I’m sure I can speak for my fellow Michiganders: We’ve watched with heartbreak as Detroit, once the most prosperous city in the country, has struggled to financially support its declining population. Sadly, it all came to a head on July 18 when the Motor City filed for bankruptcy.
Ever since, that’s all the media seem to care about. Story after story paints the home of Motown as a city of abandoned houses, crumbling streets and vacant storefronts.
It’s not pretty. In fact, it’s the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. But there’s hope.
A recent Detroit Free Press column by Tom Walsh piqued my interest for this blog. He wrote about Detroit’s new “comeback city” advertising campaign, geared toward convention and event planners.
In 2015, the American Society of Association Executives will host its annual meeting Aug. 8-11 at Detroit’s Cobo Center. And despite the negative publicity and seemingly precarious state of Detroit, ASAE has full confidence in the city’s rebirth, said John Graham, president/CEO of ASAE.
“ASAE sees the 2015 meeting as an opportunity for us to raise awareness about how the city has improved and educate our members and exhibitors about all the opportunities the city has to offer,” he said. “Detroit is making major strides in providing a vast number of hotels, venues and attractions that would be valuable for any association meeting. We are going to work hard to promote these changes, so our members can experience it firsthand.”
The Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau has raised funds for the annual meeting, so members can be confident in the city’s ability to educate and entertain, Graham said. From Greektown to casinos to Comerica Park (home of major league baseball team Detroit Tigers), the city offers a wealth of activities for attendees’ down times. And Cobo won’t disappoint either. In 2010, the Cobo Center began a $299 million renovation program, which is scheduled to be complete by January 2015.
ASAE chose Detroit because of its convenient and affordable Midwest location, Graham said. The association has a large number of members in Chicago, so it anticipates many from that area will come to Detroit for the meeting. Also, Detroit Metro Airport is an international airport so members traveling from around the globe can easily fly to the meeting.
Yet still, at this year’s annual ASAE meeting, which was held Aug. 3-6 in Atlanta, Detroit was a hot topic of conversation. Among the concerns was whether the city would be ready in 2015 to welcome thousands of professionals. And people wondered if the renovations to Cobo would be complete.
But so far, no bookings for Detroit events have been cancelled. In fact, the bankruptcy seems to be having little effect on convention planners, said Larry Alexander, president of the Detroit CVB, in Walsh’s column.
Those with concerns should instead focus on the city’s response, Graham said. Detroit is committed to redevelopment and bringing people back to the city. In fact, the number of young professionals in the city has increased by 59 percent since 2000, and 97 percent of downtown Detroit’s and 95 percent of Midtown’s rental apartments are occupied.
And that’s why ASAE will continue to work with the Detroit CVB to tell the story of reinvention to its members, Graham said. It will work with the CVB to plan various events and educational tours for the 2015 meeting. In addition, CVB will help ASAE pick an organization to which members will give back when visiting Detroit. In recent years, ASAE has engaged more than 1,000 attendees in community service projects in host cities.
With a population in which more than 80 percent of residents are minorities, according to the U.S. Census, Detroit is the perfect location to celebrate diversity. In 2015, ASAE will mark 15 years of its Diversity Executive Leadership Program, which supports individuals from under-represented identity groups in the association community to advance into the ranks of leadership, Graham said. In 2012, Detroit’s population was 701,475, according to the U.S. Census. But regardless of size, every city has advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important for marketers to think about how not to oversell the city, but instead focus on telling a new and different story, he said.
“You should find unique ways to convey these messages and images in ways that resonate with your audience so they’re encouraged to visit the city and personally see all the improvements,” Graham said. “Always be honest and forthcoming about the areas that need improvement and tell meeting planners how you are working to improve them.”
For next week’s post, I’ll talk with Larry Alexander about the “comeback city” campaign. Why should businesses continue to believe in the promise of America’s automobile capital? Stay tuned.