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Creative Economy Marketing

Growing Consensus

For several years there has been growing consensus among economic developers about the importance of the creative economy, and many organizations have sprung up to examine and promote its concepts. In Canada, for example, the Creative City Network of Canada offers many kinds of resources to municipal staff and the recent annual conference of the Economic Developers Council of Ontario was built on the theme of “Defining and Capturing the New Economy,” with Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting, as the keynote speaker.

In the US, preparations are under way as this is written for the third annual Creative Cities Summit to be held April 7-9 in Lexington, KY. Another thought-leadership organization, the Seattle-based International Regions Benchmarking Consortium, released a report in December 2009 confirming that the springboard for economic growth these days is talent, not industrial resources or infrastructure.

The report, A Tale of 10 Cities: Attracting and Retaining Talent, lays out the typical growth pattern in the creative economy: “A region begins by attracting capable people though existing employers, its university system and an attractive local lifestyle. A growing talent pool then attracts new employers who seek a skilled workforce. This growth in knowledge-based industries, in turn, attracts even more well-educated andskilled people, and so on.

“Meanwhile, local governments, driven by an expanding tax base, work to create a pleasant and safe living environment with good schools, while entrepreneurs tap into the new high incomes to build attractive housing and open restaurants, entertainment venues and services businesses.”

A new challenge: Marketing to attract the Creative Class

To foster this type of growth, your community needs to market itself to the creative class. This means that your investment attraction marketing has to shift from a focus on site selectors or businesses to a very different, somewhat intangible, target audience. This poses very new and interesting challenges for economic development officers.

Nurturing People

Traditional economic development strategies identify certain industries to be pursued, then present themselves to those industries as having advantageous characteristics such as good highways or low taxes. This is still a sound approach. But in the creative economy a new concept has to be introduced as well – portraying the community in accordance with the work people do, rather than the industries in which they work.

Jobs that produce prosperity in the creative economy “are those in which people are paid to think.” This definition comes from the Southwestern Ontario Creative Economy Study prepared in late 2009 by consulting firm Millier Dickinson Blais of Toronto for several government organizations.

“Defining the economy by the work people do is different than the conventional way of defining it by the labour force associated with selected industries,” the study notes. “The creative economy is industry neutral and knows no boundaries; creative occupations have infiltrated every part of the economy.”

To effectively communicate with this target audience requires a new approach in messaging and a new set of channels to reach them. Images, information and interactive features need to demonstrate to people such as scientists and technologists, artists and entertainers, or managers and analysts that they would enjoy living and working in this community.


In the creative economy, social connectivity and business connectivity are basic. Many creative workers work independently and often form home. Their work thrives when they have networks and meeting places where they can interact with others to generate new ideas, products and services. Similarly, the vast majority of creative businesses are small and medium-sized enterprises requiring collaboration and shared investment.

Does your marketing and messaging demonstrate that your community is a place where networking lives? Inclusion of interactive and social-media tools on your site should not be considered an add-on any more, but a high priority.


Investment attraction in the creative economy is a team effort and the team extends far and wide. An economic development department needs to facilitate collaboration and co-ordination among various governments, businesses, intermediaries, educational institutions and not-for-profit agencies.

Rarely can a single jurisdiction succeed in this effort alone, nor should it try. Creative industries are drawn to places where there are clusters of talent, so your investment attraction activities should contain information to demonstrate the width and depth of the community you are part of.

The importance of the extended community in economic development was pointed out by Anthony Wright, director of economic development for Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, in a video promoting the Creative Cities Summit in Lexington (

“Most economic development professionals now know that it’s about the region. That’s how we are being looked at. When companies look to locate in our communities, when companies want to grow within our communities, they are actually looking at the opportunity for the entire region.”

Is the Creative Class a Cornerstone of Your Projected Growth?

If creative class attraction has been identified as a cornerstone of growth in your municipality, an effective, targeted, bold and new marketing style will need to be embraced by your economic development marketing team. Be prepared to shift your marketing paradigms to present your municipality in a new light to a new audience.

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