Changing Perceptions About Utah, One Video at a Time

So there’s teetotaler GOP Gov. Gary Herbert addressing the state Republican Convention, showing a slick video which outlines how great a place Utah is to do business with (gasp) a waitress carrying what appears to be a martini past a well-stocked bar and a beer brewer and a whiskey-maker bragging about their products.


There was a time a local bar couldn’t advertise it sold liquor or beer.

And now the governor is doing just that?

My, times have changed.

And that is the point, says Mike Sullivan, communications director for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the agency that oversees the making of such videos.

Actually, the cost of such pro-Utah productions is paid for by Zions Bank, produced by Love Communications, with content consultation by GOED officials, says Sullivan.

You can see all the GOED videos here, including the one titled “Brightest Star,” the 2013 video shown to the 4,000-plus attendees of the GOP convention.

If you haven’t seen these videos before, or know next to nothing about them, don’t feel left out.

While the videos are shown at various local confabs, mostly they are used by Herbert and GOED in recruiting national and international firms to locate in, or do business in, Utah.

Zions Bank (which is a UtahPolicy sponsor) has been paying for the video productions – about $40,000 per video – for around five years, says Sullivan.

While there’s a public service element to the gift, the bank is credited with the production at the video’s end, and GOED folks mention the bank if potential clients ask about financing, loans and such in relocation talks.

“This costs the state noting, but we believe we all get a lot out of it,” says Sullivan.

Each year a new video is produced early in the year and unveiled at the Governor’s Economic Summit, which was held this past April.

The videos show, of course, Utah’s fine business climate. But they are also used to dispel certain “myths” about the Beehive State – thus the subtle, and not so subtle, references to the availability of liquor in the 2013 video.

The liquor references are on purpose, part of a “normalization” effort by GOED to show outsiders that Utah is not only open for business, but open to good times and socially acceptable behavior.

“Utah has normalized its liquor laws, and we poke a little fun at that,” said Sullivan.

“Many states and locales have unique liquor laws – as does Utah in some cases” – he doesn’t specifically mention our Zion Curtain, a requirement that pouring a beer or mixing a drink must be done behind a restaurant wall so children can’t see the devil brew being prepared.

Salt Lake City has been ranked by various publications as being one of the most gay-friendly cities in the U.S., a distinction that many outsiders could find interesting.

The “Brightest Star” video doesn’t mention this directly, although Sullivan says other GOED productions/information communications do.

“We are very ecumenical, we talk about our diversity. We also bring up some of our negatives – address them directly trying to be proactive” in soliciting business leaders to consider Utah as a good place to help their firms grow.

You won’t see the GOED videos on TV. “They are not (tourism/business) commercials.

“They are meant for audiences like the one you saw” at the state convention.

“A targeted group, like on a trade mission, the credit raters in New York City and what we call our business ambassador meetings around the country.”

Two interesting sidelights to the general GOED work of promoting Utah:

— Often those outside of the state have a better view of Utah than do residents here.

“We are actually seen as a rather progressive state” by outsiders. While the word “progressive” has a rather negative connotation at home.

— And a large part of economic development communication is the “free” media. GOED often hosts national and international journalists. The result is almost always positive – even if stories in international media show some of the state’s challenges, as well.

“For example, a leading German economic reporter’s story had the headline: “Salt Lake City, more bars than banks.”

Some locals may not like that headline, Sullivan thought it grand.

A sidelight to GOED’s work is educating Utahns about how the state is doing. For example, GOED videos talk about how 100 percent of business and personal income taxes to public and higher education.

“I bet many Utahns don’t know that.”

But it shows residents and outsiders that Utah does make a commitment to education – which business leaders looking to locate here find important.

“Zions gives us the rights to the videos, which is kind, so we can use them” anyway GOED sees fit, says Sullivan.

So, if you want to see how the GOED sees us – liquor and all — take a look. You might be surprised.