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Officials Take 'Closer' Look at Fenton's Marketing Campaign

City officials to discuss marketing campaign in 2012.

New Moon Visions officials gave a presentation to the Fenton Downtown Development Authority Tuesday reporting business growth, an increase in engagement with business owners and a larger online business presence as a result of the Be Closer campaign.

"We want to see cash registers ringing and businesses growing," said Natalie Burg, who has worked for New Moon Visions on the Be Closer campaign. "The number of businesses and occupancy has gone up."

DDA Chairman Craig Schmidt and many other DDA members said they believe the campaign is working.

"Our numbers continue to increase on every aspect of what we are trying to do with this campaign," Schmidt said.

Burg said there are three new businesses and six less vacancies in the downtown district since August 2010. She said 68 percent of businesses had some sort of online presence in August 2010 and that number has grown to 75 percent. The business presence has also increased on Facebook, she said, from 7 percent last year to 23 percent. Burg said FentonBeCloser.com is tallying 1,500 new visitors a month.

However, some city officials and many residents have questioned its efficiency and message.

Councilwoman Patricia Lockwood said the city has and . Many residents have also expressed concerns about the  cost and meaning of the "Be Closer" slogan and logo.

But Assistant City Manager and DDA Director Michael Burns said Be Closer promotes Fenton to an outside market and gets people from other areas to visit.

The Downtown Development Authority discussed the issues at its meeting Tuesday, while the Fenton City Council will also discuss the topic in January and try to determine ways to measure its success.

Lockwood believes the Council could establish where the marketing campaign is headed and establish benchmarks for it and how to judge its success. The DDA, council and the public should sit down and discuss what works and what doesn’t, she said.

“It’s a beginning, and we can start the process and we can at least bring everyone to the table,” Lockwood said.

Councilman Les Bland said the Be Closer campaign needs to be clarified. He said there’s a lot of confusion about it and when he was running for office for the Nov. 8 election, one of the biggest complaints he heard about from people was Be Closer. People didn’t know what the campaign was supposed to mean, and what it was supposed to do, Bland said. People asked, “Be Closer to what?”

Many residents have voiced their opinions on the Fenton Patch Facebook Page.

Vera Hogan posted, "Thank goodness someone in authority is questioning it. We look like a bunch of fools!"

Sharon L. Paulin stated, "I thought is was dumb to begin with, but I don't live in or pay taxes to Fenton -- they should all be glad about that because I wouldn't have been bashful about expressing my opinion."

What does Be Closer mean?

An issue that has come in to question is the "Be Closer" tagline.

Residents and business people have said they aren’t clear on what the campaign is and don‘t understand it, Lockwood said They’re “waiting for the punch line,” she added.

The Be Closer tagline, developed by the marketing firm New Moon Visions for the city and featured on billboards radio ads and on its website, was formed from community feedback including closeness to lakes, freeways, retail shopping and cities such as Flint, Ann Arbor, Saginaw and Detroit. People also mentioned closeness to family and friends. “We’re a close, friendly community,” Burns said.

DDA Member and owner John Strayer said he likes the tagline.

"It's versatile. You can do all sorts of things with it," he said. "It's dynamic, not static."

Many have also questioned the stylized French flower, fleur-de-lis, used as a design, which appears on the Be Closer logo. Burns has nothing to do with The restaurant in Fenton, he said. When someone looks up “Fenton” on an Internet search engine, one of the first items to appear is the Fenton family crest, which has many fleur-de-lis. When New Moon Visions created the logo, it used a tulip chair at the bottom to represent the Saarinen architecture of the , Burns said. Saarinen also designed tulip chairs. The F’s curving outward in the middle are for “Fenton."

The portions of the Be Closer campaign that people are questioning are minor, aesthetic ones that can be easily tweaked, said councilman Bradley Jacob said. The items that are causing the most negative opinions are probably the ones that are easiest to fix, he believes. This includes the issue of using a fleur-de-lis for the logo instead of the Fenton Gazebo, and the color scheme.

“I think a lot of things are happening behind the scenes that people don’t see,” said Jacob. “We have a marketing effort going, trying to attract businesses into the . They are hard into it.”

Cost and need of Be Closer

Burns said the DDA has $142,000 budgeted for the Be Closer marketing campaign for the fiscal year. This includes including billboards along U.S. 23 and $59,000 for managing and promoting events in Fenton, including , , and .

If a community doesn’t invest in improvements and promote for its future, it’s just managing its own decline, Burns said.

“People want government to be run like a business,” he added. “I don’t know a business that doesn’t do branding and marketing.”

Fenton is trying to market itself along the lines of the state’s Pure Michigan campaign, but on a smaller scale, Burns said. When the Pure Michigan campaign began, Burns “wasn’t so keen on it.”

“I didn’t really think it was meaningful,” he said.

But, as the Pure Michigan campaign progressed, Burns liked it more. Now Pure Michigan is working well.

“We are trying to do the same in Fenton,” he said. “They are spending millions per year. We are spending not even 5 percent of our budget.”

With a brand, one can’t put it out one day and expect people to understand, Burns said. “You have to keep putting it out over time.”

Community branding is becoming more popular nationwide, and Fenton isn’t the first community to use it. On a recent trip to Ann Arbor, Burns passed billboards from three other communities that are branding themselves — Brighton, Chelsea and Saline.

“In order to compete in the 21st Century, you have to be creative and do creative things to try to draw people in,” he said.

Where is Be Closer seen?

Fenton’s marketing includes billboards, radio spots, printed materials, coffee cups, brochures, shopping bag stickers and more, Burns said. New Moon Visions maintains the Fenton Be Closer website, www.fentonbecloser.com, and the city’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Staff from New Moon also meet with real estate agents to try to promote Fenton.

The marketing campaign is attempting to engage businesses in the DDA district and promote the Fenton brand and community.

“They are creating a positive atmosphere and working relationship between the DDA and businesses,” Burns said. “A lot of this is what a DDA would do if we had more staff. Consultants tend to be cheaper than staff.”

New Moon Visions is doing a good job for Fenton’s DDA, he said.

The future of Be Closer

DDA Vice Chairman Jim Saule said the DDA needs more input from people — especially those in the business community. The purpose of Be Closer is to bring more business to Fenton. But it takes awhile for a campaign to become accepted and become more recognizable, he added.

Fenton Mayor Sue Osborn agreed. “I think that it takes two years to really brand a community, and I think it will really be successful,” she said.

Councilman Ben Smith likes many areas of the Be Closer campaign, which Fenton is utilizing in a lot of ways. “In the long run, I believe we will be better off with it,” he said.  In addition, he believes a lot of discussion mid-campaign will do nothing but deter from the effort.

Vera Hogan December 21, 2011 at 03:42 PM
Some time after posting my original content, I had an opportunity to speak with Mike Burns and he explained everything as it is written in this article regarding the symbol and the tagline. Once explained, the symbol is interesting and makes more sense now. I still dislike the color combination, but that's a matter of personal taste, I guess. While I understand the reasoning behind the tagline, it still doesn't sound like normal conversation. If you're seated 15 feet away from someone you want to speak with, would you shout out, "Be closer," or would you be more likely to say "Come closer." Be closer does imply a missing ending such as "to what." Come closer is what it is, come closer. Whether people agree with my opinions or not, I am always willing to put my name to them. Anyone who has the privilege of sharing opinions with the public should reveal their identities - not be a royal pain.
Jason Alexander (Editor) December 21, 2011 at 10:46 PM
Thanks for clarifying Vera. Like the campaign or not, I hope our What Does Be Closer Mean? section clears up some confusion to why the symbols and slogan were chosen.

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