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Chamber Executive Article Archive

Lessons from Leaders: Outstanding Work in Chamber Communications

By Several Authors

Fall 2014

Virtually every entry in ACCE’s Awards for Communication Excellence program is a valuable case study in effective chamber communications. While available resources for chamber communications projects range widely from meager to generous, the mission scope is laser focused: assist business, advance community.

This year’s ACE competition attracted 163 entries in four categories: advertising/marketing, campaigns, electronic, and publications. Awards were given in two size classes: chambers with budgets exceeding $1 million and those with smaller budgets. Winning was not based merely on good writing and excellent design. Results matter. Was the communication effective?

Judges declared one Grand Award trophy winner in each category in the two size classes, and gave Award of Excellence certificates as they deemed appropriate. Judges added the phrase “Special Recognition” to some certificates when the entry was a trophy contender.

At ACCE’s August convention in Cincinnati, a second group of judges evaluated the four Grand Award winners in the two size classes and bestowed “Best in Show” awards, which were announced during the convention awards program.

The following narratives were excerpted from the winners’ entry forms. Use these summaries as benchmarks and learning models, applying the best of the best to improve your chamber’s communications.

 

Class 1 (chambers with revenue above $1 million)

Campaigns 
Grand Award and Best in Show 
Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce - “WorkIT Nashville” Technology Recruitment Campaign

The technology industry in middle Tennessee is projected to grow an average of 4.4 percent annually, and a recent study noted that Nashville had 836 information technology jobs open, but only 50 of those jobs were entry-level. Most local companies need IT workers with 3-5 years of experience. This could be a barrier to future economic development efforts if not addressed proactively. WorkITNashville. com is the result of a year-long collaboration among the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County, Nashville Technology Council, Williamson County and businesses in the region.

The goal of WorkITNashville.com is to create a platform where any company in our 10-county region can post jobs at no cost and search for qualified candidates locally, nationally and abroad. Our goal was to help businesses across the 10-county region by identifying a talent pool of experienced tech workers interested in relocating to the Nashville area. Our strategy:

•   The central portal is WorkITNashville.com, featuring a unique job-matching technology that benefits job seekers and companies. Candidates upload their resumes, create an individual profile, connect to LinkedIn and search for jobs. Local companies post their job openings, create company pages and search the database of candidates. The website also markets the Nashville region with robust content about the local IT community, neighborhoods, entertainment, cost of living, demographics, philanthropy, family activities and more.

•   The WorkIT Nashville Guidebook helps 1,500 local employers promote the features of our community as they recruit.

•   Digital marketing tactics included social media, blogging and online advertising to tell the stories of IT workers in our region and direct people to the website.

The launch of the website included more than 300 business and government leaders from across the region. More than 200 companies have used the website in its first year. Since launch, we’ve had more than 182,000 job searches, and candidates from 42 states and 45 countries have created profiles, expressing interest in moving to the Nashville area.

 

Advertising and Marketing 
Grand Award 
Columbus (Ohio) Chamber of Commerce 2013 - Annual Meeting Promotion: “Lead Like a Champion”

Early 2013 marked a pivotal point for the Columbus Chamber. It was one year into a new business model in which the chamber revamped its offerings to better serve Columbus businesses. The Annual Meeting offered an opportunity to celebrate the successes of the “new” chamber.

The first step was to recruit a keynote speaker who would capture the community’s attention. Urban Meyer, in his first year as The Ohio State University head football coach, agreed to serve. It was his first major public appearance. Building on Meyer’s success (the team enjoyed a 12-0 season), our theme became “Lead Like a Champion,” and his talk focused on attracting and retaining top talent. Other speakers emphasized the chamber’s role as a “Champion for business.” Thanks to aggressive event promotion, attendance rose 27 percent to 1,400, net profits increased 32 percent, and 98 percent of the attendees rated the event excellent or good. More importantly, 95 percent said they agreed that the meeting reinforced their understanding of the chamber’s new mission.

 

Electronic 
Grand Award 
Allegheny Conference on Community Development - ImaginePittsburgh.com

In 2013, the Allegheny Conference launched its redesign of ImaginePittsburgh.com, a powerful job search engine and a virtual concierge, showcasing Pittsburgh’s work, live and play assets. The new website encourages people to re-imagine Pittsburgh to advance a career and build a life. The website was originally launched to build awareness of the 250th anniversary of the naming of the city of Pittsburgh. It was enhanced in 2008 with a job search engine. Market research shifted our focus to our talent shortage and the need for mid-career talent.

The website has a new job search engine that finds job openings in the 10-county region by searching 950 national sources. There are more than 24,000 open positions available across all sectors and experience levels. The website also includes profiles (photos and video) highlighting new residents and why they chose Pittsburgh. Site visitors are encouraged to connect with them through LinkedIn to learn more about careers and opportunities in the Pittsburgh region. Paid sponsors (employers) have profiles on the site, with photos and video, showcasing their companies as great places to work.

Since launch, we’ve averaged 16,000 visits per month, a 37.8% increase from before the launch. Time spent on the site is 4.29 minutes, almost 3 minutes longer than previously.

 

Publications
Grand Award 
Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce - “Music Industry Study”

One of the core competencies of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce is original research, which helps support and promote the growth of industry in our region. To support this goal, the chamber launched its Research Center in 2013 to provide members with data, analysis and industry research on economics and demographics. One of our first studies was commissioned by the Music City Music Council to evaluate the economic impact of Nashville’s music industry. Among other conclusions, the study found that Nashville’s music industry contributes $9.7 billion to the city’s economy each year and accounts for 56,000 jobs within the Nashville area.

The study was designed and produced by the chamber’s communications team for the Research Center. The 85-page publication combined data analysis and narratives, which presented new findings, insights and opportunities for the industry. Findings were reported by The New York Times, The Atlantic Cities, The Tennessean and the Nashville Business Journal, among other national media.

This important research and exposure validated Nashville’s reputation as an international powerhouse of the entertainment industry, elevated the work of the chamber’s Research Center, and differentiated the chamber’s brand from other organizations in the region. The success of this study has opened doors to new research clients, which has created an additional revenue center.

 

 

Class 2 (chambers with revenue below $1 million)

Campaigns 
Grand Award and Best in Show 
Champaign County (Ill.) Chamber of Commerce - Business Emergency Relief Campaign

On Nov. 17, 2013, 73 tornadoes ripped through the Midwest, causing more than $1 billion in property damage. The next day, in partnership with the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois, the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce established a Business Emergency Relief Grant Program. The goal was to prevent businesses in our community from becoming part of the following statistics: the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says 40 percent of businesses do not reopen after a disaster; another 25 percent fail within the first year after a disaster. The U.S. Small Business Administration says the failure rate increases to 90 percent by the second year after a disaster.

Fundraising for this project started on Nov. 18 and ended Dec. 5. The process was stress-free for affected businesses to access emergency relief funds—they simply had to fill out a one-page application which was available on the chamber’s website. Affected businesses could use the funds for building materials, labor costs associated with rebuilding, direct costs related to operation of their business, lost revenue, replacing inventory, payroll, paying bills, new equipment such as computers and printers, office supplies, and any other approved use on a case-by-case basis.

A committee of business and civic leaders reviewed applications and determined how the funds would be dispersed. Businesses of the Gifford community also were offered complimentary chamber memberships for one year, exposure in our newsletter and complimentary admission to a spring breakfast. We wanted to create a program that assisted businesses in neighboring counties that were negatively impacted by this disaster, regardless of whether they were members of the Champaign County Chamber. In addition to raising money to help affected businesses, we wanted to increase awareness about the severity of the event and show other communities what can be accomplished when we all work together to reach a common goal.

Our marketing included press releases, emails to members, notices in our weekly e-newsletter, and exposure on local TV and the local newspaper about our progress.

More than 40 different businesses and community members donated $16,859.50 in less than 20 days. We distributed funds to 15 businesses in the town of Gifford, helping to keep businesses open and creating awareness that the commercial core of a community is instrumental to the success of any thriving community.

 

Advertising and Marketing 
Grand Award 
McLean County (Ill.) Chamber of Commerce - Image Piece

In February 2013 we set out to create an image piece highlighting the value and benefits of membership in the McLean County Chamber of Commerce. Collaborating with local design company Business Builders, we developed a dynamic 9” x 7” booklet with an interior pocket on the inside back cover. It has surpassed our expectations and now serves as an integral component to new member recruitment.

The piece focuses on our mission statement, with two-page spreads devoted to each mission component, as well as statistics from the latest Schapiro report regarding the value of chamber membership. The layout provides a general overview of the services offered by the chamber in a format that is conducive to face-to-face presentations. It’s also designed to be read on its own. A pocket on the inside back cover allows us to customize additional content we want to deliver to a prospect.

Since production of the brochure, we have seen more than 115 new members join the chamber, which we believe is a direct result of the creative delivery of our message.

 

Electronic 
Grand Award 
Thomasville (N.C.) Area Chamber of Commerce - All-America City Video

In 2011, the Thomasville Area Chamber of Commerce led the community through the development of a broad consensus on a community vision and strategic plan with full engagement and buy in from elected officials and the business community. The plan includes strategies for generating visibility for the community.

We applied for the 2013 All-America City award as part of this strategy. To win, communities must apply, then reach the finalist category and make a presentation at the annual All-America City conference. The award focuses on citizen engagement in community problemsolving as demonstrated through three specific projects. Only 10 winners are selected from the entire country each year. The Thomasville Area Chamber spearheaded our community’s All-America City effort, including fundraising, application, script writing and more.

Competing communities are encouraged to create a community video. Our video was filmed by professionals and featured two individuals who told the story of two of our projects. Neither person was scripted. They were interviewed and spoke naturally and authentically about some of our community improvement efforts. Local scenes were included that reflected the community’s transition, people and resilience.

The chamber staff managed the process including recruiting the video team (who donated their talents), arranging speakers, suggesting interview questions, and arranging locations and filming schedule.

Thomasville was a winner of the 2013 All- America City award. The award and our video have helped greatly in promoting Thomasville. Our mayor has reported an increase in calls and inquiries to his office as a result of the award, and 2013 outpaced 2012 and 2011 in new business investments. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwFPV-tH2QM)

 

Publications
Grand Award 
Kerrville (Texas) Area Chamber of Commerce - BusinessLink Monthly Newsletter

The Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce partners with our local daily newspaper, the Kerrville Daily Times, to produce a monthly newsletter, BusinessLink, exclusively featuring chamber members. BusinessLink, the only newsletter focused solely on our business community, is distributed at key locations around the community, at the chamber, in all relocation packets, and through the Kerrville Daily Times as an insert. Total monthly distribution exceeds 11,000.

Each month, our Communications Committee selects a theme which is carried in all communications from the chamber, including our e-newsletter, seminars, and news releases. It’s also the feature of the month’s BusinessLink.

For example, the June 2013 theme was “Hub of the Hill Country.” The Hill Country of Texas is a multi-county region of which Kerrville County, population 50,000, is the heart. Kerrville merchants and businesses serve thousands of tourists and regional consumers who drive two hours from surrounding communities to conduct business here. This theme also supported our three-year strategic plan, which includes community-wide branding, increasing economic growth, and emphasizing Kerrville as a “regional hub” and “tourism destination.”

The Kerrville Daily Times staff sells advertising for BusinessLink, with a small portion of ad sales returned to the chamber. We incur no costs for printing and distribution.

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