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Calgary Economic Development goes all in on marketing to Amazon

The organization is spending $500,000 on ads targeting Amazon executives and employees in Seattle.

This 100-foot banner was part of Calgary Economic Development's campaign to attract Amazon's attention in Seattle on Thursday - the deadline for HQ2 bids.

Courtesy / Calgary Economic Development

This 100-foot banner was part of Calgary Economic Development's campaign to attract Amazon's attention in Seattle on Thursday - the deadline for HQ2 bids.

Calgary Economic Development (CED) isn’t pulling any punches in its fight to win the bid for Amazon's second North American Headquarters – better known as HQ2.

In fact, part of the campaign offers to fight a bear for the internet giant.

"We've definitely taken a different approach than other cities," said CED president and CEO Mary Moran. "We know we tend to be much more of a marketing organization as well as a business development organization."

That different approach has included a guerrilla marketing campaign targeting employees as well as CEOs.

Calgary had a traditional full-page ad in a Seattle paper, as well as less traditional sidewalk chalk messages near headquarters, and a 100-foot banner that reads: "Not saying we’d fight a bear for you, but we totally would."

"Obviously we wanted to get Amazon's executives' attention – but we also wanted to get the Amazon employees' attention because they all get to vote as to what city they think it should be at," said Moran.

She said Calgary's campaign will continue online, geo-targeting people and Amazon employees in Seattle from now until the shortlist is made.

CED has budgeted $500,000 for the marketing campaign. It submitted its bid for HQ2 on Thursday.

"This is funding that we had that we were going to use any way for this quarter, so we reallocated it to this because we knew this was a public forum, and we knew that it would probably be the biggest marketing platform we would get in the history of Calgary Economic Development," said Moran.

Moran said she's heard of a few copy-cat attempts to replicate what Calgary has already done, but none of the other cities vying for the HQ2 have come close.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau helped indirectly with the pitch; in a letter to Amazon's founder Jeff Bezos, he made the argument for putting the HQ2 somewhere in Canada, without singling out any one city.

"Canadian cities are progressive, confident, and natural homes for forward-thinking global leaders," Trudeau’s letter reads. "They are consistently ranked as the best places to live, work and play in the world."

Other Canadian cities submitting a formal bid include Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Halifax, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal, Hamilton. and Sault Ste. Marie.

Moran said she was keeping her cards tight to her chest for now as to what Calgary's bid actually contains, but she did reveal that there are no tax incentives.

Part of that is because provincial laws prevent Calgary from giving these sorts of tax breaks, but part of it is because the group behind the bid doesn't like tax holidays.

Instead, CED is selling the cost savings of Canada. Moran said they estimated $1.5 billion in savings for head office positions when you look at salary differences between the U.S. and Canada.

"We've estimated with 50,000 employees, you could save another $600 million just on health care costs," said Moran.

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