Branding for Tri-Cities to be addressed at annual visitor and convention bureau meeting

Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldOctober 31, 2013 

Brands are as important for cities, counties and chambers of commerce as they are for candy bars and soup.

That's the message Roger Brooks will deliver Thursday, Nov. 7, at the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau's annual meeting.

It's also the kickoff of a broader plan to develop a strategy to better market the Tri-City area.

Marketing is a problem in the Tri-Cities because there are cities, counties and wine growing regions -- all with different names, said Kris Watkins, president and CEO of the visitor bureau.

Lack of identity is the biggest hurdle facing the Tri-Cities, agreed Carl Adrian, president and CEO of the Tri-City Development Council in Kennewick.

"There are Tri-Cities in other states. The place names Richland, Pasco and Kennewick are just not that well known," he said. "You have to remember, up until about 15 years ago, they were all pretty small communities."

When TRIDEC's staff contacts companies about economic development possibilities, Adrian said, their first reaction is usually, "Where?"

That's where Brooks comes in.

The CEO of Roger Brooks International is an expert in tourism, community branding and destination marketing.

He's an international speaker who's helped guide nearly a thousand communities, states, provinces, national parks and countries in their marketing efforts in his 30-plus year career, Watkins said.

In the coming months he will lend his expertise to the Tri-City area, helping the various tourism agencies, cities and counties through the process of developing a cohesive brand, Watkins said.

Brooks will be paid $87,000 to produce the brand, artwork and plan for implementation. The bureau, TRIDEC and the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce are splitting the bill.

Before choosing Brooks, Watkins said they contacted other communities and sought bids for the project. They received about a dozen proposals ranging from $50,000 to $120,000.

"We feel, with his experience in destination branding, that we made the right choice," Watkins said.

A 13-member steering committee will include representatives from the other chambers, businesses and corporations, agriculture and sciences.

The cities and counties also will be involved.

Developing a brand is important because it can give a vision of where a community is going in terms of economic development, said Lori Mattson, president and CEO of the Tri-City Regional Chamber.

"We need to come up with something in common that says who we are and what is driving our future," she said.

Watkins and Mattson said the intention isn't to make a single logo for every tourism agency or every city.

"We won't be cookie cutters. Each of us will keep our own identity. But all our promotional materials and websites will have enough common elements that people will recognize we're all together," Watkins explained.

Mattson described the concept as an umbrella covering the entire region with a distinctive message of what the Tri-Cities is and what sets it apart from other communities.

"It could actually include up to seven cities -- Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, Benton City, West Richland and more, plus areas like Finley and Burbank," Mattson said.

Part of the process of creating a brand that works for the region will include public meetings and sessions with community leaders.

"It's quite a process," said Watkins, adding that she hopes to have a brand in hand by June 2014.

Also at next week's meeting, the bureau is giving out its Travel and Tourism Champion award and a new award for excellence in service.

The evening will finish with a chance to network with 50 to 60 tourism-related vendors while sipping local wines.

"Many people have no idea how many small businesses are involved in tourism in the Tri-Cities. This offers a chance to meet them firsthand in a fun environment," she said.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

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