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Marin Convention and Visitors Bureau New Branding Statement -
"Marin, Just a Little Out There."

By Nels Johnson, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 24, 2008 --Marin's tourism bureau intends to brand the county with an only-in-Marin marketing cry.

"Marin, just a little out there."

Say what?

Mark Essman of Santa Rosa, head of the Marin Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the new "branding statement" means different things to different people and symbolizes the region's varying attractions, making it a perfect replacement for the bureau's old slogan: "Marin County. Where wonders never cease."

Essman said the new brand represents "the uniqueness, the funkiness, the things that make Marin, Marin. - It's just a little out there. Everyone has a little different interpretation of it."

To some, it may mean the county is just across the Golden Gate from the West's golden city, or a stone's throw from the wine country. Others may take it to mean Marin is a bit flipped out, twirling in a kind of wacky, Grateful-Dead-and-goat-cheese orbit. Or cutting-edge and ahead of the curve, offering opportunities other tourist destinations don't. Others may think it suggests something else entirely.

"That's why we did it," the 48-year-old Essman said in a burst of enthusiasm. "We wanted to leave it to everybody's imagination."

Elissa Giambastiani, treasurer of the bureau board, said the slogan reflects Marin's diversity, ranging from its natural beauty and organic farming to its legacy as the home of mountain biking, "Star Wars" and "so many things here that you don't find in Indiana" or anywhere else.

<>"I don't think it means we're loony," she said. "It's not hot tubs and peacock feathers," she added, referring to the county's enduring legacy as a den of hedonism lampooned by Edwin Newman's controversial 1978 NBC documentary, "I Want It All Now."

Julie McNair, proprietor of the San Anselmo Inn who chairs the bureau board, was among the dissenters in a 17-3 vote that approved the brand.

"I thought it was a little flip," McNair said. "My manager at the inn said, 'this is a little insulting,'" she added. "A lot of people here don't like it."

The new brand has at least a few officials at the Civic Center scratching their heads, saying the slogan is out there, for sure.

One county executive with ties to the word business said the bureau's attempt to appeal to everybody runs the risk of appealing to few.

"I think I'd like it better if it was 'a little bit out there,'" reflected Scott Bauer, deputy director of the county library, after a long pause. "I'm assuming the visitors bureau tested this." No focus group was used, aside from the bureau's board.

But Jim Farley, head of the county Department of Cultural and Visitor Services, said the slogan may prove effective because it is distinctive and draws attention. It's a word play that suggests Marin's "leading edge, cutting edge" culture, he said. Although Farley's department acts as a county liaison to the bureau, it had no role in the new marketing campaign.

The brand is the brainstorm of an advertising and creative team that included Jason Headley of San Francisco, head of Headley for Freelance, and David Swope of Swope Creative of Sausalito. Both say the slogan marks the county as a liberal, vibrant Bay Area getaway that offers unique opportunities and experiences that are a little out of the ordinary.

"We looked at a lot of tourism branding and most of it is utterly interchangeable," with slogans that fail to capture a sense of place, Headley said.

"There are a lot of lame tag lines for tourism accounts," Swope added.

Residents can expect the new theme to pop up in Internet, print, direct-mail and other marketing programs, as well as shape a refurbished Web site at www.visitmarin.org.

"We now have a theme and a brand and that will resonate through everything we do," Essman said.

The bureau intends to target specific groups, like wedding and social event planners, international tourists and "Generation X travelers" including "people who are sustainable, eco-travelers," he said.

"We don't just throw up a sign that says 'Come one, come all,'" Essman said, noting controversy about attracting tourists that nearly torpedoed the visitors bureau in 2004. He said the bureau does no summer marketing because "none is needed," and concentrates on filling hotel rooms in the winter.

A new bureau brochure features several photos, including a hang glider wearing a deer-antler helmet, and two hipsters looking at the coastal view as they picnic by a multi-colored painted Volkswagen bus complete with peace sign and Grateful Dead skull imagery.

"There are some places you don't even tell your friends about," says a blurb next to the Volkswagen photo. "It's hard to find a true find. And when you do, you keep it to yourself. Marin County is full of these little discoveries. Favorite trails, restaurants, life-changing pockets of peace. "So come find a special place of your own. Marin isn't as far away as it feels. It's just a little out there."

All Marin cities except Sausalito, Belvedere and Ross are members of the bureau, as are several lodges in West Marin. The bureau, financed by a 1 percent charge on hotel room rentals, spends about half of its annual budget of $500,000 on salaries for Essman and three employees, who are based in a 1,500-square-foot office at 1 Mitchell Blvd. in San Rafael.

The hotel tax yielded $112,000 for the bureau during the third quarter, down from $132,500 in the period a year before, and the grim economy presents the agency with uncertain finances.

"I don't know what the future holds, but we'll economize, maximize and focus on what we do best," Essman said.

Which, he hopes, is getting people out there to come here.

Contact Nels Johnson via e-mail at ij.civiccenter@gmail.com

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To see more of The Marin Independent Journal or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.marinij.com/.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.

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