‘Ask the EDC’

Marketing Effort Answers the Question About How to Raise Awareness of the Agency


His name is ‘Joe.’

And while he bears some resemblance to a few business owners in the area, there is no one person who inspired this character, said Ann Burke.

Instead, he represents every business owner in the region, said Burke, vice president of the Western Mass. Economic Development Council, and thus he puts a face on an intriguing new marketing intiative launched earlier by this fall by the agency.

It’s called ‘Ask the EDC,’ and its primary mission, said Danielle Paine, manager of Communications for the non-profit agency, is to raise awareness of the many ways in which it can be of assistance, especially to small-business owners, through myriad free services offered by a host of organizations affiliated with the EDC.

Such services — from help with writing a business plan to assistance with crafting an energy-conservation program — are always in some level of demand, said Paine, adding quickly that such interest rises in trying economic times such as these. Which explains the timing of ‘Ask the EDC,’ which, according to some early numbers, is doing precisely what it was designed to do.

Indeed, while it’s somewhat early to draw in-depth conclusions about the overall success of the initiative, initial response to the campaign has been positive, said Burke, adding that, while the EDC was getting a few random questions a week from area business owners before the campaign started, it is now getting closer to 15. And traffic to the EDC’s Web site is up, unofficially, by about 30%.

All this is positive news for the region, she told BusinessWest, noting that one of the EDC’s primary missions is to help existing businesses survive, thrive, and, if at all possible, stay in this region. The ‘Ask the EDC’ program, part of a larger effort called HomeField Advantage, has become an important manifestation of that mission, and at a time when many businesses are struggling and looking for some help to get them through to the day when the economic climate improves.

“Acknowledging that 70% of our growth comes from within, meaning businesses that are already in the region, and the need to better support those businesses in light of these challenging times, we decided to launch this campaign to help make people more aware of the free services available to them,” said Burke. She noted that recent questions reflect the current conditions, and include issues such as replacing lost customers, securing financing, and creating new revenue streams.

Helping small business owners get the answers to these and other questions was the motivation for ‘Ask the EDC,’ which was officially launched on Oct. 27 and has included print ads, radio spots, a new page (asktheedc.com) on the EDC’s Web site, and a billboard on the southbound lane of Interstate 91 near Longmeadow.

The campaign was inspired by the nagging perception that, while larger businesses probably know about the EDC, its services, and its affiliations with a host of economic-development agencies and business-support organizations, many smaller venues don’t, or lack a full understanding of the help that’s available. The recent surge in calls, E-mails, and Web hits would seem to verify that notion, said Burke, and offer evidence that the $28,000 expenditure has been a sound investment.

‘Ask the EDC’ was designed to build the EDC brand, said Burke, and, in general, educate business owners and managers about the many areas in which support is available. They include:

  • Real estate, or help with finding a new location;
  • Capital access, or assistance with obtaining financial resources, grants, micro-loans, venture funding, and incentive programs;
  • Regional data and drive-time analysis, or access to demographics and statistics needed for relocation and expansion decisions;
  • Peer networking opportunities;
  • Workforce development, or insight into recruiting and training opportunities, internships, and grants to help resolve staffing issues; and
  • Academic institutions, or ways to tap into the resources available at the colleges and universities in the Knowledge Corridor.
  • The questions posed to asktheedc.com have run the gamut, said Burke, as evidenced by one recent print ad. One inquirer wanted some input on whether state funding or other types of grants are available for a solar power installation for his manufacturing plant. Meanwhile, a retailer in what he called a “hidden location” in Springfield wanted to know if there was financing available for some obviously needed marketing.

    “My company currently uses contracted employees, but we are interested in transitioning to direct hire,” wrote a third business owner. “How can we learn about workers’ compensation wage rates and insurance?” Still another, the owner of a small electrical-contracting business, desires to build in the local industrial park and wanted to know where to turn for financing.

    Those with questions are often referred to a veritable alphabet soup of acronyms, said Burke, connoting agencies such as the Western Mass. Enterprise Fund (WMEF), the Small Business Development Center Network (SBDC), SCORE (the Service Corps of Retired Executives), and even the Mass. Office of International Trade & Investment (MOITI).

    Paine told BusinessWest that the new marketing campaign will run through the end of the year, at which time, she, Burke, and others will review goals, results, and strategies for moving forward. Results (in the form of responses to the various marketing vehicles) are being carefully tabulated, she continued, adding that the EDC will likely continue the campaign with those media outlets that are generating the best results.

    For now, ‘Ask the EDC’ seems to be the answer to the ongoing question about how to brand the EDC and make its broad menu of services and affiliations known to more business and owners and managers.

    Just ask ‘Joe.’— George O’Brien

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