Letters to the Editor

Rebranding the city isn't a job for amateurs | Letters

As someone who has spent the better part of four decades branding and rebranding products and companies, I read with incredulity the idiocy in the front page article “Rebranding Federal Way: Ask students?”

We have Dini Duclos, Finance/Economic Development/Regional Affairs Committe (FEDRAC) chair, saying that what we need to rebrand is “a new tagline and a new logo. And a better description of this city.”

No Dini, that’s what rebranding isn’t. Dini also thinks it’s a good idea to have a contest among high school students, none of whom have any branding understanding or experience, to rebrand the city. Good one Dini. While they’re at it, why don’t you have them design the never-will-be-profitable performing arts and conference center (PACC). Never mind they know nothing about architecture. Surely youthful exuberance will guarantee success.

Not to be outdone, committee member Susan Honda suggested including community college students, none of whom have had any branding experience, in the effort. Great idea Susan.

Then we have another committee member, Bob Celski, chiming in that “It would be some really good publicity.” Pile on Bob. You’ll note all the big ideas above are about tactics and totally devoid of any strategy.

The only person who made any sense was Michael Navarro, a local business owner, who suggested the city reach out to the business community. You know, those pesky people who pay the taxes that pay the salaries of bureaucrats who would rather hold a contest than address the difficult task of successfully rebranding a city.

Here are a couple of branding hints:

Words matter. When logging town Federal Way was founded in 1929 and named after what is now Highway 99, locals probably knew what Federal Way meant. Think anyone knows that today? Back then, most people had a positive impression of anything federal — government, FDR, the New Deal, CCC, WPA, etc.

Today, the word federal brings to mind such negatives as high taxes, excessive regulations, incompetence, bloated budgets and uncaring bureaucrats. Federal Way is easily translated by outsiders as "the federal way of doing things is the way they do things in Federal Way." Could be worse — think SeaTac, as in tacky.

Need another example of words matter? Back in the 1960s, there was a diet pill out of England named Ayds. Think that name would fly today? One rebranding option is to change the name of the product. Some might know the country’s largest city, New York, was once known as New Amsterdam.

Perception is reality. When I lived elsewhere in King County, my perception of Federal Way was one of shopping centers, strip malls, cheesy subdivisions and a high crime rate (still higher than Seattle according to city data).

Now that I live in Federal Way, I’d add there are a lot of apartment buildings, small businesses, a great main library, a plethora of good ethnic restaurants and a terrific rhododendron garden.

What our resident branding geniuses need to do is start with an honest SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats) analysis instead of grandstanding with feel good, cockamamie ideas. An honest SWOT analysis can lead to winning branding strategies, which can lead to tactical programs that can succeed in positively rebranding Federal Way.

If branding isn't understood, if its value is not realized and if it is not done right, it won't succeed. Frankly, the rebranding of Federal Way is too important to be left to amateurs.

Gary Heil, Federal Way


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