April 3, 2013

Wichita Business Journal
John Stearns

It’s hard to beat the coverage that Wichita State University and the city have received with the Shockers’ improbable run to the Final Four.

Countless sports stories — one of my favorites is Rick Reilly’s at ESPN.com — a Sports Illustrated cover and much more.

Deanna Harms, Executive Vice President for Greteman Group
Deanna Harms, executive vice president for Greteman Group

A Wall Street Journal blog this week even likened the consumer sector of the economy to Wichita State.

“The consumer sector has become the Wichita State of the first-quarter economy,” the post reads. “Against all odds, they keep playing on.”

Deanna Harms, executive vice president at Greteman Group, a Wichita marketing agency, says the attention for WSU and Wichita is huge.

“The Shockers’ amazing run and multiple upsets create such an opportunity for Wichita,” she wrote me in an email. “When the spotlight hits, you want to be smiling. And Wichita is. Ear to ear.”

Harms adds, “As far as leveraging the team’s march to the Final Four — and hopefully beyond — this is about the Shockers and the community that stands behind them. The world’s watched Wichita make good on Amelia Earhart’s quote, ‘Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.’ That personifies our attitude in work as well as sports. You have an idea, we’ll make it fly. Literally.”

The Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition is leveraging the Shockers’ success. It planned tonight to send a special package of “Shockolate” from Wichita’s Cocoa Dolce Artisan Chocolates to 100 to 200 key site selectors around the country and Kansas economic development officials. Inside are messages about new industrial and office site availability in the region and more.

Hitching economic development to a local team’s basketball success appears to make sense in Richmond, Va., home of Virginia Commonwealth University, which made the 2011 Final Four.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a story last month quoting tourism, chamber and advertising officials on the positive connections provided by VCU.

Kenneth Wayland, president of Henrico, Va., ad agency Free Agents Marketing, says in the story, “When it comes to sending out the Richmond résumé, they should appear near the top of the list,” adding the team has “been a major catalyst to the economic development of our city as it relates to tourism, merchandising and new business growth, related to VCU and (coach) Shaka Smart, in the downtown region.”

That dovetails with Harms’ comments.

Her industry talks a lot about brands, she told me in an interview.

“It’s what other people think about you,” she says. “The Wichita, Kansas, brand is being changed right now because of the actions of the Shockers … and it’s affecting it in a positive way” and it will be fun to see how that plays out.

“In an attention-deficit world … when the world is paying attention, those are times to celebrate,” Harms says of the opportunity to leverage Wichita’s message while WSU’s on the big stage.

It’s not that Wichita’s trying to put a glittery image out there and hope it’s bought, she says.

“It’s not that,” Harms says. “The world is looking at us, but we’re ready. Wichita has done a lot of great things over the last 20 years. We have a lot to offer, we have the work force. Our downtown is vibrant again.”

© Wichita Business Journal, 2013