Every Stage, Virtual and In Person
“You can’t change who you are or where you are,” says Kim Moore of Newmark, based in Texas, where the 2021 freeze made national headlines.
When asked to provide data on weather patterns and power outages during early consideration phases, cherry picked and segmented data will be immediately noticed by site selectors, dissolve trust and slow the process as the community is asked to resubmit the data – and may even eliminate the location from consideration.
The pandemic necessitated virtual site visits and led to a faster adoption of technologies in the site selection process that have created many efficiencies. However, the panelists at IEDC agree that on-the-ground, in-person visits will remain critical in the site selection process in order to vet the authenticity of a community’s marketing and ensure a culture fit between the community and company.
Ordering an outfit online may speed up how quickly it gets to your doorstep, but you still try on the expensive purchase before wearing it to an event. The analogy can be applied to the site selection process, with important meetings in the consideration phase taking place virtually while final decisions such as a visit by the company take place in person.
Showcase your community authentically when hosting site selection consultants and company executives. As Moore says, “Intangible elements make site visits so important. Data may say one thing, but on-the-ground experiences may reveal a different feeling that can heavily sway a company.”
Feature Third Party Validation
“We love you, but we know you are paid to sell to us,” Kim Moore playfully told the audience of economic developers.
Going beyond hard data, case studies and testimonials can and should be integrated by economic development organizations as a way to speak to the top priorities and factors impacting location decisions.
For instance, workforce availability is identified as the top factor for both office and industrial location decisions in the 2022 edition of The State of Site Selection as cited by the panelists. Programs that provide childcare assistance or post-incarceration upskilling and reintegration are example means of establishing new labor pools, and highlighting companies’ success with these programs to achieve business goals is highly effective.
Going back to the analogy of online shopping, consider the influence of reviews. Companies trust peer experience much like the day-to-day consumer. In the words of Bryan Farlow of Thomas & Hutton, “statistics are good, but case studies bring the data to life.”
Own Your Narrative
Download The State of Site Selection, a joint report by the Site Selectors Guild and DCI, to learn more about the top factors currently impacting corporate location decisions and those anticipated to lead office and industrial site selection in the years to come.
When your community is ready to intentionally market to and build relationships with the critical audience of site selection consultants, get in touch with Nick Reshan at [email protected] to discuss the best strategy and approach for your community.