By Rick Outzen
On July 18, 2012, Mayor Ashton Hayward unveiled at the Saengar Theatre a new brand identity for the City of Pensacola with a new city tagline—“The Upside of Florida”—a new logo, called the “Swave,” and new marketing initiatives.
“Everything that is good about Florida is better in Pensacola,” Hayward told the audience of public officials, business leaders and city staff at the Saenger. “This is not a tag line.”
The mayor stood behind a lectern on the theater stage. Above him, in large letters, a message was projected onto a screen: ‘If you are not a brand, you are a commodity.’
His argument for the new brand was over the past decade the city had lost nearly four percent of its population. In order to position Pensacola to compete for jobs, investment, and tourism dollars, a unified, more marketable brand had to be developed.
“The ultimate goal is to raise Pensacola’s profile and better position our city for the future,” said Mayor Hayward. “Over the past 18 months, we’ve had some great successes, but it’s time to elevate our efforts. We need to tell Pensacola’s story to the investors, decision-makers, and entrepreneurs that create jobs and investment.”
The press release from the city’s new advertising firm, The Zimmerman Agency, stated the rebranding effort was part of a comprehensive marketing campaign supported by advertising, public relations and social media.
By the end of July, the city had been billed for $484,789 by the Tallahassee-based advertising agency for the new brand and this “comprehensive marketing campaign.” Much of the costs and work of this new effort, particularly the logos, was kept from the Pensacola City Council and the public prior to the unveiling. And there is a question whether city officials violated Florida’s public record laws in hiding them.
In the subsequent months, the new brand would be severely criticized by the public and local design community. The Pensacola City Council would try to defund the Zimmerman contract that called for $1.2 million to be spent on advertising and public relations in the FY 2013 budget, only to have the mayor veto their action. The Zimmerman Agency would find itself under investigation for allegations of mishandling public funds regarding a nearby client, Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council.
Coupled with the decisions by the Greater Pensacola Chamber and Visit Pensacola to also use outside firms, the community, according to some estimates, would lose nearly 70 jobs in the advertising, marketing, printing and design fields.
By January 2013, Mayor Hayward would terminate the Zimmerman contract because “they simply aren’t delivering the day-to-day results we expected across our enterprises.” At that point, the ad agency would have been paid nearly a million dollars.
But on that hot July morning, the first-term mayor was excited and positive. He told the audience in the crowded theater, “Like Bonnie Raitt said—and Bonnie Raitt played right here in the Saenger Theater—let’s give ’em something to talk about.”
Unfortunately, the talk Hayward got wasn’t what he expected.