AWAI Writing Challenge Honorable Mention:
From Whiner to Action Taker … How One Company’s Simple Idea Helped Strengthen Their Community
“More needs to be done to encourage business in the downtown area”.
That’s been the complaint of downtown Pensacola businesses for years. Some people blame the Downtown Improvement Board for not doing enough. Others point their fingers at the Chamber of Commerce for only promoting the area beaches. In the end, they all, my employer included, lament that too little is being done to encourage business downtown. But whining never solves problems.
From Whiner to Action Taker
For over 9 years, I’ve worked for one of those companies that whines. Like many others, I’m the type of worker who goes to work – sits at my desk for 9 hours – eats lunch at my desk – then I go home. And downtown workers like me are part of the problem.
This occurred to me one day as I watched a reporter interview people about the downtown area. Those people happened to be two of my clients, so I paid more than the usual attention to the interview. They voiced the same old complaints. The suddenly I realized the print shop where I work could be part of the solution!
The next morning, I approached my managers with my idea. Firstly, I mentioned the news story and drew them into a conversation about the community’s problem. Then the obvious answer was voiced – bring more people in to do business downtown.
I didn’t know how to accomplish that, but I had an alternate solution in mind. Stop focusing our energy on drawing people downtown. Instead, focus on the thousands of people who already spend everyday working here. Inform them about the things downtown has to offer. Motivate people, like me, to get out of their cubicles and into the shops and restaurants.
How? By producing a directory of all the businesses located within walking distance of the town's center. Then …
- Distribute it without charge to all the downtown businesses.
- Supply free directory listings for each business.
- Sell affordable ads to offset some of the costs of printing.
- Price the ads in a way that even the smallest business can afford to advertise.
- Market it as a community service.
Laying Out The Benefits
After identifying the target market, I had to answer one vital question. ‘What’s in it for us?’ Producing such a directory doesn’t come cheap. The company needed to be able to justify the cost.
So I explained: By printing and then marketing the directory as a community service, we would establish our company as an action taker – a leader.
Two emotional triggers for one of my managers are pride and vanity. I chose to use this to my advantage. She has a burning desire for approval from others. Having people look to her as a leader, a mover and shaker, is a lifelong dream. She also exerts a lot of influence on one of the other two managers, her husband. If I could persuade her to back my idea, I was two-thirds the way there.
Another benefit – exposure and name recognition. As a marketing tool, the directory would be more effective and last longer than any ads placed in the local newspapers or magazines. Our name would be in front of every business downtown in a format that people would keep on hand. For instance, the next time they walked to the courthouse to conduct business, they could open the directory and see what shops or restaurants are located on the way.
Our company name will be printed modestly throughout the directory, including the front cover, the forward, an article on printing tips and in our own ad. All tastefully done, of course, but visible nonetheless.
These benefits led to the bottom line – more money through more clients. I reminded them of how many people have said, “I didn’t know there was a print shop downtown.” Now people would know. Between ad sales calls, distribution directory to each business and the directory itself, every business downtown would know our name.
With a little persuasion, my managers agreed to support the project.
Success Beyond Expectation
The community feedback was incredible. They loved the idea of a directory and agreed that they really didn’t know what businesses exist in their own neighborhood. And the word-of-mouth buzz went into motion. Our little directory changed from one company’s project to a community’s effort. They helped spread the word to folks we had never considered asking to assist with distribution.
The local Chamber of Commerce, Visitors’ Centers – four in Florida and one in Alabama, all requested copies to distribute. The local hospitality network found out about our project, and also asked for a supply. Even a radio talk show host heard about the directory and interviewed my manager on the air.
Our project was a huge success! Not only did it position our company as a leader in the community, it also gave us great exposure and showcased our printing and graphic design services. People began calling us. They wanted to know how they could advertise – inevitably, they ended up asking about what other services we offer. No newspaper ad had ever produced that much response for our company. As a result, we gained a number of new clients and helped our neighbors do the same.
Business referrals in the community have also increased as people now use it to direct customers to other downtown businesses. Workers are mapping out their walk to the bank to include a stop at an art gallery or pizza shop located on the way. And I rarely hear, “I didn’t know that was there.”
So far, we have printed three editions and our neighbors are asking when to expect the fourth. All I can say is, I’m working on it.