WisBusiness: Branding expert says Madison needs to promote commerce

By Brian E. Clark

Madison’s appreciation of its business community has come a long way since the 1970s, when the idea of university researchers starting their own companies was roundly criticized by some, a long-time branding advocate says.

Now, stem cell pioneers like James Thomson are lauded not only for their scientific breakthroughs but for launching start-up firms, Marsha Lindsay, a branding expert and founder of Lindsay, Stone & Briggs, said today at a luncheon sponsored by WisBusiness.com, Madison Magazine and the Madison Club.

“Today, we love that… because we are all the beneficiaries,” said Lindsay, who will be the next president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

Still, the city has a ways to go promote commerce and attract new business to the region, added Lindsay, who started her company in 1978.

“There is an appreciation now for business that did not exist 25 or 30 years ago,” said Lindsay. In recent months, she has been intimately involved with branding efforts for the state Department of Tourism and the eight-county regional marketing effort known as Thrive.

The understanding that business matters is especially important these days, she said, because the Madison region is no longer recession-proof and because while jobs in government and at UW-Madison are flat, private sector jobs have grown to be more than half of the economy.

“We have long bragged that we are immune…but we really can’t rely on the public sector to keep this economy stable,” she said. “We have to embrace business employers here in a way we never have before to maintain and improve our quality of life.”

To attract new companies and talent to the region, she said it’s important for the Madison and the state to do a better job of marketing their attributes, she said.

That’s why the regional Thrive brand, which boasts of the area’s creative and intellectual energy, as well as the natural beauty, is so important, said Lindsay. She said this area is competing with the Austins, Boulders, Ann Arbors and Louisvilles of the country, but that they are ahead in terms of marketing and public-private recruitment efforts.

“We have to have a culture here that embraces business just as much (as those cities) or more or we may lose the knowledge economy companies we have,” she said.

Lindsay said new branding efforts by the state – which tout Wisconsin’s “originality, innovation, pride and passion” also could help convince not only tourists to visit Wisconsin but individuals and companies to locate here.

Lindsay even said the “cheesehead” image, which is derided by some, was a positive message to outsiders because it shows Wisconsinites know how to have fun.