Staying local with Let's Go 860
By mid-March, it became obvious to business leaders in southeastern Connecticut that COVID-19 would cause big disruptions. But a series of COVID conference calls led by entrepreneur Scott Gladstone identified perhaps a bigger concern: a feeling of doom that made it difficult to imagine a path to prosperity.
"We identified a need to promote eastern Connecticut during unprecedented times," said Gladstone, best known for his ownership interest in several Wireless Zone stores in the region. "If you buy local, it stays local."
So Gladstone and a few others, including Maria Miranda of Miranda Creative, created a marketing group carved out of the weekly Friday COVID calls to try to address confusion over which local businesses were closed and which still open. The result is a new marketing campaign geared largely at local consumers called Let's Go 860 that combines the power of Google maps and the Internet with traditional advertising such as yard signs, radio spots and newspaper notices.
Miranda came up with the name Let’s Go 860 (#LetsGo860) and has been instrumental, along with her marketing team, in creating print ads, the radio campaign and the website www.letsgo860.com that contains an interactive map identifying businesses in the region that are open to the public or are on the verge of reopening.
Amazingly, said Gladstone, just about everyone in the region has bought in, including every Chamber of Commerce covering eastern Connecticut from Mystic to Putnam, as well as local newspapers such as The Day, The Bulletin and Post Road Review and local radio stations owned by Hall Communications, Full Power Radio and Cumulus Media. Waterford-based Critical Signs pitched in as well with 250 yard signs promoting Let's Go 860.
"We wanted small businesses to feel they could do something to fight back against that sense of paralysis or fear," Gladstone said during a Zoom call with others on his subcommittee.
"An informed consumer is a shopping consumer," Miranda added. "It's not just about being able to survive, but how do we get back to thrive."
"There was such a doom and gloom atmosphere," said Donna Yother of Sava Insurance, a member of the COVID marketing subcommittee. "We wanted to create some excitement that we are going to be OK in this community."
Gladstone said he was heartened by the marketing campaign's quick embrace by the local business community. He was particularly happy to see the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Norwich Chamber of Commerce, the Northeastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, the Old Saybrook Chamber of Commerce and Windham Region Chamber of Commerce all sign on, a collaboration, he noted, that has been a rarity in the recent past.
"They realized working together would achieve more," Gladstone said. "Nothing would make me happier than to see more collaboration than we have seen for the past few decades."
Gladstone said getting a free business posting on the group's website listing hours of operation and COVID-specific safety policies is quite easy for anyone who has a Google listing. Instructions are contained on the Let's Go 860 website, and soon there will be a video tutorial as well.
Survive, then thrive
"Let’s go shopping. Let’s go out to eat. Let’s go to the many places now open for business!" reads the main headline of the website.
And then in smaller type: "Check out all the restaurants, shops, museums, attractions, wineries, breweries — all the fun places you’ve been missing — on the map below."
So far, the site has had more than 1,200 views. Businesses can be found on the map or in a listing by category, such as restaurant or lodging facilities. The site also contains a link to important COVID information for businesses.
"We wanted an easy way to find out who's open," Miranda said.
They also wanted to help small businesses that had few resources to fall back upon in hard times. That was the original intention of the Friday COVID calls that included chamber presidents, attorneys, accountants, legislators, bankers, nonprofits and other business leaders. They discussed many aspects of the pandemic's effect on small businesses and have helped connect owners with critical resources, from masks and hand sanitizers to federal stimulus money, Gladstone said.
"The people who will survive are the ones who have adapted and not put their heads in the sand," he added.
Gladstone pointed with pride at business leaders such as Mike Buscetto, who remodeled his Filomena's restaurant in Waterford to allow for a large outside dining area with food brought out on carts and menus built into the tables. Others struggling with government forms to receive Paycheck Protection Program money have been connected to local experts who have helped them acquire much-needed forgivable loans that will keep them solvent as they make a comeback from COVID.
"So many businesses were hurting, but they didn't know where to turn," Gladstone said. "I think we're all going to be OK, but we'll probably lose some businesses along the way."
So far, the marketing group has been operating on a volunteer basis, and all advertising for the campaign has come from local donations. That will take the campaign through Columbus Day, but the group is already looking beyond that horizon to elicit donations from the business community to keep the collaboration going and start paying their media partners to continue the messaging into the fall and winter.
"Our idea is really to make sure as many people could come out of this as possible," Gladstone said.