Elk Grove Village makes it formal debut on the international stage today with its sponsorship of a college football bowl game in the Bahamas -- what the town's mayor calls putting the village's business marketing efforts "on steroids."
And while there is a call to action inherent in the village tagline used in the sporting event's title -- the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl -- the $300,000 taxpayer-funded sponsorship is about more than just keeping Elk Grove's sprawling industrial park at nearly full capacity, he said.
Elk Grove Village has spent more than $2 million since 2015 to market its industrial park. May 2015: $480,928 January 2016: $463,000 April 2016: $150,612 February 2017: $199,907 April 2017: $242,130 February 2018: $151,321 July 2018: $400,000 (incAmount spent on marketing
"We're not only marketing for today. We want that brand awareness for a year from now and five years from now," said Mayor Craig Johnson, who devised the idea of the unconventional sponsorship by the municipality. "We want to be known in tough times, too. During good times, everyone is doing well. During bad times, only the strongest do well."
Elk Grove Village, covering 11 square miles in the shadow of O'Hare International Airport, is essentially split by north-south Tonne Road: To the west, there's the residential area that more than 33,000 people call home, and to the east is the country's largest industrial park with some 3,800 businesses, including 400 manufacturers.
Johnson, mayor since 1997, has long called the 5.4-square-mile business hub the "golden goose," because it provides 83 cents of every dollar the village collects in taxes and keeps taxes relatively steady for residents. That may be one reason the village in 2015 launched its regional marketing campaign to promote the park with a mix of television and radio commercials, print advertising and digital billboards along the tollways. Until then, any mention of the park outside the suburbs was largely limited to trade publications.
"We were trying to find a way to get ourselves out there," Johnson said.
Of the $480,000 spent that first year, $91,000 went for commercials during Chicago Cubs games on Comcast SportsNet and banner ticker ads during games next to the score box, along with nearly $58,000 to air commercials primarily on cable news stations, according to the village's contract with Red Caffeine Inc., a Lombard-based firm that helped create the ads and place them in local media.
Johnson hoped Elk Grove would get better exposure by focusing on news and sports -- "two areas of TV people do not record anymore," he said. The Cubs had a rebound year in 2015 and made the playoffs, while the presidential campaign was already in full swing, propelling ratings in both cases.
At the onset of Elk Grove's marketing efforts in 2015, the business park's vacancy rate was 7.5 percent. Today, it's at an all-time low of 2.5 percent.
"Can we definitely say 100 percent it's all due to the TV ads? No," Johnson said. "But we feel it's a major component to it."
The goal behind the initial advertising push was to market regionally, but the idea of the bowl game sponsorship was to extend that reach nationally, he said.
Getting the idea after watching bowl games from his vacation home in Wisconsin, Johnson first had to convince the village staff, then the village board. In July, the village inked a $300,000 contract to sponsor the bowl game. On top of that, $100,000 was allocated for more TV commercials and other promotion
"With the Bahamas Bowl, now it's put on steroids," Johnson said.
After the announcement, the story was picked up by a bevy of national media, including ESPN, Forbes, USA Today and The New York Times, and shared across social media. A report by Banner Collective and 4 FRONT, two firms that helped broker the deal for Elk Grove, estimated $3.6 million of marketing value was realized in the first 24 hours after the rollout.
And, the report adds, Google searches for "Makers Wanted" continued to spike during the next four days.
Johnson says the initial publicity alone was worth the investment.
"Our hope is when some manufacturing owner in California is looking to locate to the Midwest and his Realtor says, 'You've got three locations -- Kenosha, Aurora and Elk Grove Village,' and for some reason he says, 'Elk Grove Village? I don't know why that sounds familiar. Let's check it out.'"
"It's called brand identification," Johnson said. "That's what we're trying to do is get our brand known."