Partnerships are crucial for chambers of commerce. They can add value to membership and are often the only way a chamber with a small staff can build a better community. But even partnership veterans like us get nervous forging a relationship with an internet giant.
We recently formed a wonderful partnership with Google. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we felt we could not pass up, but it required close attention to impacts on existing members, open communication, and willingness by all to collaborate and co-operate.
Google, with 55,000 employees, identified Missoula, population 70,000, as one of five cities (the others were Louisville, Ky., Jacksonville, Fla., Revere, Mass., and Garland, Texas) where it would launch its “Let’s Put Our Cities on the Map” program to help small businesses create an online presence at little or no cost. This seemed a perfect fit for us: members would benefit, and nonmembers would be enticed to attend chamber-sponsored events featuring Google’s expertise.
Our first task was to get the word out to the entire business community, not just our members. With assistance from the University of Montana Library, we secured the names and addresses of 7,500 businesses in our community that would receive a postcard explaining the value of an online presence and announcing our new partnership with Google.
We found a sponsor to cover the non-budgeted costs of the mailing, but when we reported this to our board there were concerns, particularly from local media and I.T. companies: What data would Google collect and how would it be used? Would local companies be competing with Google for advertising sales?
We asked every board member with concerns to write down their questions and participate in a conference call with Google. The call was refreshingly honest. It quickly became clear that there was little, if any, threat, to local businesses. With their questions answered, our board members soon became supporters of the partnership.
Google’s workshops were multi-layered. At the first workshop, participants could verify their business listing and make updates. Another workshop would explain how to use Google AdWords, search engine optimization and customer reviews. The third workshop created the biggest hurdle for us: It gave attendees the option to build their own website which would be hosted at no charge for one year.
To find the win-win in this partnership and mitigate the perception that Google had an unfair advantage over local competition, we needed to modify the workshops and get assistance in hosting from sister organizations. We recommended the Missoula Economic Partnership and the Montana Community Development Corporation. They became partners in the program who hosted the “build a website” portion of the campaign while we handled the bulk of the marketing for Google and hosted the “Let’s Put Missoula on the Map” portion.
Another key to our win-win approach with Google was our agreement to have local businesses in related fields enhance Google’s workshops by adding 10-minute presentations on associated topics. Our members jumped at the chance to present information pertinent to their fields of interest, and Google was happy that local talent could assist. Moving forward, local members will provide one-on-one assistance to attendees and be the experts to get someone online when we host monthly Google workshops over the next year.
Our first workshop, with 35 attendees, was a rousing success despite some audio problems. The supplemental panel discussions were invaluable. Local firms provided information on keeping personal information secure, why you need an online presence, and how to keep your skills and training up to date. Because the workshop was live, we could send questions from our audience directly to Google and get an immediate response. They checked in with us frequently, and always asked for our feedback. After the workshop, attendees sent staff questions that were forwarded to Google. Because of the response we got from the first workshop, we decided to combine the second workshop with our annual Business to Business trade show.
Around the same time, the Google team informed us that they would be sending a film crew to spend a week interviewing small businesses in Missoula for a video to be used nationally for the Let’s Put Missoula on the Map campaign. This was the perfect opportunity to showcase Missoula as a town that works together, cares about business, promotes economic development and is always looking to strengthen the community.
The Google crew was also interested in hosting a community celebration that incorporated all of the components of the Put Missoula on the Map campaign. To cap it off, Google also planned to present our mayor with a Google eCity Award, which is based on several factors relating to the web sophistication of a city’s small businesses.
The chamber helped get the word out, and we were happy to recommend hotels, hot spots and eating establishments for the Google crew while they were in town.
We’re lucky. One of the most recognizable companies in the world took interest in Missoula, and the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce was the catalyst in overcoming obstacles to create an amazing opportunity for our community. Chambers are formed to further the interests of businesses and engage our communities. The Missoula video created by Google underscores this idea and presents it to a national audience.
Kimberly Hannon is director of operations and Kim Latrielle is president and CEO of the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce.
Download this article: How Missoula Put its City on the Map (2)