Last week I had the opportunity to spruik the benefits of Dubbo on a Sydney radio station. The interview was going quite well and the two presenters asked relevant and sensible questions about Dubbo until…until the question that went along the lines of, “While there may be a few jobs available in Dubbo they’d be pretty menial jobs such as farm work and fruit picking wouldn’t they?” I thanked the presenter for walking into a classic regional stereotype and went on to explain that, contrary to his assumption, only 2.8 per cent of jobs in Dubbo are in agriculture or related to agriculture. I further explained that our top three employment sectors are health and social services; retail and education. The presenters gave me a good opportunity to explain the real situation in regional cities, such as Dubbo, but it started me thinking on the big picture.
How long does it take to change the image of a person; an organisation; a business or a city? After South Africa’s loss during the week, to a fantastic team performance by the Kiwis, how many people are bringing out the choker tag? When most teams are simply ‘beaten by a better side on the day’, it appears that any loss for the South Africans involves a ‘choke’. This reputation goes back over several World Cups but most particularly the 1999 World Cup when, against Australia in the semi-final, Allan Donald was run out when Lance Klusener went for a suicide run to win the match despite the fact there were still two balls left in the match. Sixteen years later, with an entirely different team, the reputation still hangs on. After two unrelated tragedies for Malaysian Airlines, how long will they live with a tag of being a risky airline to fly with? There is a classic joke that epitomises what I am talking about. An Italian named Luigi is bemoaning his reputation. “I make the best wine in all of Italy but when I walk past they do not say, ‘there goes Luigi, the best winemaker in Italy’. I make the best cheese in all of Italy but when I walk past they do not say, ‘there goes Luigi, the best cheesemaker in Italy’. I kill one wife and they say, ‘there goes Luigi, the wife-slayer!’”
If I play a game where I think of the first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the following names, they are all negative. This is despite the fact that I am sure there are numerous positives associated with these people or organisations. Exxon Mobil; Delta Airlines; Wayne Carey; Goldman Sachs; Trevor Chappell (that one delivery was bowled more than 34 years ago) and Macquarie Fields.
The challenge for a city such as Dubbo is to change the association from a bunch of farmers walking down dusty main streets with six-shooters on our hips to the reality – a thriving proactive modern eclectic city that is an efficient service centre for our residents as well as servicing a huge farming and mining population in the region. That mindset change – for people outside our city – is not something that happens quickly or easily.
There are a number of things I believe a city needs to do if they want to change their image in the wider world. Firstly, a city needs to be patient. All the best plans and intense focus will still take time to effect change. Keep in mind that most people are driven by the WIIFM philosophy. If a person in a metro area has a certain image of a regional city, they don’t have a great driver to change their opinion as there is really is no direct benefit to themselves.
Once a city starts with a dose of patience, the next step is to plan out exactly how you want the world to see you. There needs to be a plan. In Dubbo’s case, we have added cultural facilities; we believe we are a modern progressive proactive city; we believe we have a wonderful lifestyle and we are telling the world about all of that.
It is also important to make small – not large – changes. One of the common criticisms of Gough Whitlam’s brief tenure as Prime Minister of this country was that, despite a number of excellent ideas, he tried to implement them all at once. When you are dealing with something as large as a city, small changes and time will make more of an impact than trying to change an image overnight.
Lastly, it is important to not try to be something you are not. If Dubbo tried to create an image as a mecca of international tourism and tried to attract businesses based on that premise, it would fail spectacularly. Despite our wonderful zoo, our international tourism is a minor part of our visitation. An honest approach to the world will create more of an impact than trying to fabricate an outcome.
Of course, as I say many times, our residents are our best advocates in creating a change of image. When our residents talk to anyone that cares to listen – and even those that don’t want to listen – about what a wonderful city we live in, the image will slowly start to take a turn for the better. We can all be a part of the solution.
Tell me how long you think Luigi will be known as a wife-slayer at firstname.lastname@example.org