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Creative Economy Marketing Strategy

The creative economy has changed many things, not least of which is the economic development profession. We are a long way from the 1970s, when manufacturing was the mainstay industry of most communities and the primary role of economic developers was to communicate their community’s availability of land, good transportation routes and skilled workers.

Today’s economy is fundamentally more complex. The creative economy is pervasive as a subset of all major industries – those segments that are driven by ideas, innovation, knowledge, collaboration and creativity. Economic developers are still coming to terms with the marketing concepts that underlie success in this new era.

Some jurisdictions and communities have got it. Colorado is one. The state recently enacted legislation that encourages local communities to create arts and cultural districts as a spur for economic development. Leaders behind this initiative understand that having a vibrant arts and cultural community can serve as a magnet for creative talent.

There are several arts districts in Colorado including the Santa Fe Arts District in Denver, Aurora Arts District in Aurora, Depot Arts District in Colorado Springs, Breckenridge Arts District in Breckenridge and the Downtown District in Salida, all serving to support local creative businesses. Denver’s experience is particularly noteworthy.

Denver’s Santa Fe Arts District exists in part because citizens voted in 1988 to increase their sales tax to support the region’s scientific and cultural facilities. Since then, hundreds of millions of dollars have been distributed to eligible organizations by a body called the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District. A 2010 study found that the investment has been tripled by the economic impact of Denver’s cultural districts.

The convention and visitors bureau, Visit Denver, sends visiting travel writers to the Santa Fe district. The district also maintains TV spots in the major Denver hotels, takes ads in art and related cultural magazines, cross-promotes with the Denver Center for Performing Arts and hires tour-guided shuttle buses. This activity does indeed draw people like a magnet. The president of the Santa Fe district, Jack Pappalardo, reports that about 50 per cent of business sales in the district are to out-of-town visitors.

People Come First

There is much more to the creative economy than arts and culture, but the Colorado example points to two important ways that it has influenced the economic development profession: by integrating it with the social and political character of the community, and by focusing its attention on people first.

EDOs need to understand that marketing to the creative economy is NOT the same as traditional economic development marketing. A creative economy marketing strategy differs from a traditional economic development marketing strategy primarily in that it focuses on attracting PEOPLE rather than businesses.

Modern strategies should be built on statistical analysis of the characteristics of the population in a given community or region. It’s instructive to look at the City of New York as an example.

New York’s creative class became the foundation for the city’s economy after its manufacturing industries were decimated in the late 20th century. Now the city is well established as North America’s cultural capital. In her book, The Warhol Economy, urban planner Elizabeth Currid reports that arts and culture industries combine to form the fourth largest employer in New York, behind management occupations, professional services and finance.

New York has a competitive advantage because it has the greatest concentration of creative people in arts and culture industries. Its location quotient, measuring the concentration of employment in those industries compared with other cities based on 2004 data, is about 5.0. That’s more than four times more concentrated than any other city measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That helps to explain why New York has almost 1,400 arts and cultural institutions, and why the New York City Economic Development Corporation ( declares that “the not-for-profit sector is vital to promoting the vibrancy and health of New York City’s communities.”

Do you know what your community’s advantage is in concentrations of skilled people? What’s the location quotient in your community for occupations in the industries you want to attract? To build a modern strategy for attracting and retaining creative industries, you first must know what kind of people you have.

You can do this for any industry segment, and in any size of community. In eastern Ontario, Canada, there’s a small rural municipality called Hastings County. Under the vigorous leadership of economic development manager Andrew Redden, the county has created a strategy based in part on knowing that it is an attractive place for “lone wolves,” creative people interested in establishing craft businesses such as artisan cheese making and beer brewing.

All sorts of ideas have sprung from this knowledge, as can be seen at A Promotions Centre provides a source of information, reports, publications, data and insight for rural entrepreneurs. Anyone interested in cheese making can link to and find a start-up handbook, a lively Twitter community and the latest news about award-winning cheeses made in Hastings County. Then there’s, a clearinghouse of information on professional artisans and businesses across the county, which won a national marketing award in October 2011 from the Economic Developers Association of Canada.

Individual examples such as this can be found in many places in North America, but what’s hard to find are best practices and guidance, especially for economic developers without easy access to resources and support.

What makes an effective creative economy strategy? Generally the necessary tasks include:

  • Identification of target markets and marketing goals,
  • Development of a creative economy profile data and print or web presentation,
  • Creation of relevant traditional and modern communications content, tools and programs,
  • Development of a retail, business services, and creative industries recruitment strategy,
  • Product development and demand generation through events that attract creative people to visit local events and festivals,
  • Implementation of place branding,
  • Development and nurturing of community partnerships.

In this series of Tech Trends articles we will develop some of these guidelines in more detail and provide some signposts for more information and sources of ideas, ideas, and more ideas!


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