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The Philadelphia Brand – A Progress Report

September 30, 2014

This post originally appeared on February 18th — when it was published, it garnered a great deal of interest in the media and tourism/hospitality industry. Several weeks ago, the City Controller’s Office issued a report urging the city to combine Philadelphia’s two marketing arms. While we disagree with elements of that report, we support the major conclusion. With this recent development in mind, here is the post that started it all.

Back in August, I used this space to excoriate the Philadelphia hospitality and tourism industry for their lack of focus on building a brand for our fair city. While this included criticism of the creative approach leading agencies have taken, the crux of the issue is that the structure of our regional marketing apparatus is nonsensical and ultimately self-defeating.

To review – the two major marketing entities are Visit Philadelphia, which was formerly known as GPTMC (The Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation). Removing this acronym forever is a praiseworthy step. Visit Philadelphia has responsibility for North American leisure tourism and, in a not-so-subtle dig at others, calls itself ‘the region’s official destination marketing organization.’

Its sister agency (in a dysfunctional family sort of way) is PHLCVB – the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. Recently rebranded from PCVB to support an attempt to make ‘PHL’ a branded asset for the region, PHLCVB has responsibility for convention and group tour sales (such as bus trips) plus international leisure tourism.

So that’s right – Pierre in Paris and his sister Margot in Montreal will be marketed to by separate Philadelphia organizations with different campaigns. And if Margot happens to be an event planner, she herself will receive separate pitches depending on whether she is at home or work. Why, you ask? Your guess is as good as mine (actually, it’s what you might expect – personalities and politics).

This wouldn’t matter so much if everyone could get on the same page. But why it matters was on full display this week when PHLCVB and a host of other organizations and civic leaders announced a new campaign called ‘Here for the Making’.

This is an intriguing concept – drawing on our past as the ‘workshop of the world,’ reflecting the entrepreneurial spirit presently taking root here and also channeling the egalitarian ethic of the city. In other words, you need not come from an old family, the right political party or any other stratum to make something of yourself here in Philly.

Finch did not develop the campaign, but kudos to those who did – it’s a step in the right direction. Of course there are always things we would change – the images are too posed, renderings too predictable and overall look and feel a bit too safe. But the idea has wide applicability.

It works as a more promotional message – such as ‘make’ a great convention or a memorable weekend – but is rooted at the brand level, where we’ve always suffered a messaging deficiency. It has the potential to answer the question, ‘What do we stand for?’ and allow Philadelphia to control its own narrative in a way that will make every other marketing initiative that much more effective.

At the announcement, leaders from PHLCVB and a host of other relevant groups – from the Chamber of Commerce to the Convention Center to the Mayor’s Office – rallied around the campaign and pledged to advance its coordinated use. Brands are built via power and consistency and such a show of support was an encouraging (and improbable) first step.

Alas, missing from the hoopla was Visit Philadelphia, which confirmed its intent to continue with its vacuous ‘With Love’ campaign. And, since I don’t know any of the behind the scenes facts on this, it isn’t fair to condemn them. It’s their budget, their campaign, their (positive, overall) track record.

What I do know, however, is that most of institutional Philadelphia is rallying around a new, high potential brand idea – except for the organization with the largest advertising budget and greatest visibility. The market is going to continue to receive mixed messages. Philadelphia will continue to speak with two dissonant voices.

A week of great energy and promise smacked right into the institutional realities that hold Philadelphia back. Again. Perhaps the Mayor, instead of preening at the launch press conference and in one of the ads, could use his influence to promote some common sense in the City’s marketing structure or at least greater collaboration. Until that happens, Philadelphia will be ill-served.

Bill Gullan, President
Tweeting: @BillGullan

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