Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV

Baltimore’s Amazon pitch video, HQ2@PortCovington, doesn’t make the sale

Baltimore needs a better video pitch than the HQ2@PortCovington production that was part of a failed package to get Amazon to come to this city.

I am not saying the three-minute production was terrible. In some ways, it was sound.

But in the highly visual world we find ourselves in, you are going to need something more focused, compelling and aspirational than this to impress a company like Amazon.

As a media critic and professor of media studies, I have lived and died professionally the last 30 years on my ability to unpack imagery on a screen. It wasn’t until my third viewing that I even fully understood that this is supposed to be a day in the life of a young worker in Port Covington.

And that’s supposed to be the obvious narrative. I am at a loss to tell you what the deeper story of this video is supposed to be — the one that is really supposed to sell the city.

I got the sun-up to sundown time frame, and I understood that the images of people getting up in restaurants and walking toward the camera to extend a handshake or a hug were intended to put me in the shoes of someone on this video journey while making me feel uber-welcome here.

But the video also showed me arms and hands at the edges of frames, which left me a bit confused as to whether I was in the shoes of this imaginary young worker or at times watching her.

But there is even a deeper problem with the video.

In The Sun’s story on the presentation, Marcus Stephens, chief branding officer for the company behind Port Covington, is quoted as saying that the overarching idea for the proposal was to bring Baltimore to life.

“Baltimore is an experiential city,” he said. “It’s a city that gives you a much different experience than what you read about. We wanted to bring that to life in the presentation.”

I am not sure what an “experiential” city is. It sounds like the kind of ad agency talk I immediately question. Aren’t all cities experiential, if it means they must be experienced to have a real sense of them?

But more importantly, I don’t think you sell yourself in a video — or a resume for that matter — by defining yourself in terms of what you are not, as Stephens suggests. You don’t create yourself in opposition to a negative image you think people have in their heads of you.

I think many of our civic leaders are obsessed with the image of Baltimore that they think people have in their heads based on what those people have “read about” the city in the media.

And, so, they construct their video version of the city in opposition to that rather than basing it on an organic and more credible version of Baltimore. What you get is a depiction of Baltimore that feels idealized and even artificial. And the folks making decisions for companies like Amazon are way too smart for that.

(The Baltimore Sun Media Group leases property at Port Covington owned by Sagamore Development, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank’s private development firm.)

I appreciate all the water imagery with taxis and boats. Seattle, the home of Amazon, has lots of water and ferries. Look, we do, too, the video says. I’m OK with that.

I also appreciate going all visuals and music.

The music, by the way, has lots of energy. But that’s about it. There are a million soundtracks that could have said more to the viewers about the texture of the city.

But if you are going all visuals, make the surface narrative crystal clear and impossible to resist. And make the deeper, messaging narrative better than, “We’re not what you think we are.”

Since the folks involved in the pitch say they are going to incorporate this package into future attempts to lure new business here, let me offer a bit of advice.

Next time, spend the time and money to make a video that sings in a loud, clear voice and brings viewers to their feet. And if you don’t’ have the money or the time to do that, don’t include a video in your pitch. Really, it’s a mistake.

And, by the way, on the next video, maybe you could make it look just a little less like an ad for all things Plank.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/davidzurawik

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