Editorial: MGM casino calls for smart marketing 

  • Justin Roberts deals blackjack at the MGM Massachusetts Casino Career Training Institute in Springfield. The school is run in partnership with Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 5/18/2018 11:54:44 PM

Time will tell what impact the MGM Springfield resort casino will have on the economy of Hampshire County. Northampton is one community that is not merely waiting to see what happens and hoping for the best after the casino opens in late August.

The city was smart to seek community mitigation funds from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which is designed to help assess casinos’ economic impact on nearby communities. Northampton was awarded $100,000 by the commission last September, and will use it to develop a marketing strategy.

Rhyme Digital, an Easthampton marketing firm, was hired to help craft a plan to attract some of its customers to also spend money to the Northampton area. As Mayor David J. Narkewicz told the commission last year, Northampton is doing well economically and “we just want to make sure we continue that.”

We like the fact that the city chose a local company with western Massachusetts roots to do the work.

Blair Winans, president of Rhyme who grew up in Sunderland, said, “As someone who was born and raised in western Massachusetts, I’ve always known Northampton as a social, cultural and economic hub for our region. Developing a marketing plan which brings that vision to life with data and analytics is something near and dear to me.”

That stands in contrast to the use of Oklahoma consultants by the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau and Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts. That out-of-state marketing firm was paid $80,000 for a months-long marketing effort to come up with a new, modern brand for Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties. The resulting “WestMass” logo last year was widely criticized locally because it lacked visual sophistication and punch.

Rhyme’s work will follow a 14-week schedule through early August, beginning with data collection, analysis and community focus group meetings. A final report will include recommendations for a marketing strategy. Once the marketing plan is complete, the remaining money from the grant will be spent to execute it.

We look forward to the specifics of a plan to counter what some fear could be a major drain by the casino on entertainment money now spent in the upper Pioneer Valley. One study in 2013 predicted that Northampton could lose between $4.4 million and $8.8 million in annual sales.

Retail, entertainment and dining and have long been vital parts of Northampton’s economy and Narkewicz is correct in wanting to protect them, in tandem with other civic and business organizations.

Suzanne Beck, executive director of the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, said, “Rhyme has a great understanding of Northampton along with strong creative and technical skills that can be matched to produce the right marketing strategy. We also look forward to leveraging Rhyme’s digital destination abilities with our current promotional efforts for Northampton.”

Among the most visual of those is the installation of a new welcome sign on Pleasant Street last week, a roughly $7,000 project led by the Gateway Beautification Committee and funded by the Rotary Club of Northampton and Union Station of Northampton. “These signs go a long way toward visually showing just what we have in this community,” said Gerald Budgar, chairman of the beautification committee.

Organizations like the Downtown Northampton Association, the Hampshire County Regional Tourism Council, the Florence Civic and Business Association, area chambers of commerce, arts groups, and the Five Colleges, all can and should play a key role in helping keep Hampshire County commercially vibrant.

Once a marketing plan is developed for Northampton, we hope that is start of long-term strategic planning and innovative approaches to maintain a healthy economy for the city and surrounding towns.


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