How digital tech and smart PR connected a town to the modern age

Webster City, Iowa doesn’t quite have the ring of a must-see vacation destination, and that’s just fine with residents. They’re not looking to become the Midwestern version of Orlando or Las Vegas. They just want to be a quaint, attractive town that takes good care of the folks who live there. The kind of burg where people want to be.

And it’s a place where Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, loves to be. Dorsey, whose company has come under fire all year for failing in its duty to protect its users from malicious and harassing content, is heading a grassroots, wear-out-the-shoe-leather movement to reconnect with customers. Speaking to CNN, Dorsey said:

“We have to be connected with who we serve… Otherwise, we’re not going to serve them in the right way. And that only comes through conversation and talking with people…”

The people in Webster City are looking for someone to talk to… and all the hope they can find. The town lost its major employer when appliance manufacturer Electrolux transferred its factory south of the border to Mexico. Thousands of jobs gone… just like that. Many residents up and left. Those that stayed called the shift “devastating.”

But they grabbed their bootstraps and refused to give up. Using social media, apps and other digital-age tools, Webster City became the place to stop, even if you were just passing through. One of the biggest shifts, they turned to smartphone apps that allowed even the smallest shop owners to take credit cards or PayPal without exorbitant fees or transaction quotas.

This might sound like an obvious approach until you think about what it’s like to travel, especially when stopping in small towns along the route. In many cases, small businesses would have “cash only” signs on the front windows, turning away many modern travelers who just don’t like carrying cash on the road.

Making that small shift, according to many Webster City business owners, made a huge difference in the future for their businesses and their town. Speaking to CNN, Kay Ross, who owns the Seneca Street Saloon, said:

“People would come in who were traveling through town, and they wouldn’t carry cash… I was very concerned that we would miss out on the return business… The fact that we are now able to check out sites like if we were looking to potentially get a credit card without credit now is huge.”

While that sounds like a no-brainer to many, it’s a watershed moment for vendors and small-town retailers to have tech like the Square smartphone attachment, which allows people like Ross, as well as artisans at fairs and vendors at farmer’s markets to cater to a consumer market that, more and more, just doesn’t carry cash.

Sometimes, it’s the small shifts, like making it easier for people to buy, that makes a huge difference. It’s a lesson and a fact that Webster City is taking full advantage of to move from “devastation” to rebirth.

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.
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Ronn Torossian is the Founder, President and CEO of New York-based 5W Public Relations. He has overseen the company's rapid growth and expansion to the Inc. 500 list, as well as provided counsel to hundreds of companies, including members of the Fortune 500, Inc. 500 and Forbes 400. His work spans global interests, corporate entities, high-profile individuals, regional business entities, government agencies and academic institutions - both on routine public relations matters and extremely sensitive issues. One of the foremost public relations experts in the U.S., Torossian is known for his aggressive, results-focused orientation, as well as his close working relationships with members of the media, influencers, decision makers, politicians and celebrities. At 5W Public Relations, Torossian's client experience has included programs for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Anheuser-Busch, Barnes & Noble, Cantor Fitzgerald, IHOP, McDonald's, Evian, EDS, VeriSign, XM Radio, Seagram's, The Loews Regency, Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment, Marriott Hotels, Vail Resorts, Pamela Anderson, Snoop Dogg, the Government of Israel, and others. Referred to by The New York Post as a "publicity guru," by Fox News as a "high-powered PR CEO," by Tyra Banks as a "crisis management guru," and by CNN as "a leading PR expert," Torossian is regularly featured in and quoted by the media, including by CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, NBC, The New York Times, and others. CBS National News said "Ronn Torossian knows spin," and a New York Times feature story on Torossian referred to him as "The consummate hard-driving, scrappy NY publicist." Earlier in his career, Torossian was a Vice President/Group Director for one of The InterPublic Group's (IPG) largest PR agencies, where he was responsible for significant client growth and successful client programs, including work for Clinique, Fox News Channel, DHL, Hard Rock Café and others. A resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Torossian was named to the Advertising Age "40 Under 40" list, PR Week's "40 Under 40" List, is a regular lecturer at universities and conferences, a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of numerous non-profit organizations.