Friday, November 26, 2010

The Memphis Brand

Posted By on Fri, Nov 26, 2010 at 12:40 PM

There are some stories about Memphis that you can spin and some that you can't.

I think Mayor A C Wharton and his new hire, our colleague and brand-manager-to-be Mary Cashiola, know the difference and the limitations of the job.

First off, Mary did a good job for us and she will do a good job for the city. People make a difference. I will miss her as a friend and colleague.

In the category of Memphis brand building, I would put selectively responding to and creating those aggravating, irresistible, superficial, badly sourced, agenda loaded, click-driven lists of America's best, worst, safest, most dangerous, smartest, most beautiful, most neighborly, healthiest, and all the rest that show up in magazines or academic studies and get recycled on web pages, on television, and in newspapers. The more serious ones can and should be responded to. They're a fact of life.

Memphis takes its lumps, but every once in a while it gets a nice windfall. The Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, for example, featured a couple of numbers from the musical "Memphis." Millions of people saw that on television. I didn't see anybody rocking and rolling or dancing to the groove of Louisville, Birmingham, Jacksonville, or Indianapolis. Given the popularity of "Glee," maybe Mary can organize a giant 1,000-student production number on the river or over at Soulsviille or on Beale Street next year.

On the other hand, there are some hits Memphis deserves and simply has to deal with.

"Memphis is not competitive. It's as simple as that," from Fred Smith is one of them.

"I remember riding my bicycle through thriving neighborhoods as a kid. Now it looks like someone bombed my city," by Wharton, in the New York Times no less, is another.

The study that came out this week ranking Memphis last among Tennessee's 50 largest cities for "business friendly" environment is a third. Our property tax rate is what it is. So is our population loss. So is our schools record.

And a fourth example is Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash admitting this week that the school system needs to be rightsized by closing schools and cutting personnel. He could have added, but did not, dealing with the 10,000 to 25,000 students, by Cash's count, who don't believe in starting school in August.

So there's a place for brand management and there are limitations. I confess to not exactly seeing this as the city's most pressing need. The Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau and the mayors are supposed to be doing this already. So does the chamber of commerce and the Center City Commission. But I guess every little bit helps.

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