The city wants to change perceptions that officials say are scaring away business and hurting property values.
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."