When local technology leaders easily dismiss a new cheerleading campaign for the region, you know Washington has arrived as a high-tech center.
The Board of Trade's Greater Washington Initiative has hired an ad agency to devise an $800,000 "awareness" campaign for the area. Watch for print and radio ads to start appearing in early 2000. First they'll run in town, then in competing tech centers including Austin, Boston and Silicon Valley.
Obviously, if you're advertising the region, you've got to call it something, which again raises the controversy of whether Washington needs its own catchy tech name. Over the years various groups have floated names such as "Netplex," "Mid-Atlantech" and the especially strange "Beltway Bandwidth." Then there's "Silicon Dominion," championed by some Virginians but protested by the Maryland and D.C. tech communities -- as well as those who point out that, well, not much silicon is produced here.
(Don't read anything into the fact that we've titled this column "Digital Capital." I'm staying neutral in this race.)
But beyond the name game, some in the tech community are grumbling about the awareness campaign, saying that what's happening here simply speaks for itself.
"When you try to market yourself most people ignore you," says Mario Morino, chairman of the Morino Institute and a local technology investor.
Still, everyone's getting image conscious, from Boston's "The.Commonwealth" (that's "dotcommonwealth") and Los Angeles' "Digital Coast." In Washington, we're as guilty of this creativity-by-committee stuff as anyone, spending millions to brand, package and otherwise make digestible what some call a revolution. Five years ago, the Greater Washington Initiative tried the same thing in a campaign that also cost several hundred thousand dollars.
Jack McLean, who led the GWI from its inception in 1994 to 1998, remembers the last branding frenzy well. The name game, he says, is a "fool's errand." "We're not the next anything, we're the first something," he says.
Russ Ramsey, president of investment bank Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group Inc. in Arlington, says things have changed dramatically since the last advertising push. "The substance is here," says Ramsey. "It probably wasn't four years ago."
Thanks to successful initial public offerings, venture fairs and start-ups, "the branding is already happening on its own," he says.
But the GWI thinks Washington doesn't know itself. "There's a need for the local community to be educated about the new economy," says Marie Tibor of the GWI. "Until we sell ourselves we can't sell others."
When his ad agency was researching the area, says Joe Paulini, chief executive of the Rainmaker Creative Thinking of Reston, he found that not everyone knew the story of Washington as a technology center.
Maybe that's because it's so complex. But there's a work force shortage going on and Washington has to get the word out that it's no longer a one-industry town. Or that college kid, flipping through the pages of some magazine, might just move to one of those other yet-unnamed tech centers in the country.
Shannon Henry's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.