Iconic Fargo has become somewhat of a polarizing draw of national media attention. On one hand, we are a beacon of economic hope, with our low unemployment rate, stable housing marketing and thriving business community. On the other, we’re an easy target for fun pokers, who got a big boost from the Cohen brothers’ cult classic that planted the seeds of tease in minds across the country.
As Chamber representatives, we are de facto representatives of our cities as well, which can lend to some interesting phone calls from national reporters. In December 2010, I received a call from the Just Born candy company. As the story goes, their sales team was given an ultimatum at their 2009 convention: make your goals and the 2010 convention is in Hawaii, don’t make them, and you’re going to Fargo.
The AP headline: Not Exactly a Treat: Candy Co. Staff Meet in ND
For weeks I received calls from news outlets all over the country and my inbox fill with Google alerts. I want to share with you what I learned in case you find yourself defending your town’s honor to the world…
1. Never repeat the reporter’s tough/negative questions.
Reporter: So what do you think of Just Born holding their convention in Fargo as a punishment for not meeting their sales goals? Pitting Fargo against Hawaii sets you up as the opposite of paradise.
Me: Fargo as a punishment? Not hardly. The convention goers will tell you they are having a ball, living it up with sleigh rides, nights on the town and dinner at the chalet. They’re getting a dose of Fargo’s finest. It’s only the opposite of paradise until you get here.
Official quote: Chamber spokesperson Adrienne Olson says they visited “Fargo as a punishment,” adding “it’s only the opposite of paradise until you get here.”
2. Anything you post on your Chamber or your personal blog can and will be used against you.
I worked with the Just Born people during their visit to make sure they had a great time. They are wonderful people who gave no impression of feeling ‘punished.’ They used their time in the spotlight to shout Fargo’s praises and even promised to return in the spring to do some community service as a team. I wrote about them on the Chamber’s and my own blogs. My published quote:
“While the 10-day forecast will treat them to temperatures in the low teens (Honolulu will be in the low 80s), the group has local manufactures’ representative and veteran candy broker Bob Ward working to turn this ‘punishment’ into a visit they won’t soon forget.”
The reporter added: “Also, the beatings will continue until morale improves.”
3. Don’t rely on the media to tell your version of the story.
In hindsight, the opportunity to tell this story myself on behalf of my Chamber and wonderful hometown was obvious. I have the tools: a robust audience, strong social networks, blogs, video and still cameras, unfettered access to the media darlings…
What a perfect opportunity to be my own reporter. The national media wanted the sensationalism of the ‘punishment’ angle. Some of my actions and words actually helped them get their scoop. But I knew the real story about how much these people were falling in love with my town.
I told the story to reporters over and over again, but all that made the airwaves was “Fargo as a punishment.”
4. Capitalize on the attention.
When the media storm hits, don’t bother searching for your rain coat, just jump in. As people across the country Google “Fargo punishment,” make sure your story exists too. In fact, OWN the story. I collected positive quotes from our Just Born friends that are sure to show up with fun pictures in our Chamber’s next community profile. When they return for their service work, The Chamber will be the one to break the story.
Fargo is currently in The Weather Channel’s National Championship for the country’s “toughest weather city.” It’s down to just Bradford, Pa., and us. This time, I’m ready for the call.