Cape Charles Mirror Report
by Wayne Creed
In Education and Economic Growth: From the 19th to the 21st Century, Charles Fadel and Riel Miller state, “There is strong evidence from the recent past that economic growth has been accompanied by growth in both spending and participation in schooling. Economists have examined this association quite carefully and come to the conclusion that, through a variety of different avenues and in a number of different ways, investment in school systems does have a strong economic pay-off.”
No one in Northampton County knows this more than Andy Teeling. Last spring, Andy brought a resolution before the County Board of Supervisors that states that the future of our county’s prosperity hinges on an engaged, informed, and educated youth, and is “the engine that drives, and will continue to drive our local and regional economy.”
Since that time, Teeling’s success has proven to be impressive– his vision of a small, rural, waterfront county” that is fully invested in revitalizing our schools and getting personally connected with the students” is well on its way, as is a robust mentorship program, and an initiative to engage more parents in the process.
That is a good start, but according to Teeling, one of the core issues is that the county has a severe branding problem. “When you look around, all you hear is the bad stuff: we’re cutting budgets, cutting school services, the zoning issues, and the hospital is leaving. We need to write new headlines that focus on the good things, like the small rural waterfront community that has incorporated an education initiative to help drive our economy, or new businesses are attracted by renewed interest in education.”
Teeling feels that to be able to control this message, to focus on our attributes, and to totally rebrand Northampton, the county needs to invest in a full time public relations person. “I think we don’t have to break the bank to do this, but it is so important. It could be a young person — it maybe should be a young person, who is from here, and is just graduating from college. Someone that knows technology, because that is critical. We need to tell our story, that business, the entire community is engaged. If we can do this, watch the economy rebound, incomes will go up, with it the tax base will swell,” he said.
“I really feel the public relations piece is so important. We need the good news put out there — a new perspective can bring the community together,” Teeling said.
Andy Teeling may be on to something.
At its core, public relations revolves around the fundamental notion that people act based upon their perception of facts. From a core functions standpoint, someone promoting Northampton would leverage standard Press Releases, Media Alerts (encourage photographers or reporters to attend, providing exposure for County achievements), Press Tours to give the local press information to write about, Email Marketing (create a database of contacts to send success story headlines), and Social Media Networking to build and maintain relationships with potential and existing contacts.
As Teeling points out, developing a Public Relations strategy can be a very cost-effective way to build the County’s brand awareness—so much PR can be done with very low overhead(distribute press releases, develop a social presence, and attend press tours). The advantage of leveraging Public Relations, is that it builds credibility—since a good deal of this information will be coming from third parties (newspapers, media, etc.), folks are more likely to trust positive coverage if it doesn’t come directly from the source. According to Teeling, using a Public Relations person to highlight the positive news also allows the County to remain agile and able to quickly respond to opportunities and publicize wins shortly after they happen.
At last week’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, Andy summed up his vision for the future, “We need to maximize the media attention. This will raise a lot of eyebrows and get a lot of people looking at Northampton as a place to locate. A public relations person can market our many assets—who at the county level is marketing the great assets we have. The schools, the kids are our best asset but we have others that are not being marketed. There is money lying on the table since Mr. McSwain has left. I have a perfect candidate in mind, a Northampton resident, a graduate from the high school or Broadwater, who knows the county. Who is getting out of school with a degree in Communications, hired on a short term basis to serve as your PR person? He would know the county, he would know the school systems, a zero learning curve, he would be tech savvy because he would be up on all the latest, he could hit the ground running and write our great stories that are worthy of press releases that happen every week.”
Importantly, there is some money available to fill a staffing gap. At this point in time, a full-fledged Economic Director (who will be forced into many other roles), may not be appropriate at this point in time. However, as Andy has lain out, a young, sharp, energetic young person, that knows the County, that understands the life and challenges of living on the Shore, could be the boots on the ground needed to take many of our success stories (schools, aquaculture and tourism) to the next level.
And, the idea is beginning to get some traction at the County level. According to Teeling, “The Board of Supervisors is waiting to hear from our citizens that they support this idea. They have told me they think it’s a good idea but they need community support before asking Ms. Nunez to act”.
Contact information for your district board member is listed below:
Granville F. Hogg, Jr.
Oliver H. Bennett
Laurence J. Trala