From the Empire State of the South to the fisherman’s paradise, Georgia’s brand has run an exhausting gamut. And its capital has gone from being the city too busy to hate to simply being the city known as ATL.
Now leading business and political figures are rumbling anew about the need for another marketing revamp. At legislative gatherings and business meetings, officials are laying the groundwork for a push to polish Georgia’s image again.
“We don’t have a great brand. We don’t,” said Chris Cummiskey, the head of Georgia’s economic development arm, at a recent meeting with powerful lawmakers and state officials.
“We do have to look at how we brand ourselves,” he said, lamenting that the state’s image hurts its efforts to attract high-paying research jobs from Silicon Valley or the Research Triangle. “We have to get people to realize there’s a reason to be here and stay here. Because the growth in our future is going to be in the innovation jobs.”
If this sounds familiar, that’s because branding has frustrated the area’s image-makers since the 1970s, when state advertisers pitched Georgia as a pro-business haven with perennially nice weather and Atlanta’s ad men coined the tag “The City Too Busy to Hate” to depict it, rightly or not, as a peaceful commercial oasis amid the tumult of the civil rights movement.
More recent branding efforts have struggled to capture the right slogan and images amid an increasingly competitive market for businesses and tourists.
The Brand Atlanta campaign spent more than $8 million in the late 2000s to market the city as a dynamic destination where “Every Day is an Opening Day.” The catchphrase never caught on, and by the time the city pulled the plug on the project in 2009 it was perhaps most memorable for the widely-mocked “The ATL” hip-hop anthem.
The state, too, has struggled to land a runaway hit. One of the most recent pushes was former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s “Go Fish” effort to lure in big fishing tournaments at the cost of about $1.2 million annually.
Marketing experts say there’s no question that a state’s brand matters. States with negative associations will struggle to attract new residents and businesses, while strong brands such as the Silicon Valley serve as a magnet that can build the brand further.
“My sense is that Georgia has a positive brand but it isn’t associated with technology and innovation,” said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University who specializes in branding efforts. “Changing the associations people have with a brand takes time. Developing some new marketing campaign is a good move - but it won’t have a huge short-term impact.”
Georgia’s marketing budget lags behind those of many other states. The state spent about $2.5 million in fiscal 2011-2012 to promote tourism, among the lowest amounts in the region, according to the U.S. Travel Association, an industry group. Georgia’s spending on marketing the state also ranks among the lowest in the region in per-capita spending.
With the branding effort in the early stages, Cummiskey hasn’t requested a specific funding proposal.
The marketing push comes as other powerful boosters rethink their image.
The Metro Atlanta Chamber, the region’s dominant business group, plans a marketing effort as part of a strategy shift to focus more on fostering existing businesses and less on recruiting outsiders to move here.
“It is a bolder change than anything we’ve done since I’ve been here,” said Sam Williams, the chamber’s president, at a recent event. “We’re focusing on growing the companies that are here and supporting startups.”
Hank Huckaby, who heads the state’s higher education system, said he is also working with marketers to draft a new communication plan that would be unveiled next year.
“The thing we weren’t doing was telling our story very well - certainly not telling it in different venues and different ways,” he said.