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Unclassified Info: Paying extra for a brand name

As I peruse the News Press this week, budget cuts seem to be a recurring theme all over town. Of course, I’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to notice.

I can’t stop thinking about the misguided branding effort our city was so hot to pursue about this time last year. You might remember I took several swipes at Northstar Destination Strategies, the company from Tennessee the city hired to provide us with a brand image that promised to improve our self esteem, raise awareness and increase tourism revenues. Has anyone seen this mythical brand? I haven’t — but then again, perhaps I’m deaf, dumb and blind.

With all these budget cuts and layoffs looming, I would really like the Glendale Redevelopment Agency to come clean and tell us how much money they threw at this branding project and what the return on investment has been so far.

As my eye turned back to this mysterious branding company on the other side of the Mississippi, I was curious what revelations they discovered for other towns looking to rejuvenate their brand identity. I didn’t want to be guilty of criticizing Northstar without providing a sampling of their credibility. After all, it was their expertise that got our city officials to open up the city coffers. So here is a sampling of their insightful destination marketing and tourism branding work.


Dublin, Ohio is the place where “Irish is an attitude”.

In Kirkland, Washington “Water. Colors. Everything.”

And Glendale, Arizona proudly differentiates itself as having a, “Similar latitude, different attitude.”

Excuse me? What in heck do any of these brand statements really mean? Can I expect to get in a drunken pub brawl in Dublin, Ohio? Do I need to prepare for floods of biblical proportion in Kirkland, Washington? Exactly which latitude is Glendale, Arizona talking about?


Not one of these statements, which I am sure each city paid handsomely for, makes me want to visit. And it doesn’t make me think Northstar is all that great either. Frankly, the only brand statement that makes me remotely curious is the one for Dublin, Ohio. I suppose the next time I’m in that part of the country and have an inexplicable craving for corned beef and cabbage, I’ll know where to go.

But those cities aren’t my concern. What troubles me is the fact Northstar and Glendale still have their ridiculous website up. More than a year later, it beats its chest at the soon-to-come brand that will change our city forever. This site has been up for more than a year! Where is this brand? How can it possibly take this long to develop? Is Glendale so incredibly rich with diversity that Northstar can’t decide which way to go? Did they just give up? Or did the city run out of money halfway into the project? On the upside, the site does make a branding statement: We are Glendale — tragically mired in a molasses-like process that prevents us from accomplishing the simple task of rewriting our own tagline.

If that brand statement doesn’t get families fired up to visit Glendale, I don’t know what will!

I found a document on the City of Glendale website, which states the Redevelopment Agency did retain Northstar for branding and marketing services. For those who may not know, a “retainer” is a monthly fee for certain services rendered. From the antiquated website and the accompanying survey that was performed, the city must have paid Northstar something. Whatever amount, it appears to have been flushed right down the toilet.

I was highly critical of this project a year ago when the city decided to seek the help of a Tennessee marketing firm with no ties to our city. I felt we were sending money across the country that could have been allocated to benefit a local marketing resource. At least if the project went nowhere, some of the money may have been dispersed back into the local economy. And as someone with over 20 years of marketing experience, I always wondered what media plan would ever support this new brand. It depresses me to no end when I think of decision making like this, especially when being faced with budget cuts to services that could have used this money more wisely.

I can only imagine the bad taste it must leave in the mouths of those individuals who are going to be laid off in the coming months because there is no money to pay their salaries.

GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is currently working on his second novel and the second half of his life. Gary may be reached at