Thursday, July 31, 2014

Neighborhood marketing: Success is what you measure

By Pam Bailey, NeighborWorks America blogger

This is the third and final post in a series exploring neighborhood marketing as a strategy for helping communities brand and generate attention for their unique strengths. Read the first and second installments. Neighborhood marketing is not an initiative for those who only have the time or commitment for a short-term program. 

“What we’re after is real change – whether it be strengthened connections among residents, rising property values, thriving neighborhood businesses, or a better mix of renters and owners,” explains Paul Singh, senior manager of community stabilization for NeighborWorks America, adding that part of the challenge is defining just what success looks like. “It takes time. That’s why interim measures are so important.”

One of the "hot" restaurants that has popped
up in West Humboldt Park.
John Groene, neighborhood director of the West Humboldt Park office of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, has fully embraced that concept. The marketing plan his organization adopted in 2013 for West Humboldt Park includes 23 phases being rolled out over five years.

However, although he estimates only 10 percent of the plan has been implemented to date, West Humboldt Park already has some successes to celebrate. NHS has recently assisted three families, all long-term renters in the community (two for more than 20 years) buy and rehab long-vacant properties. Even better, the daughter of one of those buyers just signed a purchase contract for a vacant three-unit building just a block away from the home her mother purchased through NHS.

Likewise, in a neighborhood that for a long time had no sit-down restaurants, two establishments  have become city favorites, with a friendly competition to determine who has the best “jive turkey burger.” (A recent study by an urban planner found that restaurants are the leading force behind regenerating coup de grace was its ranking this

year by the Redfin real estate site, which neighborhoods.) But the produces an annual list of the country’s “hottest” neighborhoods. The company ranked 105 urban neighborhoods across 21 major markets that have grown the most in popularity during the four months leading into 2014. Humboldt Park was No. 10.  Although “hot” markets can bring their own challenges (for example, how to preserve affordability for existing residents), the Redfin ranking suggests that West Humboldt Park is increasingly seen as a desirable neighborhood.

NeighborWorks Pocatello (Idaho) is just starting its neighborhood marketing campaign, but Executive Director Mark Dahlquist knows that one of his first interim metrics must be the number of households that invest in beautifying their property, thus enhancing their “curb appeal.”

“We already give lots of home improvement loans, but now we are looking for funding so we can offer a small grant, or maybe a zero-interest loan, specifically for external enhancements,” he says. “Maybe we’ll also offer a workshop to show people all the ways they can make their houses a little less plain, or sponsor a contest.”

Dahlquist also estimates there are about 40 houses in the Old Town of Pocatello currently for sale. His goal is to keep out absentee owners.

“We don’t have a lot of vacant lots, but we do have some empty or unkempt properties that are either bank-owned or have absentee landlords,” he explained, adding that housing values in Old Town are about 30 percent lower than elsewhere in the city. “We’ve invested in our city’s central neighborhoods by building more than 135 new homes in the past 20 years. You can live in a charming house, but if you’re located next to something that is in poor condition, values drop. We need to push them up.”

Whatever a community’s reasons for needing to change perceptions, or how far long they are, the process of adopting a philosophy of neighborhood marketing can, both Dahlquist and Groene agree, offer an entirely new perspective.

 “Neighborhood marketing broadens how you look at revitalization,” says Groene. “It forces you to really think about why people like living in a particular place. It has changed the way I speak to everyone. I talk about the good things going on in the whole neighborhood every time I go to block clubs, etc. It’s not just, hey, want to buy a home, or the most pressing problems of the day.”

NeighborWorks America will continue to document and share best practices that emerge from the Neighborhood Marketing Program. Resources, tools and templates are available that can assist with your own neighborhood marketing efforts.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Neighborhood marketing: Is the time right for an ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ game?

By Pam Bailey, NeighborWorks America blogger

This is the second post in a three-part series exploring neighborhood marketing as a strategy for helping communities brand and generate attention for their unique strengths. Read the first installment.

A critical question that must be asked before embarking on a neighborhood marketing campaign is whether the community is ready for “prime time,” or needs to focus internally first.

Neighborhood marketing enlists residents in promotion
of their community
“You need some early wins to bring about a mind shift among existing residents and stakeholders before you can market externally,” explains Paul Singh, senior manager for community stabilization at NeighborWorks America. “A neighborhood brand is a statement about who lives and works there and why. In order for the brand to be believable, residents must perceive that they made a good investment and have confidence in the future.”

Marcia Nedland, a neighborhood branding expert who Singh’s team assigns as support to some of its program participants, agrees.

“Usually, there is a gap between what organizations would like the world to think and their ability to deliver, and there is typically a lot of work required to close that gap,” Nedland says.

NeighborWorks Pocatello in Idaho is among the 17 network members accepted into the marketing program this month. The organization’s participation in NeighborWorks America’s new Community Impact Measurement project allowed it to demonstrate that it is indeed ready for the “outside game.”

“The survey that was part of the project surprised even us,” says Mark Dahlquist, executive director. “It showed that 85 percent of residents living in the Old Town area are satisfied with living there.  Elsewhere in the city, Old Town is looked at as a less-desirable place, but now we have the data to tell a different story.”

"Revive at 5" festival in Old Town, Pocatello
Old Town Pocatello has a lot of assets residents love: It’s centrally located, is characterized by architecturally interesting homes with front porches that encourage engagement, and residents regularly connect with each other through a farmers market and “Revive at 5” concerts.

Historically, however, crime was a problem in Old Town, and that reputation has persisted. “We need to reach out to the media and to others and show them Old Town today,” says Dahlquist.

Resident Buy-In and Ownership

Another lesson learned from the first round of participants in the Neighborhood Marketing Program is how critical it is to obtain strong engagement by residents and other stakeholders – before the campaign launch and throughout implementation.

“Residents and businesses must ultimately own the brand; organizations can only be early drivers,” explains Singh. “We recommend that each participant form a branding and marketing team that includes businesses, residents and local institutions. The team can help shape the brand, educate other community members on ways to promote positive messages and assist in implementing specific marketing tactics.”

John Groene, neighborhood director of the West Humboldt Park office of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, says his organization talked to local residents about what the community was like in the 1960s and ‘70s. He heard about the diversity of walkable stores – from bakeries to flower shops – and the friendliness of goods displayed on the sidewalk, inviting conversation. “It helped us create a shared vision of what the neighborhood could be again,” he says.

Dahlquist’s organization in Pocatello faces a special challenge. “The Old Town area is really five different neighborhoods, each with different dynamics,” he explains, adding that Neighborhood Pocatello will likely subdivide it into five sections, with one brand but different grassroots teams. “A cookie-cutter approach won’t work.”

The final post in this series on neighborhood marketing will look at how to measure success.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Neighborhood marketing: ‘spin’ or substance?

By Pam Bailey, NeighborWorks America blogger

“Your brand is what people say about you when you are not around” -- North Star Ideas, neighborhood marketing program consultant

The term “marketing” usually conjures images of prescription drug ads with disclaimers in fine print, or smooth-talking car salesmen. But when informed by customer research and practiced effectively, branding and other marketing tactics can match services and products to the people who most need or want them. Can the same approach be applied to a neighborhood that is struggling to counteract negative perceptions or differentiate itself from others?

NeighborWorks America believes the answer is “yes.” The team with the Stable Communities Initiative at NeighborWorks first began piloting the idea with two network organizations that were working hard to turn around their communities around by acquiring, rehabbing and selling vacant, foreclosed houses. They had run up against a challenge, however: How do you lure new homeowners, or businesses for that matter, when the perception of high foreclosures, blight or crime overshadows the progress?

From that early experience, the Neighborhood Marketing Program was born. It is designed to pioneer and promote new ways of using marketing techniques to stabilize and revitalize communities.

“NeighborWorks America began focusing on community stabilization in 2007, in direct response to the foreclosure crisis,” recalls Ascala Sisk, director of community stabilization. “Our primary focus was on stemming the damage that foreclosures were wreaking on neighborhoods. As a result, much of our work was on helping member organizations gain control of and re-sell foreclosed homes. However, we know that to really stabilize and ultimately revitalize a community, it takes more than housing development. It takes a broader, holistic 'place-based' approach."

In 2012, NeighborWorks America selected the first 16 participants in its Neighborhood Marketing Program, offering each participant consultation with a branding expert, professional assistance with logo creation and other promotional materials, an implementation grant, and opportunities to network and share learnings. The program was extended this month to 17 additional organizations.

The team has learned several lessons in the course of its work with organizations that can help any community-based nonprofit when marketing a particular neighborhood. Paul Singh, senior manager of community stabilization and lead on the Neighborhood Marketing Program, describes four important considerations that organizations should think through before embarking on a such a campaign: 1) What do the trends say? 2) Is the time right for an “inside” or an “outside” game? 3) Do you have resident buy-in and ownership? and 4) What would success look like?

What do the market trends say?

“Any re-positioning of a neighborhood must be grounded in reality,” notes Singh. “There must already be some momentum that can be seen visually. For example, would someone walking down the street feel safe? Are there homes with strong "curb appeal"? Are home prices and vacancies stable? Do residents speak favorably of the neighborhood themselves? There can be some challenges, but the trajectory has to be going in the right direction. Otherwise, you first need to take some other actions to bolster neighborhood strengths and generate positive energy.”

The new logo developed for West Humboldt Park
Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Chicago was one of the first-round participants in the marketing program, with a focus on West Humboldt Park. John Groene, neighborhood director of the organization’s West Humboldt Park office, explains that the community had strong assets: It is close to downtown Chicago, is surrounded on three sides by parks, is served by healthcare institutions with regional reputations and has plenty of affordable homes. Several new public services and businesses were moving in, and NHS had already done a fair amount of work to prevent foreclosures and encourage home rehabs through targeted grants and lending. However, the next step was to build more stability in the neighborhood by increasing the number of owner-occupied homes. The “low-hanging fruit,” NHS decided, was to focus on converting renters to buyers, persuading them to stay in West Humboldt Park instead of moving to the suburbs or other cities. Then the organization could expand its appeal its outwards.

“There had been a lot of bad press and internal conversation about crime in the neighborhood,” explains Groene. “Two years ago, for instance, a local newspaper called The Reader ran a story on Humboldt Park headlined ‘Besieged.’ Yes, crime is still a problem; but most of the blocks in the neighborhood are strong. We just need more residents who buy in and get involved. That’s where neighborhood marketing comes in.”

With the help of a branding and marketing strategy, NHS of Chicago is reaching out to this demographic with the message that West Humboldt Park is “an ideal place for new beginnings.”

The next post in this series will explore two other factors important to neighborhood marketing: whether the time is right for an “inside” or “outside” game, and the degree of resident ownership.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Want to be like StoryCorps? Here's expert advice

By Pam Bailey, NeighborWorks America blogger

This is the third post in a three-part series on the power of oral storytelling. Read the first and second posts.

So, you want to try recording your own oral narratives? Here are some tips from two experts to get you started: the StoryCorps team in New York, and Neal Augenstein, a DC-based radio reporter who runs workshops on using the iPhone as a reporting device.

Equipment and software
  • You can use a variety of devices to record an audio interview – an actual tape recorder (remember those?), a smart phone or a laptop. (Augenstein recommends either the iPhone or the new Samsung S5.) Whatever you use, practice with it before the interview! 
Neal Augenstein
  • Particularly if you’re using a computer or recorder, StoryCorps recommends adding an external microphone (read this handy "how-to" guide) to improve sound quality. Another good add-on is a windscreen, a foam sleeve (available online or at music stores) that slides over the head of a microphone or the bottom of a smart phone to protect against the harsh air sounds.

    “The built-in microphone of the iPhone is very susceptible to wind — even a stiff breeze can ruin a recording,” says Augenstein. “ Yet, a simple windscreen has allowed me to use my iPhone during coverage of a hurricane.”
  • StoryCorps also recommends wearing a good set of headphones while conducting an interview to allow you to hear how the finished recording will sound – and detect any problems early.
  • Augenstein and StoryCorps suggest SoundCloud, a free site like YouTube where you can upload and share audio files. For editing, Augenstein recommends Voddio, which he says “facilitates both down-and-dirty or intricate reports from the field.”
  • Bring a camera too! When you post and share your audio clips, they are more visually appealing if you include a photo of your interviewee(s).

Interview prep
Story Corps interview in progress
A StoryCorps interview in progress
  • Create a list of five to 10 open-ended questions (nothing that can be answered with a yes or no), designed to elicit the “mundane details” that make stories seem real and authentic, as well as feelings. Augenstein suggests beginning with some “throw-away” questions first, such as what he or she likes to do during off hours, to establish rapport and allow your interviewee to become comfortable with being interviewed/recorded. (That is one advantage to audio interviews, however! People are typically have a much harder time relaxing when a video camera is on.)
  • Choose a location for the interview. StoryCorps recommends selecting the quietest place possible, ideally a carpeted room with any electronic appliances or devices that could make noise turned off or moved into another room. However, Augenstein recommends recording a minute or so of ambient sound that captures the interviewee’s unique context – whether it be church bells, horns honking or the simple sound of toast popping up. “Audio can create theater of the mind, bringing the listener to the scene,” he explains. “Using sounds effectively helps listeners paint a mental picture.”

The interview
  • Augenstein recommends standing while conducting the interview, if possible. “It generally increases your energy,” he explains.
  • Remember that your pre-planned questions are only a starting point! You want to have a conversation, and to listen for “golden nuggets”; when you hear them, follow the direction they take you. At the same time, avoid interrupting, even with “uh-huh.” Instead, use visual cues like nodding your head to encourage your storyteller to keep going. Look your interviewee in the eyes and stay engaged. (It’s good to take notes to remember “high points” or follow-up questions, but too much of that and you will lose your connection. The beauty of recording interviews is that it frees you up to converse!)
  • But most important of all: Be curious, sincere..and keep an open mind and heart. 

If you try out audio storytelling, share your experiences with us!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Using oral histories to bring a city alive

By Pam Bailey, NeighborWorks America blogger

This is the second post in a three-part series on the power of oral storytelling. Read the first post.

HANDS, a NeighborWorks member in Orange, NJ, was an early believer in the power and versatility of the human voice, and has put the medium to a unique use – an oral history “tour” of the community that is helping the old and young alike re-discover why they should love their home town.

“Orange is only 2.2 square miles, but sort of embodies the historical arc of American cities,” says Molly Rose Kaufman, who discussed the project called [murmur] at the May NeighborWorks Training Institute on Purposeful and Powerful Storytelling. “De-industrialization left it with a declining population and employer base, and a lot of vacant properties. It’s a contagious process. A lot of young people just want to escape; they don’t know or connect with the rich history of the town, and the progress that’s happening that should make them proud.”

Murmur, however, has helped change that dynamic. The concept, first piloted in Toronto and now in cities ranging from Sao Paulo to Edinburgh, is simple: Record stories of residents explaining the history behind a particular spot – whether a park, a building or just an intersection – and set up “listening posts” around town. A green ear-shaped sign marks the location of each story, inviting passers-by to call a special phone number and listen to a narrative about what happened at that spot in the past.

Two [murmur] volunteers interview a resident about
a local story.
Orange now has 15 sites, all within four to five blocks, with 30 stories. The stories run the gamut from memories of boxing legend and Orange native Tony Galento, to recollections of Martin Luther King Jr.'s visit shortly before his death, to the accomplishments of local hero Monte Irvin, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for his performance with the Orange Triangles, a professional baseball team in the Negro National League. (Click on the links to hear for yourself.)

While HANDS loved the idea of being part of an international movement, however, it gave the concept its own twist.

“We recruited high school students in our youth arts program to find and record the stories,” explains Kaufman, who launched the program while a community organizer with HANDS. “Some of them ended up telling their own, personal stories. It was the first time for many of them to discover and appreciate that they have roots in a pretty fascinating town.”

Khemani Gibson (left) in the process of installing the
ear-shaped [murmur] signs.
One of the eight youth who recorded those first stories was Khemani Gibson. And he is quick to agree that the [murmur] project changed his life – by awakening a love of history, and his town.Gibson was born in Jamaica, but moved with his family to Orange when he was just a few months old.

“But I really didn’t feel any connection to Orange until [murmur],” he says. “Actually, I wanted my family to move. I just saw it as a broken-down town. Now, though, after learning so much about the city’s history and the people, my perception has changed to ‘why would I want to leave this place?’”

Gibson is particularly interested in black history, and has gone on to major in pan-African studies and Spanish at New Jersey’s Drew University. He returns to Orange regularly, however, to help the next generation of youth follow in his footsteps. Since September, he has been working with sixth through eighth graders to help them gather a new round of stories that will be used not only to update the listening stations but to develop a booklet about their city’s history for the third-grade curriculum.

“I was a little apprehensive at first, thinking that maybe the kids would be too young to really engage on this topic,” laughs Gibson. “But they ask questions like you’d hear at a town hall meeting; I’m learning a lot from them.”

And what’s next for Gibson? He already is planning to pursue his Ph.D., focusing on the African diaspora, but ultimately, “I feel so connected to Orange now that I wouldn’t mind coming back when I’m done.”

Next post: Tips for recording your own “naked voice” interviews.