Annual Conference Blog: Ron Kitchens
“The Greatest force for change is a job. A job doesn’t just create wealth it changes people’s lives.” For all of us working in economic development, this statement by Ron Kitchens at the opening breakfast of the 2018 MEDA conference rings true to our daily work. With this year’s conference theme of Telling Your Story, Ron was the perfect introduction into telling our individual stories, and how he learned firsthand the impact that has on a community. He opened the conference discussing branding and how individual brands effect the impact we each have on our community.
At 21 years old Ron saw a need in his hometown. Students weren’t coming home from college as there were no jobs, so he decided to run for City Council, won and was elected as Mayor Pro-Tem. This opportunity opened his eyes to what economic development is and how it could change a community. With over 35 years of experience in this profession, he still remembers that feeling of satisfaction then he landed his first deal moving a sewing company 60 miles to an old bowling alley, where they still operate.
Each of us in economic development struggle with Brand awareness and what is our brand. Ron opened our eyes to the fact that our organizational brand is actually directly tied to the people in our organization. The brand isn’t a logo, it is a collection of perceptions about the people and the organization. To begin to change the lives of people, we have to change ourselves and understand that building a brand is critical. When we look at different brands like Apple, Steve Jobs face is just a recognizable as the Apple logo. In the world of digital marketing there has never been an easier or better time to build a brand. We have to determine what our core values are and what stories we want to tell.
Creating a brand for our organizations is just the beginning; we can’t just create this and then do nothing. Determining how you will communicate is key, and while the world of communication is changing not every option will work for everyone. In today’s world of digital communication it is easier than ever to share our brand through blogs, podcasts, videos, and YouTube which are all affordable options to use. Social media is another great way to share our message. Platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn allow us to control our messaging. As Mr. Kitchens stated “If we are not taking control of our brand we can rest assured that someone else will do it for us.”
Branding is key for a business. It creates visibility and awareness in the community, creates trust, increases the influence beyond your budget and traditional boundaries, and makes us great by association. For many of us, we do economic development this because we care about people and communities, and want to lift people up and create an influence. As we know we can’t always control our own job, but if we develop ourselves through our career and build an identity as a leader we will always create impact. “We all have the power to change brand, without a brand you and your organization risk becoming a commodity or overhead and when that happens, your ability to change lives and communities is over.” As we leave the conference it’s important to think about our organization brand and how can we improve it and share that message around our communities.