The State of Economic Development Marketing: A Conversation with Angelos Angelou

August 28, 2017

Editor's Note: The original version of this blog post appeared on LinkedIn.

My role at LinkedIn puts me front and center with Economic Development Organizations (EDOs), their agencies, and other stakeholders looking to effectively market their regions on LinkedIn. Naturally, one of the most sought-after audiences for any EDO is the ever-elusive site selector.

Site selectors are professionals who work either independently or within large corporations to choose the best location given the physical requirements of the site and local talent pipeline. Other considerations, such as tax breaks and additional incentives provided by local government, can also play a role in determining where companies decide to expand or relocate. So whether you're MarriottNestlé, or LinkedIn (We're opening a sales office in Detroit), site selectors provide invaluable guidance to help companies sort through their options and select the best location.

I've helped clients reach site selectors on LinkedIn for about two years now, but until recently I personally had never spoken with an actual site selection professional. This didn't sit right with me, so in order to learn more about these professionals and how best to engage them, I reached out to Angelos Angelou, Principal Executive Officer of Angelou Economics, one of the country's leading economic development and site selection firms. Angelos is also a founding member of the Site Selectors Guild, the professional association of the nation's top site selectors. His career spans more than 30 years of experience and 650 completed projects representing $18 billion in capital investment. I was excited to hear what he had to say about the state of modern economic development.

Our conversation spanned everything from his experience working with the International Accelerator, which helps immigrant entrepreneurs start and scale businesses here in the United States, to the day to day of his job, and I hung up wishing we had more time. That said, there were three major takeaways from our conversation relevant to economic developers looking to reach and influence professionals like Angelos that I wanted to share.

#1: Relevance gets rewarded. Spam gets trashed.

Depending on who you ask, there are anywhere from tens of thousands to several thousand site selection professionals in the U.S. Because of the relatively limited size of the overall audience, these professionals are constantly bombarded with communications from EDOs and regional governments hoping that they'll enter a consideration set for the next blockbuster corporate expansion or relocation.

Angelous Angelou: "There are around 20k cities in the United States, and between 10-11k economic development orgs supporting those regions. I easily get between 150-200 emails a day from different groups. The majority of them go to trash or spam. I simply don't have the time to read through hundreds of generic newsletters and undifferentiated updates about this or that region. The reality is that most of these efforts demonstrate that they don't know how to speak to site selection consultants. Are they building high qualities of place? Are they attracting specific economic clusters?

"Now, if a region is able to provide value in the form of testimonials from executives, highlighting their latest big move, anything else that helps me get a sense for what they're doing well, I very much appreciate that sort of outreach. In fact, the most innovative EDOs have newsletters that are specifically created for site selection professionals, and they're filled with the sorts of details I'm always enjoy finding. These are incredibly valuable compared to the standard generic newsletter. That sort of specificity matters."

#2: Innovation is not exclusive to the big players.

The U.S. economic development space is an unequal playing field from the standpoint of marketing and communications resources. Deep-pocketed state EDOs and those from large metro areas have the ability to put together sophisticated campaigns and massive advertising spends and to equip teams of business development reps to sell their region to companies. My assumption was that sophisticated, "innovative" tactics were limited to large EDOs because of the resources required, but Angelos shared a few examples of EDOs who are able to punch above their weight.

Angelou: "There are a number of smaller cities out there that have built high qualities of place. Obviously, there are differences from place to place given the resources available to each region and the leadership of each organization, but I've been very impressed by a couple of smaller cities lately.

"Take, for example, Hudson, Ohio. Hudson figured out some time ago that they could become the place that C-Suiters from Cleveland choose to live, and it's paid off brilliantly. Every time I visit this place I'm reminded of Switzerland. It's clean, they've built a great quality of place, and the overall community is very attractive. Those sorts of high-quality communities matter for places like Hudson, and they've done a very nice job.

"Winter Garden, Florida, is another place that comes to mind. It's outside Orlando, and they've built up their community to a point where it's starting to pull in businesses of its own from across Florida at a high rate. Their outreach to the site selector community highlights this, not just the wins they've had and the growth they're experiencing, but the quality of the community they've built.

"The unique factor between these two cities is they're not limited to tech-based innovation. They're aware of how uniquely they're marketing their communities. They know what sort of opportunities they're seeking, what they want to be known for, and who they're hoping to attract."

#3: LinkedIn is a daily habit for Angelos and other Site Selectors.

I was hopeful that Angelos would have nice things to say about LinkedIn, but I also welcome criticism for my employer and our platform. However, his answer cemented in my mind that LinkedIn presents an incredible opportunity for EDOs to reach and engage site selectors in a meaningful way.

Angelou: "I use LinkedIn every day. I have over 8k followers and connections. I use it as a way to reach and engage potential leads, as well as regions and EDOs that I'm engaging with and interested in. I follow EDOs and representatives from different regions to see what they put out on the platform. I really do enjoy the platform and use it every single day."

But as I learned throughout my conversation with Angelos, while LinkedIn presents a tremendous opportunity, just because an EDO has access to site selectors doesn't guarantee success. However, if EDOs are able to specify their message, provide site selectors with case studies and evidence of creative place making while avoiding generic messaging, they'll be much more likely to get the attention of Angelos and other key stakeholders on the platform.

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