Cincinnati Launches Major Bid to Lure More Marketers

Already Home to P&G, Macy's, Kroger and Many Ad Agencies, City Looks to Attract Others With Tax Incentives, an Incubator to Draw Venture Capital

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Welcome to Cincinnati, center of the consumer-marketing universe.

Well, maybe not quite, but the city is making its most-organized push yet to parlay a dense concentration of marketers and marketing-services shops to lure more of the same, including overtures to regions teeming with tech startups, such as India and Israel.

Cincinnati is home to the country's largest consumer-products marketer (P&G); largest supermarket retailer (Kroger Co.); and biggest department-store chain (Macy's ).
Cincinnati is home to the country's largest consumer-products marketer (P&G); largest supermarket retailer (Kroger Co.); and biggest department-store chain (Macy's ).

In a world where advertisers aren't always popular, Cincinnati is showing its practitioners the love through tax incentives, incubators, accelerators and venture capital. And while its claims to global marketing predominance beyond Procter & Gamble Co. may not be well known, the Cincinnati USA Partnership led by the local Chamber of Commerce aims to change that , with a just-launched Brandhub advertising and PR campaign.

The cornerstone of the pitch: Cincinnati is home to the country's largest consumer-products marketer (P&G); largest supermarket retailer (Kroger Co.); and biggest department-store chain (Macy's ).

That's spawned an infrastructure heavy with designers, brand consultants, market researchers and data-analytics firms. With nearly 39,000 branding-related jobs in the city and 60,000 in the region, Cincinnati boasts the highest per-capita concentration of branding professionals in the world, growing 16% from 2002 to 2010, four times the rate in the top 25 U.S. metro areas overall, according to the University of Cincinnati.

"I challenge you to find anywhere on the globe with the combination of consumer understanding that exists within two long golf drives of wherever you're sitting in Cincinnati," said Jeff Weedman, P&G's VP-global business development, who is now on loan to head Cintrifuse, part of the effort to lure marketers and shops to the region.

The city is one of the few, if any, dangling incentives to lure or keep marketing shops. When Dunnhumby USA (a joint venture of The Kroger Co. and London-based analytics shop Dunnhumby that serves clients such as Macy's ) wanted to expand this year, the city and state gave up to $25 million in tax incentives for the $36 million project, now expected to house 1,200 employees. Nielsen and Arkansas-based digital shop Rockfish also got incentives to move operations to the city in recent years.

The private sector is also chipping in: Mr. Weedman said P&G recently ponied up $25 million and office space to house Cintrifuse, an incubator with a total of $60 million in funding aimed at attracting more venture capital to the city.

One of Cintrifuse's first tenants is former Pampers Brand Manager Rodney Williams, who got three social-media-related patents at P&G before launching Lisnr, a mobile music app that makes sponsored-content available.

Cintrifuse arose from a group of the city's CEOs in a project co-chaired by P&G Chairman-CEO Bob McDonald and mapped out by McKinsey & Co. Besides attracting venture capital, it looks to become the central hub for startup information in Cincinnati and form a network of incubators and accelerators focused on brand marketing in the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood, where one, the Brandery, is already located.

Dave Knox, a former P&G brand manager and now CMO of Rockfish, said that while startups, incubators and accelerators abound nationally, what Cincinnati brings is a proximity to brand marketers who can fund experiments and an abundance of agencies willing to help for free. Shops such as Rockfish, Possible, Proximity Barefoot BBDO, Northlich, Resource, Empower, LPK, Landor and Interbrand often compete, but they've all provided mentors and pro-bono work for Brandery startups. So has P&G -- VP North American Operations and Marketing Jodi Allen and former digital chief Lucas Watson have been among the mentors.

In its third year, the Brandery's class included a venture aiming to be the Buddy Media of Pinterest (and backed by former P&G and Possible Worldwide executive Bob Gilbreath) and another headed by three teen MIT dropouts to let outbound air passengers rent their cars to inbound travelers.

But as P&G restructuring swells the available pool of thousands of marketing-trained alums in the area, it's easy to picture more of them sticking closer to their knitting. And where better to do so? Rich Kiley, a local VC who once headed P&G's venture fund, recounts how when local ice-cream icon Graeter's needed to raise funds in 2009, its advisers included former P&G Chairman-CEO John Pepper and Vice Chairman Susan Arnold . Kroger pledged to buy and sell all that Graeter's could make. Now, Mr. Weedman said the retailer has agreed to fast-track store tests for other local entrepreneurs.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the last name of Rodney Williams as Murphy and his music app Lisnr was misspelled as Lisenr.

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