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Center City Partners board member vs. guerrilla marketing

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Center City Partners board member's unwarranted threats

The last time I was in New York City, or in Boston, or Brussels or London, for that matter, I noticed ads here and there for various businesses, produced in colorful chalk on the sidewalks. It's a type of "guerilla marketing" technique being used in a gazillion places to help smaller companies get the word out about their business. The ads are very temporary, usually removed within a couple of days by foot traffic and weather. The short-lived, colorful ads are harmless enough, and provide a bit of urban "splash" to cityscapes. One Uptown big wheel, however, really hates them.

Two weekends ago, Trafk Media, a smallish Charlotte media and marketing company (they're the creative group that "built" Uptown magazine), created chalk sidewalk ads Uptown, touting the company. David Furman is a local architect and developer who has helped enliven Uptown's look, and has donated time and effort to worthy causes (such as McCreesh Place, an apartment building for formerly homeless men); he is also a board member of Center City Partners. When Furman saw Trafk's sidewalk ads, he apparently got mad as hell. In fact, it seems that he went to the trouble of accessing Trafk's website and leaving a nice love note:

"... Your guerrilla tactics are very effective in helping me remember the name of your company...so that i will remember to NEVER do any fucking business with you. i live downtown, and find the tagging you did this sat nite totally offensive. i hope that you have to pay for the city workers who had to work overtime to remove your graffitti by sunday afternoon. as a board member for center city partners, i will pass your name to everyone i know, with the request that your business be boucotted (sic). i respond to creative marketing, and i have respect for those who produce it; but just like i have respect for the passion of skateboarders, i have no respect for vandalism as a message means."

"Totally offensive"? "Vandalism"? Really? Well! I guess if you don't have the means nor the inclination to produce what Furman thinks is acceptable marketing, then you need to stay out of his Uptown.

I can understand concern about what happens Uptown, and I love all the changes and growth in the center city over the past 20 years. It's a far cry from the time in 1987 when Jerry Seinfeld, then an up-and-coming stand-up comedian performing at an Uptown comedy club, made fun of downtown Charlotte's atmosphere, saying it was like the post-nuclear-attack film The Day After. Yes, today's Uptown is much livelier and more interesting. But you know what? It doesn't belong to board members of Center City Partners, nor to the organization itself. Nor does our urban environment belong to other professional boosters such as the Chamber or the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. Of course, that's never kept the boosters (or "wowsers," as H.L. Mencken called them) from feeling that they know what's best. Take the NASCAR Hall of Fame, for example. The wowsers just knew the Hall was a SOO-pah idea that would bring beaucoup tourists and cash Uptown — when anyone outside the Uptown booster bubble knew better.

The real problem here is that Trafk's tiff with a guy from CCCP is not the first time we've heard of Charlotte's professional boosters acting as if they own everything within a mile of the Square. There's not enough room here to write about it in this space, but suffice it to say there are plenty of other people and businesses — including Creative Loafing, circa late-'80s, early-'90s — that have been adversely affected, or at the very least offended and incensed, by the wowsers and their too-often high-handed, proprietary attitude toward Uptown.

We asked Moira Quinn, CCCP's Senior VP of Communications, whether the organization considers Furman's e-mailed threat to use his position on CCCP's board to harm Trafk an appropriate use of that position. "We have no comment on that at all," said Quinn. A call to David Furman's offices was not returned by our deadline.

Maybe Mr. Furman was just having a bad day, or trying to kick caffeine or something. Considering his contributions to improving the Uptown area, I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt. But the kind of proprietary attitude toward Uptown displayed in the e-mail to Trafk is over the top; threatening to use his position on CCCP's board to harm another business, moreover, is way out of line. Particularly when the fuss is over a guerilla marketing tactic that is used in "world-class" cities all over the planet.

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