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Developing a Creative Economy Investment Attraction Strategy

Economic development organizations are accustomed to developing strategies to attract new or expanding businesses to enlarge their tax base. To do this they spread messages that appeal to corporate interests. What are the strategies and messages that need to be developed to attract the creative class?

It is this class – people who are paid to think – that is building the economy of the future. To effectively reach this target audience requires a new kind of strategy, one that resembles a consumer marketing campaign.

You need a clear, simple message broadcast to a carefully defined target audience.

Your strategy should be based on an understanding of what kinds of creative communities already exist in your region, what makes your region attractive to them and what messages should be designed to appeal to similar creative groups who will respond to those factors.

It is not enough to merely say that your region offers a good quality of life. Have you noticed that every community says that?! Take time to identify what lifestyle message is particularly appropriate to your community and how you are unique.

Ottawa’s Creative Economy Strategy

In this regard you might find inspiration from what the City of Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, has done. Its lead economic development corporation, OCRI (Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation) has a website that is predominantly about people, not business infrastructure. Its lifestyle message is aimed squarely at young entrepreneurs interested in innovation, as can be seen from the headings at such as “Connect with Your Community,” “Build Your Network” and “Cultivate Ottawa’s Talent.”

Ottawa has a creative economy strategy called Ottawa 20/20 and its five-point plan (found here) is built on five pillars that could be placed in a textbook:

  • Build creative capacity
  • Improve opportunities for artists
  • Develop the vibrancy of Ottawa’s downtown
  • Build a sense of place
  • Preserve and strengthen our unique heritage

Ottawa has the highest percentage of creative class workers in all of Canada. Fully 43 per cent of Ottawa’s work force is employed in creative occupations. OCRI recognizes the overriding importance of connecting this community and works with Ottawa’s educational institutions, research facilities and local companies to facilitate learning, linkages and opportunities.

Targeting Your Creative Economy Campaign

Not every municipality has the resources of a capital city, but every municipality can identify its lifestyle strengths and create a strategy to attract creative people to that lifestyle. The clarity of the message is critical, as is the choice of channels used to spread the message. If resources are limited, concentrate on selecting a few communications channels where your return on investment is likely to be optimal.

Telling stories is important. The channels you select should have the capacity to generate emotional appeal. Videos are often effective for this purpose. Are there people in your community who can tell their success stories in their own words in a video? The message in that medium will resonate powerfully with similar creative people.

Could such a message go viral, meaning that it spreads rapidly among websites, blogs and social networks? Consider developing your messages with that intention, and also to create a referral campaign so people can find reference to your community ubiquitously in their preferred channels.

An Active Creative Economy Attraction Strategy

A creative economy investment attraction strategy must be active and vigorous; it cannot be passive. The people you seek will not see your message if you simply post it. Reach out to your audiences through social media channels, and allocate some of your budget for face-to-face marketing such as attending conferences or other events where your target audience gathers.

As with any consumer marketing campaign, your message should be tested. Convene focus groups of people from the creative industries you want to attract and gauge their reaction to your planned campaign. Be prepared to accept perceptions and points of view you haven’t encountered before and adjust your message to suit this new audience.

A Creative Economy Community Vision

Finally, your creative economy investment attraction strategy must be part of a development plan for the entire community. Your message must be supported by a social infrastructure that is integrated with your economic development vision. You need community groups, events, special places and focused activities such as competitions that entice your target audience to make the move. These are not frills. They are an important part of economic development today.

For an illustration, take a few moments to visit This is the website of the Wisconsin Arts Board, based in the state’s capital city of Madison. Containing extensive information about arts organizations, grants, internship opportunities, events and programs, this site positions Wisconsin as a haven for artistic communities. It offers a directory of arts and crafts fairs with more than 250 entries.

But of course this site is not strictly about arts and crafts. It very deliberately links creativity and commerce. It reflects a strategy that grows out of the organization’s mission statement:

“The Wisconsin Arts Board is the state agency which nurtures creativity, cultivates expression, promotes the arts, supports the arts in education, stimulates community and economic development and serves as a resource for people of every culture and heritage.”

That’s the idea of a modern investment attraction strategy, one that puts people first and nurtures their ability to seed the creative economy of the future.

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