Branding, 1 year in

Lee's Summit JournalNovember 1, 2013 

We seemingly have this discussion once a year.

It’s just that now, we are forced into it earlier than we really want to be.

I’m talking about the Lee’s Summit city budget. You know, the one that some are saying needs a $1.7 million haircut in order to be balanced for next fiscal year.

Each year, we talk about just whom should take that cut, including the usual suspects – Arts Council, Beautification Commission, employee salaries, city services.

This year, a target could be on our Yours Truly branding initiative.

And while it is clearly too early in the project to sacrifice it to the budget gods, Branding Manager Jim McKenna and the city will have some questions to answer as to its effectiveness and future value.

Not surprisingly, McKenna is already armed with those facts and figures.

And equally not as shocking, the city and Councilman Bob Johnson differ as to what kind of money the city would be saving if we were no longer “branding.”

Johnson says branding is eating $183,000 from the city budget; McKenna says it’s closer to $131,000. They are differing on unspent funds and the bed tax money that branding receives via the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce for tourism.

Johnson says he is not targeting the branding budget (no matter what it is), but that he is squarely focused on what cuts we may have to make.

“Can we continue to justify the use of taxpayer money for non-city functions?” he asked. “It’s not a quality of life issue. It’s not public safety. It’s not roads. It’s not parks.”

McKenna would differ, pointing to many areas that Lee’s Summit has improved since we started seeing Yours Truly crop up on TV sets, during radio shows and in many other outlets.

Nick Edwards, a management analyst for the city, recently sent McKenna an e-mail stating that hotel/motel taxes are poised to “smash” two- and three-year averages.

The branding effort has extended to more than 20 businesses, non-profits and events in Lee’s Summit to help maximize “co-op” advertising dollars and, McKenna says, drive sales into the local economy. McKenna says those efforts have lead to a nearly 200 percent return on the dollar for each branding buck and more than a quarter-million in free or value added media through his buys.

Johnson says those are “mirco” issues.

“I have a macro responsibility. We have five percent less revenue than we budgeted for,” he said. “They have not delivered.”

Johnson’s District 4 counterpart, Dave Mosby, says that while the branding topic did surface a recent town hall meeting, he believes branding is delivering to the city as we transition from implementation to the marketing phase.

“Jim McKenna’s done a lot of good things,” Mosby said. “Now, we are in the marketing mode. There is evidence out there of things happening.”

Mosby said the much ballyhooed $1.7 million is the culprit driving this discussion.

“If we continue to have potential $1.7 million shortfall, what is the city manager going to recommend we reduce?” he asked. “The momentum is there. I really am concerned about reducing that, if that’s what the proposal is from the city manager.”

Branding is in its infancy here and should be allowed the time and funds to grow for the benefit of our businesses and tourism. And since we don’t know what our real shortfall is, there may be some danger in already discussing what is getting the axe.

Although this could work out into a positive for McKenna as he stays sharp in demonstrating the many advantages of branding.

“If a city doesn’t have a marketing effort, they are sitting there stagnant,” Mosby said.

 

John Beaudoin is the publisher of the Lee’s Summit Journal. To comment, call 816-282-7001 or e-mail jbeaudoin@lsjournal.com.

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