Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Secret to the LISC #CorridorChallenge. A Deep Dive around PR & Communications.

For nearly two years and counting LOA has been working closely with the New York office of the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) to develop and execute an innovative program aimed at commercial corridor improvements in some of the city of New York's most under served and rapidly changing communities. The Commercial #CorridorChallenge is a collaboration between LISC, Citi Community Development, and the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS). Together these organizations are working in three communities to support very targeted and strategic commercial corridor interventions.

The program offers three competitively selected communities $50,000+ in funds for the implementation of "early action" activities meant to catalyze revitalization efforts and build the capacity of each community development partner. Direct funding for capital improvements is perhaps a bit standard - but what makes the program unique is the wrap around technical assistance in the form of data-driven strategies, PR and communications support (to help build awareness of the effort and build the credibility of participating groups), and follow up performance metrics (in the form of surveys and pedestrian counts) that will be used to help measure the impact of the initiative.

Today I want to take you behind the curtain of the PR and communications support that each group receives and that is intended to amplify their efforts. This program is not just about the small scale investments funded through the direct capital monies (though those are clearly central to the program), it is also about training the groups to use media coverage on a regular basis as a tool to build buzz around their work and its impact. This buzz is a critical element of the program accomplishes a number of things. First, it helps to attract both new customers and new businesses to the area and second it helps establish the bona fides of the participating organizations as leaders in commercial revitalization activities and partners to the local business community. The idea is to offer the groups success in immediate term activities over which they can demonstrate control, so that they build the confidence and credibility necessary to tackle more advanced activities over the medium to long-term. Some of you may recognize this theory from Steven Covey's "Circle of Influence" - and it under-girds the methodology of this program.

The elements of the PR support included and resulted in the following:
  • "Scribe" articles written by a professional writer that offer narrative summaries of the work and are posted on LISCs website, as well as blasted via email by both LISC, project partners and the community organizations. The first project summary was written by consultant Mark Foggin and can be found here
  • An experienced PR firm was engaged to supports a few key milestones, notably a press event announcing the program (in this case the selection of local businesses that will receive storefront improvement grants); the placement of editorial content in key news outlets; and the individual unveiling events (that are still to come) at the end of the project. PR firm Anat Gerstein Inc. supported these efforts and got us great coverage, including this piece in Crain’s New York Business, authored by Sam Marks, Executive Director of LISC NYC and Eileen Auld, New York tri-state director for Citi Community Development. We were also thrilled with the TV coverage and local media coverage that they got for us. Both NY1 and the Staten Island Advance covered the event. Unexpectedly, the local Councilwoman who participated in the unveiling created her own video as well. Yet another way in which the communications effort that was baked into the program leveraged even additional - and unexpected - media coverage. See below.  

The truth is, community organizations frequently fail to toot their own horn - yet the ability to ensure that even small improvements make a big impact is deeply rooted in our belief that celebrations serve a purpose. They need to know that there is steward for the corridor and that yes, change is in fact happening. Economic development is by far one of the more challenging community change efforts - it is notoriously difficult to find funding for work that ultimately benefits individual business owners. This is why building awareness of the effort and getting media coverage is such an integral part of the strategy for corridor work in these communities - and why it is a central tenet of this innovative program.

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