Of course, we know Detroit’s in the national spotlight.
I wrote a recent blog focused on why I viewed Detroit as a city of hope stemming from its current predicament and subsequently, several people asked what the message should be to rest of the country as it continues to focus on its future.
One of the readers of the blog was Ms. Verdia Johnson. Ms. Johnson, a broad-based marketing professional with 25+ years of experience, works in New York and is the CEO of Footsteps, a 14-year old, New York-based, full-service integrated communications agency focused on cultural advertising. As CEO, Verdia oversees new business development, client relations and the strategic direction of the agency.
Before working in the advertising business, she was Vice President in the outdoor division of Gannett and worked in brand management at Colgate Palmolive Co., Standard Brands and Nabisco Brands.
I contacted her directly to for her perspective on Detroit and what its key messages should be going forward.
You’re in New York, why is there such a keen national interest in what’s happening in Detroit and why are you following it so closely?
I believe that this could happen to any other major city in the United States. Therefore, I have interest in how Detroit will arise from this tragedy and if there is a role that I can play. In addition, I have friends who grew up in Detroit and I appreciate what this means to them.
You’re a communication’s expert and from your perspective, what challenges are confronting Detroit and how do you overcome them–short and longer-term?
I think it is important for the residents of Detroit and the U.S. overall to believe that Detroit will turnaround. Everyone must maintain HOPE that the conditions will get better each year and work hard and together to make that happen.
From a communications perspective, this HOPE must be communicated and communicated often. Everyone should know that there is a viable plan. Every step that is an improvement must be turned into communications that can be spread through word of mouth. This cannot be just for several weeks. This must be until Detroit can once again be celebrated as an important key market.
From a national perspective and if you had to advise business experts in Detroit on what they should do, what would you suggest?
Because the value, of many things in Detroit, has significantly decreased, business experts should take advantage of opportunities in real estate and programs that would not exist in a healthy market economy. They should look to engage the diverse population in training programs that would address the unemployment. They should look to encourage other young and/or professional people to come to Detroit based on the plan and goals of making the city a better Detroit than before.
How would you address the PR and communications issues in Detroit and, how do you start to change perceptions?
I think that people are interested in seeing progress not just hearing about it. So, PR communications should be done every time a goal is accomplished, every time new people come to Detroit to work or visit, every time people who live there get training which turns into jobs. There needs to be a celebration experience when these things are accomplished. As the accomplishments are celebrated, perceptions will start to change.
Coming out of this current situation, what is your hope for Detroit’s future and how should it messaged?
My hope is that Detroit’s future will be better than it has ever been. It should use the strength of its history and the diversity of all of its people to be innovative and successful in moving forward. My hope is that Detroit shows confidence and dedication so that when they finally achieve their goals the message will be WE KNEW WE COULD.
If you could create a marketing/brand campaign for Detroit, what might it be which might make it resonate with the rest of the country?
The campaign would need to be hopeful, show devotion and communicate progress in order to relate to Detroit and attract the rest of the country. When tragedy strikes, the state and/or federal governments as well as individual people traditionally respond with help, patience and love. Therefore the Detroit campaign should reflect this image of our country.