This edition of 'A Capital Conversation ...' takes a look at the differences and similarities between the two biggest cooks in the regional kitchen: Raleigh and Durham. To help us with this, we chatted with Brian Bowman (@FastPassDad), a Durham native and long-time Triangle-area communications professional who now lives in Wake Forest and works in Knightdale. Brian recently completed some extensive research into paid, owned and earned media with respect to these two cities. The results were fascinating.
Raleigh Philosophical Society (RPS): You grew up in Durham. What was that experience like? What part of Durham? Where'd you go to high school?
Brian Bowman (BB): I grew up in north Durham near Guess Road and attended Northern High School. It was a great experience. One of the highlights was countless hours in and out of the Eno River. I’m glad to see the community taking care of the place. I still love to spend the day there.
RPS: You worked at WRAL for a while. Though you are no longer a media member, I assume you have followed the changing Triangle media landscape over the years. is there anything that has surprised you about this media market? Raleigh likes to think of itself as a burgeoning metro area, but does the media support that?
BB: The Triangle region continues to grow. We’re the 24th market (by population) in the U.S., one spot ahead of Charlotte. By comparison, New York is first, L.A. second, etc. We’ve climbed steadily since the 1980s. We’re not a one-city market, though. Raleigh by itself wouldn’t be nearly the size. The TV market includes Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville and dozens of smaller and mid-size communities.
RPS: What are some of the more memorable pieces you did while at WRAL?
BB: Photographer Keith Baker and I were the first local news team to be allowed into the World Trade Center site after 9/11. The clean-up contractor was D.H. Griffin from Greensboro. We did a story on him and did a second one on a Raleigh minister who was working with the firefighters, police officers and others at the site. They were still searching the rubble weeks after the attacks. Won’t ever forget it.
My favorite story involved role playing with the army during its special forces training. It’s called “Robin Sage,” and it happens every year in the wooded areas around Fayetteville. It’s the last exercise for special forces candidates. I was playing the role of an embedded reporter who was tasked with asking a lot of questions and being unusually persistent with the American officers. We were never allowed to go out of character, knowing that these soldiers would be deployed soon after completing the exercise. Really impressed with those guys.
RPS: You recently earned your Master's degree, and the focus of your thesis was on the impact and use of New Media to promote economic development in downtowns. You focused your attention on Durham and Raleigh. What did your research show?
BB: The project looked at best practices for using paid, owned, and earned media to bring businesses to downtown districts. I’m glad to say both Durham and Raleigh are doing an outstanding job of that.
For this concept to make sense, you need to think of Raleigh and Durham as brands, just like retail brands. One of the key elements of a brand is the ability to distinguish something. If your product looks like the other guys, there’s no need for people to buy from you. Raleigh and Durham are using lots of tools to distinguish themselves from other communities.
The term paid, owned and earned describes different types of outreach. “Paid” refers to advertising you pay for, like a sponsored tweet or a newspaper ad; “owned” refers to resources you maintain, such as a website or social media account; “earned” refers to attention you get from an independent third party. The best example [of earned] is when a follower retweets your message or shares your Facebook post. You didn’t pay for it, but he/she helped multiply your message. Research also shows that people may much more attention to independent brand endorsements than they do to traditional advertising. Earned media is solid gold these days.
RPS: How are these two cities different?
BB: Wow, that’s a great question, and a lot of the differences are still emerging.
Durham has embraced its entrepreneurial, non-corporate roots. Its history includes the Duke tobacco empire and Black Wall Street. The American Tobacco Campus and the American Underground, both owned and operated by Capitol Broadcasting Company, are attracting creative people with smart ideas. The CBC’s Goodmon family knows this area, and having their support speaks volumes for the community.
Maybe five years ago, downtown Durham was perceived much differently than it is today. Crime was a big concern. Today, the storefronts along Main Street are essentially full, and new condos are under construction. One person told me the biggest difference he see is that people are proud to be from downtown Durham now. That wasn’t the case until very recently.
Raleigh is working to position itself as a center for technology and innovation. Red Hat’s move downtown was huge, and others are following. They have a good mix of big businesses and smaller outfits that tend to improve each other. Raleigh’s downtown was pretty bland 10 years ago - I think just about anyone would agree with that - but today it has a more vibrant feel. Lots of new restaurants and bars are there.
RPS: How are they alike?
BB: Both cities benefit from our local universities. Businesses can’t come to your town if there’s no talent to hire. An economic developer from another state told me that the Triangle’s universities are the envy of a lot of places. There’s a lot of collective brainpower here.
Both are attractive to creative minds and start-ups. Both offer lots of nice public spaces. Both still require a car if you want to go far. I think that will change soon. Each also has a growing number of places that sell local craft beer. Oh, and the coffee. Lots of coffee.
Downtown Durham and Raleigh benefit from a new trend that put place first. Not so long ago, new graduates tried to land the best job they could and hoped it was in a good place. If you could get something in a desirable place, that was great, but the job was more important. These days, a growing number of professionals and recent graduates are willing to move to a great city without a job. They pick the city first, then find employment. They want amenities such as walkability, great shopping, volunteer opportunities, and public spaces. Downtown Raleigh and Durham have made progress in all of those categories, and people want to live there.
Both downtown Raleigh and Durham have local businesses that do a great job with owned and earned media (currently Twitter, Facebook and Instagram). One example (am I allowed to do that?) is Buku Raleigh downtown @BukuRaleigh. They tweet lunch specials and are quick to respond to diners who mention them by name. Both cities also enjoy an abundance of food trucks which use owned and earned media extensively. They create a chatter in the area that makes it attractive to outsiders.
RPS: What are Durham's strengths?
BB: Durham is independent, gritty and smart. Growing up there, I noticed those traits for a long time, but they’re more pronounced now. There’s a lot of creativity and talent there. The Chamber and Downtown Durham, Inc. have pulled off some clever marketing campaigns in recent years. They used a very simple website, second-hand furniture and empty office space to create the Bull City Stampede; essentially, it offered free office space (for a term) as a prize to competitive start-ups. Their advertising consisted entirely of owned and earned media. They used the website (owned) as a hub for applicants to learn more, then spread the message using email and social media. A well-known tech entrepreneur shared the information with his contacts and things really took off.
They also took a small window in front of a coffee shop and named it “the Smoffice” (small office). As the chamber director put it, the space showed that startups don’t need a tricked-out office; they need networking and broadband. I think startups and entrepreneurs saw that and felt that Durham understood their culture. The group also won an international award for its innovation.
RPS: What are Raleigh's strengths?
BB: While both cities have been quick to embrace smaller businesses and startups, Raleigh has also added larger companies to its district. Red Hat, Citrix, Ipreo and Evalueserve have set up shop in Raleigh in recent years. Several of them plan to add new tech jobs, many of which pay really well. Like Durham, Raleigh has access to lots of talent, people who can fill those jobs.
Raleigh is larger and better known outside the area. Every school kid in America should have said the word “Raleigh” at least once because it’s the state capital. Of course, there are benefits that come with that such as state museums, etc.
Downtown Raleigh has also added a convention center that is doing well. Downtown businesses love it because conference goers need to eat, sleep and spend money just like the locals. A conference may be the first time an investor sees Raleigh. Once they get to town and see the amenities, he/she may decide to invest there.
Fayetteville Street provides a nice “Main Street” area, a critical element of any downtown. Those who have been here a while remember that the street was closed to traffic for years. When the city opened it back up in 2006, business picked up quickly. Today, it’s beautiful.
RPS: People often get irritated at the idea of "Raleigh-Durham." Are there ways that the two can and should be linked? Are there positives to them being their own entities?
BB: One of my favorite tweets was from a guy who said no local should ever trust someone who refers to the area as Raleigh-Durham. Essentially, it said Raleigh-Durham is an airport, not a city. That said, there is some disagreement about whether the two cities should identify more with each other. One view is that Raleigh and Durham are in separate MSAs (Metropolitan Statistical Areas) and should recruit talent and jobs individually. Another view is that both cities are stronger when they are marketed collectively as a region.
I tend to lean toward the regional approach. Neither city would be enjoying the residential growth, diversity of new businesses or quality of life it is today without the improvement in the entire region. I’m sure there are a few people who lay claim to only one city and never venture to the other, but I think they’re in the minority. It’s not unusual for a couple to spend a Saturday morning at a festival in downtown Raleigh before seeing a theatrical production in downtown Durham that evening.
Both cities can retain their own identities while being part of a larger region. Each can have its brand or distinguishing characteristics while identifying with the Triangle. It doesn’t have to be either or. Plus, the region also benefits from offered by other communities within the Triangle, including Cary, Chapel Hill and others.
RPS: You have worked in small towns in the Triangle area. What are some of the good things that you see from the surrounding communities? How do they fit in with the whole "Triangle" region idea?
BB: The surrounding communities have a lot to offer to the Triangle. The economic strength many of them experienced before the great recession began is coming back. Knightdale, for example, had more housing starts last year than it did in 2008. (Full disclosure: I handle communications for the town of Knightdale.) Many of these small cities and towns are trying to determine their unique strengths in the region now so they can capitalize on them.
Here’s a non-comprehensive assessment of some small-town strengths:
• Apex: beautiful downtown, easy access to Jordan Lake
• Cary: lots of incoming jobs, still insists it’s a small town in spite of growth
• Chapel Hill/Carrboro: UNC, Franklin Street, live music
• Holly Springs: fast growing, lots of natural beauty
• Knightdale: youngest median age in the Triangle, very close to downtown Raleigh
• Morrisville: home to Raleigh-Durham International Airport, ideal location
• Wake Forest: beautiful downtown, historic homes, easy access to Falls Lake
I’m sure there are many others, but there you go.
RPS: Your work could have taken you elsewhere, but you have stayed in this area. What is it about the Triangle that appeals to you, even if you weren't a native?
BB: This area has grown and improved in ways I couldn’t have imagined as a kid. The universities are a huge influence on the local attitude. This part of North Carolina is smart and beautiful, and the nation’s best and brightest continue to move here. It’s home.
RPS: You live in Wake Forest these days. When you and your family have free time, what do y'all like to do? What are some of your favorite restaurants in Wake Forest and in Raleigh?
BB: We’re active at Lifepointe Church at the Durant Road campus. Love the place. We also like to paddle around Falls Lake or the Neuse River whenever we can.
I’m a big fan of Wake Forest Coffee Company downtown; very friendly staff and a booming WiFi signal. In fact, a good part of my thesis was written while sitting at one of those tables near the wall.
Our favorite restaurant by far is Sitti in downtown Raleigh; if you haven’t tried it, I encourage you to. It’s not cheap, though, so we tend to leave the kids at home when we visit. We’re still looking for a favorite restaurant in Wake Forest. Suggestions are welcome.
Durham is home to the area’s beloved Durham Bulls and the new Durham Performing Arts Center. The arts center has attracted Broadway plays and musical acts that have confounded the skeptics. It’s fun to see.
About Brian Bowman
Brian Bowman is a professional communicator with experience in TV news, social media, public relations and government. He is a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill's new Master's in Technology and Communication program offered through the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He is also a graduate of Campbell University.
Prior to the public relations switch, Bowman was a reporter for WRAL News, the CBS affiliate in Raleigh.
Bowman is gratefully married to his lovely wife, Diana. The couple has three kids. He's a fan of kayaking, hiking NC trails and trips to Walt Disney World that are never quite long enough.