The city of Brookhaven has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Super Bowl guide ads, a booth at Atlanta Midtown Music fest, and other high-profile events in what it says is a necessary effort to brand the city and boost local pride.
The money and push to do so is part of the council, administration and newly established Convention and Visitors Bureau efforts to create Brookhaven’s own sense of identity amid other well-established and well-known cities in metro Atlanta and across the country. Money for the branding is coming from tourism dollars raised through the city’s hotel-motel tax.
Doing so ensures economic development for the city as well as a sense of community pride, according to City Manager Christian Sigman.
“We are establishing a regional and national presence because if not we will wither and die if nobody knows who we are,” Sigman said in an interview.
For example, he said, if someone mentions Vail, Colo., most people immediately have happy thoughts of skiing. Closer to home, he said, Sandy Springs tends to have a “corporate vibe” and Dunwoody is known as a bedroom community combined with Perimeter Mall and large offices in Perimeter Center. Decatur has a definite brand as well and even Chamblee is gaining the reputation for being a younger city with undertones of a blue-collar demographic.
“But when you say Brookhaven, you get the deer in the headlights look because no one knows who we are,” Sigman said. “We have to find that thing that makes it us.”
The branding effort includes a year-long commitment to purchase and place ads in Delta Air Line’s Sky Magazine that reaches 300,000 people a month worldwide. Last September, the city began purchasing full-page ads for $15,000 a month, spending approximately a total of $135,000 for nine months.
The city has also placed full-page ads the 2018 Stanley Cup official game program with games played in Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas; the 2018 College Football National Championship played at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta; the 2018 Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, also played at the Mercedes Benz Stadium; the Atlanta Hawks Lookbook for the 2017-18 season; and the special edition of the Atlanta Braves magazine for its inaugural season at Sun Trust Park.
An open records request shows the city paid Professional Sports Publications, a New York agency, $41,500 in three transactions between Jan. 1, 2017 and May 31, 2018. Professional Sports Publications specializes in placing ads in professional sports guides, but what these specific payments were for was not readily known.
City spokesperson Burke Brennan said the city paid $37,500 to be in the 2018 Stanley Cup program and the NBA Finals program guide. The city also paid $37,500 to be in both program guides for the NCAA Final Four and the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl.
The city also purchased ads in Georgia Trend magazine last year for $8,150 and $6,500 for 2018.
Free tickets to the sporting events are included with the advertisements, but Sigman said the city always declines them. The ads are created in-house by the Communications Department.
“Whether through Discover DeKalb, the city of Brookhaven and/or the Brookhaven CVB, it is important to note that all of these expenditures listed above are derived from hotel-motel tax proceeds which are designated by state law for tourism promotion,” Brennan said. “In other words, we are legally obligated to spend these funds in this fashion, and cannot use these funds for other purposes, such as police, public works, parks, etc.”
Brookhaven is not the only city advertising in such guides. Sandy Springs and Atlanta are in some of the same guides and cities from across the country also market themselves to reach as many people as possible.
“We’re establishing a regional and national presence because that’s what entities do. That’s what governments do, what churches do, what the Boy Scouts do,” Sigman said. “All cities do it.”
Money to pay for these types of branding ads is coming from the $1 million budget the city’s new CVB received as part of raising the city’s hotel-motel tax from 5 percent to 8 percent last year. The tax increase is tied to funding the Peachtree Creek Greenway but also includes money for tourism and can only be spent on tourism projects, Sigman said.
The city is also planning to spend $37,500 in a package deal to run ads in the official program guide for the 2019 Super Bowl to be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the official program guide for the 2019 NFL Pro Bowl game to be played in Orlando, Fla.
A proposal to spend $100,000 on an ad in the Super Bowl guide to include four tickets to the game was eventually rejected by the CVB board for something more “modest,” Sigman said. The idea to hold a raffle for the Super Bowl tickets was part of that original idea, but logistics to do so were too complicated, he added.
The city spent nearly $50,000 to have a vendor booth for two days at Music Midtown this year and will likely do it again this year, he said. The booth was used to promote the Peachtree Creek Greenway, the Cherry Blossom Festival, seek out police recruits and let people know more about Brookhaven. Tickets did come with the vendor booths, but they were given to Oglethorpe University students, he said.
Before this year, Brookhaven heavily relied on Discover DeKalb, the tourism agency for all of DeKalb County, to try to market the city. But with the new funds coming in from the hotel-motel tax increase, the City Council decided it was time to focus on the city’s own individual restaurants, parks, festivals and other amenities to attract visitors and businesses, Sigman said. The city still collaborates with and pays Discover DeKalb to advertise in major publications or on billboards, for example.
The local CVB is also cross-marketing with local institutions such as Oglethorpe University, the Atlanta Hawks and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. A new restaurant association is in the works that will also come under the CVB banner to promote local eateries.
Promoting the city using these assets, as well as more direct city assets such as the Peachtree Creek Greenway under development, great parks, the best roads in Georgia … creates a sense of place, purpose, and pride for being a community [and] being a city, Sigman explained.
And as Brookhaven works to determine its own identity, it is competing against other established cities, which Sigman described as “overt and subtle competition.”
The subtle ways cities market themselves is to show people they should live there, raise their families there and become a place they are proud to call home, Sigman said.
Those kinds of metrics cannot really be measured, but aggressive marketing and branding like advertisements in national magazines are intended to attract companies like the Weather Company or the Atlanta Hawks over a big-box store to grow the city’s property digest, increase the city’s wealth and provide a better overall living experience for all residents living in Brookhaven, Sigman said.
“We have to take overt actions now,” he said. “We are in our early formative stages and we need to get our name out there and these are the kinds of things we have to do.”
Sigman takes exception to the argument that perhaps Brookhaven is perhaps too small or doesn’t need to spend so much money advertising itself because it is not a city like Vail where tourists clamor to go to skiing, or even the small Outer Banks with its vast, scenic beaches.
Brookhaven doesn’t need those kinds of attractions to create an identity, he said. And creating an identity must begin somewhere. Advertising in magazines is part of that.
“We are a halo city to a world-class city,” he said. “We don’t have to have Mercedes Benz Stadium in our corporate limits to brand ourselves.”
The long-term benefit is that pride in a community creates a brand equity that everybody benefits from, Sigman said.