Picture of Downtown Albany Art Park from the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission “We Are Albany” video. (Special Photo)
ALBANY — What is Albany? That’s a question apparently that citizens and leaders have been trying to figure for quite some time. In the age of mass marketing and everyone trying to establish an identity in an increasingly homogenized world, at least one group has decided to take on the task of not only figuring out what Albany is and who its residents are, but how the groups want to present themselves.
Starting in 2012 the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission began working on an extensive campaign to re-brand the community and introduce a new vision of the city. After input from various segments of the population and careful analysis from a variety of sources, the EDC is set to unveil the city’s new brand in 2014.
Although the official re-branding campaign is still a few months away, EDC Interim Executive Director Justin Strickland and Business Development Vice President Barbara Rivera Holmes are excited, not only about what’s to come but also the process that went into the re-branding campaign.
Holmes said the process really began with the organization asking the community, what it wanted the EDC to focus on. Out of those discussions, the organization learned that an important focus was for the EDC to re-brand the city to make it more attractive.
“We learned a couple of different things,” said Rivera Holmes. “One of them was the top concern priority objective from this group for this agency was to re-brand the community; not just re-brand the EDC, but to re-brand Albany. So, we’ve taken ownership of that.”
Holmes went on to say that the first step in the re-branding effort was for the EDC to figure out what the residents wanted that brand to look like. In order to do that the EDC partnered with J. Walter Thompson, one of the world’s largest marketing groups that also handled the re-branding of the city of Atlanta a few years ago, to begin the process.
Through that process the EDC eventually connected with marketing and public relations company Lattimer Communications out of Atlanta who began working with the organization to come up with marketing ideas and designs.
In addition to working with JWT and Lattimer, the EDC also contracted with Smart Think Marketing Group to conduct professional focus groups to uncover what the citizens of Albany think about their community and how they’d like the city to be represented, something the EDC feels is critical to the campaign.
“This re-branding won’t be successful it it’s not something the community can embrace,” said Rivera Holmes. “And so talking to members of our community and understanding what they feel about Albany now and what they think Albany holds in terms of potential, was important for us to know in order to form a campaign that’s true and can be embraced.”
While the group is just now reviewing the focus group data, the EDC did whet the public’s appetite late last year, with it’s “We Are Albany” video, a preliminary marketing piece designed with help form Lattimer.
“That was just a taste of what this campaign is going to feel like,” Holmes said. “We just kind of put it out there really quietly and within a couple of days it just picked up and picked up and picked up and it was exciting to see people show their love for Albany through this video. We were getting phone calls and emails and Facebook posts and YouTube posts about what this represented.”
In her eyes, that feedback was very positive and points to a trend the EDC would like to see continue at the re-branding efforts move forward.
“Some of my favorite comments were, ‘this makes my town look so cool’ and ‘doesn’t it make you want to move back,’” Holmes said. “You know, things that really in Albany we’re not accustomed to saying about ourselves.”
Strickland concurs with Holmes, saying that attitude and presenting a positive image of Albany is critical to civic pride and for attracting viable businesses to Albany. One aspect that’s been considerably disconcerting is some of the negative things posted online about the city.
Holmes and Strickland used the example of a business that was looking to relocate to Albany recently and was having a struggle making the decision based on the perception employees had about Albany.
“The owner was super excited about relocating his business here,” Holmes began. “It made sense cost-wise and in terms of expansion opportunities, but his biggest obstacle was convincing his key employees that this was a good place. They’d gone online and they had read comments and they were terrified.”
In response, the EDC organized a weekend trip and actually brought the employees to Albany by bus to tour the city and ask questions so they could see for themselves what the community had to offer.
“The people left and they were saying on the bus when they were leaving, ‘we don’t know why we’d even consider staying where we are now because Albany’s so much better,’” Strickland said. “It took that in order to overcome what their perception was of Albany.”
Strickland continued saying it was that negative perception that goes to the heart of the re-branding campaign. In his eyes, Albany needs to present itself in an attractive way not only to outsiders but to itself.
“We’re working hard to put things in the opposite direction, to revive that community pride,” Strickland said. “It’s a great place to live and work and we know that. That’s why we’re here.”
Holmes said the re-branding campaign is a huge part of changing that perception and that things should really start to pick up steam in the next few months.
“We’ll get recommendations back in the next few weeks and from there we’ll be able to really develop some concrete messaging,” Rivera Holmes said. “In between there’s other things that you’ll see coming out of our office. We’re going to be able to produce a few more videos, for example, and then we’ll be able to start rolling out the campaign.”