If you weren’t aware that the City of Columbus is turning 200 years old in 2012, then you’re either a brand new resident or you’ve been living under a rock. But what exactly is being planned for our bicentennial celebration has been a bit more hazy and is only just now starting to be revealed. With a mix of capital improvements, celebratory events, programs, and marketing, 2012 is shaping up to be something pretty significant for our city’s history books.
The beginning of the planning effort for the 200th birthday of Columbus can be traced back to 2007, when more than 1,600 people converged upon the Convention Center for the Bicentennial Citizen’s Summit.
“The Summit distilled the input from thousands of individuals from neighborhood meetings, surveys, and the mobile Think Tank,” explains Jamie Greene, principal and owner of ACP Visioning+Planning Ltd.,the company hired to oversee the visioning process for the Bicentennial. “Following the Summit, I facilitated the Bicentennial Commission — over 220 people, the largest in the city’s history — which prepared the ‘Blueprint for the Bicentennial‘, which was the final set of recommendations.”
The Bicentennial Commission worked in 13 focus areas, including economic prosperity, arts and culture, neighborhoods, education, diversity, and image and marketing.
“In February of 2010, I was asked by Mayor Coleman and other community leaders to help design a process to implement the Blueprint, including a year-long commemoration of this city’s past, present, and potential,” Greene continued. “Since then, we have built the people infrastructure for a robust, inclusive, year-long program to strengthen community pride and lay a foundation for greater prosperity for Central Ohio.”
Greene has taken on a new role in the process as program manager of 200Columbus. He’s not alone, though. A whole team has been assembled to lead different elements of the project:
- Jami Goldstein, vice president of marketing at GCAC, Communications & Events is chairing the committee overseeing the cornerstone events planned for 2012.
- Amy Tillinghast, VP of marketing at Experience Columbus, is working with Fahlgren Mortine to oversee implementation of the 200Columbus marketing plan, website, and toolkit.
- Susan Merryman, VP of marketing and communications at the Columbus Chamber, is working on the marketing committee connecting the messaging of 200Columbus with Columbus 2020 for the purpose of economic development.
- And last but not least, Mike Brown, director of development and public affairs at Experience Columbus, is working to develop committees on Community Outreach, Social Media, Sports, Media and more.
Mike Brown joined the Experience Columbus team a year ago after serving as Mayor Coleman’s Urban Ventures Coordinator, a role that should lend itself well to his communication contributions to the Bicentennial project.
“After 11 years working for our very aggressive and progressive mayor, I joined Experience Columbus with a specific goal of helping advance the telling of the Columbus story,” said Brown. “My role is simply to help organize, strategize and communicate how great Columbus is both today and in the future, within the 200Columbus framework that is coming together with the collaboration of dozens of local groups.”
One key component of that framework is the branding effort being developed by Falhgren, which was announced in January.
“While we have developed logos and campaign executions, this is only a step in the process. By no means is this the end,” explained Pete McGinty, president of Fahlgren Mortine Advertising. “Logos and campaigns might come and go over time but over the long run, all marketing communications executions will be true to our core essence.”
Over the past few years there has been much public debate and discussion about branding, marketing, and imaging for the City of Columbus. Three years ago, Experience Columbus tapped Engauge and Falhgren Mortine to work on a new marketing campaign that was met with mixed reactions by a sounding board of local bloggers, and was quickly shelved. This time around, the planning process has changed significantly.
“The major difference between this effort and past branding efforts is the unprecedented collaboration of the partners involved,” McGinty said. “This spreads ownership across all sectors of our community, which leads to a greater sense of engagement and urgency in telling our story with a consistent voice. The core essence of ‘open and smart’ is an authentic and genuine strategic position, which gives each partner the strategic base to work from. Fahlgren Mortine’s job is to determine the creative expression that will be used by all promoters of our community tactically to reach their respective audiences.”
Beyond traditional marketing efforts, social media will play a large role in this new outreach effort at the local level.
“The voice of our residents and the power and reach of social media will dwarf paid advertising efforts,” McGinty continued. “With Columbus being such an active blogging community, bloggers and contributors have a powerful voice in helping amplify our positive attributes.”
A website titled, CreateYourColumbus.com, will launch within the next month. It will be a portal to share information and provide feedback on the 200Columbus initiative. It will also serve as a toolkit where language, logos, and other visuals can be pulled for use on blogs, websites, posters and elsewhere.
“We are also discussing creating a forum to explore how we can develop additional content for our community,” McGinty added. “Considering content from organizations like Wonderland, Available Light Theatre, MadLab, Independence Day, Wild Goose Creative, and Junctionview Studios, just to name a few, we’re off to a pretty good start.”
The organizations officially collaborating on 200Columbus include Experience Columbus, the Greater Columbus Sports Commission, the Columbus Chamber, Columbus2020!, The Columbus Partnership, and the Columbus Bicentennial Commission.
“In my careful observation of Columbus over the past four years, I’ve seen an unprecedented level of collaboration on many fronts,” Greene said. “Collectively, our leaders believe —and act on this belief— that a ‘rising tide does lift all boats’. I have never seen a community the size of Central Ohio collectively pursue such a rich, meaningful and integrated marketing program.”
From Alex Fisher’s perspective, the key ingredient is becoming more consistent, aggressive, and persistent in telling the Columbus story in a collaborative manner.
“If we simply do this for a year or two, lose interest, and don’t maintain the momentum, we fail in consistency and persistence,” said Fisher, president and CEO of The Columbus Partnership, the group of local leaders who created the Columbus 2020 economic development project. ”If Experience Columbus, The Chamber, Columbus 2020, and [The Ohio State University] are all out there telling disjointed stories, we will sub-optimize in collaboration.”
“On the other hand, if we stay committed over the next decade to telling the good news about our community consistently, we will leverage each other in a way that can be very impactful for Columbus,” he said.
With an event as big as a bicentennial, the commission knew there needed to be some sort of celebratory event. But instead of planning a one-off festival, it was quickly decided that a more open and long-lasting approach should be taken.
“From First Night to First Night we want to have 365 days of experiences that inspire and engage the Columbus community,” said Goldstein. “All of us working together will make it happen.”
Some of the 2012 signature events include:
- The official Columbus birthday party on Feb. 14, hosted by the Columbus Historical Society
- The grand opening of the Columbus Commons Pavilion on May 26
- The Columbus International Triathlon, to be held June 15-17
- An expanded Red White and Boom celebration on July 3
- The 2012 Eco-Summit to be held Sept. 30-Oct. 5
Additional annual festivals and events are still being added to the Bicentennial master calendar and all types of event planners are being encouraged to celebrate their existing events in bigger ways for 2012.
“200Columbus represents an unprecedented opportunity for people who care about Columbus to lend their creativity, their efforts, and their time to creating something really special for our city,” Goldstein said. “This is about building a future for our city…a legacy of inspiration, engagement, and vision for what we can create and make reality.”
One theme that will become more apparent as events are added to the calendar is the showcase of our past, our present, and our future. January through April will feature a focus on the past, May through August will showcase our present day status, and events in September through December will turn an eye toward the future.
“We already do amazing things in Columbus, so we shouldn’t exclude anyone by setting artificial parameters on the calendar,” Brown said. “Let’s open the doors so that every neighborhood, every festival, every school, every church, and everyone else can claim the things that make them proud to be in Columbus.”
Greene said the inclusive approach to 200Columbus will act as an open door for the next wave of Columbus leadership. He expects to see young leaders take a seat at the table and show that they are willing and capable of taking Columbus beyond 2012.
“Young people in this community need to know that the established institutions and their leaders are more open than ever to making sure the younger generation’s finger prints are all over the 200Columbus initiative,” he said. “Young people need to seize this opportunity. And very fortunately, I see many young people are doing so, engaging with confidence and competence that is inspiring to the not-so young generations.”
“Less obvious, but certainly true, is the fact that this will also be a year where leaders at all levels are watching to see who steps up,” Brown said. “When younger leaders take ownership in 200Columbus, it is a great opportunity for them to be seen and heard as the next generation of leaders who can actually get things done.”
While the official programming for 200Columbus will only last through a one-year cycle, the outcome is expected to resonate for many years to come.
“In paraphrasing a remark I heard from one of the city’s leading young talents, I want Columbus to be revealed,” Greene said. “Earlier this week, I attended the Your Philanthropy luncheon at the Columbus Foundation and Tanisha Robinson of Fudha offered this thought in response about her hopes for Columbus.
“That concept of ‘revealing Columbus’ has been intensely on my mind since then. It is what I want to see and it captures the essence of 200Columbus: revealing the special place and being proud of all that we have and all that we can become.”
The unveiling of the 200Columbus.com website will take place in May and more information will continue to roll out at summer festivals throughout 2011. Additional announcements will continue through the course of this year and provide more information on different pieces of the Bicentennial program.
“It’s an exciting time to be part of this community,” McGinty said. “We are a community where it’s easy to get involved and it’s easy to make a difference. This is the time to harness our passion, spirit, and energy.”
Our people are our greatest asset, Goldstein said.
“We need your vision, your passion, your imagination and creativity to make 200Columbus just the beginning of what the next 200 years will be for our truly amazing city.”