By Alan J. Keays, VTDigger
It’s not easy to promote several messages at once, but Luke Stafford says he’ll give it his best shot.
“We’re going to have to walk that fine line together as a group here of not diluting our effort so much that it doesn’t have any impact, but trying to please as many people as possible,” Stafford said.
Then he added, “Nice easy task.”
Stafford, the head of Brattleboro-based Mondo Mediaworks, spoke Thursday, March 30, to a steering committee that is launching a marketing campaign to boost the Rutland’s declining population and expand economic opportunities in the region.
The goal is threefold: Get people who already live in Rutland to appreciate the city; encourage people from outside the region to move in; and promote tourism, hopefully enticing visitors to consider living, working or starting a business in area.
The Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce and the Rutland Economic Development Corp. raised more than $200,000 from businesses and organizations around the region. Surrounding towns have also pitched in, and Rutland City put up the biggest chunk of money – contributing $100,000 to the cause.
Mondo Mediaworks will oversee the first year of what is expected to be a multi-year initiative. The digital marketing firm was one of about two dozen bidders for the project.
Stafford and Katherine Partington, an account manager at Mondo, have met with Rutland Young Professionals, the Rutland Economic Development Committee and the chamber as well as local officials over the past week to learn more about the region.
Rutland officials talked about the city’s assets, including high quality broadband and inexpensive fixer-upper properties that could be acquired at tax sale.
“For us, this about listening,” Stafford said Thursday, adding that he has been meeting with the “rock stars” of Rutland.
Stafford described a family he met in Rutland who recently moved from Montana. One spouse got a job in the medical field in the region, he said, and her partner, who worked for a software company, was allowed to work remotely so they moved to Vermont.
That’s the kind of story, Stafford said, that needs to be featured.
Over the firm’s one-year agreement, the work will be broken up into phases, he said, including research, strategy development, campaign creation, and launch.
At one point, Stafford asked business leaders at a meeting what they would consider a campaign “win.”
“I want to see people living downtown, I want to see families walking around downtown, young kids, older kids,” said Lyle Jepson, REDC executive director.
“This is a really small thing,” he added, “but I want to see somebody bend over, pick up a piece of paper, and throw it in a garbage can. I want to see people waving to a friend going by.”
All those things, said Jepson, who is also the dean of entrepreneurial studies at Castleton University, show that people know each other and care about their community.
“I want to see a kayak going by on a car, I want to see bikes on top of a car,” he continued. “To me, that evokes there’s something to do here.”
“You’d be a good creative director … visualizing all those little things that make up the big story,” Stafford replied. “You just created our shot list for our first video.”
Later, in a different meeting, a discussion centered on describing the region as Killington Valley to promote tourism in the region.
Some were worried that the name would leave Rutland out. Others said it builds an association with Killington Ski Resort.
The Killington Valley Initiative, another marketing effort for the region in development, launched its website in November, describing the valley as an “outdoor adventure capital.”
People at the meetings Thursday talked how the mountain had been become a physical and psychological barrier, creating a mindset that has prevented entities on one side from interacting with those on the other side.
Steve Costello, a vice president at Green Mountain Power and a co-chair of the steering committee, said the collaboration involving both sides of the mountain is unique to this effort, with Rutland and Killington joining forces.
“That’s groundbreaking and it’s really important,” Costello told Stafford. “There is a bridge-building opportunity here. No pressure on you.”
Mike Solimano, Killington Ski Resort president and CEO, told Stafford he believed there can be a strong tie-in between the resort and the goals of the marketing campaign.
“We have a lot of visitors coming to the resort and they keep asking me, ‘How can I live here,’” he said, adding, “It’s figuring out how to convince the people who are already predisposed to come here to stay here.”
A CEO who comes to the resort to ski or mountain bike could be encouraged to move his or her business to the region, Solimano added.
Stafford agreed a campaign should try to reach that niche audience.
“Instead of trying to hit them in the New York market spending millions of dollars,” Stafford said, “why not try to hit them while they’re here?”