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Public Relations – Why Relocate America’s Ranking of Grand Rapids Matters

Spotlight on G-Rap

Recently, ReclocateAmerica.com ranked Grand Rapids as #2 on its “Top Ten Places to Live” behind Austin, TX.  Way cool, right?

Apparently not.  Both before and after the publication, three pieces have been written about how Grand Rapids shouldn’t be seeking external validation at all:

Salient quotes from the three articles (in order):

“Despite the reality of all our advances, whether replications of another city or other ideas that are completely our own, maybe we need to stop trying to make people love us and simply learn to love ourselves a bit more. When we focus so hard on what the world thinks of us by jumping up and down in a childlike manner, maybe we are saying, ‘Look at me, look at me, look at me.'”
– Tommy Allen

“But I would suggest to Tommy, and to everyone else, that he not lose the thread he tripped over – the idea that maybe we need to start by pursuing contentment in our own eyes and judging ourselves by our own measures.  For every top 10 we chase, for every passing mention on meaningless morning TV we crave, we need to ask ourselves how we could have, should have, turned that effort inward.”
– Stad diPonzi

“Halfway through reading that, I came down with a serious case of List Fatigue. The news here is that we got named one of America’s top 100 cities and then enough visitors to the site pushed Grand Rapids to No. 2. Which is cool, if this is the kind of validation you seek. […] Grand Rapids’ placement on this particular list appears, more than anything, to be an expression of pride on the part of various community members. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But does Grand Rapids, as “diPonzi” suggests, suffer in general from a disproportionate need for outside attention?”
– Troy Reimink

I think they’re missing the point.  Lists like these have little to do with validating our egos – they’re all about stimulating discussion about quality of life and promoting economic development.  What the lists do is provide away to include our city’s name in the national dialog.  The (perhaps unfair) reality is that sort of thing matters a great deal.  It’s an important part of public relations.

As writers like Dan Gardner have pointed out – the research shows that human beings make very important decisions (like where to live) based on irrational and limited information or perceptions.  The news and discussion generated by “top ten” lists like this is just the kind of data floating through the ether that attaches itself to peoples’ perceptions and drives decision-making.

If you don’t talk about yourself (or encourage others to) – it’s probably not going to happen.  So as distasteful, slimy, and decidedly un-Midwestern as it may be – we need to promote ourselves.  Everyone (even cities) could use a little self-aggrandizement.

After all, what is SXSW if not the city of Austin saying “Look at me, look at me, look at me!”  … and it works.

There’s a great analog to this in Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize Competition: though it publishes “top __” lists – that isn’t the point.  The point is to inject a discussion of the arts into the public consciousness, and in so doing – help promote and encourage all artists in the process.

I shouldn’t have to lecture three guys with published opinion columns about the importance of self-promotion. :-}

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