Marketing Milwaukee

Dating back to 1975, when Mayor Henry Maier launched the “Milwaukee, Talk it Up” campaign to encourage local residents to help promote their city, Milwaukee has always suffered from an image problem – nationally, regionally, and even on a local level.
While cities such as Cleveland, Baltimore and Indianapolis have succeeded in reinventing negative images of their cities, Milwaukee remains something of an unknown in the national mind.
“The perception is improving, but only slightly,” contends Mike Mervis, a longtime Milwaukee public relations executive. “We’ve got to get our name out, we’ve got to get creative in how we sell ourselves. We have to convince people that we’ve got something to sell.”
Actually, there are any number of efforts, both new and ongoing, to market Milwaukee. The question is, how effective are they in promoting the city’s image?
This month, a special editorial insert in Forbes magazine will tout the advantages of Milwaukee as a business destination. A similar “advertorial” that ran in Forbes in 1994 was one of the most successful of its kind, and led to a number of national inquiries directed here and the relocation of a 350-employee business, Triad Engineering, Inc.
Last year, a new civic group called Spirit of Milwaukee was formed with the express purpose of enhancing Milwaukee’s image to increase business development, tourism and convention sales.
Spirit of Milwaukee will leverage current and future marketing efforts by acting as a funding resource, says Midwest Express CEO Timothy Hoeksema, who sits on the 13-member board of the non-profit booster organization.
A central element in the turnaround of Cleveland, Baltimore and Indianapolis is that each had a group similar in makeup to Spirit of Milwaukee, Hoeksema says.
“There is no better time to live in Milwaukee in its entire history – there is a lot of neat stuff going on here – and I think the Spirit will play an active and important role,” he says.
The Genuine American campaign
For the last three years, the Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) has promoted the city as a convention and tourism destination through the award-winning “Milwaukee – Genuine American” campaign.
The all-American look and feel of the campaign logo evokes Milwaukee icons Harley-Davidson and Miller Brewing Co., and has spawned numerous imitators, according to CVB’s Maggie Jacobus.
“The reason why ‘Genuine American’ works is because it is not selling us as anything else but what we are,” Jacobus says. “It really goes back to a lot of the intangibles of what makes Milwaukee a good city: People come here, and they can’t believe what a gorgeous city this is, and how genuine the people are.”
For all of the accolades the Genuine American campaign has received, Milwaukee advertising and marketing executive Todd Robert Murphy is not impressed.
Murphy says it was a tactical mistake to replace its predecessor, “Milwaukee, A Great Place on a Great Lake,” which was selected as the winner of a contest back in the mid-1980s.
A Great Place on a Great Lake actually describes the city better, Murphy claims, adding that a lack of promotion and development of the campaign is what led to its demise.
“If we are worried about our beer, brats and bowling image, then what is the zeal to run toward motorcycles and beer?” Murphy asks.
Also, it is an axiom that ad campaigns that win the most industry awards are usually among the least successful in doing what they are supposed to do, which is sell, Murphy maintains.
“Great creative does not create movement,” Murphy says. “If it doesn’t instill a lasting message, then it hasn’t done its job.”
Former Milwaukee television reporter Owen May is in Murphy’s camp. He thinks “Great Place on a Great Lake” was much more effective in defining the city.
“If I say ‘Genuine American’ to somebody, what does that mean?” May asks. “Locally, people don’t even know the Genuine American campaign. I say baloney. It is dull, and it says nothing.”
CVB President Bill Hanbury contends that the Genuine American campaign has been “extraordinarily successful” in elevating the city’s image.
“We wanted to position Milwaukee as a national player, as a city that could compete with other American cities,” Hanbury says. “Genuine American positions us as a destination. It’s got some stick to it.”
On the local level, CVB has launched the “Be a tourist in your own town” Milwaukee insider campaign for the second year in a row. Local residents need to be aware of all the recent infrastructure investment in the city, and they need to support and participate in it, Jacobus says. The local tourism initiative is designed to get residents excited and introduce the city to friends and relatives, she says.
Image is critical to recruitment
If Milwaukee suffers from anything, it is from a lack of information, says Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. What comes to mind when he asks an outsider about Milwaukee is the beer, cold weather, a high-quality workforce and the Milwaukee Brewers, Sheehy says.
“In my discussions with employers, they say their future growth is tied to front-office, headquarters jobs – in fields like information technology, marketing, engineering and finance,” Sheehy says. “These types of positions tend to capture a more mobile kind of crowd. So, it becomes important that we pay some attention to how we are perceived, and how we go about communicating the positives of metropolitan Milwaukee.”
Websites help
promote the region
To that end, MMAC is working with its members to develop a Website that will sing the praises of Milwaukee and the surrounding area. Sheehy says the Website will provide employers with a powerful, readily available recruiting tool. Employers will be able to create a link to the site from their own company Websites.
The Milwaukee Department of City Development also will debut its own Website in September, Milwaukeebiz. com, which will provide a compendium of local economic development information, says DCD marketing director Gary Peterson.
On the regional level, the Regional Economic Partnership combines the economic development resources of seven Southeast Wisconsin counties, and provides a one-stop location for information on available buildings and sites, energy rates, labor market data and tax rate comparisons. (This information is available at The Regional Economic Partnership uses WBBM-AM in Chicago to advertise Southeast Wisconsin as a business location.Sbt
June 1998 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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