Detroit’s problem is a PR problem. Sure the new night life scene is pretty hopping on the weekends, and really hopping on game days or holidays like St. Patrick’s Day. But it could be so much more. A lot of people I talk to from the western suburbs don’t even think about going down to Detroit for a night out, and many still harbor the outdated stereotypes of the city being empty and dangerous. And the sad part is that those two words really cannot be used to describe the downtown-midtown area anymore. At least not any more than they can be for other major US cities. So I say again, Detroit has a PR problem.
This idea isn’t much a revelation and is probably pretty obvious to most. But then it begs the question, why isn’t anyone doing anything about it? There are so many new things happening in the city and the most people get about it is a spot on the local news right after they are done discussing murders and car accidents and failing schools. Letting the news do your work is a poor way to market. What businesses and restaurants and bars need to be doing is hammering home the idea that Detroit is not just for sports games, shows at the Fox, concerts, or St. Patrick’s Day (all great and fun things don’t get me wrong). That it’s not just an event city, but an anniversary dinner city, birthday night out city, Saturday night city, watching the game at a bar city, etc.
All the positive change and development happening in the city is great, but people need to know what all that change and development means. If the goal is to expand out from residential and after work traffic, and to tap in to the suburbanites then they need to let them know how awesome it is downtown. This is how you compete with Royal Oak, Ferndale, and even Ann Arbor—all of which are probably of similar distances from people as Detroit is.
Detroit has the atmosphere. It has great bars and restaurants both old and new, it has an awesome music scene and history, it has sport teams which generate huge followings and have giant, passionate fan bases, and it has world class theaters and concert venues. What I want to see now are social media campaigns, content marketing, promotional videos—anything and everything that can show how much there is to do, all the new things happening, and that will get people excited about the city’s comeback.
Punchbowl Social should be making videos showing how packed it is on weekend nights. Show people their awesome “Dirty Modern” style that has a huge bar, great food, and tons of old school games and entertainment. When Monroe Avenue (heart of Greektown) closes on summer weekend nights to turn into a giant street party packed with music, performers, and pedestrians, they should plaster that all over social media and show people how much fun it is.
Bars, restaurants, businesses, and stores alike should be posting content on their blogs that highlights the new things they are doing, and the new things their downtown and midtown neighbors are doing. Talk about the explosion in housing development downtown, how almost 80 new restaurants and bars have appeared in the last few years, talk about the coming Red Wings stadium and how it will make Detroit unique in having three professional sport stadiums in such close proximity to one another. Get people excited to come down. Remind people that it is a real city and that it has a ton to offer.
This is how businesses will build their brands and expand their customer base to people who otherwise never think of going downtown. These are extremely cheap marketing methods with very low barriers to entry. I’m sure a lot of places already do some of this—but the fact that I don’t easily see it means they are penetrating far enough. This is what they need to change.
Focus on the positive and the persisting negative will get better soon enough. You get people coming down and your business will flourish, the city will begin to flourish to an even greater degree, and Detroit can finally be said to have definitively emerged from the hole it sank into about 50 years ago. This is an exciting time for this city, let people know!