Tag Archives: buffalo cvb

Buffalo For Real, Part 2, Electric Boogaloo

24 May

I thought it might be time to break up the constant NY-26 updates with something completely different.

A couple of weeks ago, Visit Buffalo Niagara (formerly known as the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau {CVB}) unveiled their new branding slogan, entitled “Buffalo. For Real.”

It was released with an accompanying video that generated lots of buzz.


Shortly after its release, Alan Bedenko and I began a light-hearted Twitter contest to solicit suggestions for a better slogan.  That contest caught fire and dozens of parody videos started popping up on YouTube, like this one:


In the aftermath of the story, we were dismissed as naysayers because we deigned to criticize what we saw as a fundamentally flawed marketing campaign. We thought the video was too focused on the built environment and we resented the Sarah Palin-ish conceit of “Real America”. We also opined that the video lacked an overall sense of fun.

Supporters of the marketing campaign countered by stating the video was designed to attract “bifocal cultural tourists”…much like the three previous marketing campaigns from the CVB. We thought that maybe, just maybe, they could broaden their scope a bit and appeal to people who don’t really care who H.H. Richardson was or why he is important to Buffalo.

We eagerly awaited the opinion of an impartial third party to evaluate the merits of the campaign. Clearly, any objective analyst or critic would see that this beautifully shot video and marketing campaign designed for free by volunteers was an absolute homerun. Right?

Last week, Advertising Age Magazine issued their opinion on the campaign in an article titled “Buffalo’s New Tagline Highlights The Worst of Tourism Marketing”:

Tourism slogans are reliably corny, but last week New York state took the grand prize for “Huh?” with a newly anointed slogan for its fair city to the north that’s best known for its proximity to Niagara Falls and everyone’s favorite 25-cent bar snack.

So, there’s that.

However, something that has stuck with me for over a week was an exchange on Facebook between a few WNYMedia writers and one of our readers. You know this reader as “STEEL”, a reliably liberal voice in our daily political threads. He is properly known as David Steele, a Buffalo Expatriate who lives in Chicago.  Dave is also the author of “Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land“.

Dave is a middle aged guy who likes architecture.  Unsurprisingly, he thought the “Buffalo. For Real.” video was the bees knees.

Dave operates under the illusion that the primary obstacle to progress in Buffalo is our defeatist attitude. If only we were to stop with all the complaining and negativity, we might start to make some real shit happen right here in Johnson City!  Also, he detests sprawl and people who don’t live in the City of Buffalo. Ironically, he doesn’t live here either.

However, as we have detailed over the years on this website, no matter what you think the most important problem in Buffalo is, it’s not THE problem. Sprawl, poor zoning, absentee landlords, deteriorating infrastructure, UB in Amherst, the Skyway, the 190, inaccessible waterfront, house flipping, redlining, terrible schools…no matter what, the problem is political. Each of those problems has a distinctly political cause and requires a distinctly political solution. Political leadership is required to solve any problem in Buffalo as it is a town designed by and ruled by politicians. However, that leadership is sorely lacking.

Until we change THAT problem, the private and non-profit sectors will be forced to to hoard the crumbs on the table while the rest of us wish for a distant, more prosperous past. A time when our fortunate location at the end of the Erie Canal created the economic and geographic accident that we now know as Buffalo. That past is prominently featured in that video and frankly, we’re bored with it. Dave, being the smart guy that he is, had a suggestion for us.

So, when will we be releasing that video?  When someone hires us to do it. We’ve released hundreds of videos over the years that shine a positive light on our community and those working to make it better. However, what Dave doesn’t know is that we actually made a proposal to the CVB about 18 months ago to help market Buffalo and WNY.

Prior to the hiring of Dottie Gallagher-Cohen as the CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara, Drew “Wing King” Cerza served as the interim CEO. During his tenure, the CVB received increased funding from Erie County and Drew put out the word that he was looking for some cool new ideas to market the region. We approached him with a proposal marketing campaign that would begin during the World Junior Hockey Championships and continue on after the event.

We (along with a marketing partner) proposed the following:

  • An iPhone/Android App that would feature links to all Buffalo restaurants, clubs, cultural attractions along with location aware directions and maps
  • Each listing would have a basic profile page featuring some business basics, but each listing had the opportunity to upgrade their default profile with video/audio/time sensitive specials and coupons. Upgrades would be paid for with donations to the CVB.
  • A recommendation engine featuring well known locals who would give their tips on where to go and what to do.
  • A mobile trip planner that would organize a full list of activities for each day based on a chosen starting point.  “Here for a Bisons game?  Here’s five other places you might enjoy!”
  • Marketing videos for each tourism “vertical” in Buffalo and WNY.  Cultural, sports, family, shopping, dining, hotels, architecture, theater, etc.
  • An umbrella marketing video featuring outtakes from each of the “vertical” videos which presented Buffalo and WNY as a four seasons destination for everyone.

There was more to it, but you get the point

As we’re a small company that cannot perform work for free, we also presented the CVB with a pricetag for the project.  The CVB decided to wait until Ms. Gallagher-Cohen was hired to make a decision. She never got back to us. No big deal, we moved on to other clients and other projects and we’re doing quite well, thank you very much. Over the next 18 months, Ms. Cohen took the organization in a new direction and we wish her the best of luck.  She’ll need it. Especially if she is again forced to “crowdsource” regional marketing campaigns for free.

The reason for sharing this is that I’m tired of this obsessive accusation that we’re “naysayers”.  We are realists, we see this city and region for what it is, warts and all.  To simply assume that we are absolute cynics is to either be grossly misinformed…or to be nuzzled in a Chicago bungalow ignorant of the reality on the ground in a city 600 miles to the east.

We deal with the political realities around us and we love our city as much as anyone else here. We choose to live in WNY and raise our children here. We choose to pay our taxes, vote in local elections, volunteer for organizations we believe in, and organize people to support causes and politicians we believe in.  We support local business and we hire local vendors. We advocate for political solutions we think practical and assail, with malice, those who advocate for harmful policies and causes. We’re confident in our choices to live here and we’re not going anywhere. We put our skin in the game and we’re here, making a difference. It’s who we are, it’s what we do.

Because of all that, we’re entitled to some self-deprecating humor and we have a right to criticize how we are marketed.

So, don’t ever challenge me or anyone on this website about our love for this city and region. For Real.

Branding Buffalo

25 Feb

In a couple of recent posts, I’ve identified the brand of Buffalo as our biggest business and redevelopment challenge, and I’ve established that our culture in Buffalo is holding us back from progress. Today I want to examine our brand, and rebranding efforts, more closely. Why now? More on that later in the post.

Cities have brands the way any other product does. Just as Nike shoes will forever be linked with an image of Michael Jordan sailing to the basket, cities have brand reputations. And this goes beyond “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” (though that is great branding). New York is the Big Apple where anyone can make it, and anything can happen at any hour of the day or night. Los Angeles is the center of glitz and Hollywood. Nashville and Austin have fun music reputations. In the latter two cases, a couple of streets and bars (plus a music festival or two) is all it takes to keep that reputation intact. If you don’t like your city’s brand, you can remake it, a la Balboa, where a new famous museum changed everything. Brands morph and change. Hummer used to be known for rugged strength. Now it is a poster child for everything wrong with the American car industry, and is being shut down.

So, as a review, what is Buffalo’s current brand? I once described our potential logo as “an over taxed rusting factory covered in snow.” Chris Smith, in an article from a couple years ago, described it this way:

I would argue that our current national brand is that of a snowy, dying, heavily unionized, rust belt town that is still reeling from the death of our local manufacturing base.  Marketing organizations like the Buffalo CVB, Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, Buffalo Homecoming and Buffalo Rising have attempted to demonstrate that we are more than that confining description through urban and regional boosterism.

City brands are important because they help to attract (and retain) business, draw tourists, and attract (and retain) population. Phoenix’s reputation as a boom town became self reinforcing at a  certain point. Residents of the midwest, where there are “no jobs,” would move to Arizona because there “were jobs.” Many took construction jobs, building houses for the next wave of midwesterners with the same thoughts.

Buffalo’s snowy, rusting, dying brand is so important because not only does the rest of the country believe it, much of Buffalo believes it too. If Buffalo had a good reputation among more of its current residents, we would be shedding less population. Likewise, if the rest of the country had a different impression of Buffalo’s brand, jobs, tourists and population would be attracted to it, and the reality would change in addition to the illusory brand.

So its the brand boosterism efforts Chris references above that I really want to talk about, because I think the impression of Buffalo (brand) is more important than the reality of Buffalo. And in any case, the impression is much cheaper to change.

The first major rebranding effort I term the Drew Cerza Plan. Drew is the Wing King, of course, and organizes the yearly Buffalo Wing Festival, among other things. The Drew Cerza plans says “What good things is Buffalo already known for? Lets enhance those.” So if America already thinks of chicken wings and sports (Bills and Sabres) when they think of Buffalo, lets do more of that. Cerza himself was spotted in Pizza Hut adds selling more chicken wings nationally, and if you like sports, 2010 is a good year for you to be in Buffalo: the Sabres are winning, NCAA basketball in March, Empire State Games in the summer, and World Juniors Hockey in December. The CVB and new Buffalo Sports Commission have also been pushing smaller events – Buffalo will host the New York State high school swimming state championships soon. Those events add up to a real tourism industry, real jobs, and real visitor impressions changed. The benefit of the Drew Cerza plan is that you are altering the reputation of Buffalo, not completely rebuilding it.

The second major rebranding effort I call the “Donn Esmonde Plan.” This plan says “Everything people know about Buffalo is wrong – lets show them all the great things Buffalo really is.” This plan gives great satisfaction by finally showcasing the “real” Buffalo. But it is also a constant uphill fight because 60 years of Buffalo brand opposes it. So we package up the historic buildings, biomedical research, and a flourishing arts community and try to sell it to a skeptical audience. Every time we are named a Distinctive Destination by a niche organization, or our architecture is mentioned in a national publication, we cheer that America has finally noticed. We count each visitor to the Darwin Martin House, and hang on Cleveland Biolabs bringing 15 workers to the medical campus. One commenter on Chris Smith’s post mentioned above, Nathan Wallace, suggested Buffalo’s brand should be “Historically Innovative.” I love it – we do have great architecture and a great history of medical innovation (like the pacemaker). But you’d have to educate 98% of the Buffalo community on this history before you try to sell it.

Beyond these two major efforts, I find it interesting what major brand resources we have that seem outside of the rebranding process: Niagara Falls, major banking giants, and a huge college population. Note that the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s efforts and targeted industries (agribusiness, advanced manufacturing, life sciences, logistics, professional services and renewable energy) seem separate from either rebranding effort, or those three resources I mentioned.

For me, I’d be happy to rebrand our image into “fun.” As in, “Oh, you’re from Buffalo? I hear that’s a fun town.” Buffalo is a fun place already. We have enough known commodities (sports, chicken wings, beer), and enough unknown items to share (festivals, food) that staking out a reputation as “fun” should not be overwhelming. “Fun” would go a long way to dismiss some rust belt blues – Detroit is not a fun place.

So, to my original point: why talk about this today. Because a major rebranding effort, in the Drew Cerza model, is taking place this weekend downtown. While local high schools are playing their hockey championships in HSBC Arena, Labatt is hosting its massive pond hockey tournament, and the inaugural Powder Keg Festival is sandwiched in between. This expanding event combines not just our love of hockey, beer, and food, but it adds a little rebranding with a love of winter too. I will be taking my kids downtown to watch a little pond hockey, walk through an ice maze, and do some skating. Despite global warming, Buffalo will continue to have a reputation, and a reality, of long snowy winters. Colorado, Vermont and New Hampshire have long winters too, and yet are seen as winter sports paradises. We don’t have the mountains, but we should be able to find a way to play hockey, drink, ice skate, snow shoe and cross-country ski our way into a “fun” reputation.


29 Dec

The Buffalo Ruse publishes what it says is the Common Council’s questionnaire for prospective Ellicott District Brian Davis replacements.

For instance,

Question 2: What one fact about the One Sunset restaurant scandal convinced you that the whole thing was perpetrated by our shameful Mayor Byron Brown?

Question 3: if you were the FBI, what other guilty members of the Brown Administration would you investigate and why?

The Bed Tax

18 Dec


It is one of the most common refrains at the end of every year during the Erie County budget process.

“Fully fund the Buffalo Convention and Visitor’s Bureau with their full share of the bed tax”

Since I don’t like to hear a problem restated over and over again without the proposition of a creative solution, I’m going to offer one…because that’s how I roll.

Why should the CVB be funded out of a tax that is collected by Erie County? The revenue stream sources from the hotels themselves and the County simply acts as a pass through, while taking a piece of the revenue as a vig.

Why not abolish the bed tax altogether?

Poking around the CVB’s website, I came across a series of videos that were recently completed which help tell the story of Buffalo-Niagara. By the way, if you want people to actually watch these videos, shorten up the vignettes and post them on sites around the web, not just on your own.  The only people who will find these videos will be people who were looking for them in the first place, viral marketing 101.   I digress…

At the end of the videos, the message “funding provided by the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo” appears. This got me to thinking…clearly, there are other funding sources available that can be utilized to market the region. Reading through the Buffalo CVB 2006 Annual Business Review and their Form 990, the CVB accepted money from all the large foundations in Buffalo.

Rather than a lobbying effort centered on realizing a full share of the bed tax, why not argue to abolish the bed tax and move to a community funded marketing model?

The CVB is a 501c6 non-profit corporation and thus donations to the organization are not tax deductible. So, as a quasi Chamber of Commerce, they can move to a membership model that draws dues directly from the hoteliers and local arts institutions as the official marketing agency for the region. Require as part of membership that the hotels set aside the same percentage as they do today in taxes and give them directly to the CVB. Of course, the hoteliers will require transparent accounting and performance based budgeting to ensure their money is being spent properly. Something the County Legislature claims the CVB does not do currently.

Once the funding stream is in place, the CVB can continue to work with local partners to market the region. The percentage of revenue that will come into CVB coffers will be directly proportionate to the amount of revenue they are able to bring into the region as a result of their marketing efforts.

The CVB can enlist membership and support from local marketing companies like Crowley Webb, Eric Mower, and Stand Advertising to put together comprehensive plans for the region. They could also solicit small business membership and partner with BNE/BNP for funding from the business community. If we can get everyone pulling in the same direction, perhaps we’ll stop going in circles.

They can utilize local web/media talent from our universities to create viral marketing campaigns that create a people powered picture of Buffalo. Why use the county as a passthrough when a much more efficient model is available for implementation?

How will we pay for maintenance and operations of the Convention Center that currently comes from bed tax revenue? That’s the fly in my solution ointment. Erie County would have to move it into the general fund or work out a cooperative funding arrangement with the CVB wherein the County comes to the CVB for funding. See how I flipped it? Let’s talk about it.

Think differently.