Brooklyn Park is dogged by a bad reputation, inside and out.
Even though the city’s crime rate is at a 20-year low and it's attracting highly sought-after corporate campuses, perceptions of residents and outsiders are that the suburb on Minneapolis’ north border is plagued by crime.
That unsettles new businesses and residents and holds down property values, city officials say. It's gotten so bad, some real estate agents and restaurant brokers dissuade their clients from even looking in the city, Brooklyn Park officials said.
Now the city is turning to a public relations agency to come up with a branding strategy to change hearts and minds and focus on the city’s success stories.
In a highly debated split vote, the city’s Economic Development Authority, which is made up of the City Council, agreed to spend $150,000 with the PR firm Carmichael Lynch Spong. The goal is to kick Brooklyn Park’s high-crime reputation and improve its branding.
The mayor, who voted yes, said it's a chance to "move the needle" on public perception and, officials hope, property values. But another council member called it a "waste of money."
Primarily associated with corporate America, branding is all the things people can do to manage perception of a product or place, both rational and emotional, said Jack Stanton, group director of brand planning at Carmichael Lynch Spong.
Brooklyn Park joins a handful of Minnesota cities that have tried or are trying to brand themselves; others include Rochester and Woodbury.
The concept of municipal branding exploded in the last decade after Las Vegas became synonymous with the catch phrase, "What happen here, stays here."
Other cities, aiming for more clean-cut, family-friendly brands, have seen varying amounts of public buy-in as well.
In October, the Woodbury City Council voted unanimously to spend $63,000 with the Minneapolis PR agency Padilla CRT to create a marketing and branding strategy. Woodbury officials are confident that their residents understand the benefits of the eastern suburb, but they'd like to gauge and improve their reputation outside. They'd also like to create a more-integrated marketing strategy to promote the city's amenities.
"We’d like to raise our profile in the metro area," said Jason Egerstrom, Woodbury communications coordinator.
Carmichael Lynch Spong, a national PR firmed based in Minneapolis, beat out 14 other firms for Brooklyn Park's business.
Carmichael Lynch Spong and its sister agency, Carmichael Lynch Inc., are the creative forces behind Subaru’s “Share the Love” campaign and Jenni-O turkey's "Make the Switch" marketing strategy. They also handled Harley-Davidson marketing for three decades, expanding the brand to a more-mainstream clientele while maintaining its rebel spirit, Stanton said. A few members of their project team live in Brooklyn Park.
In broad brush strokes, representatives from Carmichael Lynch Spong laid out their research and implementation strategy. They stressed an inside-out approach, making sure Brooklyn Park residents and businesses understand and can speak to their city's strengths. They talked about how to gauge success by looking at media coverage and social media buzz.
“One of the great measures is what are people saying about you? That's through social media and traditional media," said Maria Reitan, senior principal at Carmichael Lynch Spong. “We want to do a 180 on what's been going on in terms of coverage in the media. We know now there has been more negative than positive publicity about Brooklyn Park. One of the major metrics of success is trying to ensure that balance turns the other way."
The Development Authority agreed to finance the marketing strategy by a 4-2 vote after a lengthy debate.
"The opportunity is there to move the needle and create value," said Mayor Jeff Lunde, who voted yes. "I am not a branding expert, but if you create the value that’s when you start to see the return side. You start to see property values go up. You start to see companies who may not require an incentive to come here because the brokers, the site selection committee, brings people here."
Bolstered by some recent success attracting corporate campuses, and with an eye on the city's last 1,200 acres of undeveloped land, city leaders think now is the perfect time to buy into a professional marketing strategy, the mayor said.
"People are going to come and look at things because of our past success. This is the right thing to do. Businesses told us overwhelmingly to work on our image and branding," Lunde said.
It's also a chance to brand and market the city's diversity, which some Minnesotans haven't always viewed as a strong point.
Brooklyn Park is the second-most diverse city in the state, trailing only neighboring Brooklyn Center. The city of 78,000 is about 50 percent minority residents and 20 percent foreign-born.
"Part of what we fight is the fact Minnesota is not as nice as Minnesotans like to claim they are when it comes to diversity," Lunde said.
Council Members Rich Gates and Bob Mata voted against spending money on an outside marketing effort.
"We don’t have $150,000 to spend on this. We are over budget already," Gates said. "This is a waste of money."
Mata was less adamant in his objections but questioned whether a marketing strategy would be honest and authentic. "You can tell anyone you want anything you want to. When it comes down to reality, it has to be reality," he said.
A committee of businesspeople was the driving force behind hiring an outside firm, said Michael Sable, the city's acting director of community development.
It isn't just unmeasurable perceptions that the city suffers from a bad rep, Sable said. Recently, a builder showcased three identical model homes in three communities. The Plymouth model was listed at $799,000, the Maple Grove model at $699,000 and the Brooklyn Park one at $599,000.
"We are not capturing the value our community really offers," Sable said.
The one-time marketing campaign is equivalent to about 10 percent of the Development Authority's annual $1.5 million budget.