Last summer I asked my wife, Lauren, if she'd be interested in moving to Oklahoma City. She hadn't spent much time here. But she was open-minded and we decided to spend a weekend here, scouting neighborhoods, schools and attractions. By the end of that weekend, before we were out of the city, she cast her vote: “OK,” she said. “I'm in.”
I asked her what she had noticed and if anything had come as a surprise. “The energy of the people,” she said. “They're making things happen. They seem to believe they can do anything.”
“Hey,” Oklahoma City seems to be saying, “someone needs to step up and offer world-class rowing facilities. Let's do that! Let's have a championship-caliber NBA franchise with a fan base that's the envy of the nation. An iconic downtown skyscraper that rivals anything in Houston. A burgeoning independent arts, film and music scene. Why not us?”
Branding experts say that what you see on the outside of an organization — its reputation — is often a reflection of what's happening on the inside — its culture. In their new book “Rethinking Reputation,” Fraser Seitel and John Doorley draw a clear connection between an organization's self-image, identity and character, and its external reputation. The same is true of cities.
Clearly, Oklahoma City feels good about itself and where it's headed. It's noticed by everyone, from first-time visitors to the national media. In last month's State of the City address, Mayor Mick Cornett reported that a study showed 82 percent of Oklahoma City residents like the direction in which the city is headed. For some context, national studies usually show about 40 percent of residents like the direction the country is going, regardless of who's in the White House. In today's age of cynicism and divisiveness, Oklahoma City's approval ratings are simply staggering.
Occasionally I scroll through old emails from our firm's late, great founder, Chuck Schnake, who was prone to pontificate. In one, he asked, “Who's responsible for managing the reputation of a city?” Its leaders and public relations experts, he surmises. But according to Chuck, the residents of that city have a larger stake in its reputation than anyone else.
If that's the case, Oklahoma City's public relations ambassadors are doing a stellar job. Others are noticing. Friends in our previous hometowns of Tulsa and Bartlesville — communities we will always love — have, somewhat surprisingly, given our new hometown a swift and hearty approval.
“Oklahoma City?” they say. “Good for you. They've got a lot of great things going on.”
Lauren and I are happy to be in a city whose mantra seems to be “Why not us?” Although we're still finding our place, the confidence and spirit here are infectious. The red carpet is out. We see it and appreciate it. The late civic leader Ray Ackerman dreamed of this city being known as “The Big Friendly.” It's that, and so much more.
Congratulations, Oklahoma City. Your self-esteem is showing.
Florence is a partner, president and chief operating officer of Schnake Turnbo Frank consulting firm.