Brad Ferguson, the boss of Edmonton’s Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC), is stepping down at the end of March after five years on the job.
He can ride off with his head held high.
The job is political. The head of EEDC, a city/business economic development partnership, can pretty well define what he or she wants the job to be.
Ferguson’s a marketing guy from head to toes. He’s all about “image” and “branding” – all those intangible aspects of business regarded by many as unnecessary, or, at best, a necessary evil. But remember, marketing made a sugar and fizzy water drink called Coca Cola that did US$41.6 billion in sales in 2016.
What Ferguson did in his five years – which is the average time on the job for his four predecessors – was to find and define Edmonton’s soul. How he went about that major task was a classic illustration of what good – great – marketing is all about.
When Ferguson took the job, Edmonton did not have an identity. Not for lack of trying – since EEDC first started, slogans and declarations had been searched for without success.
For a brash, young, opinionated guy like Ferguson, he did the near impossible.
For several years, he did nothing but listen. EEDC’s team was instructed to get out on the street, especially among the 18- to 35-year-olds, and find out how Edmontonians were defining themselves. To do nothing but listen. And make notes.
Stories were collected, websites created so everybody who could offer their thoughts – why they love the city, why they stay, their hopes, their dreams. Then Ferguson teamed up with journalist, novelist and creative soul Todd Babiak (who is becoming to Edmonton what Leonard Cohen was to Montreal).
Babiak thought about identity and image well outside conventional boxes.
Babiak, Ferguson and team took all the stories and boiled them down to their essentials. They came up with an essence and an extract in the “Make Something Edmonton” campaign – a hard-working, hard-playing, climate-accepting/celebrating northern city full of energy, intelligence and a willingness to work, no matter the weather.
We never quite found that one slogan and maybe that’s an impossibility.
But Ferguson nailed the one common theme … that if you are willing to take a risk, if you have the courage to take an idea to reality, to build, to make something, Edmonton is your city.
The whole thing has worked like a damn. Edmonton now has an identity all agree on – not only agree, but excitedly celebrate. We’re not Calgary, Toronto, or New York City wannabes. We’re Edmonton!
The message was turned inward and outward with all those fancy marketing terms – shifting the Edmonton “brand” from “industrial” to “entrepreneurial.” Then there was a “consumer” brand to attract the rubber-tire market, selling Edmonton as a great “winter city” (not sure you can win that one), encouraging arts and sports events with international niche audiences, “selling” Edmonton as a place of enthusiastic, energetic youth (or young at heart).
I started as a skeptic. Five years later, I’m a believer. All this marketing voodoo has paid off in spades. EEDC worked non-stop at having “best of” lists consider Edmonton. The kudos have flowed in. Much has changed in how the rest of Canada sees us, and how we see ourselves.
Look at the new legal marijuana companies setting up operations here. At the end of the day, economic factors being equal, it’s about selling yourself as an attractive city. Over the last five years, EEDC has shown the outside world what a damned fine place to live this city is.
The sum-total of this “marketing” effort can be absorbed within the Edmonton promotional video that was unveiled last week. The original script was penned by Ferguson himself, and the superb narrator with just the right voice is none other than Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly.