The Case For Marketing in the Municipal Sector

Published in Public Sector Digest

By: Jim Mintz and Bernie Colterman

Destigmatizing Public Sector Marketing

Marketing has its roots in business, and remains a major management function. However, in an era in which governments need to be more responsive and accountable to the needs of the public, marketing can help governments accomplish this goal. With governments spending significant dollars delivering programs and services, there is a need for increased efficiency, accountability and transparency in the processes used to deliver these initiatives. Many government organizations are adopting marketing approaches to help meet two major challenges: the challenge of meeting mandates and satisfying client needs in the face of significantly diminishing resources; and the challenge of meeting specified revenue or cost-recovery targets. As well, with the managerial shift of the public sector to mirror a business-like approach, the adoption of marketing and related managerial practices can serve as a key component in strengthening accountability in government operations.

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The Case for Municipal Marketing


Blowing Money on Branding in Canada’s Capital

In my previous blog Branding Canada’s National Capital I discussed the importance of marketing as an important function for governments, particularly cities. I pointed out that in an era in which governments need to be more responsive and accountable to the needs of the public; marketing can help public sector organizations accomplish this goal. With public sector organizations spending significant dollars delivering programs and services, especially in the area of tourism promotion there is a need for increased efficiency, accountability and transparency.

I also pointed out that in recent years many cities and regions have chosen to market themselves in one fashion or another.  Such marketing initiatives characteristically suffer from a lack of creativity and innovation and fail to benefit from the lessons that decades of marketing experience in the private sector have taught managers in business. Such difficulties can be minimized, however, with overall expert marketing oversight and approach.

Finally I discussed the National Capital Commission (NCC) working to develop a catchy yet dignified slogan,  that’s meant to brand the capital region as a source of pride for all Canadians. The slogan according to the article is to be part of a five-year $2.5-million branding and marketing project that the NCC began last year.

2.5 million and you wonder what they came up with . Well here it is .

It’s a city where shouting, insults and arguments are encouraged in the town’s major workplace; where everyone seems to be either watching political TV shows or appearing on them.

On any given day, you might run into a former prime minister at a newsstand, or a foreign dignitary strolling by the canal. And on the nation’s birthday, Canada Day, it’s a city where people paint their faces red and white and pour into the streets by the thousands for a giant party.

But really, in Ottawa, they’re “just like you.”

That’s the brand-new, poll-tested catchphrase chosen to sell Canada’s capital to the rest of the country — and perhaps to itself, too. The National Capital Commission formally approved the slogan at a meeting this week.

“Just like you” beat out a couple of other contenders for the new, national-capital slogan — “the capital of being Canadian” and “where Canadian stories live” didn’t quite cut it. The new slogan is also a bit friendlier than one chosen by the city of Ottawa nearly a decade ago, when it was trying to re-brand itself as a high-tech centre: “technically beautiful.” Then there was a more a recent effort by some city councillors a few years ago to label Ottawa the “city of trees.” Neither tag stuck.

This newest phrase isn’t just for Ottawa alone, but the area on both sides of the Ontario-Quebec border that encompass the National Capital Region. But it’s not just geography; as some NCC directors noted at their meeting this week, the capital is also a state of mind— and now, that’s best described as “just like you.” It’s not about differences or diversity, but where we’re all the same. (Yes we are all the same here in Ottawa)

In polling done for the NCC by the Environics Research Group, “just like you” was deemed most effective “in terms of connecting on a personal level, catching attention and inspiring people,” according to a presentation given to the NCC board of directors on Tuesday.

Sample ads were thrown up on the screen, featuring various scenes with tag lines such as: “Green. Just like you”; “Grateful. Just like you” and, risky, in tourism terms, “Frostbitten. Just like you.” (Ottawa residents sometimes boast that only the Mongolian capital is colder than Canada’s, but actually, Ottawa’s average annual temperature puts it somewhere in the middle of the top 10 of the coldest capital cities in the world, including Moscow, Helsinki and Reykjavik.) Source

NCC chief executive Marie Lemay said the new slogan will be less of a big, bold ad campaign and more of a stealth operation, with “just like you” slipped into everything the capital commission runs. It’s part of an overall, $2.5 million, five-year marketing operation and coming up with the slogan reportedly cost about $100,000.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be there, making a speech to thousands of Canadians on Canada day and accompanying the Queen on her rounds. Just like anyone else on Canada Day — “just like you,” you might say.

Once tag lines and logos are finalized, the NCC is to start rolling out the slogan during events such as Canada Day broadcasts and Winterlude.

NCC chief executive Marie Lemay said it would be “integrated in everything.”

“You’ll probably be hearing a lot of ‘Canadian: Just like you’ in the next little while,” Lemay said Tuesday, after the board endorsed the slogan.

The slogan isn’t necessarily meant to draw more visitors to the capital region, but to get the area into minds and hearts and reflect its importance and relevance to all Canadians, the board heard.

(So we are spending 2. 5 million bucks to make us feel good but not to attract visitors to the capital… I am sure the tourism industry will be pleased to hear this.)

“Just like you” and “The Capital of Being Canadian” were found to be equally effective for making the capital feel relevant, showing off its importance and role and reflecting Canadian values.

The other slogan, “Where Canadian stories live,” was found to be “generally less effective in delivering the desired messages to Canadians,” according to the presentation made to the NCC board.

It cost about $102,500 to research, develop and test the concept: $42,500 for consultants’ work with staff, and $60,000 for Environics to conduct market research. Source Also check out the following link

So what has been the reaction so far to this great marketing event :

Kelly McParland comments in the National Post: July 2 2010 states the following

What is it with Ottawa and its desperate need to find a slogan that city poobahs hope will convince Canadians it’s more than just a boring place filled with politicians, bureaucrats and museums?

In a big announcement that almost no one paid attention to, the National Capital Commission revealed on Wednesday that it spent $102,500 coming up with yet another slogan.

Wanna hear it? OK, wait for it … “Just like you”.

Yup, that’s it. Ottawa, just like you.

What’s it mean? God knows. Only a city jammed with civil servants would consider it a good idea to spend $102,500 to “research, develop and test the concept” of a lame-ass slogan like “Just like you.” Apparently it costs that much to discover that people think “Just like you” is catchier than “The Capital of being Canadian” and “Where Canadian stories live”, two other equally lame possibilities that were considered.

Grow up folks. Slogans only work for cities that already have an image in the public imagination. The slogan has to catch that image, it can’t create it. Continually blowing money in the hope that some ad campaign will magically transform boring Ottawa into a sexy tourist destination is just a sign of rampant civic insecurity. And a waste of money, to boot.

Actually, we have to concede that its very meaninglessness makes “Just like you” less lame than the other two painfully earnest and truly astoundingly lame slogans that were apparently in contention, though the mind boggles. So way to go NCC!

From the Citizen

The National Capital Commission has hunted for a short slogan and come up with “Just like you.” While it may succeed on one level, it fails on too many others.

To be fair, that’s not quite the whole slogan. This was supposed to be the tail end of a variety of short summaries of Ottawa and Gatineau. The NCC wants to tell the rest of the country that the capital is, for instance, “Green. Just like you,” and “Canadian. Just like you,” and for winter sports, frostbitten, just like everyone except perhaps Victoria.

Focus groups liked the slogan, so let’s hope it works. It’s a big step up from “Technically Beautiful,” the last ill-fated attempt to brand this city.

“Just like you” plays to one of Ottawa’s strengths, our position as a comfortable place to live. As urban analyst Richard Florida noted in a recent visit here, we appeal to people who want a city with interesting restaurants and good schools and hospitals, but who aren’t willing to pay the price of big-city pressures.

In that sense, “Just like you” aptly conveys Ottawa’s democratic sensibility. Unlike Manhattan or even Toronto, Ottawa isn’t particularly status-obsessed and we don’t have huge extremes of wealth and poverty.

But in playing up the relaxed, Everyman aspect of Ottawa, we risk failing to make the city sound distinctive and exciting. We can’t be the same as everyone else and have a distinct identity at the same time. This is where the new slogan falters. It’s bland. We’re comfortable, yes, but we don’t want to be predictable. Would tourists want to spend money to come here, if all we can promise them is more of what they have already experienced?

Good slogans, pitches and campaigns grab you, and you remember the product even when no one names it directly. Sadly, the NCC’s phrase doesn’t have the energy or the distinctiveness required .

And by the way, is it even true? That is to say, are we really “just like” everyone else? Anyone from the capital region who has travelled in Canada knows that the rest of the country does not see itself as like Ottawa. They see us as a privileged city that takes their tax money and regulates their lives.

Auto workers enduring the recession in south-western Ontario might want to see Ottawa someday and same with western farmers whose fields are too soggy to plant. But to say that we in Ottawa, who thanks to the federal public service enjoy a certain economic stability, are just like them might not be the best approach.

Pretty depressed … wait there is still some hope…

“Hip” Ottawa has awoken from its slumber: report

Ex-pat writer calls nation’s capital ‘lively, smart, quirky’

By Vito Pilieci, The Ottawa Citizen July 12, 2010

What he found was a buzzing food scene, quaint and attractive neighbourhoods on par with New York’s famed “Greenwich Village” and “serious attractions” such as the Royal Canadian Mint, Rideau Hall, Parliament Hill and the Museum of Nature.

While the large institutions impressed, it was the city’s vibrancy that he couldn’t stop raving about.

“They (the institutions) used to be the reason for a visit to Ottawa, with restaurants and shopping an afterthought. These days don’t be surprised if you find the opposite to be true,” he wrote.

Kaminer said he particularly liked two Ottawa restaurants: ZenKitchen, a vegan eatery located at 643 Somerset St. W, which he calls one of Ottawa’s “hottest tables” and the Murray Street Kitchen, located at 110 Murray St., which he called “an aggressively Canadian bistro,” that “epitomizes Ottawa’s new spirit, with serious creative chops.”

He also applauded Ottawa coffee chain Bridgehead, where he claims he had the perfect espresso.

“Larger cities get the glory, but Ottawa’s kitchens might be some of North America’s best kept secrets,” writes Kaminer. “Creativity here arguably rivals that of San Francisco or Chicago, albeit with less ego, zero attitude and gentler prices.”

He then continues to praise the city’s vibrancy by drawing attention to the patchwork of communities that make up the city. During his visit Kaminer travelled to the Glebe, his favourite area which he claims reminded him of Georgetown. He also had high praise for Westboro, Hintonburg and even the Byward Market, “if you avoid touristy strips such as York Street” he states.

The article was being promoted by Ottawa Tourism as positive news for the nation’s capital, which has had a harder time attracting American’s to Ottawa since new travel regulations, requiring all Americans to carry a passport, took effect last year. In the first three months of 2010, the most recent period for which statistics are available, only 22,000 American tourists travelled to Ottawa. During the same time frame more than 138,000 visitors from Ontario and Quebec made the trek to the national capital.

For his part, Kaminer believes Ottawa is being overlooked by tourists. The writer is already planning a second visit to the city in the coming months.

“Ottawa isn’t Toronto or Montreal (nor do I think it wants to be). But it felt lively, smart, quirky and confident: a city waking up to its own potential after many dreary years.” he wrote.

Lively, smart, quirky and confident now that is the type of branding I want to see.

What do you think?


Selling Canada: Fake Lakes and other Misguided Marketing Activities

In  my blog “The Lifeblood of Tourism is marketing”, I discussed the importance of marketing as an important function for governments. With public sector organizations spending significant dollars delivering programs and services, especially in the area of tourism promotion there is a need for increased efficiency, accountability and transparency. Not to mention some common sense.

I also pointed out that in recent years many cities and regions have chosen to market themselves in one fashion or another.  Such marketing initiatives characteristically suffer from a lack of creativity and innovation and fail to benefit from the lessons that decades of marketing experience in the private sector have taught managers in business. Such difficulties can be minimized, however, with overall expert marketing oversight and approach.

Our organization the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing mission is “To advance the marketing discipline in the public sector”. We applaud great efforts in public sector marketing and we continually strive to work with our constituency to produce great marketing.

It is with this in mind that we have to speak out about the most recent activity to try to “Market Canada” using fake lakes and other “misguided marketing activities.

First some background on the situation regarding tourism in Canada.

As the Ottawa Citizen points out in their editorial “Sell Canada” the summer season is approaching, and millions of vacationers from around the world are about to pile into planes in search of that perfect holiday. Unfortunately, many of them will head to places other than Canada. David Goldstein, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada has collected some alarming data: Between 2002 and 2008, Canada dropped like a stone in the ranking of tourism destinations.

The numbers are based on a country’s ability to attract international visitors. In 2002, Canada was seventh in the world. By 2008, Canada was 14th, no longer just behind the likes of Italy, France and Spain but also far behind Ukraine, Turkey and Mexico. (I suspect at the rate we are going we will soon  be behind countries like Slovakia and Croatia.) Source

It is hard to imagine a more beautiful country than Canada with all it has to offer. Canada’s under performance is frustrating because we have a terrific product to sell: our cosmopolitan cities, our natural attractions, our reputation as a nation of peacekeepers and otherwise decent and wonderful people, a variety of products from coast to coast, our natural beauty, our lakes, mountains, surrounded by oceans, our amazing Parks, great cities like Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver and oh yes Ottawa. Skiing in winter, we got some of the best ski resorts in the world. I could go on but you get the point. .

Goldstein feels that the problem is in large measure one of “benign neglect.” Canadian policy makers, and maybe Canadians themselves, might think that the Maple Leaf can sell itself. It can’t. Self-promotion might not come naturally to Canada, but aggressive marketing is essential in the competitive world of international tourism. Source

So what do we get from our federal government … a 20,000-square-foot pavilion, called “Experience Canada,” at the G8/G20 which has a Muskoka portion for journalists in Toronto who may not have a chance to see Ontario’s cottage country, the site of the G8 portion of the talks?

The chief organizer of G8/G20 ,  Sanjeev Chowdhury, Director-General of the summit’s management office, states that it will be a “captive audience” for marketing Canada  in defending  a $1.9-million media pavilion. Source .

Our prime Minister is quoted as saying “In fact, it’s a $2-million marketing project,” and “We must not miss this opportunity.” Source

With all due respect to Chowdhury and Harper, this is not intelligent marketing . Nor is it very strategic.

“A lot of people are coming there — a captive audience — to our media centre. This is a great opportunity for us to highlight the best of our country to these journalists,” Chowdhury told CTV’s Question Period.

He also defended the cost of the pavilion as minor compared to the overall price-tag of the summit. Based on security costs alone, it has exceeded $1 billion.

“I think that some of the elements … are very minor costs when you look at the overall expenditures that are being spent on hosting the summit,” states Chowdhury… source

What kind of image do  we give the media when Toronto does not look like a vibrant city this weekend but an armed camp or a police state in a Communist country? Is this the so called marketing image we want to give to those people looking at us this weekend?

And what about the marketing of Toronto? This weekend  would normally be a very busy time for the Toronto.  But theatre productions have shut down for the talks, the Blue Jays have moved a three-game series to Philadelphia, the University of Toronto has closed its downtown campus, and some financial institutions have asked employees to take vacations or work from home. Traffic will also see major disruptions as police monitor a thick security perimeter to keep world leaders safe. source

This is not smart marketing.

If the government has a billion dollar to spend and are really concerned how about tourism in Canada, how about looking at high-speed rail that would make it easier for visitors to see more of the country? Or better still, how about consulting with the Tourism industry e.g Tourism Industry Association of Canada and its provincial counterparts to see what we really need to do to market tourism in this country.

As the citizen editorial points out the lost economic opportunity for Canadians is severe. Tourism is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world, generating huge numbers of jobs. Canada needs to compete in this area just as we do in other sectors of the globalized economy. The rise of a middle class in China and India — these are people with holidays to take and money to spend — means that the pool of international tourists is expanding rapidly. Canada would do well to catch their attention. Source

This is not done by building fake lakes and pavilions.


G20 summit hits Toronto tourism hard

by Sean McLachlan (RSS feed) on Jun 26th 2010 at 9:00AM

If you’re in Toronto to sample the Canadian city’s great shopping, culture, and nightlife, you picked the wrong weekend.

The G20 summit has caused many of the downtown businesses to shut, reports travel site Martini Boys. The site gives an long list of major restaurants, theaters, and other attractions that will close their doors this weekend. Even the iconic CN Tower will be shut up tight and the Toronto Blue Jays have moved their next three home games to Philadelphia.

Fearing protests, G20 the police have set up a 4 km (2.5 mile) long barricade around the convention center, cutting off much of downtown and disrupting some 2,000 businesses. The U.S. State Department has posted a travel advisory suggesting people stay away. Many places are shutting down for the duration. Nobody is sure what the economic impact of all these closures will be, but the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association says that restaurants alone will lose $23 million Canadian (US $22 million) this weekend.

The idea that this was an effective way to show off Toronto to foreign guests is bewilderingly stupid.

Canadian authorities created a city no citizen could recognize and no visitor could admire. Then, they allowed a pack of brutes to trash it.

John Cruickshank Publisher Toronto Star