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KGO's Brian Copeland Trashes Richmond, Criticizes Branding Expenditure
In a Thursday morning talk show, KGO’s Brian Copeland spent an hour trashing Richmond and encouraging even reluctant callers to do likewise. Copeland’s theme was questioning why a city with “the highest murder rate in California” should be spending $87,000 on a branding campaign. Brian argued, “Richmond city leaders will spend up to $87,000 to develop a new logo and message intended to boost the city's image. Could the money be better spent? Is there a better way to enhance Richmond's image?”

To hear the program, click Download.

This was voted on by the City Council on June 2, and the pertinent documents can be accessed at:

·         Agenda Form http://sireweb.ci.richmond.ca.us/sirepub/cache/2/jhde3x55v3mxlpaikboeooqf/12542706062009071937472.PDF

·         Agenda Report http://sireweb.ci.richmond.ca.us/sirepub/cache/2/jhde3x55v3mxlpaikboeooqf/12542806062009072008863.PDF

·         Proposal http://sireweb.ci.richmond.ca.us/sirepub/cache/2/jhde3x55v3mxlpaikboeooqf/12542906062009072040332.PDF

·         Article from Providence, RI http://sireweb.ci.richmond.ca.us/sirepub/cache/2/jhde3x55v3mxlpaikboeooqf/12543006062009072100817.PDF

First of all, Copeland was factually wrong about Richmond being the murder capital of California – but not much. He was quoting old data from 2007 reported in 2008. Richmond’s homicide rate dropped significantly from 47 in 2007 to 27 in 2008, but even that was only good enough to drop Richmond from #1 to #2 for 2008, with Oakland assuming the dubious #1 distinction. Copeland went on to say that he would never drive through Richmond at night, which is pretty ridiculous.

We all know Richmond has challenges, and the high rate of homicides, seemingly an entrenched Richmond tradition, is certainly one of them. However, crime continues to decrease (Richmond Rising - Media Coverage of Crime Reduction, January 13, 2009), and the City is investing in successful new crime prevention tools constantly (Richmond Shot Spotter Goes Live - Gun Seizures Skyrocket, May 30, 2009 and Vehicle Theft Plummets in Richmond, May 1, 2009). Richmond is one of the few cities that is actually hiring more police officers in this recession, not laying them off.

There is a lot of good news in Richmond, and you get more on the E-FORUM than from most media. Whether you are a business or a city, there is nothing wrong with image enhancement. It is simply good business. It is an investment that can pay off in revenue, jobs, growth and property values. It can even play a role in reducing crime and enhancing public safety. Look at how much Chevron spends on their “Human Energy” campaign. I’m not advocating emulating Chevron but simply pointing out that fact that corporate America sees substantial value in branding.

Richmond’s general fund collects nearly $1 million annually from hotel taxes. That’s on top of sales taxes for food and lodging and property taxes for hotels. It’s simple. The more people who visit Richmond and stay here, the more money there is to fight crime and provide other city services. Making Richmond look attractive and enticing is money well spent.

In the Richmond Community Survey of 2009, only 6% of respondents viewed Richmond’s image or reputation as “good” or “excellent,” the lowest rank of any Richmond community characteristic. See Sneak Preview of 2009 Community Survey, May 24, 2009.

Richmond is clearly ready for a new look (see Slogans and Logos - Time for a Change? July 6, 2008), and Richmond residents seem to agree ( The Verdict is In - Get a new Logo and Slogan! July 7, 2008)

The only question seems to be how that will be achieved. In this case, the City Council has chosen to retain a successful professional organization to assist in the effort. Whether you are hiring accounting firms or construction firms, professionals cost money.

Poking fun at a city spending money on a branding campaign is always easy. Last month in Providence, RI, the local paper began an editorial with “Some people have mocked the idea of giving a city a brand identity and catch phrase in the first place. Some have questioned the wisdom of spending the taxpayers’ money on creating a brand, especially in these lean times. Some have criticized that a branding firm from Nashville was hired instead of a local firm.”

The Providence story went on to say:

We know that branding a city may sound hokey to some, but every place has a natural brand: It’s the commonly felt impression of a place, its reputation; it’s the things people say about it. When a city creates a brand for itself, what it is doing is telling its story. To flourish, cities need to attract and retain businesses, talented workers, institutions, students, tourists and other visitors. The city needs to tell its story far and wide, and also to itself, to attract and retain the people and organizations it desires as well maintaining a sense of spirit and purpose. So city leaders make efforts to present their city, using succinct and compelling words and images to capture the city’s distinctive experience.

A successful brand isn’t imposed upon the city; it is formed from real existing attributes discovered within the city. It has to be real, otherwise it doesn’t ring true, and the promise will not live up to the experience.

Providence’s branding research was a collaborative, comprehensive effort that brought together views and ideas from the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, the Providence Warwick Visitors and Convention Bureau, the Providence Tourism Council, the Providence Economic Development Partnership and hundreds of local business people, artists, elected officials, tourists and regular citizens. The branding research was an exploration to discover our city’s identity in 2009. The Providence Tourism Council supported this effort by contributing more than $100,000, which came from the hotel tax (paid by tourists, not residents).

The City of Providence chose an out-of-state firm to conduct the branding research because North Star Destination Strategies is a nationally recognized leader in place branding, and it proffered the lowest bid. We commend Mayor Cicilline and his team for hiring reputable experts and being prudent with our limited resources. It was also a smart move to hire outsiders who were able to see our city objectively and temper the local impressions with their own disinterested perspective. This is very important; as those closest to a brand typically need the input of those who can give honest, neutral feedback to ensure that self-interest does not over-influence the process.

The piece concluded:

By selling our story, we can help attract people and businesses we want to come here. To accentuate our strengths and build our burgeoning business sectors — the creative sector, knowledge industries and social enterprises — we need creative minds to do this work, creative thinkers and creative leaders to help us out of this economic slump and into a better time.

To move into the future, we must let go of the past. We challenge people here to have a positive outlook on the branding campaign and realize that it is being implemented by a local design firm based on research that was conducted by an out-of-state consultant.

Providence chose North Star Destination Strategies, the same firm Richmond has retained.

A branding campaign alone will not change Richmond, but I believe it is an essential part of changing both the reality and the perception of our city, both of which are long-held objective of mine as a City Council member. It is an investment, not a frivolous indulgence. People talk about running a city like a business. This is what that looks like.