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Robert Trigaux

Rebranding St. Petersburg: The challenge of capturing a city's identity



stpetelogo.pngWake up and good morning. As city slogans go, Surprising St. Pete is okay. Kind of a midwest milktoast kind of rebranding for St. Petersburg. but that kind of fits the city. But it suggests change, a city that offers something we might not expect. And that's good because it's true. For now.

I mean, thank goodness we're not living in Gas, Kansas, where the city slogan is Don't Pass Gas... or is that actually a stroke of genius for being smarty pants and unforgettable?

As reported in the St. Petersburg Times here, Surprising St. Pete was launched Tuesday as a new ad campaign and website for the city. It's aimed at getting locals and visitors to embrace a new view of St. Petersburg and realize it's no longer God's waiting room. Radio ads touting the slogan are under way and is online now. St. Petersburg's Paradise Advertising designed the campaign.

The timing is interesting because the theme St. Pete ad campaign/slogan overlaps nicely with a broader but still-in-the-works regional campaign called tampabayshines to show off Tampa Bay's more positive aspects. Surprising St. Pete focuses on upbeat stuff in the city -- stuff you may not know about, hence the surprise -- like the city being touted as an arts destination. Granted, some of the other listed surprises -- being touted as a dog friendly city, or having the oldest shuffleboard club or largest wooden dance floor -- are a bit underwhelming. But here's a legitimate gem: St. Pete has the third-largest downtown waterfront park in North America, behind only Chicago and Vancouver. Awesome.

Rebranding cities is actually a big business and, as other city slogans  show, no easy matter. There are some big winners in the history of city branding, like I (Heart) New York or the What happens here, stays here line of Las Vegas. But for every winner, there are ones like these:

* Prairie du Chien, Wis.Where the bald eagle soars and the carp drops!

* Hooker, Okla.It's a location, not a vocation.

* Strong, MaineToothpick Capital of the World.

* Peculiar, Mo.: Where the odds are always with you.

As urban economist and Creative Class founder Richard Florida notes in The Atlantic: "Attaching a catchy slogan to a place doesn't work unless it captures something real, authentic, and evocative -- and that's a whole lot harder than it looks. Many cities end up with clunkers. Plus, it can't just be a cute catch-phrase: It needs to reflect something unique or special the city has to offer."

Some cities are still searching for just the right slogan. In 2004, then-Mayor Pam Iorio stood up before several hundred city workers and community leaders to announce the city's new civic pride campaignI am Tampa, doing my part! It came with a 60-second jingle, written just for the city.

Don't remember it? Me neither. Then there was the earlier, bolder slogan of Tampa from the late 1980s: America's Next Great City.

Yeah, well, we're still working on that.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times

[Last modified: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 7:32am]


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