How Cleveland is Regaining its Marketing Mojo

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How Cleveland is Regaining its Marketing Mojo

Can Cleveland, Ohio – the city that rocks, but has struggled in recent years with population decline and the economic downturn – capitalize on its extraordinary assets and regain its marketing mojo?

The answer is an emphatic yes, according to executives representing the region’s health and medical community, film industry, convention and visitors bureau, and professional and amateur sports.

These leaders shared insights on how to tell Cleveland’s story at a presentation on “Marketing Cleveland” on March 15 at Executive Caterers of Landerhaven. Here are highlights from their comments and my views as a Cleveland-based marketing consultant.

A Wealth of Good News about ClevelandCleveland1

The panel included David Gilbert, President and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and Positively Cleveland, the area’s convention and visitors’ bureau; Baiju Shah, President and CEO of BioEnterprise, a business formation, recruitment, and acceleration initiative that grows health care companies; and Ivan Schwarz, Executive Director of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission. Chris Tye of WKYC-TV3 moderated the discussion.

Panelists cited multiple examples of great things happening in Cleveland that are driving business development and boosting the Northeast Ohio economy:

  • Cleveland is experiencing a renaissance of major commercial development, including the Cleveland Medical Mart, a new convention center, and a new downtown casino, that will draw millions of visitors, create jobs, and bolster the economy,
  • Cleveland has a global reputation in health care. In addition to premier medical institutions, more than 600 medical companies are headquartered in the area. Companies that formed Cleveland’s legacy industrial base are now becoming suppliers to these innovative medical firms; patients around the world are coming to Cleveland for superior medical care; four hotels have been built near major hospitals in Cleveland and two others are on the way.
  • The Avengers is the latest major movie filming in Cleveland. The Cleveland Film Commission is aggressively promoting Cleveland to producers in Hollywood and even has plans to reach out to Bollywood producers in India. Cleveland and Ohio are “the back lot of America,” offering virtually every type of setting for location shooting, and the Ohio film tax credit is a big bonus. “For a filmmaker, everything is possible here,” Schwarz said. “Who wouldn’t want to shoot here?”
  • The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament comes to Cleveland on Friday, bringing with it thousands of visitors and $10-12 million for the local economy. The tournament is just one of ten major national sports events, including NCAA and Olympic competitions, taking place in Cleveland in the coming year.

The First Challenge: Marketing to Ourselves

Yet despite this good news, Clevelanders can be their own worst enemies by focusing on the challenges Northeast Ohio is facing rather than the exciting changes reshaping the area. “Tremendous things are happening here,” Gilbert noted. “A ‘can’t do’ attitude becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a community, we need to believe in ourselves. We have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Schwarz, who moved to Cleveland from Los Angeles, was surprised Cleveland residents asked what he called “the question with the wrong ‘w’:  ‘Why did you move here?’ not ‘What drew you here?’, or even ‘welcome to Cleveland.’”

The Secret to Cleveland’s Success

According to these leaders, Cleveland’s success will come from embracing the region’s great assets and building business plans around them. “We now have more tools to do that,” Shah noted. “The Medical Mart is a watershed moment for this industry. It shows the health care industry is coming of age for the nation and Cleveland will be at the heart of it.

“There’s exceptional medical advancement happening,” he continued. “What we have here and how it affects medicine is vastly different from other cities, and it’s a great environment for launching and growing medical companies.”

A “New Era” for Cleveland

With all the big projects on tap, Gilbert said that Cleveland is on the cusp of a new era. “Projects are being built to bring people to town, and these are real projects with shovels in the ground, not just on the drawing board,” he noted. “

To market Cleveland, “we need to keep succeeding,” Gilbert explained. “We need to continue to do things well, and over time, people will see what we have to offer.”

Panelists also agreed that marketing Cleveland must include attracting young adults. “We should show them there’s opportunity here to start something exciting and realize their dreams,” Gilbert said. Shah noted that the state of Ohio jobs website has 36,000 job openings right now in Northeast Ohio.

Making Every Clevelander an Ambassador

The organizations these executives lead are already reaching out to entrepreneurs, meeting planners, film producers, sports organizations, and tourists, to showcase what’s available only in Cleveland.

But marketing Cleveland must extend far beyond the professional groups whose job is to promote the region. Panelists urged Northeast Ohio business professionals to be ambassadors for the area. “Be positive,” Gilbert stressed. “Are there problems? Yes, but great things are happening here and there’s a high level of entrepreneurial energy.”

Their bottom line: “Cleveland rocks” should be an attitude – and everyone doing business in Cleveland should share it.

4 Suggestions from a Cleveland Marketing Consultant

With a great story to tell and exceptional value to offer, Cleveland is poised for marketing success. Here are four suggestions I’d offer as a marketing consultant for a smart marketing strategy for Cleveland:

  1. Tell real stories about the successes happening here to dispel the misperceptions people have about Cleveland. The new advertising campaign by the Downtown Cleveland Alliance featuring local entrepreneurs who are growing their businesses with a downtown Cleveland address is a terrific start.
  2. Focus on the factors that differentiate Cleveland in the marketplace, such as its lakefront location, affordability, cultural riches, vibrant business community, and especially its high quality of life.
  3. Use every marketing communications avenue available to share with Clevelanders the good news about what’s changing in the region.
  4. Make a compelling offer that gets out-of-town prospects to experience Cleveland first-hand. Schwarz noted, for example, that “every single person [from Hollywood] that we’ve brought out here in the past two years has ended up filming here.”

As a Cleveland-area resident and entrepreneur, I can say from personal experience that Cleveland really does rock. Come see for yourself.

  • Kate Hawk

    Great article, Jean. I’m bummed I missed the event. Cleveland has some great opportunities on the horizon along with current assets. It’s taken way too long for the city to make a come back!

    March 18, 2011 at 9:12 am
  • Shirley Stineman

    This was just great, Jean … we definitely have a bright future and we all need to be ambassadors for our region!! Thanks for your insight!


    March 21, 2011 at 10:57 am
  • Dick Clough

    Good stuff, Jean. The town is definitely on the upswing and poised for a comeback similiar to the time period when the Gateway Complex came on line together with the Rock Hall. The key to the future is sustaining the momentum, and building on it. We had a great run up to Cleveland’s Bicentennial in 1996 and then nothing for too many years. The culprit more often than not has been lack of political leadership. Maybe just maybe the new county set-up will be everything everyone hopes for.

    Cleveland also needs a good brand. Cleveland Plus doesn’t cut it. They tried to encompass too much. Were it up to me, I would return to the slogan, “Cleveland. The best things in life are here.”
    Or the 50’s /60’s moniker, “Cleveland. Best location in the nation.”

    Finally, we have to make a dent in the bad attitude of folks out in the neighborhood have about the town. You and I, Shirley, Kate, and other activists are not the problem. The average citizen is. The PD’s initiative “Believe in Cleveland” was one effort to influence the negativity. What we need is a viral campaign to dramatically shift our self image. I have been chatting with a few colleagues about creating a “Tour the City Day” this summer to encourage vast numbers of people to visit their own metro area, and see how great we have it.

    I could go on but bed time is beckoning. This is a favorite subject.

    By the way (as I have told you previously) I love everything about your site, and the way you have presented yourself and positioned your company. Cleveland should retain your strategic marketing services.



    March 24, 2011 at 12:04 am
  • Chris Brown

    Great article, Jean.

    Clevelander’s low self esteem issues have to get cleared up before we can move forward. I think you hit the nail on the head:

    .., was surprised Cleveland residents asked what he called “the question with the wrong ‘w’: ‘Why did you move here?’ not ‘What drew you here?’, or even ‘welcome to Cleveland.’”

    Keep your articles coming. Good Stuff!!


    March 25, 2011 at 11:18 am
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