York City and York County must smartly promote their attributes to ensure what people say about them remains positive, and that requires a countywide effort focusing on self-awareness.
That was one conclusion that could be drawn from a report presented Wednesday night by consultants hired to figure out what city and county leaders must do to promote the area both inside and outside its borders.
“Reputations matter,” Ed Barlow, a consultant with Nashville-based North Star Destination Strategies, said during an hour-long meeting at the Capitol Theater in downtown York. “We all make decisions based on reputations, every day. Every person, every product every place has a reputation. Is it accurate, is it as far-reaching as we want it to be?”
“That is why this research is so important,” added Barlow, North Star’s senior vice president for strategic planning.
Residents’ views sway visitors
Barlow and Jessica Mitton, a North Star account manager, outlined their findings based on intensive surveys conducted countywide with visitors and residents.
They pointed out that a lot of the findings would not be surprising – York County has a reputation as being beautiful and well positioned in the Mid-Atlantic. York City has architectural appeal, historical significance and is on the rise, fueled by an independent and entrepreneurial spirit. But the county can be viewed as unfriendly, and the city can be viewed as dangerous.
The surveys found that people who live in the county and city often recognize the attributes but can have a poor self-image. On the other hand, people from outside seem to see the beauty and the good but are sometimes swayed by residents’ lack of self-confidence in the area, particularly when it comes to views about the city.
The goal is to thoroughly understand that reputation – both good and bad – and then do something about it, Barlow said.
“Your brand is what people say about you when you are not around,” Barlow told the more than 200 people gathered in the theater. “Branding is what you do about it.”
North Star didn’t offer any pithy catch phrases or slogans. Instead, it provided statements that could serve as outlines for the next steps in the branding process. The statements promote the county’s location, the history and inventiveness of the city, as well as the economic opportunities and family-friendly nature of the county overall. Barlow also noted the manufacturing legacy that included the World War II “York Plan,” which put the county on the map as factories mobilized for the war effort.
“For those who want a freedom of choice, York County, on the west bank of the Susquehanna in a pastoral setting north of Baltimore, is where a maker’s spirit of doing what we can with what we have offers a full spectrum of American experiences and opportunities,” Barlow read as the statement was splashed across the movie screen.
A separate statement centering solely on the city hit on similar themes but included references to culinary experiences, entrepreneurial spirit and artistic expressiveness, as well as a nod to York’s Revolutionary War history.
“We choose these words very carefully,” he said.
The next steps will include taking the findings and creating an action plan, a process that will begin in earnest, said Silas Chamberlin, CEO of Downtown Inc.
In addition to Downtown Inc, the branding effort is supported by Main Street Hanover, the York County Economic Alliance, the Cultural Alliance of York County, Explore York and the York County Community Foundation.
“We want to attract visitors to all the remarkable things we have to offer,” said Sarah J. Thomas, marketing and communications director for the community foundation. “We really need to distinguish ourselves from our competitors and find our DNA, if you will, and tout what makes us special.”
Chamberlin said he was excited to see the roughly 200 people who attended, pointing out that the turnout was about twice as large as the initial meeting in September.