The “100-Mile Expert” Rule

Earlier this year, I gave a presentation on social media marketing at the League of Historic American Theatre’s national conference, which was held in San Antonio. The 60 theatre-proprietors and attendees that flew in for the conference were very eager to learn about the latest tips and tricks on the ever-expanding social media landscape. Many attendees I talked to claimed that they had seen social media speakers in their own cities, but told me my workshop was the best one they had ever been to.

Flattery aside, it is always nice to have people appreciate your expertise. But I realized that I became a victim of the “100-Mile Rule,” which is a term our office has coined for consultants and subject-experts who are viewed as being more credible strictly because they are new, different and work at least 100 miles away.

Many groups and organizations in Southern Arizona feel the need to bring in “experts” from other parts of the country to speak or consult. This never ceases to amaze us, as we are aware of local and fantastic talent in almost every topic area. Those groups could be exposed to exceptionally smart people who are highly qualified in their subject areas and industries that work right in Tucson or outlying cities and towns. Yet, those local thought-leaders and innovator are considered less of an expert than someone from Los Angeles or New York City, or even a smaller market than Tucson.

Unfortunately, this issue also translates to the hiring of services firms and consultants. Companies often don’t look in their own backyards and neighborhoods for the talent they seek and assume they must go out of state to find that perfect vendor.

I asked some of our clients whether they encounter this in their work. Mark Clark, CEO of CODAC Behavioral Health, thinks some associations and businesses like to practice the time-honored political strategy of “bringing outside experts so that when their ideas don’t work, they can’t be blamed.”

“Sometimes, major stakeholders may not trust their local team and want an outside expert to come in, conduct an assessment and make recommendations,” he said. “Of course, the outside expert generally comes to the same conclusion as the local team, but somehow it makes everyone feel validated.”

Another reason for bringing in experts from 100 miles away deals with “reputational currency”, which was a phrase developed by Susan Ernsky. As the Senior Vice President of Mission Management & Trust Co. in Tucson, she has had several experiences where institutional investors favored working with firms from outside of the region because of stereotypes and grandeur.

“Some decisions do generate reputational currency, as it is cachet to say you’re working with a big New York firm near Wall Street or a Cayman-based hedge fund,” she said. “However, the perception that larger market firms have greater expertise ignores the evidence that Tucson has investment professionals who have a wealth of industry and securities experience.”

So, the next time you need someone to speak, consult or provide their services, consider looking in your own backyard. Simply by asking your friends and colleagues for a recommendation, you might just be surprised at the talent you find.

(Thanks to D’Arcy Norman for the photo.)

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