Last Thursday, local media types set off Twitter with news that Charlotte was “out of the running” for Amazon’s second headquarters.
Monday an Observer headline read: “Amazon’s HQ2 Snub leaves Charlotte wondering, ‘What’s Wrong with our City?’ ”
Take a deep breath, Charlotte. I’m going to tell you.
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First, Charlotte was never “in the running.”
Charlotte “applied,” along with 237 other cities, counties, or regions. No one who has ever applied for a job thinks all who apply are “in the running.”
Now comes word from Charlotte USA, the partnership that made the city’s pitch to Amazon, that the main reason the city was left “out of the running” and off the finalist’s list was having too few tech workers, who happen in large numbers to be Millennials.
This could come as good news to the Partnership. “Hey, if we just don’t have the work force, we just don’t have the work force.”
But Charlotte has done nothing the last 15 years if not pitch itself endlessly to Millennials and the so-called “creative class.” The light rail was built to attract them. The cool urban development around the light rail was built to attract them. The museums and cultural events were designed to attract them. So, why aren’t they here?
Because for all its pitching to Millennials, Charlotte is still Tidy Town.
Bank Town. Khaki’s and Bass loafers Town. It is simply not the city it sees and promotes itself as. Which brings us to That Video.
That white bread, circa-1990s soft-rap introductory video the Charlotte Partnership produced was a big whiff. It tried way too hard to rhyme, to be so hip for Millennials they were called out three times, and kiss-up to Amazon so much it went six-times “Prime.”
No one involved will want to admit the video helped blow it. No one will want to hurt people’s feelings. I get that.
So they’ll latch onto things outside their control, like the tech worker issue. But the fact is at least four of the cities that made Amazon’s cut have about as many, or even fewer, tech workers as Charlotte.
If the video is raised they’ll say, “With all the hard criteria Amazon put out, do you really think a video would make a difference?”
I know so.
In my other life – nearly 20 years in marketing for McDonald’s Corporation and several other clients – I’ve been on the decision-making end of numerous pitches. They always start with a request-for-proposal listing criteria that must be met by applicants, just as Amazon put out.
But here’s the dirty little secret: Those criteria can be bent. They’re almost always bent. Just as Amazon bent its tech worker requirement to green-light Columbus, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Nashville.
Here’s what can’t be bent: The gut reaction clients have to the essence of a pitch or pitching entity from the start.
There’s a click, or there isn’t. That’s unquestionably true when the client is seeing preliminary pitches from 238 aspirants they’ll need to cut to 20. If there’s not a budding Love Connection from the start, that never goes away.
Charlotte’s always trying too hard, wanting it too much, and being a little too boastful – which always belies insecurity. That was Charlotte’s pitch video.
My guess is Amazon saw right through it.
Observer contributor Keith Larson can be heard weekdays at Noon on AM 730 Radio Charlotte, and TheLarsonPage.com