“Gainesville has a great story to tell, and we want the world to hear it,” says Tommy McIntosh. McIntosh is the chairman of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, which recently hired New York-based publicist Rob DeRocker to help generate national media attention to the Innovation Gainesville program, which was formed two years ago to foster local innovation and jobs in health and green technologies.
DeRocker has landed feature stories or guest appearances for his clients in media ranging from Time to The Economist and The Charlie Rose Show, according to his biography.
“Research shows that the No. 1 thing influencing decision-makers are mentions in national and international media,” says Brent Christensen, the chamber’s president and CEO. “The third-party confirmation gives the most bang for the buck.”
Publicity for what makes Gainesville unique will be crucial as the city reaches out to attract new businesses to town, says Christensen, citing Prioria, the maker of small unmanned plans used for military recognizance, to the first student dorm for students interested in entrepreneurship as examples.
Christensen declined to state what the chamber is paying for its 13-month contract with DeRocker. John Spence, one of Innovation Gainesville’s “innovation advocates” and a nationally known author and business consultant, says that such contracts typically garner $120,000 to $150,000.
“If we do it right, we will more than pay back our investment in terms of economic benefit to the community,” Spence says. “If not, it will be money down the drain.”
Christensen says that he discussed plans for the national public relations push with local public relations and marketing firms. “They agreed that going outside of the market was justified,” he says. National media exposure was a priority for Innovation Gainesville when it began, Christensen says. “We haven’t gotten the earned media we need, and we have to do this to boost our brand.”
Spence, who has hired publicists to represent himself and his clients, says he welcomes DeRocker’s involvement and wishes it had come earlier. McIntosh says this is right time to hire DeRocker. “We needed to build momentum,” he says. “It would have been a mistake to do this when IG was coming out of the gate.”
Christensen says that Innovation Gainesville has succeeded in getting people beyond those involved with the chamber involved in promoting economic development.
“It’s great that all of the candidates at a forum are talking about the innovation economy,” he says. “Who would have thought that would happen when we started?”
Spence says he’s disappointed that Innovation Gainesville, which he says has cost $1 million, doesn’t have more accomplishments to its credit. “A lot of things that have happened were the result of things people were already doing,” he says. Still, he continues to support Innovation Gainesville and hopes it can achieve more measurable results.
Christensen responded that he expects DeRocker will produce a number of media placements. “They’re measurable,” Christensen says. “We making progress in work that will bring more jobs. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”