Inside the Mix

Brand Atlanta energizes residents, firms by giving them stake in the city's repositioning

Brand Atlanta energizes residents, firms by giving them stake in the city's repositioning

A rebranding effort is hard to do without buy-in from the brand's constituents, and almost impossible to do without a huge, front-end research study. And the more varied the constituents are, the harder still it will be, which is why the city of Atlanta is such an interesting study in repositioning right now that its Brand Atlanta campaign is under way.

Visiting Atlanta last week for the PRWeek regional forum, I was hit from many directions by a sense of energy that wasn't there this time last year. While I'd heard of the Brand Atlanta initiative in passing, it was interesting to see a campaign playing out in real life. In the time it took me to go from the airport to the rental- car desk to the hotel, for example, I had already heard about the following day's grand opening of Atlantic Station - an enormous development with shopping, office, and residential space built on the site of a former steel mill - three times in three different ways: an overheard conversation, a newspaper article, and an excited comment from the hotel receptionist. And Atlantic Station is just one facet of the city's comprehensive redevelopment.

This isn't the first time Atlanta has been branded. Back in the '60s, when the city was making it through the civil-rights movements with relative grace compared to other Southeastern cities, it was "the city too busy to hate." Hotlanta followed, and then the
'96 Olympics were based around the line, "Come celebrate our dream."

And that was the hardest thing to overcome in the Brand Atlanta endeavor, says Bo Spalding, cofounder of independent firm Jackson Spalding, who is chairman of Brand Atlanta's communications committee - cynicism.

What is likely to make this campaign succeed in the long term, which wasn't in place before, says Spalding, is Mayor Shirley Franklin. The city's PR leaders are pretty much all in agreement that the wealth of public-private partnerships that she has introduced is the central driving force for the resurgence of the city. For starters, the Atlanta Committee for Progress that she formed is co-chaired by Pete Corell, chairman of Georgia-Pacific. Franklin has set some aggressive goals for economic development, which includes creating 60,000 new jobs in the city by 2009. The public-private partnerships she's formed will create a greater accountability among business leaders to help her achieve this goal.

The backbone of this effort, like any private-sector one, was research. Metropolitan Atlanta residents were asked what it was they loved about the city, what made it unique. The research resulted in the "three Os" - optimism, openness, and opportunity. These now make up the project's logo and inform all communications.

What is so clear about this campaign is that with the kind of support it clearly has from local business leaders and residents, it is effectively a giant internal communications campaign. As well as great research, the essence of a great rebranding campaign, as cited earlier, is buy-in from all constituents, and it's the employees and those closest to the brand that must be the first to be believers. Atlanta has a city full of these people, so by the time Brand Atlanta rolls out first to the local areas, and then nationally, it won't just be the marketing talking. It'll be an entire city.

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