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Brand Whore

By Gadi Dechter | Posted 12/21/2005

Jim Astrachan is angry. “Really, really angry.”

The president of the Advertising Association of Baltimore is miffed that the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association (BACVA) has selected a pair of agencies from Canada and California, rather than Maryland, to come up with a new slogan and logo for Charm City.

In August, BACVA announced that the $500,000 “destination branding” assignment would go to San Francisco-based branding specialists Landor Associates and market-research firm Longwoods International, headquartered in Montreal.

Neither company has offices in Baltimore, which is what has Astrachan so worked up.

“Our tax dollars support the governments (state and city) that send those same dollars out of town when competent services are available under their noses,” Astrachan wrote in a Nov. 17 letter to the local advertising community. “Is it the delight of Acela’ing to a day in NYC at the taxpayer’s cost that causes these folks to hire NYC agencies? Lunch at Gramercy Tavern? Must be something, ’cause it certainly is not the lack of good local agencies. Have I mentioned I am really, really angry?”

Actually, BACVA’s budget is funded mostly by a hotel-occupancy tax, says Nancy Hinds, the quasi-public tourism booster’s director of marketing.

“So the campaign is being paid for by out-of-town visitors, who come and stay in our hotels,” she says.

When asked why BACVA believes out-of-towners are better suited to brand Baltimore than are people who live in the region, Hinds says no local agency had the “specific destination-branding experience” of Landor, but that the competitive-bid process was not designed to exclude local firms.

She points out that BACVA is in the process of selecting a local advertising agency to execute the Landor-created brand, scheduled to be unveiled in April. The city’s tourism-marketing budget next year will be between $1 million and $1.3 million.

In a follow-up interview, Hinds acknowledges that only out-of-state firms were invited to compete for the branding job. “We wanted the firm to be objective and to not come to the table and walk into this process with a conclusion in their mind about what Baltimore is,” she says.

In previous branding campaigns, however, Landor has hardly been an outsider. The San Francisco firm has offices in the three cities—Hong Kong, Madrid, and Cincinnati—whose Landor-branded identities it touts on its web site. And some of the country’s most enduring destination brands have been dreamt up by locals, including Las Vegas’ “What happens here, stays here,” Virginia’s “Virginia Is for Lovers,” and Baltimore’s “Charm City.”

Landor’s most recent city brand has been for the Greater Cincinnati region. That brand, “Cincinnati U.S.A.: All Together Surprising,” was unveiled in March to plaudits by the city’s two daily newspapers and positive reaction by the community, says Raymond Buse, public relations manager for the Queen City’s regional chamber of commerce. “We have about two dozen community organizations that have adopted or endorsed the brand in less than a year,” Buse says. “That’s significant.”

There may be another advantage to tapping local talent for civic projects. In Cincinnati, where one of Landor’s biggest corporate clients, consumer products giant Proctor and Gamble, is headquartered, the design firm contributed its branding services for free.

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