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Greater Baltimore greatened at last; Advertising: A new campaign launched by the Greater Baltimore Alliance employs nontraditional ways of selling businesses on the region.


When Lois C. Yates chaired an economic development literature contest last year, it gave her an eye-opening look at a cross-section of the advertising being used to tout cities and regions across the country.

What she saw in those 1,200-plus entries, including 150 videos, was a lot of similarity.

"There was the same deer shot in 15 different videos," said Yates, vice president of marketing and work force development for the Greater Baltimore Alliance. "There's a lot of clutter out there."

Breaking out of that safe, look-alike advertising is the goal of a new campaign being launched by GBA to sell the region.

"It was surprising how safe and timid a lot of these things were," said John Phelan, vice president and creative director of Cornerstone, the Baltimore advertising and public relations firm that is handling the campaign. "What happens is everybody starts to say the same thing."

With electric colors, concise, edgy language and bold use of white space, the agency set out to startle people who make the decisions on where to start or relocate businesses into thinking: Greater Baltimore.

One of the ads asks: "What do you know about doing business in Baltimore?" Below the type is a large square of white space. In parentheses: "We thought so."

The ad then offers a brief description of the region and provides a phone number to call for information.

A second ad asks: "How do you picture the pulse of business in Baltimore?" Against a black background, a neon green pulse line peaks and falls, then levels off. "Really? Turn the ad upside-down," showing a rising pulse line that runs off the page.

"Visually, we had to stand out," Phelan said. "No deer. No golf courses. No head shot of the mayor. No city skyline."

One key element in the $300,000 campaign -- expected to have the power of a multimillion-dollar campaign after in-kind and other contributions from the business community -- is that research has shown a widespread dearth of knowledge about the region.

"There was basically no image of Greater Baltimore out there at all," Yates said. "So we thought, what do we do to create an image?"

The strategy is not unlike branding a candy bar or a motor oil or a property, Phelan said. The goal is to brand the region -- a very diverse region -- in a manner that showcased an aggressive business environment.

"If I'm buying Tide, it will make my clothes clean," Phelan said. "If I'm buying Baltimore, it will make my business better. It will make me more money."

Dennis J. Shea, publisher of Area Development, a 45,000-circulation economic development magazine in Westbury, N.Y., estimated that industry advertising and marketing exceeds $250 million in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Included in that number is marketing by utilities and government agencies including state, regional and municipal bodies, he said.

"The problem is that everyone is selling the same product," Shea said. "This question has been going on for as long as I've been in the business, 'How do you distinguish yourselves?' "

Andrew T. Levine, president of Development Counsellors International, a New York consulting firm, says, "There is some question about how effective advertising is at all in the economic development market."

He noted a recent survey conducted by his firm that asked corporate executives to rank the three leading sources of information influencing their perceptions of a state's or region's business climate. Print advertising ranked ninth among 12 categories, representing 4 percent, for the 173 corporate executives surveyed. At the top, with 68 percent, was dialogue with industry peers.

"Seventy percent of economic development advertising falls into that category of garbage," he said. "A picture of a symphony or a dancing ballerina are very nice pictures, but they don't speak to the corporate executive and tell them how they can make money here."

Levine said Ioanna T. Morfessis, president and chief executive officer of GBA, was known in the industry for her use of distinctive advertising at her previous job in Phoenix.

On the first day the new advertising appeared in Crain's Chicago Business, GBA reported receiving a call from a company that had seen the ad and wanted to talk. That first call has evolved into a series of conversations and a continuing relationship, Yates said.

Another recent week netted four calls from people who had seen the ads -- two from Chicago and two from New York, with specific projects in mind.

But business location is a slow process, typically taking 18 to 36 months, Yates said.

"What Baltimore is doing has merit because they're trying to appeal to CEOs," said Nancy Blane, partner in Blane, Canada Ltd., a consulting firm specializing in economic development marketing. "It's so eye-catching, I'm sure they'll come up with quite a few leads. Whether they turn into prospects is the question."

Pub Date: 1/30/99

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