Branding plan raises concerns

Published 12:49 am Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A proposal to market Washington as “Little Washington” may not sit well with some city residents, some members of the City Council indicated Monday night.

That warning came after the council and Mayor Archie Jennings heard a presentation about the community-branding project the city is pursuing. The presentation was made by Bill Roberts, president of Greenville-based Eye Integrated Communications.

A “branding” workshop provided information suggesting more people, especially people from outside Washington, identify Washington as “Little Washington” instead of the “Original Washington,” Roberts said. Because many people identify the city as “Little Washington,” the city should capitalize on that, he said.

Roberts said the branding strategy could incorporate phrases such as “Big Enough to be Little,” “Have a Little fun in Washington” and “Explore a Little in Washington.” Roberts said he understands there are some people who are strongly opposed to using the phrase “Little Washington” to market the city.

Councilman Gil Davis said he’s received several phone calls about the proposal, with none of them supporting the “Little Washington” strategy.

“They get angry when you call it Little Washington,” Davis said of some city residents.

“There is a constituency that has an issue with ‘little’ in terms of that being our identifying word — not necessarily that we’re not being enough to be little, or what have you,” Jennings said. “That’s not really, in their minds, the way Washington has been identified by Washingtonians.”

Jennings asked Roberts about the possibility of an “external” strategy that uses the “Little Washington” branding message to target people outside the city and an “internal strategy” that uses a “less-abrasive” branding message to target city residents and others who live near the city.

“I think it would be incredibly dangerous to hope that you could have one image inside and another image outside. … It’s incredibly important for the community to live out the brand. The brand is who you are. Therefore, if people don’t see that brand lived out, it’s very difficult for them to communicate,” Roberts said.

Roberts said he would like for the public to look over the proposed strategy and suggestions before forming an opinion about them. He wants the public to have an opportunity to learn the reasoning behind the proposed approach to marketing the city.

To that end, the proposal and supporting material will be available for the public to review at the city’s Visitor Center, which is at the intersection of South Market Street, Water Street and Stewart Parkway.

“What we got from the branding project, the workshops, was a sense of what distinguishes Washington from other cities,” Roberts said. “One thing that came out of this was a very strong sense of community in all respects. The unique waterfront and water access came out in just about everything we talked about.”

Roberts said that “around this whole issue of being ‘little,” we had one of the individuals at the workshop who stated this more beautifully than we could ever … who said, ‘Washington needs to be big enough to be little.’ It takes a big person to be able to build from a small stature, if you will, and be proud enough to say, ‘I may be little, but I have a lot to offer.’”

During the summer, the council endorsed the branding project, which will promote Washington and surrounding environs. The project is an initiative of the Washington Tourism Development Authority, Washington Harbor District Alliance and the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce.

A committee of community partners (WTDA, WHDA, the City and chamber) has been working for approximately a year to develop a comprehensive brand. Each partner was asked to invest $2,000 in the project.

The development of a community brand will allow the city and other partner organizations to have one common theme in its efforts to promote the city to businesses, residents and visitors, according to the committee.

The results of the aforementioned workshop have been condensed into a PowerPoint presentation for public viewing. City Channel 9 (channel 9 on the Suddenlink cable-television service in Washington) is broadcasting a presentation of the work that came out of the undertaking. The presentation goes through the process and identifies key messages that resonated with the participants. The presentation, titled “COW Branding Workshop Summary” may be viewed at various times during the day on City Channel 9 or on

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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