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City "Branding" Essential Ingredient for Attracting Tourism Dollars;
Cities Spend Thousands for Logo Development and Research
By Frank Trejo, The Dallas Morning NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 6, 2008 - For Mesquite, it's a wisp of smoke. For Grapevine, a cluster of purple grapes. For McKinney, the serene outline of a tree.

To get logos like these, along with market studies and more, North Texas cities are shelling out big bucks to companies that specialize in helping them make a name for themselves.

While city "branding" has been around for a decade or more, officials from several area cities say increased competition for tourist and development dollars makes it essential these days.

It usually starts with an eye-catching logo. But firms in the business of selling cities say the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on their expertise buys much more, including research into what residents and nonresidents think of a city, what strengths the city has to offer and how best to sell them.

"Your brand is what people say about you when you're not around," explained Don McEachern, chief executive officer of Nashville, Tenn.-based North Star Destination Strategies, which counts several North Texas cities among its clients.

Making sure that image is the right one is crucial for communities in growing population centers such as North Texas, which has more than 200 cities in 16 counties.

"Those cities are competing not just for business but for new residents," said Dr. Bernard Weinstein, director of the Center for Economic Development and Research at the University of North Texas.

Branding is intended in part to make a city stand out from others.

"You have to consider what your brand can be in the greater context of what's around you," Mr. McEachern said, "what your competitors have to offer and what space you can own."

One city that hired North Star is Mesquite, which paid $64,000 for logo development and research. City spokesman Greg Sowell said the efforts, which began a couple of years ago, were part of an effort to attract beneficial development, revitalize older commercial and residential areas and update the city's image.

"Cities do this exactly for the same reasons a business would do it," Mr. Sowell said. "We're in competition with the other cities in the metroplex, to attract residents, business and economic development."

Mesquite's logo features the words "MESQUITE TEXAS" above "Real. Texas. Flavor." A wisp of smoke dots the "I" in Mesquite.

The intent, Mr. Sowell said, is to have something that quickly and accurately identifies Mesquite, much as General Electric's squiggly "GE" is associated with quality.

Mesquite's logo seeks to embrace the city's Western heritage while emphasizing services and amenities. The smoke represents unique "Mesquite" flavor.

"The logo is just the face, the picture behind which everything else the city does falls," Mr. Sowell said. "The real things, the real change in image happens at street level, where you're actually doing exceptional service and bringing in new development."

Completely changing out a logo can take several years, with the old logo replaced as new vehicles are bought, or water towers painted.

Some cities opt for more than one brand. Mesquite, for example, has a separate "Rows of Texas" logo and campaign to sell its Restaurant Row, Retail Row and Rodeo Row along Interstate 635.

Similarly, Plano contracted with North Star Destinations three years ago to develop a logo for its convention and visitors bureau. The stylized gold "P" -- signifying a clean, high-tech, polished city -- is intended to appeal to business travelers, who make up 80 percent of Plano's out-of-town visitors.

The city's main logo, by contrast, features a bold, patriotic red, white and blue "P."

Not all branding efforts succeed. Irving's Chamber of Commerce used "iCity" as a brand about five years ago, but "it never took off," said Diana Pfaff, communications director for the city's Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The chamber now uses "Local Address, Global Access" in its marketing to corporations. The Convention & Visitors Bureau uses "In Between and Far Above," emphasizing the city's location between Dallas and Fort Worth and that it's far above expectations.

"We are currently undergoing a citywide branding study with hopes of coming up with a brand the entire city can use," Ms. Pfaff said.

Carrollton is among the most recent area communities to seek a brand.

Last month, its City Council approved a $238,000 contract with Development Counsellors International to develop a logo, branding, marketing and public relations campaign.

City Manager Leonard Martin said Development Counsellors' task will be not only to research what the city is and has been but also to develop a vision of its future.

"The main effort will be to get the Carrollton story out in the broad market," Mr. Martin said, noting as a selling point the city's proximity to Interstates 35E and 635 and the Bush Turnpike.

Also, the city is getting ready for the arrival of Dallas Area Rapid Transit's Green Line, with light rail service to downtown Dallas scheduled to start in 2010.

Peter Braster, Carrollton's transit-oriented development manager, said the city is working hard to attract development related to its rail stations. Branding, he said, "is the next phase."

Farmers Branch officials said their branding effort, which began about a year and a half ago, is part of an overall city effort to update its image.

The old logo, an "FB" in royal blue, was replaced by a green-leafed tree branching above silhouettes of houses and buildings, to emphasize the city's parks, greenbelts and neighborhoods.

"Our city council has been working with staff on setting priorities and goals, and branding is just an element to a growing and vibrant Farmers Branch," said Assistant City Manager Shanna Sims-Bradish.

City spokesman Tom Bryson said that in promoting Farmers Branch, he seldom hears mention of the city's high-profile efforts to keep illegal immigrants out.

"It doesn't come up that much, as we're trying to promote our city and trying to get the good word out," Mr. Bryson said.

He said the city is undertaking a residents' satisfaction survey to determine, among other things, the effectiveness of the branding and image improvement efforts.

Anecdotally, Mr. Bryson said, the response has been "overwhelmingly very positive."


A look at some North Texas cities' branding campaigns and expenditures:

Carrollton: Agreed last month to pay Development Counsellors International up to $238,000 for logo development, strategic branding, marketing and public relations.

Farmers Branch:  Developed a logo in 2006 with a tree flanked by outlines of houses and businesses, to emphasize the city's parks and neighborhoods. Cost: about $177,000 over three years.

McKinney: Approved spending $242,750 in 2005 for branding and promotional tools, including a logo developed for $62,000 by North Star Destination Strategies. The logo -- McKINNEY TEXAS: Unique by nature -- is intended to blend the city's historical identity with its suburban boomtown status.

Mesquite:  Contracted with North Star in 2006 for $64,000 to develop the logo MESQUITE TEXAS: Real. Texas. Flavor. The logo highlights the city's Western heritage while emphasizing services and amenities. This year, the city joined the Mesquite school district to hire Burson-Marsteller for $230,000 to help improve the image of the city and district.

Plano: Had North Star develop a gold "P" logo in 2005 for the Plano Convention and Visitors Bureau. Cost: about $42,000. The logo is intended to convey the image of clean, high-tech, polished city to out-of-town visitors, especially business travelers. The design is in addition to the patriotic red, white and blue "P" used across the city.

SOURCES: The cities, Dallas Morning News research


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