q & a: rick batyko, executive director cleveland plus

The Cleveland Plus Marketing Alliance is celebrating its fifth birthday promoting Northeast Ohio as a vigorous regional entity. Like any proud parent, Cleveland Plus executive director Rick Batyko is eager to show off the campaign's accomplishments over its first five years of life.
Batyko, with over 20 years of Fortune 100 and nonprofit communications, marketing, public relations and brand management experience, was hired by the group in 2006, back when it was called the Greater Cleveland Marketing Alliance.
Living by the slogan “We’ve Got it All. Together,” Cleveland Plus develops strategies designed to attract businesses and tourists to the region. The organization also drives marketing efforts to help area residents communicate the positive attributes of the "Cleveland Plus region," anchored by Cleveland along with Akron-Canton and Youngstown.
The group was established in 2005 with founding members that included The Greater Cleveland Partnership, Positively Cleveland, and Team NEO. Created with a goal of increasing economic development in Northeast Ohio, Cleveland Plus developed a regional brand with input from university and government officials along with area businesses and marketers.
Reporter Douglas J. Guth spoke with Batyko about the campaign's successful past as well as the Wadsworth native's hopes for the region's future.
The Cleveland Plus brand was launched in 2007. What have been your biggest successes so far?
We measure ourselves on marketing executions and supporting Team NEO in bringing jobs into the area. We've attracted approximately 5,000 jobs here since '07 (10,000 when support jobs are included. See this chart to see how your county was impacted by this effort) while garnering a 40% increase in positive coverage about Northeast Ohio through targeted outlets like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Forbes. We also captured 36% of the state's tourism revenue, more than any other region, and have been able to maintain a sustained funding base.
Northeast Ohio was ground zero for the foreclosure crisis. It was a good thing we already had a campaign in place, or times could have been rougher. Now we're getting media coverage about our $10 billion in capital investment and growth in key industries. That's counter-intuitive to most reports that the region is not doing well.
Five years into the campaign, how have you been able to keep your organization's vision constant in light of a changing economy?
We've been able to stay exactly on track through sustained campaigning with consistent objectives. We market under one brand because business people are tourists and vice versa. One brand is a very efficient way to create awareness. We've increased positive media coverage by continuing to beat that drum, and by getting to know reporters and editors. Team NEO is continuing to work with its target audience [of companies considering expansion or relocation into Northeast Ohio]. We're all working with the same objectives of growing this economy.
What are some of the special challenges you face in marketing the Cleveland Plus region?
We are always in pursuit of funds while looking to expand our base in terms of numbers and regional representation. We've been researching the Midwest to better understand how they market their regions. This year we're launching a direct marketing campaign targeting a few thousand companies in the area.
It's difficult to predict what the economy will do, but we're going to continue to tout our region's successes. We're working very hard through social media to ensure the campaign is truly regional. Originally, we were just going to market Cleveland, but the task was bigger than that. We have four million people in the Cleveland Plus area. That's got some oomph that the media and company site selectors are noticing. When we say we're "better together," it means just that.
You've worked 20 years in the marketing and nonprofit worlds. What are the major differences between regional marketing and corporate marketing?
We're not marketing a product or service; we're marketing a place. That means we have quite a palette of different audiences with different wants. We stay very busy to make sure our brand is reflective of what our "customers" are looking for. Consumer branding is for customers, too, but our customer base is enormous.
What are some of the other initiatives Cleveland Plus has planned for 2012?
This is an exciting year for the region. Unemployment is going down and there's physical development taking place all over the area. We have the shale boom in Youngstown to go with health care and technology. There's just lots to talk about. We are achieving our objectives and our funders keep funding.
What can the "average citizen" do to market the region?
We're all salespeople for this region whether we know it or not. Stay informed. Cleveland Plus is on Facebook and Twitter pushing out content about the great things happening here. Passing that information along is extremely helpful, much more than most people realize.
Otherwise, if you belong to a professional organization or group, try to host those meetings locally. Or, if you're a business owner, tell your supplier how great a climate and location this is to do business.
What do you enjoy most about your work with Cleveland Plus?
For as long as I've been in the nonprofit and corporate sector, it's much more gratifying to do this. It's not a bad thing to be selling a product or service, but here I'm selling a place that I love, where my family is from. Promoting the region and wanting that campaign to work is more satisfying than any work I've ever done.

Photos Bob Perkoski

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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