Sincerely Theirs: Lee's Summit settles on a slogan, looks for a brand manager

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Lees Summit look is about to change.
  • Lee's Summit look is about to change.
Lee's Summit is thinking about you. Leaders of this suburb, located 16 miles southeast of Kansas City, are spending thousands of dollars on plans to get you to drop by the 65 square miles of city and stay for a while.

On October 18, the Lee's Summit City Council voted 6-2 to spend $80,000 on a "brand manager," who will develop a plan over the next seven months for the city's new slogan, "Yours Truly."

"We think it's very important to come up with one brand identity," says Nancy Bruns, Lee's Summit Chamber of Commerce president. The chamber is expected to announce the hire in the coming weeks. "People see the same message, and it resonates more."

City building is no longer just infrastructure improvements and trash removal. Cash-strapped communities are betting their budgets that community branding matters. Even suburbs like Lee's Summit are getting into the business of destination marketing.

"Before the downturn, Lee's Summit was totally hopping," Bruns says. "We didn't have to market the community as much as we may need to in the future."

The future of Lee's Summit is in the "Yours Truly" slogan. Selling cities with slogans is nothing new, but the pitches have dramatically changed in the last three decades. In 1977, graphic designer Milton Glaser sandwiched a heart between the letters "I" and "NY," creating the world's most iconic city slogan (although it was initially designed for the entire state). Though Glaser worked pro bono on the "I heart NY" project, he gave birth to an entire industry.

And cities still come to him to make their names. In 2008, the city of Glen Falls, New York, paid Glaser $25,000 for a logo and poster design (he signed 100 posters for the city to sell in order to recoup some of his fee).

The most recognizable modern-day campaign - the "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" motto - was backed by a $118 million budget last year from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Atlantic City has spent about $30 million on its "Do AC" campaign. While the costs of a branding campaign are easy to calculate, it's harder to quantify how well a campaign works. A big budget doesn't always translate to success. In 2005, the city of Leeds, England, spent $200,000 on the "Leeds - Live It, Love It" campaign. Leeds scrapped the message after discovering that Hong Kong had used the same slogan two years earlier.

When Malibu, California, determined that it couldn't control its own brand - the "Malibu" name is already used by liquor manufacturers, Chevrolet and Hollywood - the city went in search of a logo that it could license. The City Council agreed to hire a licensing agent for $90,000 to design and sell a city logo.
Locally, the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association (along with economic-development and arts organizations) claimed the title of "America's Creative Crossroads" prior to this summer's MLB All-Star Game. The city of Shawnee spent the better part of five years promising, "Good Starts Here."

The image of Lees Summit goes beyond this downtown mural.
  • KC Art Blog
  • The image of Lee's Summit goes beyond this downtown mural.
North Star Destination Strategies - the Nashville, Tennessee, company that spearheaded the Shawnee campaign - put together the initial survey and proposal (price tag: $75,000) that went before the Lee's Summit City Council's budget committee in August. North Star suggested that it would cost the city $260,000 for a proper rollout of the campaign. After two months of debate, the City Council committed half of that figure, although it plans to revisit the issue during spring budget talks for fiscal year 2014.

"How can we tell if this is a good taxpayer investment for the Lee's Summit community?" asks City Councilman Bob Johnson, who provided one of the two dissenting votes. "There's nothing specific to measure this program's success. We need performance measurements."

"Anytime you're spending marketing dollars, it's a challenge to come up with true measurable statistics," Bruns says. "You can quote how many cars go by a billboard but can't say how many of those cars come into the community."

Johnson says Lee's Summit's brand manager will cost more than the $80,000 earmarked by the City Council - approximately 0.13 percent of the $59.4 million general-fund budget for the 2013 fiscal year. The real cost, he says, is $130,000, with the city's Economic Development Council pledging $30,000 and the chamber pitching in office space and $20,000 (money earmarked for tourism from the city's general fund).

And Johnson isn't sold on the "Yours Truly" slogan.

"People are at a loss for what 'Yours Truly' truly means," he says. "I don't mind marketing the city. I'm just not sure how this creates jobs."

If "Yours Truly" fails, it'll join a host of the city's discarded mottos: "There's More Here," "A City Bountiful" and "Where Quality Comes to Life." Lee's Summit has also struggled with follow-through. A 2008 Gateway Master Plan recommended putting up signs along major highways and intersections to help define the city limits. No such signs have been erected.

"Yours Truly" is different because of the potential for "community buy-in," Bruns says. And having someone with branding experience will help the campaign move from the initial survey phase to a more active - and interactive - presence online and in the community.

For Johnson, it's all about getting people inside those city limits.

"People here understand this is a great city," Johnson says. "Hopefully other people will come here and see that ... and buy some lunch while they're here."

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