Sunday, November 15, 2009

When going gets tough, TN towns buy advertising

Goodlettsville begins branding itself to lure more people to the small town

By Jennifer Brooks

In boom times, there were so many people relocating to Middle Tennessee, the biggest problem communities faced was building enough schools and roads to keep pace. It didn't really matter if a business or a family chose your town or the town next door, because there were always more moving vans rolling this way.

But then the recession hit. People couldn't relocate because they couldn't sell their homes, and by this time last year, American mobility was at its lowest point in 60 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Suddenly, attracting new residents and businesses to fill half-empty developments and prop up sagging tax bases became a priority. But how does a Goodlettsville set itself apart from a Gallatin or a Greenbrier?

For the city of Goodlettsville, it started with a modest advertising budget and a catchy slogan.

"Wow, that's good. … No, that's Goodlettsville," read the ads that began running in national specialty magazines this year.

Branding used to be something that only big cities had to worry about. Nashville has a $10 million budget for marketing and promotions. The new Smashville ad campaign, inviting people to Lower Broad to watch the Predators play, was a glitzy prime-time ad campaign.

But more and more small towns are stepping up with plans to brand themselves as memorable destinations. Thompson's Station formed a marketing and branding committee to help the town create an identity separate from its larger neighbor, Spring Hill.

Williamson County invited residents to create their own tourism promotion videos, featuring themes like "I Love My Franklin." White Bluff unveiled a new city logo and Web site designed to draw newcomers: "History, Family, Community: Tennesseans love to live, work and play in White Bluff."

The worse the economy gets, the more creative community marketing efforts have become, said Ben Stewart, director of economic and community development for the Greater Nashville Regional Council.

"It's an increasingly popular way for communities to market themselves," he said. "I think everyone's trying to think outside the box right now."

Putting city on the map

Goodlettsville increased its efforts at community branding this month with 30-second commercial spots that began airing on local Fox television stations. It's also grabbing a bit of name recognition with radio spots and by sponsoring weather and traffic reports: "The Tennessee morning weather report is brought to you by the city of Goodlettsville."

The community has spent $10,000 to $15,000 on self-promotion in the past year, said Tom Tucker, Goodlettsville's director of economic development.

"We scripted our commercial so it's not coming across like we're better than anyone else," Tucker said. "But we kept hearing from people, 'I know about Goodlettsville, but I don't know how to get there.' "

Follow Interstate 65 north from downtown Nashville for about 15 minutes and you'll find Goodlettsville, straddling the Davidson-Sumner county line.

"We want to get Goodlettsville on the radar," Tucker said, ticking off his list of qualities he most wants to promote about this town of 16,000.

"We're a small town with a rich Southern tradition. … We have an abundance of eateries, shopping, churches to worship. … A lot of thought went into all of this."

The television spots feature a young couple and a toddler strolling past historic Mansker's Station and through the city sights — over an old bridge, past a church and into a restaurant for ice cream before finally reaching a shady subdivision.

"Wow, that's good. No, that's Goodlettsville," the ad begins. "It's the people that make this city a great place to raise a family and own a business. Goodlettsville is a community rich in Southern hospitality with many community groups, places to work and cultural activities."

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