Ottawa’s business improvement areas (BIAs) have been on the front lines of many challenges recently, not the least of which were a pandemic and the “Freedom Convoy.”
Recently, their efforts were recognized by a prestigious award from the Ontario BIA Association. Perhaps just as importantly, the often disparate groups learned to work together and are still seeing the fruits of their collective efforts.
“Our teachers in high school were right. Group work can be really productive,” laughs Kevin McHale, executive director of the Sparks Street BIA. While Ottawa’s 19 BIAs worked together before COVID, McHale says the pandemic went a long way toward breaking down any remaining silos.
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One result of the collaboration was the Good to Be Back downtown revitalization marketing campaign, which was funded by the City of Ottawa and led by the Downtown Rideau and Sparks Street BIAs, with 11 BIAs participating in total.
Executed by Mediaplus Advertising, Good to Be Back ran from June to August 2022. It included a website that linked to the various BIAs, with the aim of promoting the plethora of activities happening in Ottawa neighbourhoods.
At the 2023 BIA Conference in London, Ont. in April, the campaign won the Ontario BIA Association (OBIAA) Marketing Award of Merit.
McHale attended the gala along with Andrew Peck, executive director of the Downtown Rideau BIA. He had completely forgotten that Peck had submitted the Good to be Back campaign for an award.
“All of a sudden, I hear (our campaign) mentioned and Andrew just looks at me and goes, ‘Gotcha,’” McHale recalls. “It was really just a cherry on top.”
Representing over 60,000 businesses, the OBIAA received almost 50 submissions for different award categories.
After the gala, the BIA executive directors from Ottawa got together for dinner — something that, five years ago, wouldn’t have happened, McHale suggests.
“I think, out of crisis, we’ve come together and (built) some really good working relationships,” McHale says. “I think that’s been spectacular.”
Now, there’s a domino effect to running successful campaigns like Good to Be Back that allows BIAs to better support their own neighbourhoods.
For example, Sparks Street BIA runs a program called Sparks Gives, which provides microgrants to different organizations. Recently, the Youth Services Bureau used a micogrant to run an event called Chalk Up The Street.
“We’re talking about that kind of front-yard activity, like my kid in the driveway (drawing with chalk) for three hours,” McHale says. “It’s that same kind of fun thing we can do.”
While the mandate of the Sparks Street BIA is different from that of the Youth Services Bureau, McHale says the BIA can support any organization that’s working to better the neighbourhood.
Also, if an organization is having a problem, “Sometimes our voice is going to be heard by certain people better than their own voice and vice versa,” he says.
McHale hopes that the Good to Be Back campaign will serve as a blueprint for BIAs across Ontario looking to partner with each other. He adds that each BIA is a different size, with different capacity; where some are strong in marketing, others are strong in event planning, membership engagement, or governance.
“Building those relationships, championing each other, supporting each other — everyone will come out amazing,” he says.
The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.
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