Local Outreach: NY county draws attention to local economic growth

Hidden away in upstate New York, Rensselaer County had character oozing from its century-old farmhouses.

Hidden away in upstate New York, Rensselaer County had character oozing from its century-old farmhouses.

Its growing businesses and universities made it ideal for people wishing to work in downtown industry by day and retire to a small-town home by night; the problem was that no one seemed to know it, including the people who lived there. "We needed to make residents aware that there had been a lot of growth within the county that wasn't publicized," says Robert Pasinella, director of the Rensselaer County Industrial Development Agency (IDA).

The IDA turned to Albany-based communications firm Media Logic to help get the word out. The firm immediately recognized that without a baseline to work from, it would never know where the campaign had to go. Seeing how important quantifiable data would be, it approached research-measurement consultancy KDPaine & Partners for assistance.

Strategy

KDPaine saw two measurements necessary to the campaign - the residents' sentiments and the amount of media exposure. But while resident opinions could be measured independently, the firm needed a point of reference for media analysis. "As a government county, there isn't technically competition. What do you benchmark yourself against?" asks Katie Delahaye Paine, CEO of KDPaine.

The IDA decided it desired the media treatment received by neighboring Saratoga County, thereby creating a yardstick of progress. KDPaine gathered more than 85 media clips and charted the two counties' coverage, meanwhile surveying influential county leaders. Once Media Logic got a grasp of what residents understood about their county, it would know what information to market.

Tactics

The survey of 100 county opinion leaders showed uncertainty toward economic development, as many equated it with the destruction of their ways of life. Seeing how people valued the community, Media Logic knew the most effective spokespeople would be residents. It recorded testimonials from residents for air on local cable, created a county newsletter, and ran print ads intended to educate the population about how economic growth would enhance their lives through wider tax bases and revitalized businesses.

"We didn't want to portray Rensselaer County as, "If we build it, they will come." We wanted to say, "It's already here. Look around!" says Denise Carney-Jones, account supervisor at Media Logic.

Results

KDPaine's follow-up analysis found that the opportunities to see stories related to economic development in the county had more than doubled from 1.75 million from January to April 2003, to about 5 million from May to August 2003, the first phase of the campaign. More recent analysis shows that the opportunities to see stories remain steady this year, landing at about 4 million from January to June.

Rensselaer also dominated news coverage more visibly and positively than Saratoga County, reigning in five out of 13 publications and garnering the lion's share of endorsements during the first phase. For a county that had seen a considerable share of anti-business positioning, the coverage allowed more than 5.3 million people to see positive, pro-business messages.

Interest in the county is increasing on the web, as well, with its website garnering 1,372 unique visitors in the first phase. From January to July of this year, that number increased to about 2,500 per month.

Future

Rensselaer County and Media Logic see the campaign and its message as being at least a three-year plan, with KDPaine along for the ride.

PR team: Media Logic (Albany, NY) and Rensselaer County, NY, with KDPaine & Partners (Durham, NH)

Campaign: Life looks good from here

Time frame: June 2003 to present (ongoing)

Budget: $60,000

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