Wednesday, March 05, 2014

LovingRVA is Mostly a Smokescreen

Some people who are firmly against the building of a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom have let themselves become convinced that if the voters are asked to settle the issue by way of a citizens' referendum that they might lose. The main reason for that fear appears to be the LovingRVA public relations campaign now being promoted by Venture Richmond.

What follows is my attempt to assuage those fears with a little bit of analysis and a smattering of anecdotal history. It starts with a two-part question.

Who is the LovingRVA campaign aimed it and what is its purpose?

My answer is: The target has three layers and winning over the general public is the third-most important of those layers. It is more about creating the illusion of a juggernaut bandwagon. Here’s what I mean:

Before my days at the Biograph Theatre I worked at WRNL. In those days, over 40 years ago, when I was learning how to put together an advertising campaign from a master ad salesman, Lee Jackoway, he taught me to define the target for the message before working much on the creative aspect of it. In my eagerness to write snappy copy, he told me I was putting the cart before the horse.

Jackoway, the radio station's general manager, said to consider the target on three levels: The message should be crafted to get the attention of the primary target. Then appealing to the secondary target should be considered. Finally, the third target would usually be the general public.

Example: If the new product is a supposedly healthy soft drink, then the campaign would be designed to launch it successfully. According to the client’s market study males and females, 12-to-17, should be the primary target. The secondary target might be their mothers, who do the family shopping. Then tertiary target would be everyone who might consume a tasty alternative soft drink.  

To appeal to the most important target the ads might suggest that the hippest kids already like the new product. To appeal to the secondary target the ads might tout health claims -- better than cola. Then, on the third level, to the general public, a soft sell would allude to the product’s refreshing, easy-to-like flavor.

The target for the LovingRVA campaign is City Council. Yes, just nine people. But they are the people who are supposed to decide whether to follow the mayor’s lead or not.

The secondary target is the local press. The point here is to provide the media with a narrative that says the city is evenly divided over a 10-year-old controversy. Evenly divided and in need of leadership. With prefabricated quotes and an avalanche of signs, coasters and doodads with LovingRVA logos, it makes the job of reporting easy for the busy people working on a deadline to file a story. No investigation needed.

Besides some of the biggest advertisers in town are already on the bandwagon for baseball in the Bottom. Which means a story that advances that same cause will probably be well received by station managers and publishers.

Promulgating the illusion that the Loving RVA campaign has won over thousands of Richmonders, folks who were sitting on the fence, helps with providing cover for the aforementioned nine people -- the decision makers. Jackoway always stressed that a good salesman should always make his pitch directly to the decision-maker.

Then, the spillover reaches the public at large. And, yes, the LovingRVA thing probably has hoisted some young city dwellers -- new to considering the issue -- onto the bandwagon for baseball on the Bottom. Still, most adults who have paid any attention to the brouhaha made up their minds well before the LovingRVA propaganda hit the street.

The results of the only scientific study of preference were published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch in October of 2013. Among the results were these telling numbers: Richmonders preferred baseball on the Boulevard over the Bottom by 64 percent to 25 percent. My experience tells me the LovingRVA campaign has not done anything to change those numbers dramatically.

Of course, another thing the LovingRVA smokescreen is doing now, four months after those numbers were published, is to discourage people from working on using a referendum to decide this thing without depending on City Council.

That’s because the people pushing the mayor’s “revitalization” plan, with its baseball stadium component, know perfectly well they will lose if the people decide. 

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