By Frank Marino, President, Marino
New York has always been a city of neighborhoods. Never before has this been more true. Or exciting.
Settled in droves by eager new residents, the neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs were historically more identifiable by their ethnic make-ups and cultural DNA.
Yet in recent times, the trend has been to proactively create a neighborhood’s identity or brand based on its history — and its desired future.
New investments, corporate tenants, residents, infrastructure and landmarks all contribute to defining a neighborhood’s brand. And like everything else, strategic communications often is at the heart of creating neighborhoods’ brands and telling their stories.
In the early 1970s, the residents and store owners of Jackson Heights, Queens, supported by the Jackson Heights Civic Association, came up with the slogan “Livable, Loveable Jackson Heights.” Simple and catchy, this slogan helped enhance the neighborhood’s identity as an attractive family community. It was the right strategy for the time.
But in today’s culture of accelerating immediacy, standing out from the crowd is more challenging than ever. How does one create a sense of place in a city full of places? How do you distinguish your neighborhood such that long-time residents feel their cultures and shared history are honored while the new generation can also feel a sense of ownership? How does a single neighborhood retain and attract residents, retailers, investors, developers, and community centers, in a concerted effort to bond them together?
While there is no single answer, several New York neighborhoods have found success employing a strategic, sophisticated multi-constituent public communications program and well-cultivated neighborhood image to advance these efforts.
Program components include a combination of logos, bylines, speeches, social media campaigns, and various live events that individually and collectively sharpen the specific neighborhood’s brand, giving them a unique, unified voice.
Also supported by Business Improvement Districts, as well as public relations, branding, and marketing firms, the various neighborhood members act as Promoters-in-Chief, real-time advocates for the community they love and support.
A perfect example of this type of community branding is the Garment District. Sure, garment and fashion tenants still populate some office space. But in contrast to the pushcarts and rolling garment racks which used to fill the streets, the neighborhood’s new identity is now shaped by the 100,000 people employed at more than 6,000 business, including TAMI (technology, advertising, media, and information) firms, artists, and marquee designers, as well as boutique hotels, destination dining, and specialty retailers.
The challenge was to promote consistently — and with enthusiasm — the District’s new identity as a 24/7 community (which it is) while simultaneously honoring its fashion and garment roots, which are still part of the neighborhood’s DNA.
This rebranding campaign continues to be a multi-constituent effort that embraces both the neighborhood’s 24/7 eclectic personality of today while honoring the garment tenants fused to the neighborhood’s origins.
Let’s also consider Hudson Square. A concerted multi-platform marketing campaign helped elevate the ‘story’ of the former printing district near the Holland Tunnel, from an area with gorgeous architecture, but lacking propulsive energy, to a magnet for creative firms.
It has attracted more than 50,000 people working in advertising, design, media, communications, technology, and other creative businesses, with firms such as Edelman, Saatchi & Saatchi, Horizon Media, NY Public Radio, and TripAdvisor.
Ten years ago there was no ‘Hudson Square’. Yet now it actually is — and has the reputation as being — one of New York’s most exciting neighborhoods.
Some of these campaigns even focus on single developments. Can you imagine the Chelsea of today without Chelsea Market? Or Union Square without the renovated subway entrance and pedestrian plaza? Or Columbus Circle without the Time Warner Center? Marketing efforts powered each development, thus elevating the entire neighborhood.
And the transformations are not just happening in Manhattan.
It was not so long ago that Long Island City was a defunct industrial market in Queens without a clear path forward. And now Midtown’s neighbor is a vibrant mixed-use community home to Fortune 500 companies, world-renowned arts and cultural institutions, schools, prominent film and television studios, a large industrial base, and more than 70,000 residents. Long Island City was initially a tough sell, most people unable to ‘see’ its potential.
Through persistent, strategic events, messaging, and media efforts, Long Island City has become another reinvented neighborhood now considered one of the best investments in New York with far more room to grow.
All of these neighborhoods — also including Williamsburg, Bushwick, and more — continue to make up the fabric of today’s New York. The names and identities of each individual enclave, once brought to life by those early New York settlers, have been reimagined and supported by strategic, multi-constituent, multi-platform PR and marketing campaigns.
Community members want to feel pride in their neighborhood, desiring a sense of place. The words we choose — and the way we use them — helps give them that voice.