Breakthrough Launch for Life Sciences Center

A project as rare and remarkable as the Durham Innovation District (aka Durham.ID) deserves an equally arresting approach to marketing -- and that’s exactly what a witty and buzz building campaign delivered. It included a distinctive brand, widely covered events, statewide attention to a compelling video, Bull City iconography and Durham-centric slogans.

First, a bit of background: Durham.ID achieves a first for North Carolina by situating a world-class life sciences research and technology hub amid a vibrant downtown while also connecting to a major university. Eventually, plans call for Durham.ID to feature 1.7 million sq ft of research, retail and residential space knitting together Duke University and the city center.

The project has the potential to become a Bull City icon. As such, the developers at Longfellow Real Estate Partners insisted on a distinct name and brand identity.  The team wanted to shout “Durham” loud and proud as the city has emerged as a national mecca for smart, creative people and companies. But while the concept of being an “innovation district” -- a term defined by the Brookings Institute -- is important, the team wanted something less generic. And so, the streamlined and memorable “Durham.ID” was born.

The images supporting the Durham.ID brand moblized a strong black-on-yellow design to stand out, as seen on The brand personality further emerged via signage that simultaneously touted and winked at Durham’s reputation as a creative hub. 

But substance, not style, is most important to Durham.ID. And so the team laid out its ambitions and commitment with two wildly successful public events. First came a press conference and reception celebrating Longfellow’s $250,000 donation to a S.T.E.M. education center for kids located on .ID’s campus. For many, this community-minded event was an extremely positive first introduction to Durham.ID. 

The team followed this with an even bigger event celebrating the grand opening of the Carmichael Building, the first phase of Durham.ID. Led by Mayor Bill Bell, a parade of city and county leaders, community advocates and researchers explained the vision and importance of Durham.ID. The event played out in the Carmichael itself, showcasing the buildings cutting edge wet labs, vintage brick interiors and a fleet of Durham.ID branded maps and banners. Press coverage was massive and helped establish Durham.ID as a pillar of the region’s economic future. 

To cement this standing, the team began tirelessly reaching out through a grassroots campaign presenting to everyone from the Rotary Club to owners of nearby businesses. Advocates also reached beyond the Triangle. Durham.ID’s story earned a finalist spot in a juried statewide competition put together by the Institute for Emerging Issues spotlighting North Carolina’s premiere “spaces for innovation.” A punchy video (above) describing Durham.ID earned votes from the mountains to the coast. 

In all, Longfellow and its creative partners NeoScape and GBW Strategies along with strategic allies such as Duke, Measurement Inc., the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Durham Inc., the Greater Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau and others have developed an identity and profile worthy of Durham.ID’s thrilling ambitions.     

Facebook in the Foothills


In 2010, Facebook announced it would construct a new $450 million data center in Rutherford County, just outside Forest City.  To help build relationships, launch new programs and tell its North Carolina story over the long term, the social media giant turned to GBW Strategies.

In November, we coordinated a gala groundbreaking involving Facebook execs, state and local leaders and community members.  There, Congressman Patrick McHenry famously took out his Blackberry and instructed everyone to get online and post that Facebook "likes" North Carolina. 

As the data center has developed, GBW Strategies has worked to advance and update Facebook’s evolving story.  This has included an acclaimed video tour as well as:

  • Proactive communications with media on everything from construction updates to the company’s pioneering Open Compute project
  • Getting to know state and local leaders
  • Maintaining a vibrant local data center Facebook page with more than 8,500 fans
  • Launching programs such as the Facebook-Rutherford Community Action Grants, an initiative in which local leaders advise Facebook on distributing $200,000 in funds for area nonprofits.


Building a Bipartisan Coalition

At a time of partisan polarization, GBW Strategies played a key role in building an effective bipartisan coalition to advance important legislation. The team includes both national and statewide conservatives and progressives, including leading lights such as Right on Crime and Newt Gingrich.

North Carolina is one of only two states that automatically prosecute all 16- and 17-yr-old misdemeanants as adults, even for low-level offenses. The campaign GBW supports seeks to “Raise the Age” of youth jurisdiction, so that 16- and 17-year olds who commit misdemeanors are handled in the juvenile system -- reducing recidivism and making for better economic outcomes.

While the campaign began with a collection of progressive-leaning nonprofits, GBW quickly moved to expand its base. We teamed with national conservative organizations such as Right on Crime and Prison Fellowship Ministries for high profile events, direct marketing strategies and media opportunities. Newt Gingrich weighed in with this op-ed.

As a result, the Raise the Age campaign has made steady legislative progress as part of a long term plan to become the law of the land.

Startup Story: From Bunker to Bustling to Breakthrough

In what was once an abandoned cigarette factory, the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, NC has become a hub for world class companies like Burt’s Bees, innovative ideas and irresistible ways to beat the 9-to-5 grind.

But getting there took more than the massive and meticulous remaking of a vintage industrial stronghold. It also required marketing smarts.  Especially in the transformation of a former warehouse space into the startup hub now known as The American Underground.

In 2010, shortly after the idea of creating a startup mecca was hatched, GBW Strategies helped organizers announce the news with an attention-getting media event designed as a late night talk show.  “Guests” included tenants such as the Council for Entrepreneurial Development, a gaming incubator and a tech incubator.

The Underground’s mix of resources and amenities -- ranging from an arcade to ongoing media relations and events -- attracted a remarkable roster of startups, as well as the attention of Time, Fast Company and The Atlantic. 

In 2011, Jeff Immelt, Steve Case and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg visited the Underground on behalf of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.  And in 2012, TechCrunch announced American Tobacco as the site for its first visit to the Research Triangle Region.  

The Underground is Mark Zuckerberg meets Mark Twain. Geek with a Southern drawl.  And, in just two years, a model of success.   

From 'Deadville' to Destination


When Forbes Magazine described downtown Raleigh as 'deadville,' many agreed. But fortunately, that wasn't the end of the story. Greg and Billy led the marketing team that went to work for downtown's new Raleigh Convention Center. As the massive public works project ramped up, so did the marketing team's efforts to inspire community support. Top priorities included turning area business leaders into an adjunct sales force for attracting conventions and creating credible buzz around downtown as a dynamic destination. Intense community and media relations followed. Two years later, the convention center opened with a business pipeline well ahead of official projections. The center also became the focus of a massive annual street party, Raleigh Wide Open, which continues to bring 80,000 people downtown -- turning Forbes' description on its head.


National Media Blitz Produces Results in Washington

In a cluttered world, nuanced issues require special creativity and energy to break through.  

Such was the case of the National Black Farmers Association, which, by 2009, had been work diligently for years to secure funding for a settlement to right decades of discrimination by the USDA.   

Farmers and their advocates were now determined to move this important issue to the front burner.  

GBW Strategies joined the team, and helped craft a renewed outreach effort that brought rallies to towns throughout America, a mule to Wall Street and millions of eyes to the issue through coverage on CNN, The Washington Post, NPR and countless local media outlets.  Our message eventually became one of the most recognized of two Congressional cycles.

On Dec. 10, 2010, President Obama finally signed the historic black farmers' settlement.  Our success in reinvigorating and amplifying the message involved:

  • Emphasizing our most compelling messages --  justice, responsibility, action -- in all communications, from press releases to op-eds.  
  • Explaining complicated issues clearly and concisely for reporters, editors and others, with an eye toward next steps.
  • Embracing strong visual elements to make key points and inspire action.  When the association’s president rode a tractor to Capitol Hill, for example, we made sure press followed.