Richard Branson and regional economic development

Richard Branson is a master publicist and skilled marketer. He has built several Virgin companies on a number of continents, each a brand to be reckoned with in its industry. In the past, he has ballooned around the world (in a giant Virgin balloon, of course), went skydiving, dressed up as a bride and took his fight to market leader Air Canada's biggest market by playing street hockey underneath the CN Tower with a team of pee-wee players.

These days, though, Branson is the target of promotions and gimmicks. He's thinking about extending the reach of his Virgin Group to serve domestic US air routes, and cities across the US are embracing outrageous PR and marketing stunts to woo him to their airports.

In San Francisco, a Judy Garland look-alike, drag queens and a tall blond in Virgin-red surfer trunks met his development team upon landing. (Here's a snapshot of the political firepower, celebrities and stunts a city like SF will call upon to win a new airline and new jobs.)

On the other coast, Boston sent over live lobsters outfitted with Virgin luggage tags. Oh, and offered $1.5 million for employee training.

"Being able to brand with Virgin is important for Boston because it could change perceptions of old revolutionary Boston and show we are cutting-edge ... which is very valuable for us," said Susan Elsbree, spokesman for the Boston Redevelopment Corp.

Northern Virginia is on the list as well, but they're being close-lipped about their strategy.

How has Virgin USA reacted to all this attention? "We didn't have expectations of a dog and pony show," admits Antonio Hofbauer, corporate development manager for Virgin USA. "We have been surprised by the level of activity and the efforts from different agencies and politicians."

In case you're wondering how Richard Branson remains so creative and energetic, here's a recent Fortune article chronicling a few days of his life (sub. req.).

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