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Portland, Maine searches for a tourism slogan that pops

May 07, 2013 2:15 am

Skift Take

Too often destinations err on the side of the broad likability, and cities that share a name with other well-known cities have only one job with their slogans and that’s to distinguish themselves from the competition.

— Samantha Shankman

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Corey Templeton	  / Flickr

Looking down Congress Street in the Arts District of Portland, Maine. Corey Templeton / Flickr


“What happens here, stays here” works for Vegas. And visitors have been enthusiastically buying “I love New York” souvenirs for years.

Now Portland is trying to find a way to make itself just as memorable. The city plans to introduce a branding campaign soon that Mayor Michael Brennan promises “will put Portland on the map.”

The challenge is to come up with a few words that capture everything great and iconic about Portland, from lobster to lighthouses, cafes to cruise ships.

It’s tough to encapsulate a city in a single catch phrase. Atlanta, for example, spent more than $8 million in the late 2000s to market itself as a place where “Every Day is an Opening Day.” The campaign flopped.

Portland could fall back on tradition and co-opt a phrase created by hometown poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who called Portland “A Jewel by the Sea.” But that could apply to almost any coastal town.

And “Resurgam,” the city’s Latin motto, meaning “I will rise again,” doesn’t exactly paint Portland in the most modern light.

The concept of a brand campaign can be powerful for a city — especially if the city does it badly.

“Marketing efforts from cities and states all sound pretty much the same. You have to tap into what makes a city unique and special. Great brands — from sodas to toothpaste to cities — are distinctive,” said Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

“It’s incredibly important for a city to develop a brand. It really does have an impact on attracting business and tourism,” Calkins said. “The challenge is that so many things can shape a city that it’s difficult to sum it up in a few words. There’s a real tendency to come up with a slogan that’s broadly appealing, but broadly appealing often becomes watered down and difficult to distinguish.”

Portland’s campaign, which was developed through donated and volunteered services, will be used for tourism and economic development. City officials won’t reveal the planned slogan while their lawyers vet it for conflicts with any other slogans or brand names, said Nicole Clegg, spokeswoman for the city. (Getting the lawyers involved surely will make the slogan catchier.)

Portland first must tackle the Portland, Maine-or-Oregon, problem, say marketing experts.

“When you say Portland around the country, people think Portland, Oregon,” said Ben Muldrow, a partner with Arnett Muldrow & Associates, an urban planning firm that develops community branding campaigns. “Portland, Maine, has a task of creating an awareness of itself. Portland has such a progressive and creative vibe going on. Take that creative spirit and blend it with the dynamic characteristics that Maine has to offer — few have to offer what Portland has.”

Muldrow — who was behind the recent “Biddeford + Saco, Saco + Biddeford: No matter how you say it” campaign — said Portland must market the slogan to its residents first, then build on that.

“The most important person you’re trying to reach is that person who is currently a resident,” he said. “You can’t get too cutesy. If the concept is not accepted by the locals, it won’t work. It has to excite the people who live there and create buzz that can be built on.”

So far, the idea of a slogan has yet to generate much excitement among locals, who don’t oppose the concept but don’t have any ideas for what it should be.

“It couldn’t hurt. Branding is almost always a good thing,” said Jordan Lovell, 23, of Portland.

Allison Strausberg, 24, assistant manager at Bard Coffee, said the new campaign could help drive more visitors to the area.

“I don’t think it could hurt. I don’t think enough people know that Portland’s this gem up here,” she said.

Derek Romano of Portland, who declined to give his age, said the branding campaign would be well-timed as the city prepares for the opening of new hotels.

“With bigger hotels coming, we are going to need it,” Romano said. “The state has, ‘Maine: the way life should be,’ so it makes sense that Portland has something.”

Some residents sounded a note of caution about a branding campaign.

“It has to be the right slogan. It could hurt if it’s the wrong slogan,” said Hilary Sinauer, owner of Blanche & Mimi, a home goods store. “What people like about this town is that it’s unique. It’s such a draw now, I don’t know if it needs a campaign.”

Other Maine communities also are working to come up with slogans.

The city of Sanford is considering two: “Explore. Create. Grow,” or “Great for business. Great for life.” Lewiston and Auburn aim to come up with a campaign to replace or freshen their current slogan, “LA: It’s happening here.”

Pending approval this week by their city councils, the twin cities will seek proposals to hire a firm to formulate a new campaign, said Calvin Rinck, marketing director for the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council.

Lewiston-Auburn’s slogan has evolved over the years, from “The Right Move” to “The Cities of the Androscoggin,” which came with its own jingle, and now the current one.

In developing municipal campaigns, cities need to play on their attributes, Rinck said.

“You have to capture the attitude of the city. There has to be a fundamental truth behind it for people to buy into it,” he said. “Community campaigns have to start with grass-roots support. You have to take into account focus groups and get community leaders’ backing.”

Portland didn’t start with a grass-roots campaign. Instead, it has been working with a team of partners, including the Portland Regional Chamber, Portland’s Downtown District, the Convention + Visitors Bureau and the Creative Portland Corp.

Peter DelGreco, president and CEO of Maine & Company, which provides consulting to businesses looking to move to Maine or expand in the state, said, “Any effort any municipality makes that helps them underscore their core characteristics — it’s always a good thing.”

(c)2013 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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