brand storytelling — August 14, 2017 at 11:20 am

The Orange County Partnership Gets “Creative,” And Fails.


The Orange County Partnership promotes economic development in Orange County, New York. Located about an hour and a half from Manhattan, it competes with areas in New Jersey and Connecticut to attract businesses from New York City.

Recently I had the chance to speak with Bill Fioravanti, Director of Business Attraction at the Partnership. He urged me to check out a video the OCP created in late 2014 entitled “Orange County New York Wants YOU!,” which is featured on its website:

Fioravanti very much wanted to hear what I thought. I could detect a slight uneasiness in his voice, as if he was of mixed mind about the video and wanted my validation.

The Orange Country Partnership Produced A “Creative” Video

“Orange Country NY Wants YOU!” fails on a number of counts, which I’ll get into a little later. But I say this with some humility. How we evaluate communications, after all, especially with regard to tone and manner, is for the most part subjective. Moreover, The Partnership might have had strategic reasons informing their creative choices that I’m not aware of.

I mentioned these caveats to Bill, and then went on to say, as diplomatically as possible, how “there’s a fine line between being folksy (which I believed the video intended to be) and amateurish.”

Fioravanti seemed to get my point. He explained how there had been a lot of discussion within the Orange County Partnership before producing the piece. Some in the organization were concerned about taking the step of being so “out of the box” and “bold.” But they decided to go for it.

The Orange County Partnership Thinks Being Creative Means Being Wacky

The thinking behind the video, Fioravanti continued, was not to “do the same old thing,” but to do something “creative.”

This is the “creativity trap” that so many organizations fall into. It has to do with a misapprehension of what creativity actually is, especially with regard to marketing communications.

Too many understand creativity to mean something goofy, wacky, colorful and childish. To professional creatives like myself, this completely misses the mark. Wackiness might be a “flavor,” so to speak, a stylistic choice we might make in a work we’re creating, but creativity is not about style, but about a having a central unifying idea and the discipline to make formal and structural choices in support of it.

The Orange County Partnership Video Lacks a Strategic Idea

Indeed there is an executional idea, a formal idea driving “Orange County NY Wants YOU!” Let’s call it a parade, in which Maureen Halahan, CEO of the Partnership, moves through OCP’s offices, leading her staff in some “creative” illustrations of a number of selling points.

Problem is, there’s no underlying strategic idea holding this all together. A list of attributes is not a concept. It’s just, well, a list.

One might argue that the strategic idea is that Orange County “has everything,” as stated on its website. That’s too broad in  to constitute a genuine idea in my view, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s legitimate. But even here the video fails to communicate effectively. The “wacky” execution overpowers whatever message, or messages, are trying to be delivered. I’ve watched the piece many times and all I can remember is Ms. Calahan waking around, throwing papers with a team of ridiculous lackeys following in her wake. Whatever substantive points she was trying to make about Orange County get lost.

Maybe The Strategic Idea Is “We’re Goofy”

Another argument that could support the video is that being “creative” (in its wackiest manifestation) is, in fact, the strategy. If this is the case, I’m forced to ask whether research shows that the OCP’s target market is looking to partner with an organization that’s silly and goofy. And if so, why isn’t this strategy maintained throughout the site and the Partnership’s other marketing materials, which are relatively straightforward in tone and manner?

The Orange Country Partnership Didn’t Do Its Homework

I admire the Partnerships ambition “not do the same old thing.” But I seriously doubt that the OCP knows what “the same old thing” really is.

It looks like  Fioravanti and his colleagues didn’t perform their due diligence. I wonder if they ever took a look at how offices of economic development and other corporate marketers are communicating their messages.

New York State, for example is doing a fantastic job with its “Tomorrow Starts Today” campaign. It may not be wacky, but it’s driven by a clear strategic idea with executions that are genuinely creative in their support of that idea.

And Chevron, in its “Doers” campaign, invokes imaginative “creativity,” but once again, all in support of a central strategic idea that makes it memorable and effective.

The Orange County Partnership Fell Into A Classic Trap

Many marketers fall into the trap of equating creativity with wackiness, and of believing that for their work to cut through, it needs to be “creative” in the narrow and misguided way they perceive.

A better way to approach their communications is to think more strategically at the outset, establishing a simple central proposition that distinguishes them from their competitors. This unifying idea can then be used to inform the creative decisions they make throughout their marketing materials and provide both strategic and creative coherence.

But Maybe It’s All Worth It

If you check out the video on Youtube, you’ll see it’s received over 15,000 views and has a number of positive comments. So perhaps it’s working as intended.

But I have my doubts. Bill Fioravanti’s eagerness for me to weigh in on it merits (or lack thereof) signals that there might be some misgivings within OCP about the decision they made in this important part of their marketing mix.

Nonetheless, “Orange County NY Wants YOU!” remains featured on the OCP site, so I’ll assume it’s doing its job.

What that job is, well, I’m not quite sure.

Perhaps we’ll find out in the next video.

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