Hugh Weber of Sioux Falls is just the kind of guy the infamous “Why die on Mars when you can live in South Dakota?” ad cooked up by Lawrence & Schiller with our tax dollars to promote our fair state. Weber is young (-ish, at 37). He’s a creative social entrepreneur who loves stirring multiple pots. Since 2009, he’s brought South Dakotans, North Dakotans, and Minnesotans together in annual OTA conferences to talk about what we can dream and do here on the prairie.
Weber says we can do better than cheeky ads pining for late-night jokes. He launches his critique by quoting business columnist Jodi Schwan’s excuse for the Lawrence & Schiller Mars ad, then explaining what she, Lawrence & Schiller, and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development are getting wrong with the attitude Schwan expresses:
“I think it’s important to remember the whole idea is to capture people’s attention.”
I believe the entire conversation about the “You Can Die on Mars” campaign and the two stories written about it comes down to whether the statement above is true. If capturing attention for a moment — from individuals or late-night TV producers — is “the whole idea,” it just might be a success. However, if attracting top-tier talent across sectors and building a regional culture of innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, network-thinking and excellence is the goal, I’m deeply concerned with this approach.
I’ve received two dozen emails on this topic since I asked my social network how they felt about it last week. None was encouraging. Few were amused. All agreed that the people of this region and those we hope to attract deserve much better [Hugh Weber, “Does ‘Spectacle’ or Does Culture Attract Top Talent?” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.05.04].
Weber says OTA inspires young entrepreneurs to work and live here on the prairie with techniques similar to what I highlighted in my post this morning on the video from Brookings inviting President Obama to visit—honest conversation about the good things here and the potential we have to make those things better:
We simply spoke to them. We offered an aspirational vision for this place and its people. We reflected to them the abundance of talent and space that surrounds them and the absolutely limitless possibility that awaits.
No martian oppression. No cheeky commercials. Just a clear, steadfast belief in the community, this state and our shared future. And it worked [Weber, 2015.05.04].
The silly things the Governor’s Office of Economic Development pays Lawrence & Schiller millions to say on behalf of South Dakota and the authentic conversations had daily by doers like Weber (and Scott Meyer… and nominate others in the comment section!) are as far apart as, well, South Dakota and Mars. Maybe GOED should get Lawrence & Schiller out of our way and let Weber and other creative types tell South Dakota’s real stories.