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How to Market for Economic Development

By Whitney Terrill

May 24, 2021, 2:57 p.m.

At The Opportunity Exchange, we are aiming to regularly share tips with you to strengthen your community development projects. We know that defining, funding, and marketing a project are major steps. In this post, we hope to focus on marketing for economic development goals. Let’s get started!

Outlining a marketing strategy

Marketing is all about identifying who you want to connect to and why. To be effective, there has to be an understanding about your audience and a clear goal for that audience. We have found that it is best to split your marketing goals into phases and market only one goal at a time.

Here are common marketing goals we have seen come from economic development offices. In each example, we underlined who the target audience is. Depending on where your team is in in your initiative, you could be asking for:

1. Project ideas submissions from residents
2. Submissions of land available for redevelopment from land banks
3. Developers to take on existing project ideas
4. Nonprofits or development organizations to provide technical assistance
5. Investors to invest in projects
6. Banks or lending institutions to provide loans/grants to existing projects

Creating materials for marketing

Your first step in any marketing phase is to create materials to market. No matter your goal, your marketing materials should always do two things. First, it should provide background on your organization and/or the larger initiative. Second, it needs to clearly state the message being asked, and how to take action to support the project.

What you need to create will depend on your current marketing goal. To get submissions of project ideas or land for sale from members of the community, you will need to create a form to accept submissions and a press release describing where to find the form and what to submit.

A real example of this was when Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Detroit was tasked with building momentum for Opportunity Zone (OZ) projects in Detroit. The first goal was to identify potential project ideas, land or existing projects in Detroit’s OZs. During this stage, they created a press release that focused on getting the community to submit their OZ projects to their project database hosted on The Opportunity Exchange.

The materials needed for this goal are different than if you are trying to get investors to fund projects in your community. To attract investors you will need project profiles ready to show to investors. We wrote a previous Community Development piece discussing best practices for creating an investor ready project profile.

A "pro tip": instead of sharing projects with investors individually, combine many into a portfolio. Sharing projects in a group allows you to benefit from network effects. Investors may come to your portfolio because they got connected through a single project, but they leave having learned of many happening in your community. Examples of such portfolios are the project portals on The Opportunity Exchange.

Finding your audience

Having polished project or portfolio materials is not enough for a successful marketing effort. Successful efforts also know where to find their target audience. Simply put, the most successful community marketing efforts go where the people are, and know those niche or common places where to find investors.

If you are looking for more leads on investors, you may be interested in The Opportunity Exchange Investor Directory (only available to our community partners). There are investor specific events that allow developers to pitch to prospective investors (e.g., Opportunity dB events) or investor lists (e.g., Novogradac OZ investment list).

If you are looking for more sources of capital for projects, connecting with lending institutions like banks or community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and having them be aware of projects in your pipeline is a good strategy. For strategies for finding and connecting to these organizations, read our previous piece on understanding project finance.

If you are looking for technical assistance, try looking for local nonprofits or development organizations. Some types of organizations to search for are Community Development Corporations, Small Business Administration Offices, Local Economic Development Office, and city / state economic development websites. For example, if you live in the Atlanta metro area, you might search for “Opportunity Zone Atlanta”, “Atlanta Community Development Corporations”, “Atlanta Economic Development Office”, or “Georgia Economic Development” to see what you find.

Defining the Marketing Strategy

Once you know your target audience, your “ask”, and have created relevant marketing materials, the last step is pick your strategies for getting your materials out. Some successful projects have used one or more of these strategies to market their projects:

-Hosting press releases to be shared by your extended network
-Creating a website or announcement on existing websites
-Posting on existing social media channels
-Hosting webinars to inform the public or key stakeholders about the project or portfolio
-Hosting or participating in an investor pitch day, during which you can receive feedback about your messaging and connect with potential investors
-Reaching out to people directly via email with targeted (not templated) mailing lists

For all of these ideas and suggestions, you want to think of your audience and what your audience will be interested in.

For example, when Opportunity Appalachia (OA) was first starting their initiative to support Opportunity Zones in Appalachia, they put out a press release with a Request for Proposal for Technical Assistance providers. To accompany their press release, they attended some local webinars with local development officials to encourage them to submit projects to the initiative.

From those webinars and early press releases, OA was able to create a pipeline of 16 projects and many technical assistance providers. As a next step they worked for months to provide technical assistance to the projects so that each project could have a marketable profile that was suitable for investors.

To advertise these project profiles, rather than put out another press release they opted to host an Investor Convening. This pitch event was more impactful because it allowed investors to review potential projects quickly. The program is a good example of adopting different marketing strategies based on organizational goals at the time. Their efforts paid off. Seven of their projects have identified financing sources and are anticipated to close on +$100M in 2021-22.

Finally, we wanted to leave you with a special note. The central idea of this blog is really to know your market, namely your audience for a prospective. In marketing, the proverbial focus is audience, audience, and audience with targeted “ask” with each interaction. We hope these tips and insights help you effectively market your project, and feel free to connect with The Opportunity Exchange team about any resources, technical assistance, or upcoming blog posts in our series on The Community Development Playbook series.

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