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Local business leaders look at “branding” downtown Prineville

The process of identifying what Prineville’s image is as a marketing tool was the focus of discussion this week
Revitalizing Prineville’s downtown is a multifaceted process, a group of business people were told this week. Many other communities have successfully made the effort and one expert in the field says this is a perfect time for Prineville. Projecting an image, or as it’s often called, “branding,” allows a community to grow in a direction of its own choice. This action can, MerrieSue Carlson, Regional Coordinator from the governor’s office said, can help the business sector as well as its residents. “Now is the time to take hold of your image,” she warned, “or others will end up dictating that to you.” Prineville has been seen as having lost its business focus to nearby Bend and Redmond and is fast becoming thought of as a bedroom community for those towns. Aiming to change that and find a way to turn around the slowly deteriorating downtown business area was the the focus of Carlson’s visit. She and Roger Lee, director of Economic Development Central Oregon, brought their expertise to the local business people at the request of the local business community. One of the first steps, Carlson advised, is to answer the questions; how do others, looking in, view Prineville and Crook County? “Selling,” she told the business-oriented audience, “is getting rid of what you have. Marketing is selling people what you have and branding is a promise of what you are.” Image building, she explained doesn’t happen overnight. Using Oregon cities such as Lakeview, Sisters and Ashland as examples, Carlson and Lee showed what can be done. Lakeview has started the process and has agreed on the logo “Oregon Outback.” The business image of that community had been scattered, Carlson said. Thirteen different groups had been trying to market their community and their businesses within that community. “They had different logos and letterhead. They asked the residents for ideas and even put the best ones out to a vote. That was when they decided on as Oregon Outback as their brand.” Baker City has been working on the Oregon Trail historical theme, Lee said. Ashland’s Shakespeare Festival has been going on for a long time, and is still continuing to build on that design. It is a work in progress, Heidi Henry of the Oregon Downtown Development Association said. Albany, Oregon has brought its dying downtown sector back to life with a theater and restaurants. “There are new awnings and planters and people shopping in stores,” Henry said. Prineville, Carlson believes, is in the perfect position to begin the process. Deciding on what the image is right now and what people want it to be is the first step. “Have business people ask their customers what they think of Prineville. Get kids involved — they often see things without grown-up complications,” she advised. Developing an image and the method of marketing it successfully takes time, commitment and money. Carlson said the governor’s office is ready to help. “We’re ready to help with resources, ready to work with communities that show interest. And there is interest here, look at how many people turned out for this meeting.” Henry said her agency works on development of downtowns and is presently working with a committee in Madras on image development. There are a number of factors to reach that goal, she explained. There are studies that can be done and reports developed that can then be used to promote funding. Such a process usually costs about 15,000 but it is possible, Henry added, for communities to ’cluster’ together and by working together save money. “By clustering, it could cost each community $1,500 as match for available grant funds,” Henry said. “There are great resources out there and marketing organizations ready to help.” Henry said there are seven steps to create an image for a downtown. First is to identify the area’s assets. In answer to a question, she explained that theme imaging such as what Sisters did can be expensive. “Expensive to do and expensive to maintain,” Henry said. “We try to discourage that. Sister’s makes it work, but they have a book this thick of what they can do and what they can’t do. All it does is make people mad.” Compiling the information about the marketplace and then analyzing that data are the next steps in the process. The fourth step is to match the assets with market niches. Once all that information is in hand, it is very important, Henry said, to write a positioning statement and develop a district marketing strategy. Designing a graphic logo is the final step. That, Henry added, is when the real work begins. It could be said that Prineville is already ahead of the game, Prineville Planning Director Dick Brown said. There is already an inventory of the city’s streets, sidewalks, parking and building owners available. A lot of the preliminary work has already been done. “And I’ve got a file this thick on ideas for logos and images,” Brown added. Another session to continue the discussion aimed at revitalizing the downtown business community will be held Feb. 15. Anyone interested can contact the chamber of commerce at 447-6304 for more information.