Thursday, Oct. 11 2012 4:46PM
Chamber, others anxiously await vote
Council to decide on agreement for branding effort on Oct. 18
By Russ Pulley
Lee’s Summit’s branding effort reaches another hurdle next week at City Council when an agreement with the Chamber of Commerce gets its first public review.
The Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce would be taking lead on administering the $270,000 branding plan under a public service agreement being drafted with city staff.
Generally, under the agreement, a brand “manager” would be hired by the chamber and work under direction of Nancy Bruns, chamber president.
The Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council will contribute $30,000 to the branding budget with the rest coming from tax dollars.
The brand slogan, “Yours Truly,” its graphics and overall themes have gotten rave reviews from the council. But whether the plan sails clear or is tripped depends on who is most persuasive, proponents of speeding along, or council members who want to take more time to further define the plan.
A panel including representatives of the Chamber, the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council, Lee’s Summit Downtown Main Street and the city would choose the branding manager from candidates who applied for the job through the chamber.
Bruns said 130 applicants have sent in resumes for the position, mostly from this region, and the panel would begin reviewing them, based on the council’s decision on Oct. 18.
A crucial part of the agreement is a request from the council that the agreement offer milestones for accessing if the branding strategy is showing results.
Bruns said the agreement will include milestones to be reached by six, 12 and 15 months. She said part of the challenge is that when they’re ready to hire the manager, that person’s expertise might lead them to suggest different measures.
“The real challenge is they may have very different ideas from us non-marketing folks,” Bruns said.
A couple of the milestones would include creation of a “web portal” for Lee’s Summit which would provide information and links to all the city’s major organizations. Another could be that at the end of the 18-month evaluation period, the city could hire a research firm to investigate the city’s image, much like it did when beginning the branding study.
Councilmember Ed Cockrell, who was absent for the meeting where the implementation plan was first submitted to the council, said he’d like to wait until the next fiscal year, 2013-14 to hire the brand manager.
“It’s a good brand, I like it,” Cockrell said. “It’s an important thing but not critical.”
He said he understands the importance of a branding campaign but has reservations about moving too fast. He questions interim steps for funding, like delaying to fill police department vacancies. Cockrell said this is a difficult budget year and predicted the city all year would be seeing unexpected expenditures, like paying off claims for Arnold Hall.
Cockrell, who is a comptroller for a major corporation, said that company has just gone through its own rebranding plan.
He said in his experience the 18-months for evaluation might be too short to show results of even a successful effort. And finding the right candidate for the job might require more salary than has been budgeted.
He said for a successful branding effort the council should be prepared to spend more money over a longer period of time, and in making that commitment it should carefully consider some other questions.
“What is our defined reach? Is it regional? National? I didn’t hear enough to clarify that,” Cockrell said. “We need to be more deliberate and discuss this further.”
But other council members are ready to proceed, even if details still need to be determined.
Councilmember David Mosby said he thinks the city shouldn’t delay the branding effort but also has misgivings about where the city will find its share of the money.
“I find it troubling they can’t find funds in operations as opposed to personnel cuts,” Mosby said.
Councilmember Derek Holland said branding is a priority because it supports economic development for the city.
He said one measure of progress he’d want to see during the initial funding period is the number of organizations and businesses which embrace the brand and incorporate it into their own communications. Holland said some council members had gotten negative pushback about spending money on a branding manager, but stopping now would be wasteful.
He noted the city has invested a lot of money in branding studies and that many community members contributed substantial “sweat equity” and that the council needs to show leadership and fund the effort, and explain its benefits to residents, even if they are intangible.
“We’ve got to get to the front and not shirk from this,” Holland said. “I’d really hate to see it die like the others. That doesn’t say anything good about our community either.”
Bruns said in her opinion, six to eight months of delay would kill the branding efforts momentum or it would become “disjointed.” She said a lot of community members are becoming frustrated with delays in putting forward a coordinated brand.
Without a brand manager leading the campaign, she said, the city would lose the consistent message that’s needed for its success as organizations begin to use it piecemeal.
“We think it needs to go now,” Bruns said. “We sincerely hope the council reviewing it supports the process and moves it forward.”
Brad Cox was on the Branding Committee of Lee’s Summit 360 and is a board member of the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council. He is representing that organization on the branding issue. Cox said that community groups realize that “budget considerations for the city are very real right now.”
But he emphasized that also there’s been a lot of work to give the council a “good plan and a good road map” with several organizations devoting their staff time and money to the effort, supplementing city money.
“That speaks to the community-wide support that’s there,” Cox said.
Cox is optimistic about finding the brand manager with the right expertise, at a salary the branding budget can accommodate.
He said with many advertising agencies and media downsizing in recent years, there are good candidates who would be a good fit for the position.
“That person is probably out there, it’s the question of making the connection,” Cox said.
Cox said deciding on effective measures of success is one skill set the right brand manager would be expected to bring to the discussion.
He said the LSEDC recognizes branding will be essential part of Lee’s Summit’s future, whether it is “greenfield, infill or redevelopment” because the community is maturing and much of its land developed.
It will encourage home-grown businesses and entrepreneurs to stay in Lee’s Summit, along with appealing to potential businesses or residents outside the community.
“When they were coming in droves, what did you need? You needed to manage the flood,” Cox said. “Well the flood is over. Now we need to keep people aware that Lee’s Summit is a great place to live and a great place to spend your money.”