Natchez’s marketing message vital in slow times

Published 11:10 pm Saturday, March 7, 2009

Our community is a business, of sorts. Think about it this way: Government handles the finances (taxes) of our business and uses the cash flow to help keep the business running (services).

The boards of directors are our elected officials. Taxpayers are the shareholders.

Just like any other business, keeping all of the plates spinning can be a challenge.

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The trick for the board is to know exactly what to spend the money on so that the shareholders stay satisfied with their investment and the company’s leadership.

Just like most businesses across the country, our community corporation faces some challenges.

A diminished tax-revenue forecast is a top concern.

That is coupled with a continuing brain drain of great young, local talent and an economy struggling to retool itself from the old smokestack days into the new era of modern industry.

Faced with these realities, members of the board of directors have serious choices to make.

What expenses can we cut?

What can we live without?

Where should we be investing?

These are not unlike the decisions most boards — and most small business owners — must make daily, and especially during a recession.

Often, though, the gut reaction is to cut things that seem — at least on the surface — unimportant.

Nave business owners will often immediately begin scrimping in three key areas — customer service, product quality and marketing.

In almost every single case, each of those actions is a mistake.

For our community corporation’s board, now is the time when shareholders need to see strength and unity among our leaders.

A board that squabbles over little things — how to manage the budget, handle economic development (marketing) or travel expenses, indicates a board that may not have its eyes on the ball or the best interests of the shareholders at heart.

A business’ products are its life. Let product quality slip, even a little, and word gets out quickly. Communities aren’t any different.

Successful communities find ways to keep the roads in good order and the community’s packaging looking good.

Marketing is a quick and easy way to save some money, right? The nave business owner’s belief is: “Our customers will stick with us if we stop marketing for a little while, right?”

Don’t be so sure.

A McGraw-Hill Research study looked at 600 companies from 1980 to 1985 and found the businesses that maintained or raised their marketing during the recession of 1981 and 1982 had improved sales when the economy improved.

Companies that aggressively marketed during the recession had sales 256 percent higher than those that cut their marketing.

There’s an old saying: When times are good, you should advertise. When times are bad, you must advertise.

That same logic applies to communities as much as businesses. In slow periods, marketing is critical.

Natchez-Adams County’s brand is well known, unfortunately so are our “customer service” and “product quality” problems — like groups that don’t like playing with one another and knee-jerk reactions from our board of directors when things go wrong.

At the moment members of our community’s board of directors are considering many choices. Hopefully, they’ll realize that improving our infrastructure and marketing efforts are critical.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or