Division A - Public Relations Programs
Category 10 - Other
River District Name Change Campaign
Priority Marketing & The Fort Myers Redevelopment Agency

Golden Image Award

Research/Situation Analysis: For more than 20 years, the Fort Myers Redevelopment Agency (FMRA) has led efforts to redevelop downtown Fort Myers. Historically the city’s hub, downtown had slowly descended into blight and economic decline as businesses and residents moved to areas of new growth. Around 2000, FMRA experienced significant progress after the city adopted a plan developed by famed architect and city planner Andres Duany for the revitalization of downtown, and began a streetscape improvement project per his recommendation. Also, several large developers began planning new luxury high-rise residential projects in the area. In 2006, FMRA dedicated funds to use for public relations and selected Priority Marketing (PM) to assist with communication. PM did extensive research including business focus groups, phone interviews and man-on-the-street questionnaires to gauge public perception of downtown Fort Myers. Utilizing the results, the firm created a comprehensive communications plan that focused on changing the image of downtown Fort Myers. Two key findings helped with this decision: a majority of survey respondents had a negative reaction to the word “downtown” and an overwhelming majority believed its location on the Caloosahatchee River was its most attractive asset. Therefore, one of PM’s most significant recommendations to FMRA was to change the name of downtown Fort Myers to the River District. The name change would signify the real change that was occurring, remove the word “downtown” and the negative connotations it held for many people, and highlight what was deemed the area’s most attractive asset – the river. Considering residents had referred to the area as downtown Fort Myers for more than a century, PM launched the communications plan with an understanding that the name change would be a gradual transition occurring over several years. Further, FMRA recognized that the goal of the name change campaign was simply that: to get people to utilize the new name. PM recommended independent campaigns to follow aimed specifically at attracting new business and new visitors to the River District. Target Market: The target markets for the campaign were the Fort Myers City Council, River District residents and businesses, and the general public.

Objectives: 1) To obtain unanimous City Council approval for the name within one council meeting. 2) To generate at least one major news story about the approval of the name change in the local media, directly resulting from the press conference. 3) To influence the media to use the new name instead of downtown, specifically to use River District 30% of the time by month six. 4) To ensure 10 uses (five solicited and five unsolicited) of the River District name in public relations efforts by River District business partners as a measure of the business community acceptance of the name change.

Implementation: The FMRA enthusiastically adopted the plan so the first step in achieving the name change was to secure City Council approval. PM developed a logo and a presentation outlining the research results and explaining its strategic and creative rationale to the City Council. PM showed the council that the name change was good for the River District, and also for the entire city, with a polished verbal presentation. The speech was capped off with the unveiling of a bright, artistically designed logo that promoted the desired image for the River District, explaining the logo would drive the overall look for the name change campaign to follow. To maximize publicity in the event the name change was approved, PM planned to announce a press conference on the steps of City Hall following its presentation and prepped the FMRA spokesperson for interviews. PM was prepared to immediately prepare a multi-media campaign to promote the name change including newspaper advertising; magazine advertising; television advertising; direct mail postcards; quarterly newsletters; and personal letters to the media, area business owners and managers, and other community leaders.

Evaluation: 1) The presentation was so successful, it met applause as well as unanimous approval by the City Council. Several council members commended the FMRA/PM team for the research, professionalism and creativity of the name change plan and the logo. 2) All four TV news stations and the only daily local paper, The News-Press, attended and covered the name change story. One of the TV stations, the CBS affiliate, aired the story live at Noon, and The News-Press announced the change as “breaking news” on its Web site. The advertising equivalency of media coverage of the press conference was $47,945. 3) Based on a media audit spanning the six months following the River District name change announcement, the media used the River District name with increased frequency each of the first six months, from 12% in the first month to 42% in the sixth month. The advertising equivalency of feature stories about the River District totaled $189,140. 4) The business community embraced the River District name and began using it to identify the location of their businesses immediately. The goal of five solicited and five unsolicited uses of the name River District was far exceeded. A survey of business leaders found that 80% reported using the River District name in promoting their business. Of those same leaders, 53% reported hearing their customers refer to the area as the River District. 93% of the leaders said they display the River District newsletter in their businesses. Based on informal responses, the name change campaign has had a significant impact on building word-of-mouth exposure for the River District.

Budget: FMRA recognized the importance of each public relations tactic in the campaign and authorized each piece in advance, based on an estimate, instead of approving an overall budget. Production expenses, $70,856.75 and PM time 183 hours (including research, creative development, city council presentation, publicity coordination, presentation boards, newspaper advertising, magazine advertising, television advertising-, postcard, media letters, VIP letters).