Brand Fever

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About two years ago, the city of Tacoma, Wash., introduced a new brand to the marketplace: itself. Nationally, Tacoma had little or no name recognition, but for those in the region, the city's image was one of gangs, high crime rates and the distinctive “Tacoma aroma� of its nearby pulp mills. While the city had made efforts to clean up its act over the past decade, the foul odor and its negative reputation as “Seattle's ugly stepchild� have been slow to fade. Rather than create a short-term ad campaign, local leaders decided that to change this image, they had to dig into their pockets and start managing it, as if Tacoma were a consumer product.

Knowing little about marketing, they hired a regional consultancy to help them brand their city. After interviews with residents and businessmen and an analysis of the city's strengths, civic leaders rolled out a $500,000 marketing and public relations effort touting the area as “America's No. 1 Wired Cityâ€? — a reference to its recently implanted citywide $100 million fiber optic network. The entire city got involved: business and community leaders were furnished with “ambassador cardsâ€? and encouraged to talk up Tacoma's new “doâ€? with clients, while every city employee's business card donned the new logo and a new e-mail address — “[email protected].â€?

The strategy generated more than 100 positive articles about the city's turnaround. In February 2001, The Industry Standard — at that time the house organ of the New Economy — named Tacoma as one of the “Top 5 Tech Towns� in America. The push has encouraged more than 100 small and mid-size technology companies to move to or expand in the area.

In this month's cover story, Senior Editor Rebecca Gardyn reports that even before the Sept. 11 attacks, local leaders of small metro areas like Tacoma were promoting the attributes of their communities as alternatives to big city living. Buffalo, N.Y., Columbus, Ohio, Philadelphia, Dallas and St. Louis are among a handful of regions that had recently discovered the power of branding. City tourism bureaus, economic development groups and other local organizations in these regions had already begun to pool their resources to help build their city's image in a more professional, integrated way. But now, as Americans continue to reevaluate their lives following Sept. 11, what these cities are selling may have more appeal. Says Gardyn: “The apparent stability and quality of life offered by smaller and lesser-known cities, well away from the national capitals of commerce and business, have become even bigger selling points.� As a result, it just may be the ideal time for smaller and so-called “second-tier� cities and regions to introduce their brands to the marketplace.

In this issue, we also present a new brand in our own marketplace: our sister publication: Joe Mandese's Media Buyer's Daily. Some of our readers may already be familiar with MBD, a must-read for those interested in up-to-date news about the media buying and planning business. Beginning this month, we'll feature select stories from MBD to help readers better understand the nuts and bolts of the media business. You can find the first installment, “Creating a New Media Model,� on page 31 in Media Channels.

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