CASE STUDY: CALGARY HQ2
Named the 3rd most livable city in the world by the Economist in 2022, Calgary is described as the place for both great work and great life. This city is a hub of business, with a thriving ecosystem for innovation and a natural playground. The Economist goes on to say; “Here, ideas have room to grow and big dreams have possibility” – nowhere was this more in evidence than the city’s campaign to convince Amazon to make it the location of the company’s “second headquarters”, or HQ2.
Calgary is the largest metro area in Canada’s three Prairie Provinces. Historically, its growth has been driven by its status as the center of the country’s oil industry, though in recent years the city has transformed itself into a tech hub, with the highest head office concentration in the country and a growing start-up and small business community. Calgary however, is still steeped in the western culture that earned it the nickname “Cowtown,” evident in the Calgary Stampede, its massive July rodeo and festival that grew out of the farming exhibitions once presented there. These factors combine to make Calgary a vibrant cultural and economic hub, and an attractive destination for both individuals and corporations.
Campaign For A Client Willing To Fight A Bear
In September 2017, Amazon sparked a large-scale bidding war among 238 North American cities, each eager to prove why it is the best location for Amazon’s expanded headquarters, HQ2. Calgary officials put together a persuasive presentation to Amazon, including economic development subsidies and other inducements, that eventually earned praise from the company. To call attention to their bid, and to stand out from other interested locations – including 10 other Canadian cities – Calgary embarked on an ambitious publicity campaign. In keeping with the character of the city it was also creative and more than a little irreverent. That’s where posterGIANT came in.
How do you get a company’s attention? As with any consumer you target messages where you know they’ll be seen. In Amazon’s case that meant Seattle itself, rather than just the press or virtual spaces like social media, and with our help Calgary turned the streets of another North American another into its medium.
The centerpiece of Calgary’s campaign was a 100 foot long banner hung in Seattle’s South Lake Union – a neighborhood teeming with Amazon office buildings. The banner’s tongue-in-check message, which suggested Calgary was willing to fight a bear for Amazon, set the tone for the rest of our work on behalf of the city, including a series of humorous sidewalk stencils signed “Love, Calgary”, installed around Amazon’s Seattle headquarters. These bold street-marketing initiatives were complemented by full page ads in the local newspaper and other traditional advertising.
posterGIANT’s campaign on behalf of Calgary’s HQ2 bid drew international press coverage, including stories on evening news stations and news radio in Seattle, coverage on CBC News and other national news outlets in Canada, an article in Fortune magazine, and more. As well as drawing significant interest in Calgary Itself.
Together, the success of the campaign and the strength of Calgary’s bid, were not enough to make Calgary one of Amazon’s 20 finalists for HQ2, but city economic development officials were pleased with the feedback they received and hopeful that they might capitalize on similar opportunities in the future. That hope has been borne out with Amazon Web Services commitment to open a major data center in Calgary as soon as 2023. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called the announcement “the single largest investment in the Alberta tech sector in history,” adding that it would provide thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment in the province. And the city didn’t have to fight a single bear to make it happen.