We volunteered to conduct a message session late last week for MichAuto, a non-profit dedicated to promoting, sustaining and driving the growth of Michigan's place as "the global center of the automotive industry."
For background, our message development process takes companies through a rigorous session that forces leaders to look at how their company is currently positioned in the market, then challenges the credibility and memorability of this position. The goal is to identify what's truly special about a company, create messages and evidence to support these claims, gain consensus from company leadership, and then use these messages as the foundation for all communications moving forward. Among other things, it's great for creating strategies that are measurable.
The MichAuto session brought together a dynamic, energetic cross-section of the auto industry: a supplier, an attorney, media, finance, technology, economic development. We explored everything from the industry's current business model to talent retention.
An interesting sidebar centered around Detroit's image. The question was posed: why, as metro-Detroiters, are we hellbent on apologizing for our city? We seem to have an ingrained, self-depricating, low-self esteem issue that forces us to lead with something negative before saying something positive about Detroit.
Each of us in that meeting had a story to share about hosting out-of-towners who, at the end of the conference or meeting, asked - bewildered - why we eagerly apologized for requiring them to 'endure' Detroit, most times before they even took one step off the jet. In most cases, our guests were impressed, thrilled and excited about Detroit. They raved about the nightlife, culture, architecture and entertainment options.
Is it that so many of us who live here think our city is not worthy of such praise? Do we want to cut our town down before anyone else has a chance? Have we been conditioned to just expect anyone outside the 248/313/586/734 to scoff at our city? Do we try to paint an ugly picture to set low expectations; expectations that even Detroit could outdo?
MichAuto will do what it can to correct this. Groups like One D are also focusing on the situation. I have a meeting with Detroit Renaissance in a couple weeks to brainstorm what else can be done.
In the meantime, here's a challenge: police yourself. See if you can say positive things about Detroit without injecting a negative statement or sarcasm. Can you do it? It's grass-roots PR at its most basic level.
What those outside of Michigan think about our town will never improve if all of us who live here continue to remind them that the stereotypes are accurate.