Local group tapped for marketing project

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BRATTLEBORO — A South Newfane-based group has been selected to craft a marketing initiative aimed at bringing more visitors to the community.

The Select Board unanimously accepted a plan presented Tuesday. The Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Brattleboro Alliance will hire Penniless Projects for $42,000. The amount for this initiative was approved by Town Meeting representatives at their annual meeting in March and had been equivalent to about 10 percent of the revenue the town collected from the local option rooms and meals tax last year.

"We are super excited and looking forward to working with the chamber and DBA to finalize details and get started," Daimian Lix, co-founder of Penniless Projects, wrote in an email Wednesday.

The group is made up of Maia Segura, principal of Penniless Projects, and Lynn Barrett, public relations consultant.

Stephanie Bonin, executive director of Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, told the Reformer the proposal had been a draft. Now that the group is hired, it is expected to conduct research, create graphic designs and explore target audiences.

The draft proposal included a "Love Brattleboro" campaign, which was described as "a charge, a challenge, a statement, a command."

"It's also a love letter from the town itself, to the people staying, playing, and enjoying all that Brattleboro and the surrounding areas of southern Vermont has to offer," the group wrote. "This campaign is designed to focus on local businesses, artists, events, and anything else that shows love for Brattleboro and surrounds."

The group also suggested targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex and asexual or allied community with the initiative, noting that Vermont had been the first state in the country to legally recognize same-sex marriage by legislation and Brattleboro has long been "home to a thriving local LGBTQIA+ community."

Bonin stressed to the Reformer that more research will need to be done on targeting audiences. She said out of the 17 proposals, only Penniless Projects and another group included more specific ideas, whereas others sent over portfolios of their past work.

The group was selected by a project team in a second round of seeking proposals. The first round included nine proposals and three finalists but none ended up being favorable.

"Each one," Bonin told the board, "raised red flags for us for different reasons."

This time around, the chamber and DBA boards had voted to recommend the project team's selection to the Select Board. The team had been made up of 10 community members.

Kate O'Connor, executive director of the chamber, told the Select Board that different graphics will provided by Penniless Projects and the group will look at marketing to areas within driving distance.

"It's important that you folks understand going forward that this may change based on outreach that we're going to do to the community," she said, noting that a different group or demographic may be targeted.

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O'Connor said three members of the project team will join her and Bonin on the steering committee: Curtiss Reed Jr., executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity; Lindsay Fahey, chief operating officer at Retreat Farm; and Zon Eastes, founder and director of Juno Orchestra.

Penniless Projects is being asked to complete its work by the end of the fiscal year or June 30. O'Connor does not anticipate having strong data within that time frame but said findings will be presented later.

Select Board members encouraged the group to reach out to Out in the Open, formerly known as Green Mountain Crossroads, whose mission is to "connect rural LGBTQ people to build community, visibility, knowledge."

"They put together research without doing a deep dive into the community," Bonin said of Penniless Projects. "If we're talking about our target audience, we need to make sure we're talking to those assets in the community ..."

Addressing concerns that there had been no outreach to local groups, O'Connor said none of the firms that submitted the other eight proposals did so, nor had it been expected.

Board member David Schoales said targeting should be inclusive to different races, gender and abilities.

"But isn't that the opposite of the concept a target audience?" Bonin asked.

Schoales said "it probably is. But I think if you're going to be representing Brattleboro in a campaign, the community has been pretty clear in its commitment to equity and inclusion."

Select Board Vice Chairman Tim Wessel said the project seems "great."

"I'm pretty positive about it," he said.

Board member Elizabeth McLoughlin lauded the groups for going back out to bid when the first round had not been successful.

"I appreciate the rigor and I think it's going to be fun," she said.

O'Connor said the hope is to ask Town Meeting representatives annually to allocate 10 percent of the rooms, meals and meals tax revenue for marketing the community. March 23, 2019 had been the first time an article for the initiative had been proposed to the reps.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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