Branding Phoenix

Written by Keridwen Cornelius Category: Valley News Issue: September 2014
Group Free

Valley cities seek ad agencies for marketing makeovers. Locals say look inward.

What’s in a name? That which we call the East Valley would probably smell as sweet if it paid a Denver-based company $225,000 to rebrand it “Phoenix East Valley.” Or would it?

Identity makeovers are all the rage with local municipalities, and the methods may surprise you. In 2009, Downtown Phoenix Partnership spent $160,000 to sub-brand Copper Square, the 90-block city core, as “Arizona’s Urban Heart.” This year, Phoenix’s Community and Economic Development Department (CEDD) aims to rebrand Phoenix again – as a business-friendly city full of talent.

Ironically, the council recommended a nonlocal business for the job – Atlas Advertising, the Denver firm which coined “Phoenix East Valley” for the East Valley Partnership. In the end, Atlas may not get the Phoenix job. This summer, the CEDD pulled their RFP and started over with the project, keeping mum on their reasons. But questions remain: Why do Valley cities need branding? Is there a better way to market our cities? And why hire an out-of-state company to tell their stories?

“When state and city entities select local companies, the revenue stays in the state and helps our economic growth,” says Louie Moses of Moses Inc., a 30-year-old Downtown Phoenix ad company that applied for the CEDD job. “If helping to tell the Phoenix story was what the city needed, they didn’t need to look any farther than their own backyard. The mayor could throw a rock and hit us.”

“Maybe we should have opened a Denver office. That might have helped,” quips Moses Inc.’s vice president, Chris Fiscus. Moses and Fiscus emphasize their company isn’t opposed to hiring out of state; Moses Inc. has clients around the world. But they point to their experience working with the Arizona Office of Tourism, US Airways, and The Sports Authority, and the benefits of hiring local companies for location-specific advertising. “We have the knowledge of people working in the state and feeling passionate about the state,” Moses says, “which to me is the tie breaker when you’re doing something that requires an emotional connection like advertising.”

Some of the most recognizable municipal marketing concepts – “What happens here, stays here,” “Keep Austin Weird” and “Silicon Valley” – were all homegrown. The latter two were coined by private citizens, costing nothing in concept fees. But there can be benefits to choosing an out-of-state company, notes East Valley Partnership (EVP) president Roc Arnett. He says the choice to hire Atlas Advertising to lend the East Valley country-wide cachet made sense because Atlas had done economic development research nationally, in contrast to local contenders. However, he adds the EVP is hiring Phoenix-based Lavidge Company to implement its PR campaign.

But why rebrand? Arnett says the idea sparked when former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith “would come back from meetings in Washington, [D.C.] and say, ‘... Nobody knows the assets that are in the East Valley.’” The area boasts 157,000 college students, 750,000 jobs (42 percent of all jobs in metro Phoenix) and more microchip manufacturing than Silicon Valley, according to Arnett. “There are so many companies who would want to come here,” Arnett says, “if they just knew about us.”

But they don’t, partly because of the name. Outside Arizona, “East Valley” has  ambiguous meaning – 45 places in the world are referred to as “The Valley” on; 13 of them are in California, and all have an “east” side. That’s why, despite the East Valley wanting to distinguish itself from Phoenix locally, Atlas Advertising recommended the brand “Phoenix East Valley.” Scottsdale-based Brand Outlook, a market research firm the EVP hired to give a second opinion, concurred, while endorsing the tagline “Talent. Growth. Opportunity.”

Now, the EVP is raising $750,000 for a three-year campaign to attract out-of-state businesses. It will include advertising, a website, social media and newsletters, plus publicity targeted at spring training baseball, the Phoenix Open golf tournament, and the Barrett-Jackson car show. The EVP will also monitor, as much as is scientifically possible, the direct economic benefits of the campaign. So far, despite the nominal change, Arnett considers the East Valley’s rebrand worthwhile.

“Have we brought any companies here? Not yet, but we’re going to work with our economic development partners and make sure that happens,” Arnett says. If they do come, that would benefit not just the East Valley but the entire Valley, he adds. “If we can add to the mix, we think all boats will rise.”

Official AZ City Slogans
Chandler: “High-Tech Oasis of the Silicon Desert”
Kingman: “Heart of Route 66”
Scottsdale: “The West’s Most Western Town”
Tombstone: “The Town Too Tough to Die”
Wickenburg: “The Dude Ranch Capital of the World”
Yuma: “Experience Our Sense of Yuma”