Last week we announced that we had received a national award for our innovative series "Bennington Made." We were very pleased with the recognition and award, but to be honest, I wasn't too surprised that we had received it. When we began shooting the first episodes I knew we were on to something. I knew we were creating fresh content and a platform that could rival any other chamber in the nation! I knew what we were doing (and what we're about to do) was new and traditionally in a chamber's "wheelhouse."

I am confident that the Bennington Chamber is heading in the right direction and I believe we are assembling a team of individuals and partners that will catapult us into the next generation of how a chamber of commerce promotes itself, its members and its region.

One area I believe we are heading, and I believe every other business is heading, is in becoming our own media and publishing champion. Gary Vaynerchuk, one of my favorite media experts of the moment, will say, "The quicker you understand that you are a media company first... this will change everything for your business." No longer can organizations, including chambers of commerce, rely solely on the institutions that have traditionally published our "good news," advertised for us, or featured us in their own articles. Organizations need to start to be their best publishing champion.

Don't get me wrong; I do believe in a well-diversified portfolio of "media arrows." Marketing and media is still a game of gaining attention. We should be exploring how to tell our story and put our best brand out into the world through print, promotional, outdoor, digital, social and other media. However, I think the tide is shifting in who has the "only" authority to do this. In the past, businesses have had to hope that their press release got picked up by newspapers, magazines and "authoritative" platforms. This is no longer the case in our new media world. Now with hi-def cameras, smart phones, content-rich websites, Google, YouTube, Facebook (and Facebook Live), we are in a new world where everyone has the authority.

Bennington Made is only the start. The Chamber's vision is to unveil the full Chamber Media Project over the next six months. This project will include one or two more series developed in partnership with CAT-TV, and a new website that is more user friendly, tourist friendly and content-rich through our 'citizen journalism' project with area colleges. These tools will provide great media opportunities for our members, and allow us to promote our region. Stay tuned as we will update you on the progress.

The point in writing this column this week is to encourage our members and area businesses to begin to think of themselves as their own best publishing platforms. You hold the power. It takes innovation, it takes creativity, it takes good facilitation, project management and hustle, but the potential to dramatically ramp up your presence is out there for those that seek it. As always, if we can be of any assistance in helping you explore some of these new ways to publish your story and brand please contact us.

Always Onward,

— Matt Harrington is the executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce