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HETRICK: You gotta stay bright to be the light of the world

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Bruce Hetrick

From time to time, my wife and I take in a movie on the six-story-tall Imax screen at White River State Park downtown. We love being immersed in the big picture and the big sound.

But long ago, I learned to pity some of the actors whose images get mega-sized by Imax, because every facial flaw is magnified many times over. In a close-up, there can be wrinkles as wide as canyons, moles as high as mountains, facial hair as tall as the rain forest.

Imax brings new meaning to the phrase “warts and all.”

I’m reminded of this phenomenon when people, places and organizations find themselves—by design or accident—on pedestals.

Many, of course, seek and cherish the attention. They call it brand building, publicity or politics.

American painter Andy Warhol said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” But there are those who want that fame to arrive sooner and last longer. They seek the spotlight. They command its attention. And sometimes, they forget what comes with the glare.

Here in Indianapolis, we learned recently that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange was taking a look at our city as a potential relocation site. News reports said CME officials are unhappy with Illinois taxes, that they’ve talked with our mayor, and that 2,000 jobs and $432 million in compensation and benefits could be in play.

The spotlight was on.

Then came the glare.

“The Merc moving its offices to Indianapolis is as likely as the New York Stock Exchange relocating to Pittsburgh,” said Chicago author Edward McClelland on NBC Chicago’s “Ward Room” blog.

“The talent needed to run the exchange isn’t going to want to live in Indianapolis,” he said. “I’m sure quite a few transfers would tell the boss to stuff it before relocating from Chicago to Indy. And I’m just as sure that recruitment would be much, much more difficult.”

“Indiana is a lower-tax state than Illinois,” McClelland conceded, “but that’s one reason its only claim to notoriety is taking up space between Chicago and Cincinnati. … Hoosiers don’t invest in education or culture to the extent that Illinois does. Illinois has a higher percentage of college graduates than the national average. Indiana is below the mean.”

“Good luck finding talent there,” said the article’s subhead.

Ouch.

Mark Twain once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” And while I’m sure Indiana officials could conjure up some data to counter Mr. McClelland’s, the petty bickering is not the point. Rather, it’s that we like being center stage, yet someone’s going to see the blemishes through our base and rouge.

Such competitive potshots aren’t surprising, of course, especially below-the-belt hits from the City of Broad and Costly Shoulders.

But with the brightest neon about to extol and expose our community (read: hosting the Super Bowl), we’re even taking it on the chin from within.

A few weeks ago, the blogosphere and Twitterverse went negative on a video created by the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association. The footage in question was a parody—intended for meeting planners at a Windy City gathering—of the Chicago Bears’ 1985 “Super Bowl Shuffle.” It features local hospitality workers touting various Indianapolis hotels.

But someone posted it on YouTube. And what was intended as silly was taken seriously. The intended hoke made us look ineptly hokey.

“Have you watched the Indianapolis Super Bowl Shuffle video?” tweeted RadioNOW 100.9. “All eyes are now on Indy for this awful video!”

“What has taken 20 years to build, you have destroyed in 5 and a half minutes,” said one post on YouTube.

“Particularly horrific,” said Indianapolis Star columnist Erika Smith.

On Facebook, someone created a page called “Make the Indy Super Bowl Shuffle Video Go Away.” Nearly 250 people indicated their agreement.

And under the headline “The Spoof Indy Super Bowl Shuffle Video That Will Scare You Off Indianapolis Forever,” the sports website Deadspin piled on with this: “Super Bowl or no, you have guaranteed that I will never intentionally visit your city. … It took you one week to produce a desperate soul-sucking hotel-shilling video like this? Rubbish. Shame. A pox on you.”

ICVA removed the video from YouTube. It was criticized for that, too.

Many years ago, marketing maven Stephen Robertson said, “No company can protect its reputation all the time. … Customers and the media love to throw rotten eggs at businesses that put themselves on a pedestal.”

When it comes to big-screen pictures, world-class athletic events, economic development deals, political campaigns, brand building or job seeking, the limelight is vital. But beware: What you do en route to center stage, and how you behave once you get there, will determine how long the light shines, what it reveals about your character, and whether you get to stay.•

__________

Hetrick is an Indianapolis-based writer, speaker and public relations consultant. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.

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