by Kristin Brighton on May 24, 2010

The ReNewton Project

Community planning takes into consideration all the factors at play as a community grows: demographic trends, employment opportunities, housing needs, zoning, utilities, parks and other public amenities, transportation, health care, and a slew of other issues. That’s why cities and counties across our great nation employ planning experts who spend their days anticipating how communities will grow so they can stay a few steps ahead.

However, many communities fail to consider marketing as an element in this process. Instead, they take an “if we build it, they will come” mentality, only turning to marketing when things fail to meet expectations.

We’ve had the privilege of working this spring as part of a team to develop a comprehensive plan for Newton, Kansas (population roughly 20,000). The city staff hired Phillips and Associates of Manhattan to lead this process, and Tom Phillips hired New Boston to be a part of the team to help solicit public involvement in the planning process, and then to later help communicate the final plan’s vision to the community.

To fulfill this role, we developed and executed The ReNewton Project, which to date has inspired approximately 250 residents to become involved, either by attending a meeting or participating in the project’s website.

But our involvement in this project hasn’t ended there. The city wanted New Boston to use what we learned through the public input process to develop a set of marketing recommendations to help the city achieve its goals.

While helping to facilitate meetings to get community input and buy-in for the comprehensive planning process, we have actively treated these meetings as a string of focus groups, each focused on the needs of a different group: teenagers, young professionals and families, ethnic minorities, senior citizens, people with physical or mental challenges, tourists and the business community. These meetings have allowed us to meet a diverse set of Newtonians, and allowed us to really get a sense of what people want to see their community become.

It’s our experience that all communities spend some money in marketing. Whether the goal is to recruit tourists, industry, shoppers or new residents, communities frequently market on an ad hoc basis, or they develop a string of short-lived campaigns to try to get their message across. Then they scratch their heads when they don’t feel like the money spent made any difference…only to do it again.

Frequently, these efforts are not coordinated, and can involve a barrage of approaches, often facilitated by different players — the city, the county, the chamber of commerce, the convention and visitor’s bureau, etc. In many cases, the messages don’t mesh with the audience, or they set up an expectation the community can’t live up to. It’s a careful balance.

Too often, community marketing is treated as an afterthought instead of an integral part of community operations. If a community truly wants to grow and prosper, marketing and communications should be planned and budgeted for like any other expense.

We raise our hats to Newton for being progressive enough to integrate into their planning process the marketing strategies necessary to create the growth they want to achieve. We look forward to continuing with this process, and to seeing what Newton becomes by the year 2030.

More soon!