Marketing in Richmond

It seems all too common for local businesses and organizations in Richmond to confuse marketing and advertising. I wonder if that confusion is affecting our ability to effectively market this community as a whole. Here’s why.

Advertising is mostly about the mechanics of getting the word out. Advertising is buying space on a billboard, taking out an ad in the paper, airing a spot on the radio, or posting about sales and promotions on social media.

Marketing is more about crafting the message that you’re sending (though advertising and other means) about what you do and why it matters. Marketing is telling a compelling story that people can see themselves as a part of.

Some Richmond organizations and business owners seem unwilling or unable to truly invest in promoting their offerings. They may not think they have the budget, they may not see the value, or they may just assume that word of mouth will send clients/customers charging in. At best they have a hard-to-read sign, an outdated brochure or a broken website. Even for the ones that do invest, they sometimes don’t seem to understand that good marketing is about more than just advertising.

Very much related, there’s a dearth of professional marketing experts and services available in Richmond. If you search for marketing firms here, you’ll mostly find folks who do it as a side business to some other primary offering (usually related to technology or advertising). So even a business owner or not-for-profit director who is thoroughly committed to investing in their marketing might have a hard time creating or following through on a marketing plan without turning to experts in Indianapolis, Dayton, Cincinnati or beyond, and at a price that might feel out of reach. Most probably don’t bother, and instead rely on college interns, retired journalists or their IT staff.

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How to run for local elected office in Richmond

It’s a time of increased political engagement for many, and some people are realizing that if they are concerned about the direction their government is heading, one option is to run for office themselves.

I’ve only done it once as a candidate and I didn’t win the office I was seeking, but I still learned a lot about what it takes to run for local elected office in Richmond, Indiana. So, I’m sharing some of that knowledge in hopes that it will help people who want to make a difference in our community in this particular way.

1. Learn about local government, pick an office to run for

Some people assume that the only local elected office that could really make a difference is that of the Mayor, but it’s not that simple. The interactions between the Mayor’s office (executive branch), the Richmond Common Council (legislative branch), various boards and commissions, and the many other departments and divisions of city government are complicated. There are also significant interdependencies between local government, Wayne County government, and even state-level government. Understanding how all of these work is an important first step in deciding to run for office. You might even find that there are unelected positions (as a volunteer or employee) you could take on to tackle the issues that are important to you.

So, read through state and local codes that dictate the power and responsibilities of these entities. Visit the offices in person. Talk to the people who currently work there and ask them what they do every day. Watch the many hours of government-related programming from WCTV. Read through past media coverage. Attend government meetings yourself.

Once you pick the office you want to run for, study it carefully. Research who has held the position in the past, what kind of work they’ve done, where the biggest opportunities and constraints seem to be, and what current issues are facing that position in today’s political and economic environment.

You should also study the calendar and major milestones of local election cycles. The Indiana Secretary of State usually makes available detailed packets of information for candidates and campaign committees with all of the filing deadlines, reporting deadlines and election dates – here’s the 2016 Candidate Guide. The Wayne County Clerk also typically has helpful information for candidates online, and you should visit their office in person to get familiar with their friendly staff and the forms you’ll need to file.

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Tech skills for elected officials

Should basic competence with technology be essential for serving in local elected office?

I think so.

Historically not a lot of the workflow of local roles like City Council member, County Commissioner, or even Mayor have required much familiarity with technology. If you could receive and read through packets of paper, answer the phone and listen to voicemail, speak reasonably coherently in meetings, and perhaps operate a motor vehicle, you had everything you needed to serve the public interest without worrying too much about computers, the Internet, phone systems or other tech tools.

Today, I don’t think an elected official can claim to be truly in touch with the needs and opportunities in their constituent community if they’re not proficient with more modern tools like email, the web, cloud-based document sharing and collaboration, and social media.

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Against the wind

Update on November 11: Since my original post below, I’ve gotten some feedback and clarifications from a few folks involved in these conversations, and want to update my own thoughts accordingly.

Apparently the main proposal on the table has been from a non-local entity that wants to build a large-scale industrial wind turbine farm in a location that may not be well-suited to the overall needs of the area, mostly with a focus on using the energy generated elsewhere and creating profit for that entity. So this would shift the question from “how can Wayne County benefit from wind energy?” to “should Wayne County rent out some land for the commercial benefit of an energy company?”

It’s a very different question and these details matter. Before publishing my comments I had requested some of the details of what’s being proposed from the County and City officials involved, but hadn’t received anything back yet. If those details aren’t publicly available, it’s harder to understand how the specific placement/location, scale, management, finances and energy generation/usage would work, or where the opposition is coming from.

I also don’t want people living here to conflate “poorly located industrial wind farm” with “wind energy” in general. Richmond needs to be considering alternative energy sources in the long term, and I think it’s dangerous to have these signs be the first thing residents see in a public conversation about wind energy as an option for our community. I wish they’d had a website address on them where people who wanted to learn more could go to continue the conversation.

At the very least the documents and research being circulated among elected officials and local leaders in this conversation should be made readily available on the City and/or County websites.

Original Post: There’s a conversation happening here about using the power of the wind to provide electricity to the community. It’s an important conversation, not just because it affects anyone using electricity, but because how we approach it also speaks to what kind of place we want to be.

First of all, let’s just take a minute to acknowledge how amazing it is that we’re living in a time when the technology exists to generate power from the energy of the wind, the sun, water and various other sources. Although we’re a ways away from being able to have all of our energy needs met by a single one of these sources, we no longer have to think solely in terms of “coal versus nuclear.” Wow.

That’s why you might be a bit surprised to see signs like the ones in the photo above popping up around town, opposing the use of wind turbines to generate energy.

The signs and the over-simplified thinking of the wind energy opponents behind them are misleading and harmful for a few reasons:

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WalletHub ranking Richmond

Some folks seem a little preoccupied with a recent article on the financial product & services website WalletHub that gives Richmond a poor showing in a list of “Best Small Cities in America.” You can read the article here.

First, there are some things about reporting on this that are a little misleading. Kicks96 typically used the sensational headline “Only Gary is Worse Than Richmond” and incorrectly stated that “the only Indiana city worse than Richmond is Gary.” (According to the study, both Muncie and Gary rank lower than Richmond.) Also, Richmond’s “Safety Rank” category, which is responsible for 1/5th of the total score in this methodology, is missing data. It’s not clear if that means Richmond just lost those 20 points because the report’s author couldn’t find the information they wanted, or if the score was somehow weighted to account for that. I’ve contacted the author for clarification but have not yet received a reply.

Second, the ranking system used is a pretty over-simplified way of presenting what’s “best” and there are plenty of other ways to read the data. For example, Richmond comes out as 7th in the cities they profiled for Quality of Life. But no one seems to want to write a “Richmond Among Top 10 Indiana Small Cities for Quality of Life” headline. Some of the stats are questionable in their utility; “Number of Bars per Capita” isn’t necessarily something people would want a high number for when thinking about where to live. “If we can just get to one bar per person our town will be so AWESOME!” No.

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Diversity in leadership

If you don’t regularly attend local government meetings or read the printed newspaper, it can be easy to forget what our elected leaders look like. Here are some photos from a few recent meetings of elected officials in Wayne County, courtesy of the great ongoing coverage by WCTV:

Yep, it’s a mostly male, mostly white crowd. The largest diversity we tend to have in our legislative bodies is 20-30% representation by women. There are parts of our government that are literally run by “old boy networks.” I believe there is only one non-white elected person in all of Richmond city and Wayne County government.

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Health insurance standoff is bad for business

There’s a standoff between Reid Health and two area health insurance providers, Anthem and MDwise. Unless it’s resolved quickly, individuals purchasing health insurance outside of an employer’s group plan will not be able to use their insurance at Reid’s facilities unless it’s a medical emergency. According to the Palladium-Item, as of a few days ago it doesn’t look like this will be resolved in time for the open enrollment period that begins November 1.

This is bad for the nearly 3,000 people estimated to be affected by it. They may have to leave the city or even the county to get covered medical care, or be discouraged from seeking medical help when they need it. It’s bad for Reid Health, which has invested heavily and generously in serving this community.

It’s also bad for entrepreneurship.

When I first started a business in Richmond, my co-founder and I didn’t have the income to have the company provide group health insurance for us. We happily purchased basic individual health insurance policies and had no problems with coverage using local doctors. This continued for the first few years of our existence until we hired our first employee, and then we invested in a group insurance plan.

Given this standoff, if someone wanted to start a business here today and didn’t have access to health insurance through a family member, they’d be unable to find an individual policy that allowed them to have covered medical care through Reid Health. Indiana is one of the states that doesn’t allow “group of one” policies, so an entrepreneur would have to start hiring right away and commit to paying at least 50% of the premium costs for at least a handful of employees.

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