National media campaign – Best Cities for Relocating Families

My public relations client,  Primacy Relocation, was the nation’s 5th largest third-party employee relocation management service, with an eye on jumping to the #3 spot.  Primacy contracted Bert Sperling of Sperling’s Best Places to provide quality-of-life statistics on all U.S. cities for its website. My client was also evaluating an offer from Sperling to produce ranking surveys to promote the nation’s best metro areas for relocation, which were eventually named Best Cities for Relocating Families  and Best Cities for Relocating Singles.

The Problem

As public relations lead for my client (via inferno), I was not convinced the baseline, off-the-shelf version of the city-ranking system was going to be interesting enough to generate earned media. It was also not relocation-specific enough to increase thought-leadership credibility for my client.

To be taken seriously, this study had to be entirely about the experiences and priorities of relocating families or singles during their first 18 months after a move to a city.

  • Otherwise, the study would be redundant to the annual rankings published by Money, USA Today, Fortune, and others.
  • It would also be drowned out by novelty surveys produced for Axe body spray (BestPlaces to Hook Up) as well as Most Unwired Cities, Best Places for Termites or Hershey’s America’s Sweetest Cities.

Bert Sperling agreed with us, emphasizing that the most successful rankings contain custom statistics drawn from the client company’s domain expertise.


I reviewed published methodology and criticism of several city-ranking surveys. In order to produce a survey that merits attention from the media and Primacy’s core audiences, we would need to infuse Sperling’s stock data set with an overlay of custom data.

Hassle Factors
What we playfully dubbed RSVPs (relocation-specific variable preferences) were identified through industry research and focus-group meetings with relocation consultants.

The next research challenge was locating nationwide, measurable data on the RSVPs. I was able to locate state-by-state or city-by-city data on hassle factors such as:

  • Customer service ratings at local utility providers
  • Ease of qualifying for in-state tuition at local universities
  • Vehicle fees and taxes
  • Per-capital volunteerism (Why volunteerism?)
  • Prevailing rental fees for mini storage units
  • Suburban sprawl and its effect on navigating around a new city

Unlike many quality of life surveys, ours did not take into account things like professional sports, water/air quality, state budget deficits, performing arts, health care, high school graduation rates, or the number of available flights at local airports—those affect long-term residents, too, so we left them out or gave them less weight in the calculations.


Once the categories and custom data were prepared, Bert Sperling used his computer models to perform the calculations.

A press kit and e-mail pitch was produced for each survey, distributed to Primacy’s and Worldwide ERC’s regular media lists and via PR Newswire. Custom briefing documents were provided to reporters requesting interviews with Primacy CEO Matt Spinolo.

I gave Matt intensive “re-briefings” in preparation for both of his CNN appearances and I personally prepared and held up special cue cards during the remote interviews so he could seemingly effortlessly rattle off statistics, trivia and our canned jokes.

BUDGET: Sperling’s fee, plus our agency’s billable time and production costs totalled approximately $48,000.


By the end of the campaign, Primacy’s organic search result ranking had improved an estimated 800%.  Business media coverage was absolutely unprecedented for a human resources service.


  • CNN “Open House” live interviews on 9/24/04 and 10/29/04
  • Wall Street Journal Radio Network interview 5/21/04
  • Wall Street Journal’s 8/10/04
  • Wall Street Journal’s 8/10/04
  • CBS MarketWatch – 12/10/04
  • Copley News Service – 10/03/04
  • Investor’s Business Daily (online) 11/11/04
  • Spirit (Southwest in-flight) 3/05


  • Mobility magazine 4/04 and 7/04
  • Relocation Business News 5/21/04
  • Globility – 6/9/04, HR News (Society for HR Mgmt.) 11/10/04
  • Military Officer 2/06
  • Human Resources Executive 01/05
  • Expansion Management Magazine 10/05


  • Philadelphia Inquirer – 12/13/04, Grand Rapids Press 5/21/04, Evansville Courier 8/17/04
  • Houston Chronicle – 12/19/04, Dallas Business Journal – 10/08/04, Austin Business Journal 5/19/04, News 8 Austin (cable) 11/01/04, Austin Business Journal 11/01/04, San Antonio Business Journal 5/19/04
  • Orlando Business Journal 11/05/04, Florida Times-Union – 02/05/04, Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate 5/30/04, Memphis Business Journal – 07/02/04, The State (Columbia, SC) – 12/14/04,
  • Denver Post – 5/30/04, Portland Business Journal 11/03/04, The California Aggie (Davis) 11/8/04, Puget Sound (Seattle) Business Journal 11/22/04, Wyoming Tribune Eagle 9/8/04


Why Volunteerism?

While thinking about newcomer pain-points, I jotted down SHYNESS based on a two-part hypothesis (OK, it was a guess):

  1. Some cities have got be more agreeable to shy people than other cities.
  2. Such shy-friendly cities would naturally be more agreeable to any newcomer, shy or bold.

Before devoting any more mental energy to this, I located a psychologist who is an expert on shyness, Dr. Bernie Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University–Southeast (just across the Ohio River from Louisville, KY). Bernie confirmed my initial guesswork and helped me to identify metrics with which to rank the cities, which included volunteerism.

  • Bernie explained to me that 95% of the population experiences “transitional shyness” at different times in their lives, especially when they move…”and that the other 5 percent are lying.”
  • The level of volunteerism in a city is a particularly important factor for newcomers, since volunteering for a non-profit or civic organization is a great, low-pressure setting for meeting new people.
  • Volunteering provides a newcomer with a low-threat environment to become involved with a group of potential friends at his or her own pace.

But how to measure volunteerism? I located a database on the website of a national clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities modeled on popular career search/recruitment sites. The database tracked the number of people in every U.S. city looking for volunteer opportunities. Bingo!

Teenage Shyness

The other shyness metric we used was the level of teenage employment as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This filter was only applied to the “Families” survey, not for “Singles.” If a corporate transferee believes that their teenage son or daughter will be miserable in the destination city, they may not make the move. Teenagers  abruptly moved to a new town can suffer from crippling transitional shyness. Working on a part-time job with other teenagers provides a great opportunity for making new friends or reboot their social skills in a low-pressure setting (unlike high school).

“Hanging out at a mall is a terrible activity for a shy teen,” Bernie Carducci told me, “But working in a mall can be terrific.”

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