Lacking cohesive marketing, Greensboro seeks plan

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The Greensboro CVB promotes Winston-Salem...

by Eric Ginsburg

In the absence of a unified marketing and branding campaign, various Greensboro booster organizations including the city are still moving forward with a variety of plans to promote the city.

 This is Tournament Town, home of the (outgoing) ACC Tournament that attracted more than 100,000 people to the Greensboro Coliseum last week, and that doesn’t include the women’s basketball tourney or the NCAA women’s basketball championship later this week.

Tuesday night, Fleetwood Mac packed out the coliseum complex. Countless other venues and events bring people to the Gate City, but these masses of tourists and visitors don’t receive any sort of unified message about Greensboro.

Most anyone who is mildly plugged into Winston-Salem can tell you what the city’s slogan is, a phrase pushed by the arts council and adopted by the city: “The City of Arts and Innovation.” Nobody knows Greensboro’s tagline, and with good reason: There isn’t one.

The Greensboro Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Greensboro Partnership, two organizations that are supposed to promote the city to outsiders, use different catchphrases — “In the Center of it All” and “Together We Thrive” respectively. And the city of Greensboro doesn’t have one, but it is working to roll out a limited marketing plan.

The Greensboro CVB, as it is usually called, doesn’t mention its slogan for the city anywhere on the homepage of its website. To find it, someone would need to navigate to the organization’s online visitors guide, where “In the Center of it All” is emblazoned on the cover and is used throughout in headlines such as “Play in the Center of it All.” Visitors can find physical copies of the extensive guide in several places in the city, including parts of the Greensboro Coliseum.

But Greensboro’s marketing foibles run much deeper than the visibility of a branding campaign or slogan. The Greensboro CVB’s website highlights 32 things under its “Plan Your Visit” tab. Three of the items link back to the organization, such as a tab for the visitors guide, while only four other things are Greensboro-based: Center City Park, the new Cone Denim Entertainment Center, the Railyard and ArtsGreensboro.

Top: The Greensboro CVB promotes Winston-Salem.  Here: And it uses its tagline in the visitors guide.
Top: The Greensboro CVB promotes Winston-Salem.
Here: And it uses its tagline in the visitors guide.

The remaining 23 places and organizations that appear on the “Plan Your Visit” highlights aren’t in Greensboro. Five different components of UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem appear. The Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem, the Stevens Center and Hanesbrands Theatre in the Camel City are all on there, but the Greensboro Children’s Museum, Carolina Theatre and Triad Stage in Greensboro are nowhere to be found. Several High Point attractions show up too, including the Allen Jay Recreation Center.

If there is any mention of Greensboro on the Visit Winston-Salem website, the Greensboro CVB’s nearby counterpart, it is nearly impossible to find. Instead, local events such as the Salute wine festival and places like Old Salem are featured prominently and exclusively. Visit Winston-Salem even has a page dedicated to people who are planning to relocate to the Twin City.

Some components of the Greensboro CVB’s marketing are much more complete, including an exhaustive restaurant listing that even includes all of the city’s seven Arby’s. Its events page is up to date, with numerous local, daily listings, and the visitors guide is current enough that it includes a section on beer and mentions the city’s three breweries, including one that opened in October.

Yet the photo of the city’s skyline on the homepage is outdated, taken before the Wachovia building downtown was renovated and turned into Center Pointe condos back in 2009.

Neither Greensboro CVB Marketing Director Amy Scott nor Marketing Assistant Lauren Beasley could be reached for comment.

The Greensboro Partnership, the city and the Greensboro Convention & Visitors Bureau have had conversations about working together on a joint marketing campaign, but Greensboro Partnership Vice President for Marketing & Communications David Marshall says it is a process.

“There is definitely a desire out there to come together on things,” he said. “Funding generally is the big issue when it comes to a real strong marketing presence and campaign. I see it as an opportunity. I think the CVB does a very fine job of marketing and presenting the community and the assets that we have. Clearly there is opportunity for us to get together on a more common platform.”

In lieu of a united plan, the Greensboro Partnership moved forward with its own tagline a year ago, meant to describe both the organization and the city. It builds on the slogan of Opportunity Greensboro, an initiative aimed at connecting business leaders and higher education to promote Greensboro, Marshall said. By playing off Opportunity Greensboro’s catchphrase, “Opportunity thrives here. So can you,” Marshall said his organization benefited from existing efforts rather than trying to recreate the wheel.

“We’ve found that since the formation of the partnership there’s been some confusion about what we do,” Marshall said, adding that the branding reflects the partnership’s role as a convener. “We had a pretty broad-based stakeholder process in coming up with that branding.”

Opportunity Greensboro uses variations on its slogan, such as “Aviation thrives here. So can you,” and the partnership will do the same, Marshall said. The Greensboro Partnership publishes an annual promotional magazine through the chamber of commerce, and last year’s edition was titled “Greensboro Thrives.”

The organization will generally use “Together We Thrive” — the tagline that appears prominently on the partnership’s website — and “Opportunity Thrives Here” going forward, he said.

One of the most frequently raised subjects at Greensboro City Council meetings and work sessions is the need for better marketing of the city. It’s something Councilman Zack Matheny talks about a lot, even though the economic development subcommittee that could take up the charge — a committee he chairs — hasn’t met since April 2014.

But now city spokesperson Donnie Turlington’s communications team is putting together ideas and designs for what he is calling an “image campaign,” driven by city council’s desire for new branding and marketing.

“We’re sort of kicking the tires on some ideas internally,” Turlington said. “It will be the first sort of marketing or advertising campaign that the city has done since I’ve been here.”

Turlington, who started in his position five years ago, said the ideas will probably include a potential tagline, a refreshed logo and an image campaign including social media and online ad buys. And it won’t be focused on promoting the municipal government — “I don’t want it to be beauty shots of our water and sewer system,” he said — but rather about what makes Greensboro unique.

“I think the timing is right for us to start doing a higher level of advertising and marketing than we’ve done,” he said. “We’re not talking about throwing millions of dollars on the table like the ‘Charlotte’s Got a Lot’ Charlotte CVB campaign.”

His team will put together a plan that could be implemented on various levels, the cheapest being about $50,000. Turlington pictures a short-term campaign, lasting 6 to 8 months. If things go as planned and city council approves it quickly, Turlington hopes to “aggressively roll it out” by the beginning of April.

It’s unclear exactly who the target audience would be — that’s something his team is working on, Turlington said. But he mentioned using billboards for signage along Interstate 40 as people enter the city, something that Matheny has repeatedly raised, and targeted Facebook advertising.

Turlington said he has had “some high-level discussions” with Marshall and Action Greensboro Executive Director Cecelia Thompson about pooling resources to carry out a larger campaign for the entire city. It makes sense “to think about packaging under one brand,” he said, but that is far enough down the road that the city needs to do something in the meantime to fill the gap.

Plus, what the city is planning to do is cheap enough and on a small enough scale that it is more of a pilot than a full-blown campaign, Turlington said, so the city could mold it into a broader effort or pull back without much loss.

Action Greensboro is also moving forward in the interim, but Thompson differentiates between the organization’s work and branding.

“Action Greensboro is interested in leveraging good news about Greensboro on a national basis,” she said. “It’s important to distinguish branding from good news. We think we can attract more businesses and people by getting these stories in front of a national audience.”

Her organization contracted with Greensboro-based RLF Communications “to wake up and pitch stories everyday” to national media outlets about things that help Greensboro stand out. Thompson said they are most interested in stories about quality of life as well as entrepreneurship and innovation that show the city in a positive light.

Their efforts just started earlier this month, she said, and it is still in the research phase to determine topics and assemble accurate metrics that measure the city, but she can envision articles lifting up local efforts such as LeBauer Park and Say Yes to Education.

Thompson said Action Greensboro decided to promote the city without going down the branding route “because there are so many unknowns.” While she didn’t name specifics, there are a few obvious factors: People are waiting for changes at the Greensboro Partnership, which is hiring a new CEO, and at the city council, which has elections this fall, could be restructured by the General Assembly. The cities, county, and economic development organizations including the Greensboro Partnership are all sorting out their approaches and walking on tenuous ground, making longer-term planning and decision-making tricky.

  • Janet Burke

    Great Things happen in Greensboro!