US cities' branding initiatives represent a new PR paradigm

The days of getting news solely from traditional media forms are past.

The days of getting news solely from traditional media forms are past. Social media has transformed how we establish and maintain relationships. It is a fundamental shift in how we communicate and a great democratization of content and influence. It allows everyday people to share the things that motivate and inspire them. It helps them create content and build their own brands. That content can drive a news cycle and influence governments, politicians, or policy. 

How cities communicate has had to evolve with the times. Today, municipal governments must craft multiplatform strategies that include the myriad local citizens who get information digitally. For Philadelphia, it is critical to understand how to communicate effectively through many media and build a brand online.

In post-9/11 New York, as part of Mayor Bloomberg's administration, we created the New York City Marketing Development Corp. to centralize the city's marketing assets, rights, and authority in order to generate new revenues and resources and create a plan to enhance the city's brand around the world for the growth of jobs and tourism.

In Newark, NJ, where I was communications director under Mayor Cory Booker, we broke through traditional media clutter to build that city's brand and highlight its progress and resiliency. We created the Newark Tech group, a consortium of tech and social media gurus committed to social change. Representatives from Twitter, Facebook, Google, Apple, LinkedIn, Ning, Ustream, Causes, and Seesmic, joined the group to harness new media platforms and elevate local, national, and global engagement with Newark's residents.

In many US cities, governments have become content creators, brand definers, and harnessers of social media. A city rich with arts, culture, history, and business, Philadelphia is uniting its citizens' passion and creativity with modern technological tools and open access to information. We are building a strategy that realizes new technologies can help leverage the intersection of civic participation and government innovation.

Part of that strategy is Open Access Philly. With more than 41% of Philadelphians lacking Internet access, its goal is to provide citizens the connectivity and contents needed to take part in the digital world. Comprised of Philadelphians working at the intersection of technology, civic participation, and communications, Open Access emphasizes digital inclusion, free flow of information, and innovation. It also focuses on economic development in information technology. It is a new paradigm for communications. 

Desiree Peterkin Bell is director of communications and strategic partnerships at City of Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter. Follow her on Twitter at @DPBell. 

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