Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dear Deval and Greg: You Are Missing the Point on Branding

Good to see Rob Weisman's piece in today's Globe about rebranding the tech sector in Massachusetts.

As readers of this blog know, this is a campaign that I have been trying to nudge forward for a few months. (A blog-based brainstorming session happened here in December 2008, and I wrote a column in the Globe on the topic later that month.)

But our fearless elected leaders, especially Greg Bialecki and Deval Patrick, are missing two very important points:

- Trying to brand the tech sector, and also trying to brand the life sciences sector, and oh yeah, we also have financial services, and education, and cleantech, is a pointless exercise. We're about innovation across all sectors... we are about coming up with new ideas that change the world, no matter what industry they're applied to, or whether they involve software, hardware, genomic data, engineered molecules, or medical devices.

- This ought not to be a Massachusetts solo project. We are part of a regional cluster that is called New England, and innovative stuff is happening from Burlington to Portland, from Providence to Northampton... (and even in Hartford!) If you believe that we're competing in a global economy, let's leverage everything we've got in the region.

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Anonymous Greg Bialecki said...

Dear Scott:

Rest assured that we are not missing either point:

1. Yes, our overall economic development message is that technology and innovation are our fundamental competitive advantage across all industry sectors. But that does not make a good rebranding of the tech sector "pointless".

2. The right geographic scope of the brand will work itself out as we better understand the scope and scale of the technology and innovation assets we have in this area. We won't stop at the border if the cluster doesn't stop there.

BTW, what's with the attitude?

February 19, 2009 10:43 PM  
Blogger Scott Kirsner said...

Hi Greg-

Thanks for the comment. I hope this branding process will be more "open" and transparent than it has been so far.

In terms of attitude, I'm just trying to encourage all of us to think about innovation across sectors, across the New England region. My take is that that's the message that would be heard loudest globally -- and really get peoples' attention. Sorry if that sounded overly critical or attitudinous.


February 20, 2009 12:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems GB has a pretty thin skin if he thinks you have an "attitude". If "missing the point" gets his feathers up, what about "clueless" to describe traveling to CA to stop layoffs in Ma while EMC has record revenues yet RIF's 7% of their workforce.

February 20, 2009 12:45 AM  
Anonymous Dave McLaughlin said...

I disagree with Anonymous. I did not read Greg's comment as thin-skinned. On the contrary, I think it's rather noteworthy this that a cabinet-level official in the Governor's administration is (a) engaging in this kind of open, accessible conversation and (b) that he's not politically guarded but rather is quite candid. And Scott's response only underscores the value of this forum and how it allows for that kind of refreshingly direct interaction.

It seems to me there is room - and in fact a need - for a number of complementary efforts in getting the word out about what our region offers to businesses, and that last-week's sector-specific trade mission is just one piece of a much larger puzzle. For example, while Secretary Bialecki and the Governor are actively selling to the tech sector, the Secretary is also actively engaged as a board member of Boston World Partnerships, a new non-profit venture that is just days away from launching.

BWP is a new non-profit, founded by Mayor Menino to generate high-quality leads for economic growth. We're going to create a global network of business people with ties to Boston, like an alumni network, which uses web 2.0 tools and tactics to share information about metropolitan Boston's assets and opportunities, and to connect people to those resources. It's a highly cost-efficient model that looks to leverage the area's human capital to emphasize the bottom-line value of plugging into our region's reservoir of top-tier talent and the corresponding capacity for innovation.

Regarding Scott's point about the New England cluster, BWP is built to be used by whoever finds value in it. In that sense, it's not serving a defined geography. We think of it as Boston-centric, not Boston-specific. This perspective is akin to Greg's comment on the correct "geographic scope." In our vernacular, the network will decide. I.e., the people who use our tools will be the source of what brand bubbles up and what geography that brand corresponds to. We believe that this kind of bottom-up expression of our region's beliefs and aspirations and experiences (the brand) will be more rooted in truth and therefore durable and valuable.

Admittedly, all of this is kind of abstract until it launches. That's happening on Tuesday, which will give people a chance to see for themselves what we're trying to achieve and how. I invite you to share your email address at our site so that we can keep you in the loop and so that we can receive the benefit of your comments and feedback. We have invested lots of good thinking from lots of great people in this venture, but we also know it's not perfect and that it'll need to be calibrated and so on. My hope is that Scott will consider using this forum to help us draw input and ideas once we're out of the gate.

Hats off to Scott and to Greg for their active leadership in this conversation about growing our economy and increasing the range and volume of opportunities available to all of us. I commend the Governor's office for being action-oriented, and I commend Scott for keeping the focus on the broader brand as a critical complement to these kind of sector-specific forays. We need both.

Finally, congratulations to Greg in his new role as Secretary of Housing & Economic Development. We all need him to do well. And I'm sure, judging from the positive tone that has characterized this forum over time, that we're all eager to be helpful.

Dave McLaughlin
Executive Director

Phone: 857.284.1310 (Disclaimer: I probably won't call you back till after our launch on Tuesday 2/24)

February 20, 2009 5:42 AM  
Anonymous John Stack said...

Points, Missed or Not:

Rebranded or not, the Post-Bush economic fallout has only exacerbated Massachusetts's lack of agility and ability to land business.

Do we have to call it a new name before acknowledging what is needed? Perhaps we can leave that up to the new Social Networking folks hanging out on Twitter to solve and focus on a few simple goals:

Fund 300 Massachusetts startups in the next year, regardless of the segment (at $200k each, that’s $60M), out of those, its highly possible that at least 30 of them might make it. Incent VCs to invest in these 300 (ok, perhaps branding them the Mass 300) and given them direct 1:1 Mass state tax incentives for each one. They can be housed in empty school buildings in Boston and surrounding communities (reuse=green). For those companies who have laid off employees this year, give them tax incentives to rehire.

There are more than a few executives out there that would love to participate in this process.

Have MIT, Harvard, Babson, BC, and other local universities give credit hours to students wishing to volunteer time to these 300 companies. In fact, grant credit hours to students wishing to volunteer time to help small businesses keep afloat.

Provide property tax relief to commercial property owners to reduce leases to companies that expand employment.

Ask for $commitments from public companies who have offices in Massachusetts for small business consulting, startup consulting, air-coverage on space, bandwidth, office resources. Incent them with tax benefits to do so. Having an in-kind model is not enough, it needs to be investment – even if they end up owning a portion of the company or the resulting IP.

Publically applaud companies, schools, and volunteers who help in this effort.

Go beyond 19 companies to 100. Get real commitments from them all. Give them real commitments back.

February 21, 2009 3:37 PM  
Blogger Scott Kirsner said...

John -

Really great idea. Tom Friedman seems to be thinking along the same lines:


February 23, 2009 11:33 AM  

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