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VOL. 125 | NO. 212 | Monday, November 1, 2010

'Power of the Dollar' Campaign Stresses Local Spending

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Daily News

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Some great ideas are so simple that they are overlooked until an economic crisis comes along.

But the creators of a new media campaign encouraging businesses to buy from each other locally is ringing loud and clear as Memphis considers its budget woes.

The “Power of the Dollar” campaign, produced by members of the Lipscomb and Pitts Breakfast Club, adds facts and numbers to a common-sense business practice.

“I was speaking to some business executives and they were saying there’s only two ways to deal with the city budget,” said Johnny Pitts, chief manager of Lipscomb and Pitts Insurance.

“Either we increase taxes or reduce expenses. Everybody assumes that. Then it dawned on me that we’re not going to be able to raise taxes and we’re doing our best to reduce expenses, but is there another way?”

The third option, said Pitts, is for Memphis businesses to generate more sales tax revenue by purchasing from each other as opposed to companies from other cities.

That was about six months ago. The Lipscomb and Pitts Breakfast Club, a group of 59 CEOs in noncompetitive industries who meet monthly for business networking, speakers and workshops, stewed over the idea and developed a plan.

“If we all increase our share 10 to 20 percent each that would have an impact on the economy of Memphis,” said Pitts.

Jeremy Park, director of communications for Lipscomb and Pitts Insurance and director of the Breakfast Club, enlisted the help of the University of Memphis in running statistics and found that the economic impact of a single dollar spent in Memphis is $1.70 and that for every million dollars spent, 11 jobs are created.

That became the backbone of the message for billboards and TV advertisements, which have been running over the last two months.

“You want (the campaign) to be positive and enlightening and motivating,” said Park. “You don’t want to say to someone that your job depends on this, but really at the end of the day, all of our jobs really do. All of us depend on each other.”

The TV commercial, which runs on WMC-TV 5, a member of the Breakfast Club, shows four top corporate executives – Susan Stephenson of Independent Bank, Kevin Adams of CB Richard Ellis, Greg Duckett of Baptist Memorial Health Care and Pitts – passing a dollar from one to the next.

If the concept sounds like a no-brainer, Park said that still not everyone jumped on board at first.

“What was amazing to me was that we got some push-back,” said Park. “Quite a few people said they believe that regardless of where you are, the best product or service, bar none, wins. I understand that, but for us to win as a city we have to keep dollars here.”

“I think a lot of it is perception,” said Joe Incardona, president of Media Source, which produced the commercial. “People seem to have the impression that quality can only come from bigger companies that do the work nationally.

“This community seems to suffer form an inferiority complex. It’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

But since the campaign began, it has garnered the interest of both mayors, according to Park, and no firm time has been set to end the campaign.

“The next step is the ownership phase,” said Park.

Lipscomb and Pitts Insurance did a full audit to find out where all of their expenditures except for payroll go and found that about 75 percent is spent locally.

Park hopes other companies will do the same and then set goals for increasing their local expenditures by increments of at least 10 percent, perhaps by first patronizing member businesses in the Breakfast Club.

The Breakfast Club was formed in 2005 with Lipscomb and Pitts Insurance as a sponsor. The company later bought the club and the Mid-South franchise rights. Park said that other clubs around the country remain focused solely on business networking as opposed to community outreach, but since the campaign some have called looking for tips on creating their own.

Park said the message needed to be broad, simple and emphasize what is already on everyone’s mind – jobs.

“The point is you’ve got to give people a chance,” said Park. “We have all the resources we need right here in Memphis.”

PROPERTY SALES 36 154 6,546
MORTGAGES 34 94 4,129
BUILDING PERMITS 201 554 15,915
BANKRUPTCIES 43 126 3,396