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Opinion: How to Keep Business in Michigan

By Toby Barlow

While Michigan is in the throes of its upside-down economy, it has been scrambling to find creative solutions. Gov. Jennifer Granholm has been (smartly) promoting green jobs. Meanwhile, we offer generous tax breaks to the film industry, which arguably provides some economic help and boosts local morale.

Meanwhile, community leaders have come up with their own smart solutions, including one that, as someone who works in advertising, I see as having a lot of value. A team led by Campbell-Ludwig CEO-designate, Bill Ludwig, has been pushing to extend those film industry incentives to commercial production. This sense since auto companies put over a billion dollars a year into the filming and editing of car ads, and the lion's share of that money winds up in the pockets of production companies in New York and California. Given the right incentives, a greater portion of that work could stay here in Michigan. I don't know the current status of this particular legislation, but it would add jobs to our economy and deserves serious support in Lansing.

Still, despite these best efforts, things keep slipping downhill. Next month, as everyone in the industry knows, Detroit's BBDO office will close. An estimated 485 employees will lose their jobs. This is an incredibly sad thing. Over many decades, BBDO has done good, great, and even world-famous work for the Chrysler's brands, most notably the ads they did for Jeep, but in the end they were too reliant on one big car client, and when that client looked elsewhere, they were out of luck.

So clearly, just as with the rest of Michigan's economy, one thing that would help local advertising agencies here is greater diversification. Yes, to a large degree, it's up to the agencies themselves. Doner Advertising has thrived for years without a domestic auto account. Campbell Ewald has done an admirable job of attracting a range of clients outside the industry, including award-winning work for the U.S. Postal Service and the Navy. My own agency, Team Detroit, has also recently added Scott's Miracle Grow, Ohio Art and Warrior Sports to its roster.

But in extreme times like these, extra efforts are perhaps necessary and there is additional leverage that a smart, proactive state government could provide if it decided to act. It occurs to me that a notion similar to Ludwig's could bring additional help to the region. Despite its myriad of woes, Michigan is still home to many large, thriving, successful businesses, including Kellogg's, Whirlpool, Domino's, and Herman Miller. These are multi-million dollar brands whose collective advertising budgets add up to billions of dollars. But Kellogg's advertising agency is based in Illinois, Domino's is based in Colorado.

If Granholm and the state government could find a way to entice these companies - through tax incentives and other means - to hire advertising agencies located within their own home state, it would immediately put millions of dollars annually back into the state's economy. Now, perhaps these companies are perfectly happy with their current advertising, though it would be hard for them to argue that these ad agencies are serving them in a demonstrably better way than what they could get right here at home (I, for one, cannot remember seeing one single great Kellogg's ad nor one memorable Domino's ad in the past three years. Can you?) But obviously this isn't about coercion; the companies would still be perfectly free to choose. This is all about the carrot, not the stick. Perhaps they will say that Michigan agencies can't sell as well as agencies elsewhere, though, given the chance, I'm sure we could convince them otherwise (we are in the art of persuasion after all.)

All the state would do is develop and promote incentives to encourage these large, global companies to begin a conversation with some of these agencies. Even if just one of these giants moves their marketing here, the incomes generated will end up supporting local economies (the restaurants, the dry cleaners, etc), while the additional tax base would support education and local infrastructure.

So the companies would win, and not only because they would get equal - and probably superior - service from local agencies, but also because their standard of living would be positively impacted as well. Their own schools would be stronger, their own roads would have fewer potholes, their neighbors would be happier, and life would be better. Who knows, maybe their homes would even be worth more.

There would be at least one added benefit. After firing BBDO, Chrysler has split the account, hiring new agencies in Texas and Minneapolis. Meanwhile, GM is considering agencies for Cadillac that are based in New York. By creating the right sort of incentives, Michigan could even encourage the auto manufacturers to keep their marketing dollars—and jobs—here in Michigan too. That wouldn't be a bad thing, would it? After all, we do still love our car companies.

Toby Barlow is chief creative officer of Team Detroit, an advertising firm.

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  • 1

    [...] posted here: Opinion: How to Keep Business in Michigan – The Detroit Blog … var addthis_pub = 'exil0r'; var addthis_language = 'en';var addthis_options = 'email, favorites, [...]

  • 2

    It really is a shame wen our own companies go out of state for any service that can be performed here in Michigan.

    Toby Keith is going to be opening a restaurant here in the Greater Metro Detroit area, and he is bringing in out of state worker for some of the jobs that need to be done to get the restaurant open. That is just a shame, with all the people in the trades out of work this should not be tolerated by local government.

    Even the city of Saint Clair Shore's went out of state for tracking units for their police cars when they could have gotten them from one of the premiere companies in vehicle tracking (Guidepoint Tracking) that is head quartered right here in good ole Michigan.

    The perception of doing business in our own state is what really needs to change. To often we look outside our own yard to feed another company that is not home grown, that is one thing that needs to stop. I think it is a great idea that the state "encourage" business to work here with its own people first.

  • 3

    I never saw a purple cow;
    I never hope to see one;
    But I can tell you, anyhow,
    I'd rather see than be one.

  • 4

    Yes, Michigan has always been the How state. We knew how to make it, to do it, and did.

    There always has been a lot of talent here, and fine schools to boost it.

    But for me the issue is Downtown. What are we going to do with it? There have been far too many efforts to abandon it. RenCen is being abandoned too as we speak.

    The problem has been that the top executives have chosen to walk away from the City rather than pitch in and make it great.

    The conversation to abandon and quit has been huge but if you ever want to have a great City you have to change the Culture of Abandonment and Demolition. You simply have to have a culture of respect and loving care. And people do have to communicate to make that happen. The sullen Indian approach simply is destructive.

    We do need some creative Architect-Planners who can invent and create a bright future. Look at what happened to the WSU campus and the Detroit Medical Center... vital areas and expanding.

    So Downtown needs a great Advertising campaign to create a vital and lively future. Perhaps the local creative agencies can get with it jointly.

    If we don't get that then, we can sit around and cry as RenCen gets demolished... it's been the style around here lately.

    And the efforts of Pete Heftler and Henry II, and Young Bill, and the Illich family to revitalize the city will be totally lost.

    A city is like a party, either you decide to make it a great one or simply slink away and watch it collapse.

    Go for it Toby!

  • 5

    In 1961, I worked as an apprentice for Art Staff, an advertising firm in the Penobscott Bldg that provided art work primarily for car brochures for the Big 3. It was a dynamic and exciting time when Detroit was the center of all auto advertising. Somehow, we have allowed that to slip away.

    It bothers me to see Detroit's products constantly framed against California backgrounds. If I see the Golden Gate Bridge one more time, I may throw my shoe through the TV screen. (Besides, I think the Mackinac Bridge puts the GGB to shame). Instead of constantly showing the Pacific Ocean, why not show Lake Michigan? The Sleeping Bear sand dunes would provide a beautiful and dramatic backdrop. Why not Lake Shore Drive in Grosse Pointe or Scotts Fountain on Belle Isle? Doesn't Chrysler realize what a beautiful tech center they have in Auburn Hills? USE IT for crying out loud! The same goes for GM's Tech Center. Alan Mulally, why not drive a Lincoln through Greenfield Village with the TV cameras rolling? Or drive through downtown Rochester at Christmas time with all the unique and beautiful colored lights.

    Thanks for your article Toby, I agree with you 100%. It's long overdue. We need to expend the same effort attracting commercial production as we have the film industry. Besides the obvious economic benefit, we can use it to promote the beauty of our state. It's time we stopped letting the East and West coast media show only Detroit's slums (are you listening TIME?). We have a lot more to offer and it's time the rest of the country knows it.

  • 6

    Yes! The Penobscott Building...

    Emptying out like RenCen... everyone moving out to the suburbs and beyond. But what a great place to work.

    It's now or never to stem the tide of abandonment.

    The Gang of four had no idea what destruction they were wringing with their political stupidity and shennanigans.

    The automobile has given us mobility but at what cost?

    Detroit used to be a huge party at this time of year.

    Time for y'all to come on back.

  • 7

    [...] under 10 minutes, profiles Mark Covington, chairman of the Georgia Street Community Collective, and Toby Barlow, writer and creative director of Team [...]

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