A Glut of Marketing

Heard the good news about Memphis? Well, no wonder.



Mayor A C Wharton has hired a new brand manager, but Memphis is hardly suffering from a lack of marketing.

A catalog of the groups promoting specific attributes and Memphis in general suggests there is already quite a bit of overlap.

There are at least 10 tax-exempt nonprofit organizations with full-time executive directors — some of them making more than $200,000 a year — that manage an office, do fund-raising, and work for the betterment of Memphis as defined in their mission statements. That's in addition to neighborhood and civic groups and churches staffed by volunteers.

A historic turning point in Memphis image management came after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Two weeks later, Time magazine called Memphis a "decaying river town" and "a Southern backwater." The terms stuck. In the 1970s, image management was in the hands of a chamber of commerce that was broke and homeless and a group called Future Memphis with heavy representation from the Memphis Country Club.

The 1979 Jobs Conference, inspired by then-Governor Lamar Alexander, Memphis banker Ron Terry, and the Memphis NAACP, was determined to redefine civic betterment and bring in younger and more diverse supporters.

One of the groups it spawned was Leadership Memphis, which is still around and selects a new leadership class each year. Its mission is "develop new and innovative ways to connect and create more community leaders." A similar group, which also traces its roots to the Jobs Conference, is the Leadership Academy, formerly called Goals for Memphis. It bills itself as "a one-stop shop for leadership development."

A more recent leadership group is MPACT Memphis, most of whose 800 members are under the age of 40.

The most elite leadership organization is Memphis Tomorrow, an invitation-only group of CEOs of large local companies. Clout in the boardroom, however, does not always translate to clout in the public arena. Its most recent effort was the failed consolidation referendum.

If you consider yourself leadership material and have never been invited to join one of these groups, then you might want to move or reconsider your career path.

There is more, however. Much more.

Two nonprofits, the Blues Foundation and Beale Street Caravan, promote our musical heritage as well as contemporary musicians. In the for-profit sector, there's Graceland and Elvis Presley Enterprises. Memphis in May specializes in music, the river, barbecue, and international culture and travel.

The Coalition for a Better Memphis specializes in voter education.

Clean Memphis, as the name suggests, is a nonprofit group that does clean-up projects in blighted areas. It should not be confused with Livable Memphis, which promotes "sustainable communities," or the Memphis City Beautiful Commission, which was founded in 1930 and is "the oldest beautification commission in the United States," with an unpaid 35-member board and a nonprofit fund-raising arm called Friends of City Beautiful.

EmergeMemphis, a relative newcomer, bills itself as "the focal point for entrepreneurial activity in the Mid-South" and "a general business and technology-based incubator."

Business development, of course, is also the objective of the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce. Executive director John Moore earned $314,000 last year, five times as much as the city's new brand manager. Among other things, the chamber publishes a best-foot-forward magazine called Memphis Crossroads that can draw on the services of four marketing specialists on staff.

Iconic Memphis institutions and events have their own full-time marketing staffs. They include St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the Liberty Bowl Football Classic, the Southern Heritage Classic, University of Memphis athletic teams, the Memphis Zoo, and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.

Divisions of city government with specialists spreading the good news include the library and the Division of Park Services.

To make sure that outsiders are aware of the fun things to see and do in Memphis, there's the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Riverfront Development Corporation, and the Center City Commission — all of them staffed with marketing specialists making six-figure salaries.

Want to make a movie in or about Memphis? Then avail yourself of the services of the Memphis and Shelby County Film and Television Commission, a nonprofit with an executive salary paid by Shelby County and supplemented by the board.

Did I leave anything out? Probably. But the biggest challenge for our Memphis brand manager may be finding a fresh niche.

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