Ever been on a call with a customer service representative when they butchered the name of Iowa’s capitol? Well, I have, and it sucks. More often than not, people from out-of-state can’t pronounce the name of Des Moines correctly. A number of reasons can be attributed to this problem, but one in particular can be tied to the state’s business and socio-economic culture and that is; public relations, which is known more affectionately as “PR.” Yes, I can attest this might be a pet peeve of mine, but ultimately the issue of pronouncing the city’s name correctly is a tell-tale sign of something much bigger than my own personal tastes.
Iowans and Iowa businesses aren’t known for publicizing themselves, in fact, it’s almost frowned upon. Putting oneself on a pedestal is akin to cruising in the fast lane on I-280, you shouldn’t do it. As a result, Iowans and their businesses do a pretty darn good job at trying not to toot their own horn, which I feel is very noble, but in hindsight it’s caused the other 49 states and their populations to develop their own views, and in this case, pronunciations of Des Moines.
So is this problem fixable? Absolutely, but it will require not just public organizations making a better attempt at getting our state and city’s name out there, but also private industry’s role at better marketing their brand, products and services to external target audiences outside Iowa. One can argue, as I’m doing now, that the pronunciation of Des Moines goes hand in hand with very few Iowa and Des Moines’ based businesses maintaining an effective marketing communications program. Yes, I realize that the city of Des Moines isn’t exactly the easiest name to pronounce, but are we as Iowans going to use that as an excuse to allow outsiders to mispronounce Des Moines’ name? Surely not!
So how can private industry and public organizations based in Iowa help reduce the “name-calling” of Iowa’s largest city? Below is list of helpful ideas both private and public industry can consider employing.
1) If your business or public institution needs to effectively reach constituencies outside Iowa consider employing a marketing and communications (marcom) program that encompasses both marketing and PR.
2) Become a storyteller. Media outlets, citizen journalists, bloggers, even social “medialites” are great sources to approach to share your story or news.
3) Des Moines and Iowa are repeated offenders of top 5 and top 10 placements for civic and industry awards. Use that information to support why Des Moines or why Iowa is a great place for your business.
4) Only when necessary, but consider distributing press releases when there’s relevant and timely news to share. The more news announcements that comes across the wire from Iowa and Des Moines based brands and organizations means and an improved chance at Des Moines’ name being accurately pronounced.
5) Know the history of Des Moines, that way when you talk with a reporter or other third party outside Iowa you can give them a rich story that will implant in their mind and help them recall how to say they city’s name.
~David Splivalo, President