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 and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 175 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, was named to PR Week's "40 under Forty" list, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations" is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.