If North Carolina lands Amazon’s second headquarters, some credit will be due a young marketing and communications firm that lucked out.
State economic developers had just awarded a contract to the Charlotte company Mythic last September to come up with new ways to market North Carolina to businesses that might be convinced to move here. Within days, the Economic Development Partnership of N.C. called with an urgent request:
Amazon had just invited all of North America to compete for a jackpot that would bring 50,000 new workers and $5 billion in investments to the winning location. Could they start working on that immediately?
“It just so happened that as we were going through that process the Amazon project got dropped in our laps,” said Michael Ebert, vice president of marketing for the nonprofit public-private partnership. “We said, all right, we need to hop on this first, and let’s take advantage of all the publicity that Amazon is getting around this.”
Everyone agreed the focus should be on Amazon, knowing that whatever strategy they put together would eventually also be used to attract other businesses.
“We certainly wanted Amazon to take notice, but also any other companies that value that tech innovation ecosystem to piggyback on this buzz around Amazon and use that to get greater visibility for North Carolina,” Ebert said.
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Mythic has been in business for five years, and has worked for a number of clients nationally and internationally, including Wells Fargo, United Healthcare, Citgo and Time Warner Cable. Although based in Charlotte, Mythic’s executives said they knew they were supposed to represent all of the state, not just the big cities that hoped to land Amazon.
Its chief marketing officer, Taylor Bryant, said that while Amazon was unexpected, it was easy to use the ideas developed during the competitive bidding process to win the $92,400 contract from the partnership to be its agency of record.
“There was a little bit of serendipity perhaps that came out of that, but once the Amazon situation emerged it was very easy to take that core strategy and apply it to that opportunity,” Bryant said.
The strategy to promote North Carolina quickly took the tack of telling companies what they might not know about the state by stressing its firsts.
The campaign came to be called N.C. Next Firsts.
There are lots of things that were invented or created here in the state of North Carolina that we found people might be surprised about.
“There are lots of things that were invented or created here in the state of North Carolina that we found people might be surprised about,” Bryant said. “That’s really where we began to find some fertile territory for positioning the state and for putting together a story that we thought would be interesting and motivational for people.”
It turned out North Carolina’s inventions included such common items as the prosthetic hand with finger control, the shipping container, the bar code and the ctrl-alt-delete computer keyboard command. The pitch was to invite companies to be the next first at something in North Carolina.
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“I think it is a state that has attracted a whole lot of attention nationally for all kinds of reasons,” Bryant said. “What we began to see was there were maybe some misperceptions of the state.”
They found people in other states were often unaware of North Carolina’s educational institutions and its natural beauty. But they were aware of the repealed HB2 “bathroom bill” that restricted transgender use of public facilities, prompting nationwide condemnation and canceled events.
North Carolina has been trying to move beyond that reputation over the past two years. When confronted with those concerns, Mythic tried to emphasize what was good about the state, not what was controversial, spokeswoman Nicole Peternel said.
“Diversity and inclusivity in the community and in the workforce have always been important factors for us to address, irrespective of HB2,” Peternel said. “Though there are many different perceptions of North Carolina, our job is to highlight the many positive attributes of the state that make it a welcoming, diverse place to live and do business.”
Four North Carolina regions submitted proposals: the Triangle, the Triad, Charlotte and Catawba County.
Getting the word out
When the research wrapped up, Mythic’s next step was to get the word out to companies and the agencies that help companies decided where to locate.
“This is not an easy audience to reach when we’re talking about trying to get business decision-makers and CEOs, people who are involved in site selection,” said David Soliday, Mythic’s CEO. “It’s a fairly narrow audience and yet a pretty elusive audience. That’s one of the big challenges.”
Mythic opted for digital ads and social media in Seattle, as well as public transit ads that attracted Seattle news media coverage. Working with the partnership and Commerce, Mythic came up with the idea to wrap North Carolina’s “firsts” on the sides of city buses in downtown Seattle, where Amazon has its headquarters. “The freakin’ bar code – another North Carolina first,” was one such ad.
We wanted to take a little bit of an edgier tone. We really just wanted to show off some of the cool things that have been happening here in North Carolina.
“It was a good way for us to pitch North Carolina and do it in a way that’s a little bit different from what you typically see out of economic development marketing,” Ebert said. “We wanted to take a little bit of an edgier tone. We really just wanted to show off some of the cool things that have been happening here in North Carolina.”
Whether it was marketing or the state’s attributes that routinely rank it high on national lists of good places to live and work, the Triangle was the only North Carolina region that made the first cut of 20 competitors out of the original 238 applicants. Amazon is expected to make a decision later this year.
Ebert says he hopes to work with Mythic on other projects to recruit businesses, although nothing is planned yet. Only about half of the budget for the contract has been spent, and the remainder will be held in reserve, Ebert said.
Soliday, the CEO, said the Next First project will benefit the state for years to come by reaching other companies that are considering moving here.
“For every other company that is also looking at North Carolina and realizing they made the short list for a company like Amazon, this is something you want to look at,” Soliday said. “That’s going to help us in our job to continue to promote the state.”
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North Carolina’s firsts
Everyone knows of North Carolina’s claim to be “first in flight,” but the N.C. Next First campaign dug up some other firsts.
▪ Prosthetic hand with individual finger control invented in 2016 in Charlotte
▪ Shipping container invented in 1956 in Red Springs
▪ Ctrl-alt-del computer command invented in 1981 in Research Triangle Park
▪ Bar code invented in 1969 in Raleigh
▪ Solar- and pedal-powered electric vehicle invented in 2013 in Durham
▪ First woman in the U.S. to obtain a patent for an architectural design in 1870 in Charlotte
▪ First public university in 1795 in Chapel Hill
▪ First state-funded art museum in 1946 in Raleigh
▪ First gold rush in 1799 in Concord
Source: Economic Development Partnership of N.C., N.C. Department of Commerce, Mythic