Prime location: How three cities are pitching for Amazon's second HQ

The bids may be in, but the communications pushes are just beginning. How three North American cities are making their cases to the e-commerce juggernaut.

The bids are in for Amazon’s second headquarters. Dozens of municipalities across North America, from Austin, Texas, to Washington, DC, and Toronto to Newark, New Jersey, have submitted proposals.

While the paperwork has been filed, the cities are just getting started on their communications efforts, hoping to build momentum for their cases to be the e-commerce giant’s second major hub after Seattle.

Amazon has promised to invest more than $50 billion in construction and house as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs in the new host city.

Here’s a look at the communications strategies of three of the top contenders.

Newark, New Jersey
The organizers behind Newark’s bid know the city may not be a sexy or obvious choice for Amazon, which is why it is rolling out a push called "Yes, Newark," including a website and Twitter handle.

The campaign is focused on five key talking points: the city’s data infrastructure, digital connectivity, location, diversity, and its urban transformation. The campaign website includes video case studies of other companies that have flourished in the city, such as Prudential.

"What we’re focused on is making sure Newark’s brand is really strong," says Aisha Glover, president and CEO of Newark Community Economic Development.

"We have the tagline ‘Yes, Newark’ for a reason, because people typically have a lot of questions about us," she adds. "‘You guys really do have one of the fastest Internet speeds in the world? And you’re really one of the top college towns on the East Coast? And you’re that much of a transportation hub?’ And the answer to every question is, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’"

Its campaign launched this week, as the development organization didn’t start pulling together a PR component until it knew the state was backing the Newark bid.

"We didn’t want to do a stunt or some creative announcement like some other places have done, because at the end of the day you don’t just want to get on their radar, but for Amazon to really seriously consider you," explains Glover. "So we didn’t think about press announcements or PR strategy until weeks into the development of our proposal."

That’s where Evergreen Partners, a Warren, New Jersey-based strategic comms shop, came in after it was hired by the group to execute an outreach plan.

"Our campaign will unfold in phases as we learn more about Amazon’s process of selection," says Karen Kessler, president of Evergreen. "We don’t know from Amazon if there will be a shortlist or if they will be making city visits. That is why we’ve created a plan that is flexible...We’ve put everything in pencil because our campaign may have to pivot as the process unfolds."

Toronto
Canada’s largest, most culturally diverse metropolis made public its nearly 200-page bid, focused on its "massive, futureproofed pipeline of highly educated and diverse talent."

While it may come as a surprise that Canadian cities have submitted proposals, Amazon, which has a growing Toronto office, was inclusive of the U.S.’ northern neighbor in the language it used in the RFP.

"When Amazon included the word ‘province’ in the RFP, we went, ‘Oh, OK,’" says Toby Lennox, CEO of Toronto Global, an "arm’s-length organization" formed in February to attract expanding global companies on behalf of municipalities in the Toronto region. The group is preparing a campaign to rally support from Amazon employees.

"We’re about to start a social media campaign that is targeted at Amazon employees, because we know that Amazon is going to be surveying them on the second headquarters," says Lennox.

The campaign could focus on Canada’s immigration policies, contrasting them with the Trump administration’s tightening of U.S immigration standards. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos opposed President Donald Trump’s executive order, issued in January, on immigration and refugees, writing that welcoming "the energies and talents of immigrants" is a competitive advantage.

While Lennox is tight-lipped about specific talking points, he notes Canada’s openness to immigrants. "The Toronto region welcomes 90,000 immigrants a year. Canada, Ontario, and Toronto depend on immigration for growth," he says. "That is a striking difference to what is happening in the US. We are not having those arguments and debates about immigration."

However, what Toronto will not do is position itself as a city in need of Amazon.

"We are in a different position than most of the other North American jurisdictions. We don’t need Amazon for civic transformation," says Lennox. "We already have one of the largest growing tech sectors in North America. If Amazon wants to join the party, fantastic, but all our proposed office sites will be developed whether Amazon comes or not."

Washington, DC
Localities in the D.C. area including Washington, Maryland, and Virginia have made separate bids, but the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) is supporting all of the proposals in the region.

The Council has created an extensive library of datasets and reports, interactive maps, and messaging about the region’s competitive advantages tailored to the Amazon RFP. It also hired APCO Worldwide, which created a report on 75 data points in a document called Amazon DMV.

Joanna London, senior director and head of the corporate communications practice in APCO's Washington office, says, "Our job was to tell that first chapter of the story, which is why the region is well positioned to be the best place for Amazon to put its second headquarters."

The Amazon DMV proposal was broken into three sections: economy, talent, and opportunity for business growth. While it contains many data points, London says the firm is also telling a narrative version of the story in the document.

"At the end of the day, the business case has to come screaming through the submission—that is what will make or break their decision—but we also want to make sure the passion for the region comes through in what we believe are the area’s best attributes," she says.

"Our region has an excellent story to tell, and I think area leaders will keep this momentum going after the Amazon proposal," adds Council executive director Chuck Bean.

Those leaders will likely point out that other big companies such as Nestle, Yelp, and Marriott have chosen to relocate to remain in the Greater Washington area.

"If we continue to work together as a region to promote our many strengths, we expect many other corporations to make their home in Greater Washington, too," says Bean. "We’re confident that our jurisdictions’ responses to Amazon will be given strong consideration, and we are ready to support them throughout the process."

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