How can you evolve key performance indicators for the realities of 2021

It’s clear that many DMOs and EDOs are evolving their mandate. Over the last year, we’ve seen increasing numbers of place organisations transitioning to look inwards to support their own communities, and as we recover from COVID, there will be lessons from this that continue to affect and shape longer-term strategies going forwards. But what does this mean for the KPIs that we use to measure success? We reached out to Kelly Brough, President & CEO at Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, to understand how they’re evolving KPIs to match new success-criteria and what this means for the future of economic development.

Thanks for joining us, Kelly. To begin with, I was wondering how you feel KPIs need to change to accurately report on recovery?

The impacts of both the pandemic and the social and political unrest we’ve experienced in the past year have been disruptive to employers and employees in countless ways. Companies are evaluating and evolving everything they do – from what they make or sell, to how they serve customers, to how they engage employees. This experience has challenged business leaders to reassess what matters most to them, their teams, and their futures.

The last year has even put greater focus on what consumers expect of companies. Consumers want companies that are authentic, socially responsible, engaged and community-driven. What has also become clear is that even the location of a company’s headquarters sends a message about that company. That’s something we didn’t see until just recently. Today, your location reflects your company’s values and beliefs to both consumers and job candidates.

Yes, we’ve seen a massive rise in those who expect organisations to have clear values and to act accordingly. There was a piece of research earlier this year that demonstrated that 54% of consumers expected companies to take a stand on key issues – even if they disagree with it.

Exactly. It’s clear this new emphasis on all aspects of a company is one of the reasons more and more are interested in diversity, equity and inclusion. Is your region inclusive? What disparities exist? What are you doing to address those disparities? Knowing your weaknesses, acknowledging them and addressing them is actually a competitive advantage today. At the Denver Metro Chamber, we’ve not only identified disparities in our economy, but we have developed business-led strategies to address them, and we’re holding ourselves accountable by measuring our progress.

All this means our KPIs need to be more robust – beyond web clicks and deals done. Regions must be committed to regularly collecting, analysing and segmenting data. For example, we don’t just look at whether unemployment is rising or falling - we track who is unemployed by race and gender. (Frankly, we track income disparities at every level of income in our economy.) We’re not just looking at the number of new companies but also the number of new companies committed to addressing disparity. And we’re not just looking at the number of prospects in our pipeline, but the number that are focused on reskilling and upskilling opportunities for our current workforce. For the past 20 years, we have only incentivised jobs that are above our median wage – because we are committed to delivering even better jobs for our region.

‘Place branding needs to move from Key Performance Indicators to Key Perception Indicators.’ Do you agree? Why?

It’s not an “either-or” situation. You can’t look at perception and performance in isolation. For instance, we don’t just want to know how women are perceived to be doing in our workforce. We want to actually know the data behind how women are doing, so we can track our progress in removing gender disparities in our economy.

That’s the same with marketing our region to employers looking to move here. We definitely need to understand how executives perceive our region and create messaging that addresses their perceptions. But we also want to measure our actual outcomes – did we get jobs and headquarters?

And, of course, it’s just as critical to market our regional brand to employees in addition to employers. We collect research on employee perceptions about this region, and we pull hard data about our workforce, like education levels, employment rates and earnings. That helps us track that we have the workforce needed to drive economic success.

And does that then feeds into your communication strategy?

It’s important to us that we have data to back up our marketing. We want to confidently state that this region has had the greatest success at growing overall salaries while reducing racial disparities in income among the top 200 metros in the United States. This isn’t a marketing ploy for us – it’s authentic and real and reinforces our values. Place-based marketing requires that we track how companies and talent perceive our community, policy environment, sense of welcoming and belonging. That’s why we look at both performance and perception in order to be most effective in our marketing strategies.

How should we be evolving KPIs [performance or perception!] to ensure a more resilient recovery that is sustainable in the long-term?


Economic developers used to focus only on the companies, but the companies are increasingly focused on what is important to their employees or the employees they’re working to attract.

Companies and talent place a high value on the quality of life that a region has to offer and that is only increasing. This past year has companies and workers thinking even more about safety, access to high-quality health care, economic stability, and inclusivity, which means we need to all be thinking about how our region is perceived in those areas. And new issues will crop up in the future and some of these will be less important. It simply means we don’t get to measure perceptions once and act on that information forever. We need to create feedback loops across a range of issues that will change regularly to understand how companies and workers perceive us. Then, we must create messaging that addresses those perceptions, figure out who is best to deliver that message, and measure how those messages are performing.

A more resilient recovery will come faster if we also work toward an economy that works for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender.

Amazing, thank you for sharing that with us, Kelly. We look forward to hearing more about this from you at City Nation Place Americas in a few weeks!

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