What's Your Zip Line?

Contributed by Gary Alexander, Principal, Huddle Up Group

In 2012, Indianapolis hosted a very successful Super Bowl.  Prior to the game, during Super Bowl week, organizers set up a zip line, right down the middle of their city.  This zip line was a steel cable that stretched between two towers.  Participants could attach themselves to this cable and slide between the towers for a whole city block, suspended over the street and spectators.  The media got engaged and had fun with it.  Several celebrities went down the zip line and several, once they got to the top of the zip line starting tower, decided it was a little outside their comfort zone.  Coverage of the zip line activities was on television for the entire week.  Who would and who wouldn't participate became the talk of the town; it became the talk of the nation.

During that the same time, Nashville was in the middle of preparations for the 2014 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Women's Final Four Basketball Tournament, the year-ending culmination of the women's collegiate basketball season.  Each year a city, led by a Local Organizing Committee (LOC), hosts six days of parties, events, conferences, and three basketball games. The result at week's end is the crowning of the NCAA Women's Basketball National Champion.

I was honored to serve as the Executive Director of the Local Organizing Committee.  It was my responsibility to make sure the event was operationally and financially successful, and just as important, my responsibility to make it memorable for the participants and the fans.

Shortly after the Super Bowl, during one of our LOC staff meetings, I asked our team, "What's our zip line?”  What will everyone be talking about, outside of the games?  What will be Nashville's signature?"

If you know anything about Nashville, you know we're called Music City.  We're home of the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Our downtown is lined with live music venues called Honky Tonks.  Every June we host the Country Music Association Music Festival. Even our Convention & Visitors Corporation is called, Visit Music City.  So as you can imagine, with not much debate, it was decided that in Music City, for the 2014 NCAA Women's Final Four, our zip line had to be music!  Therefore, we took it upon ourselves to infuse live music into every activity that we did.  We had music at all the special events around the Final Four; at the Governor's Reception, the Championship Luncheon, and at the interactive fan festival called Tourney Town.   We had it at the Bounce on Broadway, where 2,500 children and their parents bounced a basketball down the streets of Nashville.   Live music was at pre-Game hospitality on both competition days.  We even had live performers outside the entrances to the arena for spectators to enjoy on game-days.  Everywhere you went, you couldn't help but run into live music.  Everyone was talking about how great and how prolific the music was in Nashville!  Mission accomplished!

As you read this, you may be thinking, that's fine for Nashville, but we're not Music City.  What does that have to do with my community?  No, you may not be Music City, but I assure you that your community is unique in its own way.  It has assets or traditions on which you can capitalize.  When I think of Albuquerque, I think of the Southwestern culture and the balloon festival.  St. Louis brings to mind baseball, sportsmanship and the Arch.  Denver, the Mile High City, has its mountains and outdoor activities and the Denver Broncos.  You may know Wimbledon has a tradition of "strawberries and cream," but did you know that Kalamazoo, Michigan, has had a tradition of "blueberries and cream?"  Since 1943, the USTA Boys National Tennis Championships, one of the longest running youth tennis tournaments in the country, has been held in Kalamazoo, and with it a tradition of serving "blueberries and cream."  Everywhere, every community, has something that makes it special.

Discover your uniqueness. Brainstorm with your team, brainstorm with your stakeholders, talk to the arts community, the music community, the foodies.  You'll be surprised what you'll find.  Everyone will have a different perspective of their hometown or the upcoming event.  When you find a theme or idea that keeps reoccurring, you will have discovered your zip line! 

We often ask our clients, "What unique attributes of your event or your community do you have to create brand leverage against the competition?  How are you leveraging your uniqueness?  Are you playing the same game like everyone else or are you using the assets you have to build a brand?"

Your zip line can change from event to event, from year to year.  The key is to have one, so that as your guests depart, they'll be talking about your community and talking about when they will return to experience and enjoy it again.  I challenge you, find your zip line!